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Some recommended Books

Here are some of our favourite books. As with our seeds, we only list books that we think are really useful.

"Grow Your Own Vegetables" by Joy Larkcom. YOU NEED THIS BOOK
This is the book to have if you have any questions about gardening. Even if you never get any other book, this one will sort you out for all your veg-growing questions.

It has just one or two clear paragraphs on each vegetable, explaining how, when and why you grow it in a particular way.

No-nonsense, clear instructions for all the vegetables you could want to grow, with simple explanations of why you do things a particular way rather than being a 'recipe' book.

Brilliant! We keep it to hand for quick reference all the time, even after all these years. Completely organic of course.

Order BkGY - £


plant picture"Oriental Vegetables" - by Joy Larkcom

Another beautiful book by Joy. This is the perfect choice if you are wanting to know about all the wonderful vegetables grown by billions of gardeners in the east - but relatively unknown here.

It was an old ex-library copy of the first edition that really got us enthused about trying out all the oriental veg, and as a result we now have a really good selection in the catalogue, so we're really pleased to be able to offer the book as well now it is back in print.

This is an excellent reference book as well as a 'how-to' gardening book, as clear and easy to use as all of Joy Larkcom's books, with nice clear line drawings. Based on notes from her long vegetable-exploring trips to China and Japan, this book is a wonderful introduction to the huge range of oriental vegetables that are little known in this country, but easy to grow and delicious to eat.

Each individual variety of vegetable included is described in detail, with growing techniques, harvesting instructions and recipes, so you will know exactly what to do with all your crops once you have grown them.

We love this book particularly for the large section on oriental brassicas, which are a great resource for the gardener who wants crops all year, as they grow most happily in the cooler months. But there are masses of other vegetables too - roots, beans and herbs, to mention just a few. Even the most experienced gardener will learn from this book - and new gardeners are certain to be inspired by it to expand the range of what they grow.

Paperback, 288 pages . . . a large format (about A4 size) book that makes a beautiful present.

We also affer an 'Oriental Explorer' seed collection of 6 different oriental vegetables. The seeds come in a pretty green paper packet, together with notes, and have been chosen not only for their good results in the UK, but also to illustrate the different families of vegetable greens mentioned in the book. Together they make a nice gift.

Order the book: BkOR - £


Order the Oriental Explorer Seed Collection: - £


plant picture Back Garden Seed Saving by Sue Stickland

Saving you own seed at home is really simple - but just as with growing the vegetables themselves, you need to know what to do for each variety. Seedsaving is easy, fun and the best way to keep our vegetable heritage alive - all you need is a little information to make sure that you do it right!

Your own vegetable seed will be fresher than anything you can buy (even from us) , and better adapted to your conditions, and you'll get huge amounts you can swap with your friends - as long as you follow a few very simple steps to keep things pure.

This book tells you the basics - it's all very easy, and you only need things you'll find in the kitchen like sieves, colanders etc.

We provide basic seedsaving information with all our seeds, but if you really want to develop your seedsaving skills, a good book on the subject is essential.

Here Sue Stickland provides all the information that you could need in an simple, accessible format: why to save your own seed, basic seedsaving techniques, followed by crop by crop instructions for each individual vegetable.

Paperback, 200 pages ....all you need to know about easy home seed saving.

We are offering this at a special subsidised price as part of
our campaign to encourage everyone to save their own seed. (It should be £13 )

Back in print now: Order BkBG - £


Seed Saving Baggies

We hope you will reuse the bags we send our seeds out in to store your own saved seeds. But if you don't have enough, this may help. These are small 2 inch x 1 inch ziplock baggies, with write-on panels for labelling them with a normal bic pen.

Normally only available in boxes of 1000, we have made them up into packets of 20.

Order Bag1 - 20 bags £


plant pictureThe Fat of The Land by John Seymour

We are now distributing this wonderful book by John Seymour, who together with his wife Sally, was
one of the pioneers of the grow-your-own movement back in the 1960s. (You may know their famous 'Complete Book of Self Sufficiency')

This book is more autobiographical; it tells the story of how they moved from riverboat to country cottage and started their own smallholding,
learning from scratch as they went.

It is well-written, funny, and inspiring, and was one of the books that set us off down this path too.

A great present for anyone who is into gardening or smallholding.

Paperback, 188 pages

Order BkFL - £


plant pictureplant pictureHow to Grow Apples and Make Cider by Bill Bleasdale

A lovely little booklet full of hand drawn illustrations of orchards, tree planting and cider making.

Useful and informative, but also very amusing, and sure to inspire anyone to have a go at making their own cider or perry. It takes you from planting your trees and caring from them right through to your finished glass of cider.

We're looking forward to trying out Bill's cider making instructions as soon as our newly planted apple trees get a bit bigger - we will report back in a few years on the results!

Pamphlet style book, hand drawn and lettered, 30 pages

Order BkCi - £




Vegetable Growing:

Patio Produce, by Paul Peacock (Spring Hill 2009) ISBN: 1905862288
Ideal for anyone who wants to grow vegetables in pots & containers. Very practical, tells you all you need to know to get a good harvest of vegetables even if you don't have a 'proper' garden to grow them in. Includes crop by crop details of pot sizes needed, best planting methods etc.

The New Organic Grower, by Eliot Coleman (Chelsea Green, ISBN 0-930031-75-X)
The first good modern book we found on organic market gardening, and it's really great. Applies to allotment-scale too. Inspiring, this book has changed the way we grow. Very sound on cover-crops, soil improvement etc, from a strong scientific base. This man knows what he's talking about. If you only get two books, get this and the Joy Larkcom.

"Growing Green" by Jenny Hall & Iain Tolhurst (The Vegan Organic Network 2006) ISBN: 0955222508
The answer to anyone who is looking for a British equivalent to Eliot Coleman. This book is specifically about vegan organic growing - that is to say, growing with no animal inputs to your system. Since most smaller scale vegetable growers don't have the resources or wish to keep animals as part of their system, this makes it the perfect resource for those looking to generate fertility for their plot on site, without having to bring in outside manure or fertilisers. Again, very scientific and practical, no 'myths', just loads of good solid information. Possibly even more useful for the British grower than the 'New Organic Grower'. Probably mainly relevant to those growing at allotment scale or above.

"Seed to Seed" by Suzanne Ashworth.(ISBN 1882424581).
This is the new edition, and a brilliant vegetable seed-saving book. American, but a useful addition to Back Garden Seedsaving if you get really keen. Used as the standard reference by the Seed Savers Exchange.

"Botany for Gardeners" by Brian Capon. (ISBN 0881926558)
Are you an experienced gardener but wish you understood just a bit more about how your plants work? E.g. what is going on when for a seed germinates? What does a leaf look like in cross-section close-up? And what are all those pithy cells for in the middle? This concise little paperback book is a handy reference to answer these questions.

It does assume a bit of scientific background knowledge but is ideal for someone who studied biology at school but wasn't paying much attention, or has forgotten a lot of what they learnt! Lots of nice photos and diagrams, text probably to about A-level standard or a bit higher in places.

"Breed your own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe ( Chelsea Green Pub Co; ISBN: 1890132721)
This is a brilliant introduction to veg breeding for the interested amateur. Until 50 years ago, all gardeners were plant breeders - your great-grandparents probably knew much more about this than we do.. .it's not difficult, you just need to know how to do it, and the tradition has been lost.

This book will give you the basics, and then if you're interested, the nitty-gritty too. Well written and inspiring, this is the second edition. It was this book that led us to the popping chickpeas.

"Plants for a Future" by Ken Fern. (Permanent Publications; ISBN: 1856230112)
PFAF is a charity researching and promoting the use of alternative food crops in the UK, often native perennials. A really inspiring book that everyone should have. We have used their reference database and information leaflets for years, and its great to see the book finally in print. This book will have you rushing out to plant an edible woodland in your back garden. Available everywhere or from the publishers Permanent Publications (Tel: 01730 823311. Email:

General social & political:

"The Party's Over: Oil, War and the fate of Industrial Societies" by Richard Heinberg - ISBN 1902636457.
This is probably the most important book published in recent years. Our entire modern civilisation hinges on us having access to large amounts of energy from oil. Not just cars - food, clothing, shelter - it all takes energy to make. Our oil use is equivalent to 90 full-time servants for every man woman and child, which is why we have such complex and comfortable lives. And we are addicted to this level of consumption, because that's how the 'system' works - can you imagine trying to change it radically and it all still working?

This book is a very readable, rational, scientific, well thought-out analysis of how we've got to this state. It is pretty convincing that the problem is not that we will 'run out' of oil, but that by about 2006 - 2010, total demand started to exceed total production. The potential consequences are immense, as some of us (who? and in which countries?) now have to do without our '90 servants'. World leaders are no doubt aware of the problem - look at current events in Iraq, Iran, Syria etc. But it would be good if everyone else knew why we are doing these things too.

"The Earth Care Manual" by Patrick Whitefield- ISBN 185623021X.
Well, this is really the manual to living in a sane and truly sustainable manner. Covers an enormous range of subjects, ranging from raised bed gardening to renewable energy to green building methods, to mention just a few. It is equally interesting whether you are a total newcomer to the subjects or already know something about them, and covers both the 'big issues' and practical things that we can all do.


Heavy-Duty Reference Books:

Lost Crops Of the Incas (ISBN 0894991973)
If you wonder what inspired us to try all the various South American crops you'll find on our website, read Lost Crops of the Incas and you'll have the answer! Huge volume, produced by BOSTID (USA National Academy of Sciences) by a panel of hundreds of international experts. Explanation of uses, opportunities, limitations and traditions.
The only downside is that it doesn't actually tell you anything at all about how to grow them. But still a great starting point, and will definitely inspire you to try new crops.

Now available to read online for free! See here

Lost Crops Of Africa - Vol 1: Grains and Vol 2: Vegetables (ISBN 0309049903)
Excellent books describing in detail the various grains and less known vegetables grown in Africa. Again, produced by BOSTID (USA National Academy of Sciences) by a panel of international experts. Explanation of uses, opportunities, limitations and traditions.
These books are less relevant to gardeners in the UK, as the crops are on the whole less suited to our climate than those from South America, but still a fascinating read.

Also available to read online for free: See here and here

"Amaranth: Modern Prospects for an Ancient Crop"
(National Academy Press, Washington DC 1984) is the best further reference if you want to know more about the history and potential of amaranths as a grain and vegetable crop. This was our starting point for our Amaranth experiments.

It is out of print, but you may be able to track it down through a library. Worth the effort if you really get into amaranth.

You can read this one online too: see here

The CABI series of horticultural references
If you are a serious amateur or professional plant grower or breeder, the following reference texts are excellent. These from CABI Publishing are comprehensive and up-to-date, summarising state-of-the-art knowledge about these crops. This includes growing, breeding, processing - everything. They are expensive (about £30 each), and do assume a fair amount of scientific knowledge (degree level). All available on-line from BOL & Amazon, although its better to support your nearest small bookshop, who will get them for you MUCH quicker anyway.

'Principles of Plant Breeding' by R W Allard (The 1960 edition, NOT the recent edition) ISBN 0 471 02315 9
For those wanting to 'move on from Deppe', this is THE book I would strongly recommend. He does not give nitty-gritty details for specific crops, but instead explains why you might want to breed in different ways - e.g. when mass selection is better than backcrossing or vice versa. It is great in that it explains without much maths.

Note that there is a newer edition just released at some absurdly high price (£100?), but with fewer pages, and judging by the publishers blurb, lots of info about modern genetic engineering methods. This original version from 1960 is much more relevant to the sort of breeding we are trying to do, and is cheaply available second hand . I got my copy through amazon for about 15 dollars after a week of putting up a 'book wanted' request.

I have seen others (Simmonds did a very similar volume that is totally & utterly incomprehensible), but this one is the most accessible, and does explain very clearly what you are trying to do in terms of backcrossing, pedigree breeding etc.

Out of print but easily obtainable on-line secondhand; try abebooks, amazon etc.

Farming references:

'Sanitation without Water', Winblad & Kilama, ISBN 0333391403
is available mail order from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales if you can't find it elsewhere. How to build almost every simple sewage-disposal system you can think of. Written originally for aid workers. It in fact covers sanitation with water too, with instructions for french drains and soak-aways. Very clear and easy to understand, with good explanations of the principles involved, ie what you're trying to achieve from a hygiene/health point of view.

Five Acres & Independence by M G Kains (ISBN 0486209741) Dover Books
A how-to-be-a-farmer book. American. Written in 1940 for the starting-out small farmer, much of his advice is very sound today, especially for the organic farmer. The first bit of the book covers business advice and planning - very profit-oriented - but there is a wealth of minor detail in the rest for forgotten techniques and technologies - clamping, root cellars, ice-houses(!), draining, orchards, home-made septic tanks, springs, poultry etc etc.

The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency By John & Sally Seymour
The english book that started it all. Large-format reference paperback that gives 1 page per topic. A bit superficial really - it doesn't go into very much detail, so you'll definitely need other references too. But the advice is sound and is enough to point you on your way with most things you want to try. All in all, this is one to borrow from the library rather than buy.

We are now distributing their other autobiographical book 'The Fat of the Land' which tells the story of how he got into living off the land in the first place. Funny and informative, and much more realistic than the Complete Book, in that it makes it really clear that if you want to be self sufficient, you still need a bit of paid work too.