No matter how you garden — on the cheap or with wallet wide open — it's wise to garden the smart way.
In the edible garden, smart means finding ways to maximize your harvest and minimize your workload and planting space.
These three new gardening books outline ways to do just that. Each provides helpful how-to details — not just pretty photos.
Raised beds and containers get lots of attention, but vertical gardening is one of the easiest and most practical ways to grow edibles.
Vertical gardening means people living in condos, apartments and other places with limited yard space can reap the benefits of fresh food, according to Chris McLaughlin, author of "Vertical Vegetable Gardening."
Besides the traditional trellises and arbors, the book shows how to grow on common household items you can recycle or reuse for free: broken baby gates that can be folded side up and spread to create an A-frame, crib springs turned on their ends, ladders with boards put across the rungs to holds pots, shoe bags filled with soil, tin tub gardens you can hang and 5-gallon buckets that are suspended from trees or poles.
Chris also shows how to turn wire, twine and other materials into arbors, teepees, fences and A-frames to support vining, twining, twisting plants. Even a kiddie pool filled with soil becomes a small garden.
There are lists of materials and directions on how to make each, and profiles identify 30 veggies, fruits and herbs best suited for vertical gardening.
Square-foot gardening took root 30 years ago when Mel Bartholomew penned his first book on how to garden less to get more — for example, 48 crops from two 4-by-6-foot boxes.
Two million copies later, he now operates the Square Foot Gardening Foundation (www.squarefootgardening.org) and recently released two new books on the topic — the "Square Foot Gardening Answer Book" and the "All New Square Foot Gardening, Second Edition."
The answer book draws on hundreds of questions he's heard over the years, including how to garden in a shady yard, how to calculate the potential yield from a square-foot garden, how to deter pests and how to rotate crops for maximum results.
He also addresses common problems all gardeners can relate to: The gnats in my square-foot garden are a real bother; how can I deal with them? Make a spray by mixing 1 part vodka with three parts water. No, don't drink it; spray the area infested by the gnats. You can check whether you've gotten rid of the gnats by cutting a potato in half and leaving it in the area. If, after a week, the potato is still clean, your gnat problem is gone.
In "Grow Your Own in Pots," Kay Maguire features 30 step-by-step projects using vegetables, fruits and herbs.
She shows how to sprout seed potatoes in egg cartons and then grow them in recycled, porous bags or large tubs; spinach in a window box; rhubarb in old garbage cans; and beans and sweet corn as companion plants in a tub.
Her chapter on Garden Soil 101 is particularly helpful because healthy soil makes a healthy plant. You'll like her "compost sandwich," which uses layers of newspaper, cardboard, yard debris and topsoil to create the best of best beds for growing anything.
"Growing your own makes you happy, healthy, and it's fun, too," writes Kay.