Book Review & Giveaway: Sugar Snaps and Strawberries


Like a rebel without a cause, I continue to resist growing edibles despite the current fad and inspiring examples of fellow gardeners and bloggers who savor their homegrown fruits and vegetables. Sure, I stick a basil plant in the ground each spring and harvest the leaves all summer. Yeah, I snip sprigs of rosemary from the evergreen herb in my deer-resistant garden. But that’s the extent of my edible garden. Why? I don’t really know. I’ve just never gotten enthused about watching my food grow when selecting it from the organic bin at the grocery store is so much easier (no daily watering required, and bugs and weeds are not an issue) and when there are so many ornamentals I want to grow in my sunniest spaces.

And yet…I almost had a change of heart while reading Sugar Snaps and Strawberries: Simple Solutions for Creating Your Own Small-Space Edible Garden by Andrea Bellamy, Vancouver balcony gardener and author of the blog Heavy Petal. Andrea makes a convincing case for homegrown food, and she shows that you don’t need a country acre or fancy potager—or any plot of dirt at all—to do it. From a row of potted herbs on a deck railing to beans planted in a few inches of soil at the base of a fence and trained to grow vertically, the possibilities for squeezing edibles into tight spaces are fully explored. Have you always dreamed of an orchard but lack the real estate? Andrea shows how even apples—grown from dwarf rootstock in containers—can be espaliered on a horizontal trellis and grown on an apartment balcony.

Andrea explains the basics of growing food (of growing any plant, really) in clear detail, and beginner gardeners will find everything they need to know to get started on and eventually harvest an edible garden of their own. As a Deep South gardener, I did feel that the book was skewed to a temperate gardener’s point-of-view, with much discussion of early seed starting indoors and summer harvests, when I know from local blogs that the edible gardening season in central Texas is really two seasons—spring and fall—separated by a hot, humid, yet dry summer that takes a toll on plants and gardeners alike. Still, there’s much useful information in Sugar Snaps, and I’d recommend it to any new gardener of edibles, particularly one who has limited or no access to a plot of earth she can call her own.

With that in mind, I am donating my copy to a deserving local reader. Leave a comment on this post telling me about your desire to grow edibles and any space limitations you face, and I’ll choose a winner on Friday. To be eligible for the free book, you must live in Austin.

And now I think I’ll brave the morning traffic for a trip to the grocery store for some lettuce and baby carrots. What a drag. What was I saying about a grocery trip being easy? And why am I not growing a pot of lettuce on my deck?

Disclosure: This book was sent to me for review by Timber Press. I did not pay for the book, nor was I compensated for my review, which is, like everything in Digging, my own honest opinion.

All material © 2006-2011 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.

posted in Books, Edibles, Giveaways

16 Responses

  1. Growing seasonal vegetables and melons is what got me into the whole design and horticulture thing. Just need extra time to add that, and more dinero to build *nice* raised beds over my bedrock. Hmmm, maybe I’ll do a quick redesign of my place as some axial, Moorish-SW ornametal-edible garden – in my spare time. Thanks for the review.

  2. Veggies have always been a real challenge, for me…the bugs, the watering, and making sure they’re thinned just right. And here, it’s even worse. They have to be fenced in, to keep the deer away from them.

    Mr. P. says it’s less frustrating…and cheaper…to get them at the grocery or farmers market. He’s probably right.

  3. Scott says:

    I always feel kind of guilty about not wanting to grow food crops in my garden, but I have so little space…and almost none in full-sun, that I am loathe to give up any of it. Honestly, I agree with you, if i factored in the time and money I’d spend to get a few tomatoes or zucchini in my garden, it’s far more economical to just buy them at the store.

  4. katina says:

    As I’ve said before – for some reason I feel compelled to grow a veggie garden every year. Probably because that’s what I did growing up in Colorado. Now the problem is that I need to get away from growing the vegetables I don’t like and start growing the things I do.

  5. I used to have a space devoted to veggies, but I succumbed to the quick fix of organics delivered or selected at the farmers’ market. Recently, I gutted the back garden beds and installed mounds of real soil (as you can imagine, my SW Austin soil seems about 1/2″ thick!). Although I planted natives, cacti and succulents to focus on reducing my water bill, I keep thinking about adding in some veggies somewhere. I’m debating losing some more of my lawn for dedicated raised veggie beds. Do I commit? Or do I cave to the desire to copy your stock tank pond? So many choices… Maybe this book would push me toward the edibles. -Vickie

  6. Layanee says:

    Pam: It is not a fad. Really. I grew up with my father gardening out of necessity and somehow the genetic code which requires me to plant vegetables. I am not trying to make you feel guilty for picking yours out of the bin though. I do that often enough also. Why don’t you try something simple in a container. Something the kids will enjoy growing and eating. Go for it. Stretch your horticultural natural talent. It is a dare! Carrots in a container. Blue carrots in a container.

    Layanee, my friend, I appreciate the dare, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve grown a few peas with the kids in my time, and while it was fun for a short season it wasn’t compelling enough to continue with. I’d much rather plant succulents with my kids (they both enjoy weird-looking plants) and devote all my gardening space to plants I can’t get at the grocery store or farmers market. —Pam

  7. Shelby says:

    Just moved from a BIG lot to a much smaller one. Trying to figure out how to have all my well adapted and native ornamentals I love and still teach my 18 month old where a tomato comes from. Have to check out this book.

  8. “despite the current fad” ??? For those of us who have been growing veg since the 1970s, it’s not really a fad. Sure, like any gardening trend it cycles in and out of popularity among the mainstream. Most of us who are into edible gardening care neither for setting trends nor following them. It’s simply a part of life.

    Right now I’m savoring the apple butter my mother made from the apples grown on her small tree on a tiny lot in Las Vegas. I swapped her some green tomato chutney from the fall tomatoes in my garden. And then my sister comes around with eggs from her hens. Gardening. Sharing. Eating. Family. It’s all intertwined.

    MSS, my personal comments in this post were meant to be tongue-in-cheek (which I assumed would be obvious by my tone). Still, noting that edible gardening is currently a trend in the U.S. is not particularly controversial. This Christian Science Monitor article is only one of many such articles that reference last year’s trend in edible gardening. A plethora of new gardening books about edible gardening also attest to this ongoing trend, as does my own experience with clients over the past year who requested space for growing vegetables (many more than in previous years).

    Obviously people have always grown edibles. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still a fad today. Whether it has staying power in terms of the number of people doing it today remains to be seen. At any rate, this book is a great primer for newbies who want to try their hand at edible gardening, which was, after all, the point of my post. —Pam

  9. Emily says:

    It’s not that I have limited space. I just have limited SUNNY space :(. Too bad tomatoes can’t grow next to hostas.

  10. Abase Whitehouse says:

    I was raised on a farm in southeast TEXAS, in fact it is now under Lake Livingston. Moved to Galveston and raised a family. I’m now back close to home and beginning to get back into gardening. I planted my first raised bed in September 2010. It feels so good to have my hands back in the dirt. Relearning the earth and how to use different plants brings me so much peace. The soil is mostly sand and large trees shade most of the yard. I’m learning how to best use my little patch of sunshine. A marigold here, tomatoe there, it’s all good and all worth it.

  11. Jenny says:

    Everyone in my family would be very disappointed if I didn’t make my green tomato chutney every year. I don’t even have to wait for the tomatoes to ripen. And what about those pomegranates. They even won me some spring bulbs for my flower garden as well as being a wonderful addition to our breakfast cereal. I can barely live without my herbs, I’m glad you have at least those Pam. Sugar snap peas- If the frost will just give them a break I’ll be picking them in April. Lemon curd-yum. Just like my grandma used to make but mine is from my own lemons. The first thing we ever did in this garden was to build 4 raised beds for vegetable gardening. Yup! Vegetable gardening and flower gardening go hand in hand at this house. It would be interesting to read that book though. Thanks for the chance.

  12. Wizzie says:

    I find that there is nothing that compares to tomatoes picked straight from the backyard and I love to see my 2 year old running to them to pick a few to eat. I want to expand into fruit trees, but I don’t want to have to leave the trees behind when we move, so I’ve been looking into dwarf fruit trees that I can grow in pots.

  13. Melody says:

    My family just moved to Austin this summer, and our postage-stamp backyard (and an overload of shade) has us totally stymied about our long-desired vegetable garden. We’re thinking of taking it to the front yard, but just not sure if we can muster the courage to put our efforts on display for the whole neighborhood. But I’d love the book; it would be a huge help.

  14. Thanks for the great review, Pam! Glad you liked the book, and were *almost* convinced to give growing edibles a try!

    For a non-vegetable gardener, I really enjoyed your book, Andrea! You never know, I may slip a few edibles into my cart at the nursery next time. —Pam

  15. […] A vaguely Asian trellis screen is simply but beautifully constructed, with a V-shape bend in the middle. That’s Andrea Bellamy of the Vancouver blog Heavy Petal on the left. I was delighted to meet her, having recently read and reviewed her new book, Sugar Snaps and Strawberries. […]

  16. […] Monday I reviewed Andrea Bellamy’s Sugar Snaps and Strawberries and promised to give a copy of the book to a local reader. To be eligible, one had to 1) live in […]

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