Container Gardening for Health
by Barbara Barker

Prairie Oak, 2009. ISBN 978-0-9786293-2-8.
Reviewed by Susan Wittig Albert
Posted on 06/18/2009

Nonfiction: Food/Cooking/Kitchen

These days, many of us are concerned about pesticide residue on fresh fruits and vegetables, especially the fresh produce that's imported from other countries. We are also wondering if there isn't something we can do to take responsibility for our own food supply in a time when food security may be in question. In Container Gardening for Health, Master Gardener Barbara Barker gives us guidelines for growing the "dirty dozen": those plants that are most contaminated with chemical pesticide residue, according to data compiled by the USDA. Unfortunately, the "dirty dozen" includes peaches, apples bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, lettuce, grapes, pears, spinach, and potatoes—tasty, nutritious foods that appear several times a week on the plates of almost every American.

What can you do to ensure your family's food safety? You can start, as Barker suggests, by studying the list and choosing the three items that you consume most often. Learn how to grow these plants in whatever space you have, following the helpful guidelines in this book. It could even be a family project involving kids and seniors—container gardening is an enjoyable activity that can fit the abilities of almost everyone.

I've been a gardener for many years, but I found plenty to learn from Barker's book. Plant by plant, she reviews each of the "dirty dozen," offering general information, reviewing the chemical residue issues, describing varieties (often dwarf) suitable for container gardening, picturing appropriate containers, and giving tips for soil, fertilization, pest management, harvesting, and storage. She has included a comprehensive table of pesticide data (it may just curl your hair to see the kind of chemicals that are turning up in your food), and a helpful chapter on pest identification, prevention, and treatment. This latter is an excellent resource for every gardener. She also offers suggestions for raised-bed construction—a good technique that can turn even the tiniest yard into a productive garden. And there's a first-class resource list, a glossary, and an index: must-haves for gardeners who want to do more research on their own.

There are a number of books on bookstore shelves these days that offer to help us become container gardeners. Barker's book, however, is unique, for she combines the information you need to know about gardening in containers with what you need to know to protect your food supply. Most of us don't have a great deal of extra time on our hands these days, so concentrating our efforts on replacing at least some of the "dirty dozen" with our own pesticide-free fruits and vegetables makes very good sense.

In fact, this whole book makes very good sense. You'll find yourself going back to it over and over again.

Barbara Barker is a certified Master Gardener. She operates the Internet company The Gourmet Gardener from Florida, where she lives with her husband and two children.

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