This is the most comprehensive list I've come up with – but there are a lot more books out there. If you find one that's not on this list, let me know!
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties: The Gardener's & Farmer's Guide to Plant Breeding & Seed Saving, Deppe, Carol © 2000, Chelsea Green Publishing, Don't let the title send you running for the exits. The first half of this book, all about breading your own veggies, is not easily digested and has a lot of dense data in very shot order. The second half, the half on seed saving, she switches gears and it reads at times like well-written poetry. I have read most of this part many, many times since I got the book in 2008. If you are interested in seed saving or breeding your own vegetable varieties (Hint: you can and it's not that hard!), this book needs to be on your shelf!
Designing the New Kitchen Garden, Bartley, Jennifer © 2006, Timber Press, Portland, OR Lots of wonderful ideas and source material for a good many daydreams. And the source of some important lessons in creating a garden that can sustain more than just your spirit. By the way, you’ll know you’re a real gardener when you begin to receive the Timber Press catalog – they have a comprehensive list of gardening books that will help you get into the details of any aspect of gardening that you can imagine!
Edible Flowers, From Garden to Palate, Barash, Cathy Wilkinson, © 1995 Fulcrum Publishing, This is the only really comprehensive book on growing edible flowers – it’s a fascinating cuisine we have largely lost through neglect. Have an adventure and a nasturtium for dinner!
Good Bugs for Your Garden, Starcher, Allison Mia, © 1998, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Allison Starcher is an artist who grows in Santa Monica. This book's illustrations were drawn in her garden and that means this book is written for those of us in Southern California. A delightful book, you can learn from it and use it to teach children about insects in your back yard.
Heirloom Vegetables, Stickland, Sue, © 1998 Fireside Books, A wonderful introduction to heirloom vegetables and how and why to grow them! A fabulous read for all prospective vegetable gardeners. And now that the Weaver book is no longer easily available, this is the runner up.
Heirloom Vegetable Gardening: A Master's Guide to Planting, Seed Saving, and Cultural History,Weaver, William Woys © 2003, BookSales Inc, Originally published in 1997, it is now out of print and getting a copy can be hellish. The book sells for almost $300 used on Amazon! It is a wonderful book that needs to be put back in print because the research he put into the book allows this to be one of the most informative books on heirloom vegetables that has ever been published. Good luck in finding it, I'm sorry to say. You can get the entire book on a CD-ROM through Mother Earth News.
How to Grow More Vegetables, Eighth Edition: (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and Other Crops) Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You ... (And Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains,) Jeavons, John © 2012, 8th Edition (so far, it seems to be close to an annual event) Ten Speed Press, Jeavons has a his research to back up his assertions and he's never met a contrary point of view that wasn't tossed off with the disdaining wave of his hand. I do not agree with most of the gardening advice in this book, but he has facts and figures of how many plants of broccoli and everything else you need to feed a family of four and other information that no one else seems to bother with.
Out of the Earth: Civilization and the Life of the Soil, Hillel, Daniel © 1992, University California Press, Hillel has written the most easily understood book on soil of all the books on soil in the world. This is not a gardening book, but it is an introduction to the basis of gardening: the soil. The most readable book on soil published to date.
Pests of the Garden and Small Farm © 1998, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources (ANR), One of many books that are a part of my gardening bookshelf for reference. I can't remember all these pests, and I'll bet you can't either – if I could only have one book on pests, this would be one of two. I would have this one with Trowel and Error (below). (Their entire catalog is worth a look: http://anrcatalog.ucdavis.edu/default.aspx )
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners, Ashworth, Suzanne, © Seed Savers Exchange This is the industry standard for folks who want to save their own seeds. I like the Deppe book better, but this is the one the rest of the world turns to, perhaps because it has been around a longer and is its second edition.
Small-Scale Grain Raising, Second Edition: An Organic Guide to Growing, Processing, and Using Nutritious Whole Grains, for Home Gardeners and Local Farmers, Logsdon, Gene 2nd Edition © 2009 Chelsea Green Publishing ANYTHING written by Logsdon is worth the investment of your time and money. I read this from its original 1970 Rodale Press printing and it is still an excellent resoure if you suddenly become intoxicated of growing your own wheat and other grains. It takes more land than most of us have, but a small patch of wheat is a delightful experiment.
Sunset Western Garden Guide 8th Edition, Brenzel, Kathleen Norris, Editor, ©2007, Sunset Publishing All of the recent editions have their merit, but each successive edition has more plants and updates the scientific undergirding of gardening, so I encourage you to invest in the most recent edition you can afford (used copies are usually easy to find, either locally or at Amazon.com, I have a few for sale!). This is the number one go-to book for horticulture in Southern California; no other book is as authoritative as this one for our area. We cannot take advice from most gardening books and apply it to what we do in Los Angeles because our climate and soils are nothing like the rest of the world – especially those on the east coast and England where most books about gardening seem to originate.
Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener's Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition Lowenfels, Jeff and Lewis, Wayne, © 2010, Timber Press This book changed the way I garden. Forever. Their introduction to the soil is somewhat dry, but when you get to the modern scientific discoveries dealing with soil, you will be amazed!
The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping: Home Landscaping with Food-Bearing Plants and Resource-Saving Techniques, Creasy, Rosalind, © 1982, Sierra Club Books – This is where edible landscaping began! This is still a good book. I understand a 2nd edition is in the works; I think that is great news. All about growing food where others can see it. For those who march to their own drummer... and that includes a lot of gardeners.
The Resilient Gardener, Deppe Carol, © 2010, Chelsea Green Publishing, Deppe has written one of the few books to really teach me something about gardening in the last 15 years. I love her writing style, yes. But I love the depth of knowledge she posseses and her well-earned observations. Not all of her ideas translate readily to Southern California, but we can learn from her and adapt.
The Grape Grower, Rombough, Lon © 2002, Chelea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT. Of several books on the subject of growing grapes, this is the most thorough, the best written and covers the most material. And they all cost about the same money. You’ll come to think of it as your very favorite, if you get into growing grapes for table or for wine. Chelsea Green is another publishing house you’ll want to investigate – especially if you get into sustainable living. Truly a pioneer publishing house with many wonderful titles to entice you into curl up with a good book.
The Home Orchard, Growing Your Own Deciduous Fruit and Nut Trees, University of California, Agriculture and Natural Resources, © 2007, Another great book from UC’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources – search out their website and you’ll find a wealth of free information there as well as publications like this one to purchase. This book is about the most thorough book on home orchards you will ever find - it is no only comprehensive, but comprehendible and easy to follow. There is no aspect of home orchards that is not covered in this volume.
The Kitchen Garden, Thompson, Sylvia © 1995, Bantam Books, Sylvia is from our area (she has written for the LA Times) so she knows a bit of gardening here. This is a great book that I refer to frequently along with her Recipes from a Kitchen Garden.
The Old-Fashioned Fruit Gardener, Gardner, Jo Ann, © 1989 Nimbus Publishing, Halifax, Nova Scotia A wonderful resource to learn how folks used to use small fruits of their garden complete with growing instructions and recipes.
The New Seed Starter's Handbook, Bubel, Nancy © 1988, Rodale Press There is no facet of seed starting that isn't included in this book. It is old, but it is still the best on the topic. The only thing that has changed has been advances in super powerful lights with more of the light spectrum for growing plants. In truth there isn't a need for those kinds of plant growing lights if you are just starting seeds indoors to be planted out in a few weeks.
The Rodale Book of Composting: Easy Methods for Every Gardener, Gershuny, Grace © 1992 Rodale Press I learned how to garden organically in the early 1970's with Rodale Press and I owe a lot to many of their different gardening titles. This is the most authoritative book on composting for the layman that has been published to date. Everything you want to know about composting is here.
The Seed Underground, Ray, Janisse ©2012 Chelsea Green Publishing, This book just came out and I'm not yet through it all the way, but I love the way she writes, with the rhythm of person sowing seeds or weeding the garden. She writes with poetry and with the authority of someone who knows what she is talking about internally and externally. A really good read.
The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers, Gershuny, Grace, © 1999 Chelsea Green Publishing, One of my favorite books on soils, this was not written for gardeners but for farmers which limits its usefulness, but the principles are useful and she writes with passion and clarity Chelsea Green Publishing has a whole catalog of good books on gardening with an emphasis on 'organic' and 'sustainable.'
Trowel and Error, Lovejoy, Sharon © 2002 Workman Publishing, this is really the only pesticide book I use, although, it is not strictly a pesticide book. She is a delightful writer with lots of humor and she has gem of a home-made this and that collection.
Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden, Reich, Lee © 2004, Timber Press, Portland, OR If you are not familiar with Timber Press, check out their website, they are one of the best publishing houses in the field of horticulture today and their catalog will make your eyes twirl. We can’t grow all of these fruits, but this book is an eye opener for what can be grown vs. what IS grown. Each plant’s fruit is described with directions for cultivation and a list of desirable cultivars. This is the ‘expanded sequel’ to the book that drove me nuts trying to find a way to grow currants in Los Angeles (an as yet unfulfilled dream), Timber Press is another wonderful publisher of a good number of gardening books on my shelves.