Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades: the Complete Guide to Organic Gardening

Steve Solomon, Sasquatch Books

When the last wave of the home food production and local foods movement has crested, Steve Solomon’s name is one that should be remembered. Part entrepreneur (he started the Territorial Seed Company in 1979), part educator (he used to teach master gardening classes at the University of Oregon), and part writer (he was written at least six titles), Steve Solomon is the best kind of gardening guru you could hope to find.

And Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades is the closest thing to a gardening bible I have found. A neighbor in Eugene first recommended it to me as he watched me struggle to get my timing  in the garden down. For those who do not live along the I-5 corridor, the micro-climate west of the Cascade Mountains provides for distinct opportunities and challenges. The weather is generally mild enough that you can grow vegetables all year long, though the summers are so mild that hot weather crops like tomatoes, peppers, and corn require different strategies than they would elsewhere. The winter’s rains also tend to leach the soil of vital minerals and nutrients, making the need for winter coverings all the more necessary.

GVWC addresses these and many other peculiarities of gardening in this specific region. Even if you don’t live west of the Cascades, this book still has a lot of straight advice for growing vegetables. Solomon’s tone is one of the seasoned veteran offering tips for those just coming to the art. As a beginner, I especially appreciated that he was writing for my knowledge level and skill set. As something of a veteran now, I return to this book year after year for the plain-spoken advice and insight he provides into vegetables and maximizing the conditions for their growth.

Probably the best thing I can say about this book and about Solomon is that he is wise, not given to rash advice or ill-conceived notions of gardening, and that he walks an important middle ground, one that is somewhere between organic and conventional and that might best be described as “sustainable” (if that word still has any meaning). Previous versions of GVWC (it is now in its 6th edition) used to be subtitled “the Complete Guide to Natural Gardening,” and I am not sure if the change in title reflects a change in content, or if it reflects an attempt to align the book with the trend toward all-things-organic. I rather hope it is the latter. 

One thing I have always admired about this book is Solomon’s no-nonsense approach to gardening. He isn’t what I would call a trendy gardener. He isn’t selling you a new method or radical approach to growing vegetables. He isn’t selling you anything but useful information.

Though the title and some of the content suggest that GVWC is a regional book, most of what you will find here is universal in nature.

Highly recommended. A green thumb’s up!