14 Jun 2011

Grow Your Food for Free (well, almost)

"Over the years I have travelled down the country rather like a sock slips down inside a wellington boot. ... I have found one universal truth that binds all productive gardeners - none of them like to spend any money! ... In this modern society we're so conned into believing we need money to do anything, yet in other cultures around the world where there is no money, people improvise and make do with what they have."  So says Dave Hamilton in the Final Words to his book 'Grow Your Food for Free'. 

I apologise for the delayed review of this book, it should have been done weeks ago. Trouble is, every time I pick up the book meaning to speed read it for the review, I get completely caught up in it because it's so good.

The book is sub-titled 'Great money-saving ideas for your garden' by Dave Hamilton (who also co-wrote The Self-Sufficientish Bible with his brother Andy).  So it's less about how to grow veg and more about avoiding spending lots of money by retraining your eye to reassess and reuse what you already have. Surely a subject dear to the heart of many an allotmenteer?

Please don't think that the growing, harvesting, storing and cooking of food, whether grown or foraged, is not addressed; the book is sprinkled throughout with tips on propagating, planting out, protecting your seedlings, pests and diseases, drying, storing and using.  Do you know how to get an extra harvest from your home-grown veg?

Sunflower perch
Reams of seriously practical advice draw on Dave's long experience as a forager and food grower; this advice is particularly helpful to both short-term tenants who may only have access to their growing space for one or two seasons and to new (and very practical) allotment growers who may be contemplating spending money on tools, seeds, composter, shed, etc.

The book is presented in four seasonal parts and further broken down into chapters relevant to each time of year. Apart from practical gardening advice (assessing your growing space and planning), there's suggestions on acquiring and using free timber - and not just the ubiquitous pallet; facts about the living soil: manure, compost, wood ash, no-dig beds, leaf mould and, my personal favourite, the Chicken Tractor. Edible hedges, building stepping-stone paths, hazel fences, ponds and wildlife gardening, all presented in a very accessible and well-written style. Seriously, I never thought I'd be so enthralled by this; I mean who knew that tomatoes grow better up a string than a cane? Or that peas fare better on horizontal supports as their tendrils work like little hands climbing up a ladder? (Okay, so maybe I'm the last to know but isn't that what's so great about gardening, the learning curve? And this book delivers.)

Because of Dave's self-sufficient background, there's a fair bit of information on gathering food in the wild which won't appeal to everyone.  Other information such as building a shed from pallet wood might not be taken up but how to dismantle a shed (should you be lucky enough to be given one on, say, Freecycle) is invaluable.

There's a lot of information packed into its 240 pages - and clear illustrations and photos on almost every page - but, whether dipping in and out, or reading straight through, it's like having a knowledgeable gardening neighbour chatting over the fence, fast-tracking you to the good stuff.

An excellent read.  It's available now from all good booksellers.
Published by Green Books in Devon and printed in the UK on 100% recycled paper.


  1. Now added to my ever growing reading list...

    Martin :)

  2. Sounds like just my cup of tea. Are you a professional reviewer?

  3. Looks like my kind of book so it's been added to the must get list! Flighty xx

  4. Martin, I know just what you mean: my biggest library shelf is of gardening books which I dip into. Few have been read cover to cover!

    Elaine, I've loved reading since I picked up Janet and John (whoops, showing my age!) and it's always a thrill to review a book. Much as I would love to do this professionally, it's just a by-product of writing the blog!

    Flighty, I wonder if your must-get list is as long as mine? My Amazon wish list would fill a year's reading!

  5. Thank you Julian. I'd love to know who you are. I can't reply to you personally as you don't appear to have a blog or email on your blogger profile. I can assure you, though, that I have no intention of infringing copyright so have withdrawn my offer to email a pdf copy out to commenters on this review.

  6. Now that sounds like my sort of book! Thank you, am putting it on my wishlist now.

  7. Thanks Janet for taking the time to read the review. We'll all have plenty of reading to see us through the wet weather!


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