`The New Seed Starters Handbook' by Nancy Bubel is a serious and superior manual on virtually all aspects of starting all different types of plants from seed. As with books on cooking, there are hundreds of books on gardening which are designed to go directly to the budget book pile and give relatively small value for the space they take up on your bookshelf. There are several obvious symptoms that this book is not to be dismissed as a lightweight. The first is the fact that Rodale Press publishes it, which may be the only publishing imprimatur which has a serious commitment to its particular speciality of organic gardening. The second is that this is a second edition of an already successful book. Unfortunately, a third easy sign of a book's quality is missing, as there is no thumbnail sketch of the author's biography and credentials.
Fortunately, a quick browse of this book quickly reveals that Ms. Bubel has got serious game when it comes to instructing us on how to raise plants from seed. I'm especially fond of the opening to her introduction where she says her first attempts were not immediately successful, setting a realistic tone that even with the best instruction, growing plants from seed is not easy. That is not to say it can't be simple! I'm often enchanted by the difference in the cooking world between `easy' and `simple'. While making a great soup is not easy, if you break it down into its various steps, it is really rather simple, if you have the patience and the time to carry out each step with care and love (that is, close attention to what you are doing). Ms. Bubel cuts no corners in covering all the details, but lays everything out with an affection for her subject which invariably draws one in to wanting to run right out and build some cold frames.
The author addresses all types of seed started plants, including vegetables, herbs, `domestic' flowers, wildflowers, trees and shrubs. However, I suspect her first love is in growing vegetables, as that seems to come first and occupies the most space. But, in most cases, what works for your carrots will probably also work well for your marigolds, with only a few variations.
My fondest feelings for the book arise when I see Ms. Bubel going far beyond the average suburban garden plants of tomatoes, zucchini, and sweet peppers. Her dictionary of planting techniques even includes entries for the relatively exotic artichoke, peanut, and salsify. This brings me to the most appealing reason for growing your own vegetables. There are many species that are simply not available in even the biggest megamart. This includes even relatively easy to grow varieties of salad greens. And, even if you do find a good `summer mix', it is probably outrageously expensive. The second most appealing thing about growing your own, even if you limit yourself to a very few species, is the fact that homegrown vegetables can taste so incredibly better than store-bought stuff. I was pleasantly surprised when I cooked with some Italian parsley which had grown up from self-seeding from the previous year, and the difference in taste between it and the local fare was simply amazing.
The book is amply stocked with great appendices on sources. The only annoyance is that this is a pre-internet publication, but no Internet jocky worth their salt will have any problem locating the sites for, fore example, `Johnny's Seeds' or `Charlie's Greenhouse Supplies'.