Book Review

Golden Gate Gardening

by Pam Peirce

Sasquatch Books, 615 Second Ave., Seattle, WA 98104. Bookstores or call: (800) 775-0817. To order on-line: 1998. 400 pages. Soft cover. $24.95.
(Price/availability info may have changed since original publication of review.)

Reviewed by Anne Chambers (7/1998)

As a San Francisco Bay Area vegetable and fruit gardener, I relish a gardening book tailor-made for me. I've planted year-round crops in my Oakland backyard for 10 years, but consider myself a perpetual beginner. I've had many successes and failures over the years, am not always sure why and would never pass up the chance to pick up a few pointers. My garden harbors a selection of vegetables and herbs and several fruit trees: three apples, one pear, one apricot and one lemon.

In the Bay Area we are used to the microclimates; we know which areas are "socked-in" with fog all summer, which areas have early morning and late evening fog with sunny days, which areas are hotter than others and which areas have chilly summer coastal salt breezes. I happen to live in what my local nursery staff calls the "banana belt," meaning that we have relatively sunny weather. Of course, this variety of Bay Area weather patterns makes for challenging gardening, which is why this book is so welcome.

"Golden Gate Gardening" was conceived as a regional food gardening book (Bay Area and Coastal California) for year-round growing by a 25-year veteran San Francisco vegetable gardener, Pam Peirce. The book is organized into two major sections, eight chapters devoted to gardening activities such as starting seeds and preparing the soil, followed by chapters on specific vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers.

Finally, five appendices cover topics such as microclimates, pesticide toxicity, mail-order seed companies, resources and suggested reading.

The chapters on basic gardening techniques are useful for both beginning and experienced gardeners, and include many easy-to-use charts and detailed how-to suggestions. Several handy charts on optimum planting times in fog or sunny conditions for more than 40 vegetables are included along with a short section on vegetables that tolerate salt spray best. Peirce provides details on framed beds, best building materials, soil composition and specific vegetable planting depths in the chapter "Planning Your Garden."

She gives practical tips on starting seeds and describes techniques that work for our climate such as creating a seed glass, floating row covers, building and using cold frames, tire-ringed beds and water frames. I'm a "hit or miss" seed starter, so I was happy to find several new ideas to try next season.

Many Bay Area gardeners have either sandy or clay soil. The chapter on soils and soil amendments was adapted to our local circumstances and again, includes useful and very specific advice.

The reference chapters on vegetables, herbs, fruits and flowers are likewise in-depth and tailored for the region. One hundred pages describe as many vegetables suited to Bay Area conditions, including some out-of-the-ordinary ones such as amaranth, Bolivian sunroot and bitter melon. This rich selection has inspired me to expand my backyard farm in the future beyond the tomato-lettuce-peppers-chard routine I've followed the past few years. The common format for each vegetable covers an introduction, growing instructions, harvest information including curing and storing, typical varieties and common pests.

I was pleased to discover several pages of explanation on onions, their sensitivity to day-length, which ones are likely to thrive in Bay Area climates and a long discussion about why they may go to seed without bulbing. My current onion crop is going to seed, which was baffling to me since they are always characterized as "easy to grow" on the onion set packages. Now I know what to do next time (plant them in March instead of the fall).

Sprinkled throughout the vegetable reference section are interesting-looking recipes, but probably no more than 20 or so. They seem to be there for a little reading variety rather than as a reason to buy the book. The many pen-and-ink illustrations also make for easy reading.

I highly recommend this book to all Bay Area vegetable gardeners, whatever their ability. I was delighted with the in-depth information and specific techniques oriented for our peculiar weather conditions. I plan to read, re-read and use this book as a reference, which is more than I can say about any other vegetable gardening book I can think of.

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