Review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables

This darling book by my Twitter friend-turned-real friend Chris McLaughlin (@suburban_farmer) came weeks ago but it was really only this weekend that I had the chance to size it up fully. Granted, it was apparent from the title that it’s the nuts-and-bolts of selecting heirloom veggies, but I wanted to put it to use to see how it would work for a neophyte gardener.

As we prepared this year’s garden plot (more on that later), I sketched out a design that included spots for seeds (Flamingo Swiss Chard and Ruby Red Swiss Chard from HeirloomSeeds.com) given to us in memory of my late mother-in-law. We also had a few nasturtium seeds (Mahogany and Cherry Rose Jewel) from Botanical Interests sent along from another friend this year.

Having decided to keep the custom of buying locally sourced tomato and pepper starts (some will be, admittedly, not heirloom), I was in need still of a good heirloom pole bean. And so I turned to the book, ferreting out two varieties to check out: Henderson’s Black Valentine and Cherokee Trail of Tears. Both types are all-purpose, meaning that they can be used fresh for snaps or dried for soups. With the information that I needed–but in somewhat of a hurry today, I hit Google to find a source (Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds) with seeds in-stock, although I could have also plowed through Appendix B which lists a dizzying number of wonderful heirloom seed sites to explore.

Now, thanks to Chris’s book, all I have to do is wait for the seeds to ship, plant ’em, and see what we think of ’em here.

In short, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Heirloom Vegetables is a handy, quick reference tool for gardeners interested in incorporating more heirlooms into their home gardens. Much like her previous book (reviewed here), the writing is sharp, clear and accessible. It’s a wonderful addition to my garden library, something that I anticipate referring to frequently.

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