Saturday, January 24, 2015

Growing My Organic Gardening Library

I had fallen asleep last night, satisfied with my garden to-do list for a balmy January Saturday.  So, you can imagine my dismay when I awoke to black ice warnings from my weather app.  A peek out the window confirmed that yesterday's drizzle had become an ice coating overnight.  So, not wanting to risk another tumble down slick steps, I snoozed for a little while, then reached for the book currently at the top of the stack:  Sustainable Market Farming by Pam Dawling.  It's been in the stack for a while--I started reading it last January (just about the time I started a permaculture class!).

Before we go any further, let me just say it outright:  this is an epic book.

While it is almost epic in length, it is encyclopedic in its information about sustainable practices--pitfalls and all.  Author Dawling has organized the book into two parts:  Techniques and Crops.  It's taken me nearly a year to digest the first part for one excellent reason:  there is so much information.  In the Techniques section, Dawling devotes several chapters each to planning, planting, sustainable crop protection, soil and crop quality, and harvest.  In doing so, she lays a sure foundation for concepts and techniques she references in the second part of the book.

Her writing style is friendly, but quite matter-of-fact, which makes her extremely detailed explanations easier to understand.  She includes many pictures, reference tables, and in-text publication recommendations from numerous university/extension resources.  There is so much information, that you cannot read this book quickly.

Because I needed, at least for a while, something a little lighter, I spent a bit of time reading some of Fortier's The Market Gardener, but abandoned it as I realized that their farm is 12 degrees of latitude higher than mine, and the techniques, like those of Eliot Coleman, would need to be adjusted considerably.  I do plan to finish Fortier at some point, especially to learn about hand-cultivation techniques

So, I returned to Dawling, realizing that, being only 3 degrees of latitude higher, the information in her book was more directly applicable to my garden.  Reading with a renewed enthusiasm, I began to see that Dawling's garden faced many of the same challenges at mine.  I finally finished the first part, then mapped out my plan for attacking the "Crops" section.

Dawling, you see, grows everything.  She has chapters for anything you could possibly want to grow--far more than I am trying to cultivate.  So, I flagged the chapters for my main crops:  brassicas, tomatoes, peppers, cowpeas, summer squash, cucurbits, among others.  I've been working my way through them in the order in which I will start them in the greenhouse--  brassicas, tomatoes, peppers--before reading about the crops I hope to direct-sow--cucurbits, summer squash, cowpeas, corn--again in the order I expect to sow them.  By reading about the plant groups in "planting order," I'm beginning to develop a better sense of how my year will be organized.

Although I really enjoy reading on Kindle, I recommend that you buy a paper copy of the book.  The information is so comprehensive, I can see it traveling with me in my farm truck for several seasons.  It's a heavy book, softcover but good-quality paper, and I've been customizing it to make it my de facto field manual.  I've flagged chapters, and marked the edges of important reference pages with permanent marker so I  can flip right to them.

So, if you're looking for one book which can put together the puzzle of sustainable, intensive, organic gardening practices, this is the one.  You'll mark it up and refer back to it for years to come.

Well, the sun has melted the frost, and I cannot wait to put some of Dawling's recommendations to good use!

What about you?  What Savory books are you reading?


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