Book Review: “The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook”

Review The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook
“The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook: Identify and manage diseases and other common problems on edible plants”
By Susan Mulvihill
Cool Springs Press, 2023
224 pages, paperback, $28.99

“The Vegetable Garden Problem Solver Handbook” offers a good introduction for beginning gardeners and a useful reference book for new and experienced gardeners alike. Though the book misses some detail in its breadth, it is especially useful for gardeners struggling with physiological issues, plant diseases and large animal pests.

The first chapter of the book, “Nurture Your Garden and Troubleshoot Problems,” discusses best practices for getting your garden off to a strong start, including advice on where to place gardens and reminders of how to plan a garden without overextending yourself. The chapter then reviews ways to troubleshoot various problems, including low germination, harsh weather, insect pests, and physiological disorders such as blossom drop and cracked fruits. The second chapter, “Vegetable Plant Disease Guide,” which makes up the bulk of the book, begins with a guide to plant disease, which describes the ways that plant diseases function, the signs and symptoms of them that gardeners should look out for, and how to take a holistic approach to managing disease in the organic garden. The chapter then presents an extensive reference table with common plant diseases and their symptoms, sorted by crop, which is followed by in-depth profiles of those diseases, including key diagnostic characteristics and strategies to control them. Finally, the chapter ends with an overview of organic strategies for managing plant diseases. In the third chapter “Critters in the Garden,” the reader can find profiles of common larger animal pests, such as birds, rodents and deer. These profiles include descriptions of the animals, their favorite crops, signs and symptoms, and tactics to exclude or dissuade them from your garden.

This handbook describes many of the most common and challenging problems facing organic gardeners, especially physiological disorders, plant diseases and large animal pests, using personable, straightforward language. Tables and figures included in the book, such as those showing the life-cycle of various plant diseases, are helpful and inviting, making the introductory scientific information in the book much more accessible and useful. The plant disease chapter in particular does a great job of covering terminology, key troubleshooting questions, signs and symptoms to watch out for, and more. Identifying large animal pests, and the signs of their presence in the garden is something that even experienced gardeners struggle with. The chapter on these pests would be a great tool for many gardeners hoping to ensure that their tactics are the right ones for the animals they contend with. One gap in this book is how little attention is given to insect pests — something that is made more obvious by how useful the book’s discussion of plant diseases is. It would have been helpful to include, for example, some details about types of insect pests, how to search for signs and symptoms, general strategies in organic gardening and useful terminology. However, readers looking for more of this information may want to turn to Mulvihill’s previous publication, “The Vegetable Garden Pest Handbook” (Cool Springs Press, 2021).

The book covers a breadth of concerns, making it best suited to an introductory guide or a reference. While it leaves some things to be desired in terms of what topics it covers, those gaps do not make it any less useful in any gardener’s library.

Mariam Taleb, Westbrook, Maine

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