5 Books to Spark a Hobby or Stoke an Old One

You can improve the quality of your soil in three to five years, but patience is key.
You can improve the quality of your soil in three to five years, but patience is key. Cora Mueller/Shutterstock

The days are still long, the nights are still warm, and inspiration for gardeners, artists, makers and crafters abounds. Now is a great time to find new ways of getting your hands dirty and engaging with nature. The following five books offer tried and true techniques along with loads of inspiration. Whether you want to take a step back in time with proven organic gardening methods from Colonial Williamsburg, master the home arts and lead a more sustainable lifestyle, or hone your skills as a digital garden photographer, you’ll find plenty of ideas and information to get you started on a new hobby or take you to the next level with an old passion.

"Making It: Radical Home Ec for a Post-Consumer World "

By Kelly Coyne & Erik Knutzen (Publisher: Rodale)

“Making It” is the kind of book that leaves you dizzy with possibilities. The immensely useful follow-up to Kelly Coyne and Erik Knutzen’s first book, “The Urban Homestead,” it is a thorough guide full of practical household projects. The longtime authors of DIY living blog, Root Simple (formerly known as Homegrown Evolution), Coyne and Knutzen live in a little bungalow set on a 1/12 acre lot in the heart of Los Angeles, where they grow food, compost, keep chickens and bees, brew, bake and just generally turn everyday domestic chores into a creative, sustainable way of life. “Making It” offers up 70 projects ranging from cooking and cleaning to herbal medicine and beauty. Interested in making your own vinegar or sauerkraut? They’ve got you covered with sections on fermentation and salt. Want to try your hand at making soap, saving seeds, or keeping bees? All of this and more is covered in “Making It,” and the authors “use the same basic tools and ingredients as much as possible, not only to save you money and trips to the store but also to show how the basics can be stretched in many different directions.” Coyne and Knutzen offer five principles for embarking upon the adventure of their radical home ec: Start by trying one project, laugh at your mistakes, follow your intuition, trust nature, and keep learning. If you do these things, “Making It” will take you from day to day, week to week, month to month, and season to season.

"Wild Flavors: One Chef’s Transformative Year Cooking From Eva’s Farm "

By Didi Emmons (Publisher: Chelsea Green)

Didi Emmons describes her first visit to Eva Sommaripa’s fabled farm as “like the botanical version of the Louvre, impossible to absorb in one day.” She was, of course, tasting her way through this edible museum, sampling herbs unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. After an hour of grazing, she had covered only a small percentage of the farm and begun to wonder if this “Shangri-la” were “plugged into some greater life force.” For Emmons, longtime chef, food expert and successful restaurateur, it was a transformative visit. She started making regular trips out to Eva’s farm, picking greens and herbs, cooking in her kitchen and feeding her many friends. Over the course of the next decade, Emmons’ approach to both cooking and living completely evolved thanks to Eva’s appreciation for creativity, devotion to sustainability, and the unusual herbs and foraged foods she cultivated. “Wild Flavors” follows one of Emmons' years exploring Eva’s Garden, offering a fragrant blend of recipes for all seasons, inspiring and informative narrative, fascinating botany and a bit of foodie life coaching. For example: “Instead of making a 'salad,' treat the salad greens like salt and pepper — in other words, add greens to most everything you eat. Mix them into cooked foods, such as cooked grains to soups to curries.” With growing or foraging information for each of the 46 plants profiled, as well as details on prepping, storing, preserving and health benefits, plus 150 recipes and four seasons' worth of fodder, this book will inspire and delight home gardeners, cooks, foragers and botanists alike.

"Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success: Hundreds of Surefire Tips for Attracting and Feeding Your Favorite Birds "

By Deborah L. Martin (Publisher: Rodale)

With loads of tips from both experienced birders and “regular” backyard bird feeders, “Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success” will guide you in making the most of every feeder, every birdbath and every part of your yard and garden to attract birds. Though it may seem like an anachronism, bird feeding is a widely popular and growing hobby. According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife statistics, the number of people feeding birds in 2006 surpassed 53 million. Why the continued and even burgeoning interest? Perhaps because feeding and watching birds is entertaining, educational, relaxing – even altruistic. It’s an easy and fulfilling way to connect with nature: hanging and filling feeders and setting up birdbaths creates a reason for stepping out the door nearly ever day and interacting with the natural world. “Secrets of Backyard Bird-Feeding Success” offers tips on how to plan a menu birds will love, from selecting seed mixes and preparing suet to planting natives that will produce berries and attract insects for birds to eat. There are also useful guides to projects such as making homemade seed bells and converting plastic milk jugs, soda bottles and cardboard juice cartons into feeders. With an entire chapter dedicated to the most common species seen across North America, as well as significant regional and related species, readers can use this resource to both plan appropriate menus for their locations as well as identify the avian visitors to their yards.

"Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way: 18th Century Methods for Today’s Organic Gardeners "

By Wesley Greene (Publisher: Rodale)

Kitchen gardeners situated outside of the South Atlantic United States: Don’t be deterred by the title of this beautiful book. “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way” will prove useful and captivating to organic gardeners (and American history buffs) across the country and beyond. Author Wesley Greene founded the Colonial Williamsburg Garden in Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Area in 1996. He and his colleagues have painstakingly researched the ways the colonists planted and tended their vegetable and herb beds, most of which are more relevant than ever. Along with historical commentary and complete growing instructions for 50 beloved garden vegetables and herbs, plus colonial varieties such as salsify, scorzonera and cardoon (still available today), gardeners and folklorists will find weather-watching guidelines, cultivation techniques and seed saving advice for legumes, brassicas, alliums, root crops, nightshades, melons, squash, greens and other produce. In addition to the fascinating folklore and practical gardening guidance, “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way” contains more than 300 gorgeous and instructive color photos. An enlightening organic gardening book, “Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way” is interesting and attractive enough to earn a place on the coffee table.

"The Photographic Garden: Mastering the Art of Digital Garden Photography "

By Matthew Benson (Publisher: Rodale)

Garden bloggers wanting to brush up on their photo skills and take their websites to the next level need look no further: Professional photographer Matthew Benson shows you how to become a better, more intuitive artist in “The Photographic Garden: Mastering the Art of Digital Garden Photography.” Benson’s work has been awarded both DESI and Society of Publication Designers Awards and appears regularly in magazines, books, catalogs and folios. He is on the National Speakers Tour for the Garden Club of America, lectures widely on garden and landscape photography and maintains a biodynamic organic farm at his home in New York’s Hudson valley. Through hundreds of his own thought-provoking, evocative garden images, readers will learn how to explore the garden with their cameras, how to apply the fundamentals of composition, light and color, and how to use digital technology to improve and enhance images. Special sections are devoted to specific kinds of gardens and goals, such as vegetable gardens, water gardens, and shooting people and pets in the garden. There’s also plenty of valuable information on digital postproduction with Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.