Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Book Review: Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables

If you've read Seasonal Wisdom before, you know that I love heirloom vegetables. From purple beans and spotted lettuces to long red radishes that look more like carrots ... I'm hooked on the old, open-pollinated vegetables of the past. Especially if they have a charming history behind them as well. 

That's why I was excited that my friend Chris McLaughlin authored the newly released Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables.  A few months ago, I spoke with Chris on Nest in Style about heirlooms, and she shared stories about these interesting old vegetable varieties. Listen to the interview.

'Chinese Red Noodle' beans are an unique Asian heirloom
that produce all summer.
About the Book:  The new Complete Idiot's Guide to Heirloom Vegetables helps introduce mainstream America to the wonders of heritage vegetables in a simple, conversational language that the general public will appreciate.

Using skills culled from writing for The Herbal Companion, and other well-known publications, Chris does a good job of bringing alive such subjects as:
  • What is genetic diversity in vegetables, and why should you care?
  • The sex life of vegetable plants, and why you don't want cross-pollination.
  • Ten questions to ask yourself before choosing your heirlooms.
  • Some creative ways to share your wealth (of heirlooms seeds), and learn about new types.
Readers will find an entire chapter on seed saving, as well as tried and true gardening tips to help beginners.

Companion planting and beneficial insects are touched upon. Compost is covered briefly too, which isn't surprising as Chris authored The Complete Idiot's Guide to Compost. I was glad to find a chart of seed starting tips with handy information on when to plant, soil temperatures, spacing and germination times.

This beautiful 'Cylindra' beet is a Danish heirloom
that's tender and sweet.
Chris plays fair when explaining the pros and cons of growing hybrid vegetables versus heirlooms -- recognizing that both can bring benefits to our gardens. Sometimes you may want a hybrid tomato plant with extra disease resistance. But at least this book will introduce you to some gorgeous and delicious old heirlooms too.

My favorite part of the book are the descriptions of the individual varieties. Chris describes hundreds of different heirlooms, and even reveals a few histories behind certain ones like 'Mostoller Wild Goose' beans. Personally, I would have liked to have found even more of these fascinating stories in the book.

An extra plus is the companion website with color photos of the described heirlooms. (See examples above.)

My verdict: Gardeners eager to start exploring the world of heirloom vegetables will find lots to like in this new addition to The Complete Idiot's Guide series.

Connect with Chris:
On Twitter: @Suburban_Farmer

Disclosure: I was provided with a review copy of this book, but my opinion is strictly my own.


  1. Thank you so much, Teresa, for this very kind review!

    I completely agree with you! I, too, would have like to have seen more heirloom seeds stories, but the pub house wanted more varieties in the directory as opposed to stories.

    Thank you so much again and I'm thrilled that you enjoyed the book.

    Mt Best,


  2. Sounds like a great book. I'll check it out! Carla

  3. Hi Carla: You should definitely check out this book if you're interested in heirlooms and want to learn more. Thanks for stopping by. Teresa