The Mediterranean Kitchen Garden: Growing Organic Fruit and Vegetables in a Hot, Dry Climate

As an avid grower of fruits and vegetables, I was excited to find this book about food growing in Europeā€”in mediterranean climates similar to that in my California garden. Some plants are different, techniques are certainly similar, but some are not quite so, and the use of the lunar calendar and companion planting provides intriguing tips for a different way of gardening. Mariano Bueno is well-known in Spain for his expertise on “organic agriculture, geobiology, and ecological building.” As a writer, he is thorough and precise while enthusiastic and encouraging to novice gardeners. Fortunately, the book has been translated into English by Evelyn FitzHerbert, who also lives in Spain.

The book is broken into logical sections, starting with Making a Kitchen Garden. Bueno begins with design and layout and moves through climate, soils, propagation, mulching, crop rotation, and associations, and includes a page on cosmic influences and the lunar calendar. He is a strong proponent of planting according to phases of the moon. He recommends mulching to retain soil moisture, enhance aeration, and keep irrigation lines moist to prevent lime buildup-all useful tips.

The section on plants for a vegetable garden contains important information on the types of soil needed for each plant, in addition to sowing and care and maintenance. Not all vegetables want fluffy, nitrogen-rich soils: Brussels sprouts and onions do not want rich soil, but cabbages and cauliflowers do. Companion planting figures large in this book: melons planted with corn for wind protection, cauliflower with peas that add nitrogen to the soil, peppers with basil to discourage aphids. Bueno suggests applying potassium in the form of a comfrey mulch for enhanced fruit formation.

The Aromatic and Medicinal Garden is full of plants that Bueno recommends for treating both human and plant ailments. Comfrey appears again, and nettle is mentioned for both human consumption and as a tonic for plants and an aphid repellent. The occasional lack of scientific names for plants is a minor shortcoming.

Bueno then moves into The Orchard, with the caveat that this section does not have the same level of detail as the rest of the book. He reasons that small gardens may not have room for fruit trees and can suffer from the shade cast by such trees. He recommends the smaller fruit trees, such as plum, pear, orange, or mandarin, and encourages the use of berry bushes and vines. His discussion of pruning includes tips for lunar timing.

The book concludes with three short sections: a garden task calendar, organized by season; seed saving techniques; and information on common pests and diseases. As a certified UC Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, I was enormously pleased to see that his recommendations for treatments were preceded by asking the question, “what caused this problem,” rather than leaping ahead to potentially using the wrong spray or an inappropriate treatment.

The Mediterranean Kitchen Garden is well written, full of useful information that is applicable to gardeners in California’s mediterranean climate, and provides an intriguing peek into gardening practices across the pond.

Bracey Tiede, Master Gardener
San Jose, California