GeRue's Reviews

A Country Bookstore

Gardening


Gardening books are like cookbooks: you really only need a few good ones but it is easy to collect a bookcase full. Even after gardening for most of my seventy-plus years I refer often to several of the hundred or so that I own. But gardening is about growing stuff. So, read books, but then get out and get your hands into the dirt. There is no one correct way to garden; each garden has unique conditions and each gardener has unique physical and mental tendencies. Each will develop their own techniques that suit them best. Gardening can be fun and frustrating, all in the same day, but few activities are more satisfying than producing your own food starting with naught but seeds and dirt. The following books will point the way and reduce the mistakes. Happy harvesting! And donít forget the flowers, both edible and just plain pretty. If you have a nomination, please e-mail us.



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THE TRUTH ABOUT ORGANIC GARDENING: BENEFITS, DRAWBACKS, AND THE BOTTOM LINE , by Jeff Gillman

This book is timely as increasingly large numbers of us react to health, environmental and market conditions by growing more of our own food but wonder about the trade-offs of natural versus synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The information offered here will be useful whether you are a neophyte or seasoned gardener.

I've been gardening for most of my 72 years and have nearly100 gardening books in my library. I learned many new things here. For instance, regarding companion planting, I have long thought that fragrances were the most important condition to repel unwanted insects. Not so--color seems to be the best indicator of whether a plant would be an effective companion. In fact, an aroma may make things worse.

Author Jeff Gillman is a knowledgeable referee on the sometimes near-hysterical fight between organic enthusiasts and those who favor synthetic garden inputs. He gained his doctorate at the University of Georgia and is currently an associate professor of horticulture at the University of Minnesota where in addition to teaching courses on nursery production and pesticide use he also runs the experimental nurseries and orchards there.

Gillman is an organic advocate but recognizes that many gardeners want the fast response of commercial products such as pesticides, so he goes through the list of both organic and synthetic choices. Effectiveness, environmental impact quotients, and toxicological effects are all covered.

Here you will learn the trade-offs between natural and synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and much more. Subjects covered are fertilization, weed control, insect control, disease control, and the control of birds, deer, rodents, and mollusks.

Throughout the book, after discussing each subject, the author synopsizes with bulleted Benefits, Drawbacks, and The Bottom Line, which is the subtitle of the book. For those who want the fewest possible words, this may be all you need to read to get the information you desire.

In the chapter on fertilization are discussed the well-known benefits of organic matter in the soil, compost and manure. Less well known, but covered here is the issue of pathogens in manure and compost, especially compost tea and manure tea. The section on natural versus synthetic fertilizers provided the news to me that while most of us believe that synthetic fertilizers contain petrochemicals, "that's rarely the case." It turns out the nitrogen is in fact drawn from the air by a process invented by Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, both of whom received Nobel prizes. Those of us concerned about energy depletion and costs, however, will note that both coal and natural gas are used in the process.

Phosphorous and potassium are obtained from mines in several states, an energy-intensive extraction and delivery process. In The Bottom Line, the author states his preference for organic fertilizers but notes that he uses synthetic fertilizers "for certain applications because they're cheap, readily available, and very effective."

The longest and perhaps most important chapter is on insect control. There is solid info on organic cultural practices such as bagging fruit, choosing resistant plants, using floating row covers, handpicking and hosing, nectaries, companion planting, physical, visual and pheromone traps of various design for various pests, sticky cards and paste, and beneficial insects.

Organic insecticides and synthetic insecticides receive twelve pages each, a balanced treatment comparing effectiveness and danger to both gardeners and the environment. In the chapter wrap-up the author "is siding with the organic choices right up until you start looking at the pesticides. Once these things enter the picture, all bets are off for me." Should the gardener decide to use pesticides, this chapter provides the scientifically known pros and cons. He strongly recommends the organic cultural practices. One of the few strategies that Gillman does not offer is simply growing more plants than you need--if you need the produce from three tomato plants, why, just grow five or six; if insects or disease reduce yield, you may well still have enough for your purposes.

The final chapter is on the question of organic food. Is it really superior? And just how reliable are the USDA's organic growing standards? Some of the surprises: organic food is not pesticide free; some organic producers use poison, too; organic pesticides may be worse because they require frequent reapplication, resulting in more residue; carcinogens are examples of "the dose makes the poison."

The Truth About Organic Gardening clears up much misunderstanding about natural and synthetic strategies for dealing with the many challenges of gardening. Not all synthetic pesticides are awful. Not all organic pesticides are safe. If, like me, you are an organic enthusiast, expect to have some of your beliefs challenged.

Gardening is an ongoing learning process. Each garden is unique. Each gardener is unique. To garden successfully and to produce healthful food for you and your family you will necessarily make many choices. This book will be very helpful in making those choices.

Here's Amazon's page THE TRUTH ABOUT ORGANIC GARDENING: BENEFITS, DRAWBACKS, AND THE BOTTOM LINE


GARDEN WAY'S JOY OF GARDENING, by Dick Raymond 

I like the way this man handles his rake. Some books are like gold-bearing ore--you have to sift tons of words to find a few nuggets. This book has nuggets on nearly every page. And unlike some authors, Raymond is open-minded to the various gardening methods and has tried them. Even better, he has worked in different soils in different parts of the country. And he is innovative. I am not a fan of tillers and I am biased against chemicals, so Raymond had to overcome my initial skepticism. He did. While he extols the use of his tiller [he has a long relationship with Troy-Bilt, owned by Garden Way, publishers of this book], he also shows how to garden without one. And in most cases he offers organic alternatives to chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Furthermore, he started out on a farm, paid for his first home with a garden and roadside stand, has appeared in food production documentaries and has given gardening classes throughout the country, face-to-face and on radio and television. I do not agree with all he writes, nor is he inclusive of all gardening methods, for instance Fukuoka's no-till, Steiner's biodynamics or Mollison's permaculture. But in gardening, the proof is in the eating and it is clear that Dick Raymond eats very well. Beginning, mid-field and advanced gardeners alike will learn valuable techniques for soil enrichment, bed-building, seed-growing, transplanting, spacing, weed-killing and insect-handling. He is excellent on green manure crops, seeding and harvesting. I was especially taken with his Eternal Yield experimental plots, where he imports only seeds and lime but has improved yields and soil over a ten-year period. "My goal was to plant different sequences of green manure crops to see if they alone could provide all the nutrients food crops need. My guidelines were simple: don't add any fertilizer, compost, or manures to the soil. As for organic matter, till under only the crops that grow on the plot. Do not bring in any outside material--no leaves, no mulch, nothing. This is the best-illustrated gardening book I have found. Hundreds of color photos and drawings on high-quality paper illustrate every lesson. All popular plants are given their own coverage including gourds, peanuts and sunflowers. In the section on pests I learned a technique I am eager to try on the mole army here--sticking pieces of blackberry canes into the runways. There is an insect pest section as well as one on diseases. An eight-page planting guide supplements and synopsizes earlier coverage, there are maps on first- and last-expected frost dates. The index is small but adequate. Should your budget allow only one gardening book, this is as good as you can do. Go to Amazon's page for GARDEN WAY'S JOY OF GARDENING


RODALE'S ALL-NEW ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ORGANIC GARDENING: THE INDISPENSABLE RESOURCE FOR EVERY GARDENER, editors Barbara W. Ellis and Fern M. Bradley.

Like cookbooks, there are hundreds of gardening books. Where to begin? These 690 pages will answer 95 percent of your questions. After gardening for decades I still find myself taking a quick peek here before preparing soil for a specific plant. Four big categories: gardening technique, organic garden management, food crops, ornamental plants. Hundreds of specific entries quickly found. This is your basic gardening reference book. Here's Amazon's page for THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF ORGANIC GARDENING


THE SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLE GARDEN: A BACKYARD GUIDE TO HEALTHY SOIL AND HIGHER YIELDS, by John Jeavons.

This is an excellent book for new gardeners and for old gardeners new to the biointensive method. Tells how to build a garden the right way, from the bottom up. If growing one's own food is the best way to stop the insanity of agribusiness, then John Jeavons is a mild-mannered but effective revolutionary leader. He enlightened hundreds of thousands of us with his 1974 groundbreaker How to Grow More Vegetables (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine). Go to Amazon's page THE SUSTAINABLE VEGETABLE GARDEN


THE NEW ORGANIC GROWER: A MASTER'S MANUAL OF TOOLS AND TECHNIQUES FOR THE HOME AND MARKET GARDENER, by Eliot Coleman.

To feed yourself, feed the soil. Coleman has long been gardening under challenging conditions, has learned how to optimize soil fertility to produce health-giving harvests. Here he presents top-notch advice so you can do it too. Go to Amazon's page THE NEW ORGANIC GROWER


FOUR-SEASON HARVEST: ORGANIC VEGETABLES FROM YOUR HOME GARDEN ALL YEAR LONG, by Eliot Coleman.

Eat fresh, home-grown vegetables year round? Eliminate canning and freezing? Do this all at low cost? Eliot Coleman does, you can, too, and here is the how. Coleman is a market gardener in Maine who may eat better than Bill Gates. He shows that sunlight and wind protection are more important than temperature--and, by the way, most of the U.S. gets more winter sunlight than Coleman's place. Inexpensive, unheated greenhouses that he calls tall tunnel houses--some say hoop houses--and cold frames protect from wind and keep snow off the veggies. Greenhouse comfort is more to benefit the gardener. The key is what and when to plant. Full info given for planting dates, construction details, sources of seeds, tools, greenhouses. Well illustrated. An essential guide for organic gourmands. Go to Amazon.com for FOUR-SEASON HARVEST


SEED TO SEED, by Suzanne Ashworth 

Sixty million American gardeners buy their seeds from mail order seed companies. In the period 1984-1987, 54 of the 230 seed companies in the U.S. and Canada went out of business, resulting in 943 non-hybrid varieties becoming unavailable. One answer to the extinction of food crop varieties is Seed Savers Exchange, the publisher of Seed to Seed. Begun in 1975, SSE maintains more than 18,000 rare vegetable varieties at Heritage Farm in Decorah, Iowa. (Call 319-382-5990 for catalog and membership information.) Another answer is for individual gardeners to save their own seed from non-hybrid varieties. Varieties that grow and taste exceptionally well in specific areas can be planted year after year from home-grown seed. A further advantage is protection from seed price increases. Ashworth provides definitive information on seed gathering, processing and storage techniques. Twenty family entries include taxonomy, pollination characteristics and techniques, general production and processing techniques. Each of the 160 species entries includes botanical classification; pollination, crossing, and isolation; seed production, harvest and processing; seed viability. Ample black-and-white photographs complement the text. Hybrid seeds are in the control of large companies. You can be in control of heirloom varieties that do best in your garden. Happy eating. Go to Amazon's page SEED TO SEED



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