Book Review: The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden

Postage Stamp Garden.220Written by Karen Newcomb
Published by Ten Speed Press, 2015

Reviewed by Maureen Sundberg

Anyone planning a vegetable garden for the first time can find it a daunting process. Seedlings or seeds? Which varieties? How much of any one crop? Soil prep? What about amendments? When to plant? And eventually, what’s bothering the kale/squash/tomatoes? The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden provides answers to all these questions with a very accessible overview of planning, planting, and nurturing the small vegetable garden.

Originally written in 1975 by the husband and wife team of Duane and Karen Newcomb, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden  brought French Intensive Biodynamic Gardening to small-space gardening. Recently updated by Karen Newcomb, the 2015 edition retains all the same comprehensive background information and instruction to help the gardener produce quantities of organic produce in limited space, but now also provides new information on heirloom seed varieties.

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden starts with the dreaming/planning stage and aims for gardens sized from 4’x4’ to 10’x10’. Newcomb offers lots of practical advice on garden positioning and plant placement within small beds. She provides lists of plants and recommendations for the number of plants per person eating from the garden and folds in herbs, edible flowers, and plants to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. In addition to showing eleven diagrams for plant layouts in beds of various sizes and configurations, Newcomb addresses container gardens of various sorts and offers specific varieties of vegetables that prove most successful in containers.

The first several chapters of the book provide lots of background information on steps to take to develop a successful vegetable garden. Newcomb gives concise overviews of soil science and soil amendments and provides details about soil preparation. She covers all the basics and provides easy-to-follow steps and lists. A chapter titled “When and How to Plant” describes planting schedules and how to direct sow as well as start seeds indoors. Lists and chunked information offer a lot of detail for the new gardener who wants to experience the satisfaction of starting plants from seed. Newcomb reviews the very specific water requirements for the postage stamp vegetable bed and makes a strong recommendation for drip watering systems.

The longest chapter in the book, almost 100 pages, is devoted to detailed descriptions of vegetables  and offers general information on the crop and its suitability for a postage stamp garden followed by sections detailing advice for 1) Planting, 2) Crop Stretching, 3) Recommended Varieties, 4) Typical Problems, 5) Harvesting, 6) Storage, and 7) Growing Tips. Here Newcomb provides a wealth of information on a delicious array of vegetable varieties. She notes seed sources as well and provides an annotated list of sources in an appendix.

The remaining chapters offer advice on companion planting and pest, disease, and critter control. In addition to naming good garden companions, Newcomb details the known benefits of various combinations and encourages the gardener to test and explore. Super productive yet low maintenance vegetable gardens still confront their share of problems. Newcomb encourages manual control of pests, but also provides information about many non-toxic controls and less-toxic botanical sprays. Similarly, she encourages garden practices that prevent disease, but also lists organic sprays. A table organized by crop identifies pests and remedies, making the information easily accessible.

Newcomb devotes an appendix to composting in which she describes several methods from an anaerobic process to more traditional layered bin. Lists of steps keep the instructions clear. The book ends with a glossary that should satisfy even the newest of gardeners.

Forty years after its initial publication, The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden offers a strong argument for growing a small but intensively planted vegetable garden. Just like the original, the updated book provides anyone interested in developing a small vegetable garden with strong background information and practical advice for success. Homeowners excited about growing vegetables in a corner of the yard or the community gardener facing the blank stretch of garden soil for the first or twenty-first time will find excellent recommendations. And even the “traditional” vegetable gardener will find great advice for increasing productivity while keeping maintenance easy. And don’t we all hope for abundant crops in exchange for the often limited time and attention we can devote to their production?

About the Reviewer

Maureen Sundberg edits the ELA Newsletter. She writes from her home in Andover, MA where she also plants a small vegetable garden every year. She may be reached at ela_new@verizon.net.