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Gardening When it Counts

January 29, 2009


Garden, Late Spring, originally uploaded by Drew Raines.

As rising food prices are driven even higher by rising oil prices J. and I decided it was in our best interest to learn to grow at least some of our food. We started last year growing in containers in my office (in an unused spot between the windows and some caging).

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This year we are going to build tiered shelves on our small patio and grow some of our herbs indoors. I think we will end up with more space and thus a higher yield but we in no way expect to sustain ourselves off our small garden. We did want to know how to make the most of what space we have and were initially drawn to popular biointensive methods. In theory we could have grown a large portion of our fruits and vegetables but it seemed to us, novices though we may be, that this would require more watering, more fertilizing and inevitably strip the soil.

So we did a 180 and purchased this book which advocates large beds with wide spacing. Doing this not only helps maintain the nutrients in your soil it also makes your plants more drought resistant. Solomon’s methods make more sense in a low-energy future, where access to abundant fertilizer, compost and water are not given like they are today. In addition to his running critique of the biointensive methodology, Solomon also offers advice on how to select and care for quality garden tools, how to properly select high-quality garden seed, and specific details about individual plants and climates. There are also reviews of specific seed companies based on the quality of their products, broken down by specific climates.

It struck me that for the most part he is quite dismissive of heritage seeds and large seed saving ventures like Seed Savers. He points out that seed saving is difficult and depending on the type of seed it requires more than amateur efforts to create consistent results. He seems more fond of the idea of taking hybrid seeds and crossing them with heritage varieties to create a more consistent result without losing all of the heritage traits.

When I started reading the book I felt like everything I was doing was wrong, because according to Solomon most of it was wrong. But, he didn’t leave me flapping in the breeze. After debunking common misconceptions he tells you exactly what you should be doing and where you can get the right tools. I would almost call this a garden boot camp. He breaks you down to build you up again with a more productive garden and more balanced soil.

If you appreciate harsh pragmatism and easy to follow advice this book is for you. It’s an easy enough read that you could sit down in a day and go cover to cover but if offers enough detailed advice that it will become one of your go to references for gardening.

What’s your favorite gardening book?

5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 29, 2009 8:26 am

    I have to say this book, plus his Water-Wise Vegetables are my favorites. I suppose his writing would seem threatening if you are following the popular books (which I won’t mention) but all the old timers gardened here dry-land style and they fed themselves.

    I think the concept of a low water usage garden just seems impossible at first. But it does work, and we may be at peak water too, so it is a method worth learning.

  2. January 29, 2009 3:08 pm

    His theories are great if you have a lot of space. We don’t have much so we garden in raised beds. Our soil is also so bad that we would have to add 10-12 inches of soil or compost to get anything to grow. We do make sure we continually add compost and various rock minerals to keep our soil in tip-top shape.

  3. January 30, 2009 7:20 am

    I had the same reaction to Solomon’s book. So much so that I stopped reading it. He’s hugely negative, and unnecessarily so, in my opinion. I’ve had great results with seeds from Seed Saver’s Exchange, Fedco, Seeds of Change, etc. I already space my plants pretty widely, rather than grow intensively. So I suppose his basic message wasn’t one I needed to hear anyway. I suspect his tone turns away a lot of would-be gardeners, and I don’t think that’s what ought to happen when a would-be gardener picks up a book.

    I much prefer Eliot Coleman’s Four Season Harvest, and Root Cellaring, by the Bubels. I also have had a few Rodale titles for years, Great Garden Companions, and the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening. I’m a scavenger when it comes to gardening information.

  4. January 31, 2009 11:56 am

    My favorite gardening book I bought last year is “Minnesota Vegetable Gardening” by James A. Fizzell. It is very simple to follow for a novice like me. It also breaks down our State in hardiness zones, average frost, & precipitation. I like local gardening books since MN has a short vegetable growing season, and this helps me make the most of our garden.

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