By Barbara Damrosch
Friday, January 7, 2011; 12:13 AM
A gardener feeds the compost pile, which feeds the garden, which feeds the gardener. But somebody needs to also feed the gardener's mind. Most of us have at least a few mud-smeared volumes we turn to for advice. But knowledge needs updating with recent research, fresh takes on old ideas, unfamiliar crops to try. As the new year begins, I'm grateful for a few subscriptions I will never cancel, as long as I can lift a spade.
With more beginners planting food gardens, magazines must address an increasingly general audience. But there are still sources of information for those who want to dig deeper into a subject. At the top of the heap are three newsletters for which you will find no Wikipedia entries, just a trail of ardent readers.
The 26-year-old publication HortIdeas arrives with a nutrient-dense wrap-up of horticultural and agricultural news, research, book reviews and products. It's the brainchild of two former MIT engineers living on a farm in Gravel Switch, Ky., and is available bimonthly in print and monthly online ( users.mikrotec.com/gwill/hi-index.htm ).
The Avant Gardener, a monthly horticultural news service, is also indispensable, and comes by mail from P.O. Box 489, New York, NY 10028.
Growing for Market ( www.growingformarket.com ), published by Lynn Byczynski, is aimed at the pros, but amateurs eager to boost their home garden harvest by a notch will delight in the precise directions that market gardeners require, such as planting garlic "when the soil temperature at four inches deep is 50 degrees F."
As for full-scale gardening and lifestyle magazines, many include material on growing edibles, but Mother Earth News ( www.motherearthnews.com ) serves it up in more detail. Remarkably, all its archived material is easy to access online.
The Web, in general, is a mother lode, but there is often a gap between brief, superficial entries on a subject and scholarly articles only a biochemist could understand. Some universities publish good regionally based advice, but they and their cooperative-extension arms are feeling the economic pinch, and the material is not always updated.
Forums, such as those on GardenWeb ( www.gardenweb.com ) and Dave's Garden ( www.davesgarden.com ), can be very informative, and there's a we're-in-the-same-boat camaraderie when you find a kindred soul in your climate zone.
Then there are the blogs. Who can keep up with them all? I make a point of dropping in on two. Kitchen Gardeners International ( www.kitchengardeners.org ), founded by White House veggie garden advocate Roger Doiron in 2003, was a daring leap that has since paid off, with more than 20,000 members in 100 countries. This nonprofit group, which promotes home food gardening, is interactive and member-driven. The other blog is Garden Rant ( www.gardenrant.com ), which gives good information, hosts lively and knowledgeable guest ranters, and is anchored by four outstandingly uppity women, excellent writers all.
firstname.lastname@example.org Damrosch is a freelance writer and the author of "The Garden Primer."
6Read more about growing your own food at washingtonpost.com/vegetablegardens .