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Review: Grow Your Food for Free

Growing food is officially sexy at the moment, but this has led to the rise of a gardening industry that is only too keen to take our money: so what a pleasure it is to find a gardening book that doesn’t send the reader scurrying off to the garden centre every five minutes. Grow Your Food for Free (Well, Almost) by Dave Hamilton (Green Books, 2011) is all about gardening without spending money.

cover illustration Grow Your Food for Free, imageRather than dealing too much with actual gardening advice, which after all you can get from pretty much any book, the watchwords here are reusing and recycling. Whether it’s planting a wildlife corner or making a tunnel cloche out of – well, nothing much, really – this book points you firmly away from the shops. It directs you instead to take a good look at what you’ve already got, or what other people are giving away for free.

Ellie Mains’ crisp artwork follows the primitive style much-used by the Transition network. This echoes the book’s anti-consumerist philosophy, which is evident from the very opening paragraphs. Hamilton is a writer who wears his heart on his home-spun sleeve.

Aimed squarely at urban gardeners, the book concentrates on advice for the small scale: the scope, on the other hand, is wide. Growing food is a large and varied subject, and a single volume can do no more than provide an overview of each topic. Grow Your Food for Free does this very effectively, punctuating the text with an eclectic mix of detailed practical advice picked out in coloured boxes.

There are some real gems here, such as how to make an apple picker out of a two-litre fizzy drinks bottle and a broom handle. In fact there are so many of them that the coloured boxes make some pages look a little cluttered, but to leave any of them out would be unforgiveable – and I can only wonder about the material that there wasn’t room to include.

Grow Your Food for Free is inspirational rather than instructional in tone. It’s just the book for anyone itching to get started on backyard self-sufficiency, but put off by the outlay. It would also be a perfect present for those friends – and we all have them – who gaze at the hanging garland of apple rings drying in the conservatory, and pronounce us barking mad.

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