Saturday, April 25, 2015

Gardening with the Gettles

Well, I think I've finally come to the end of my backlog of gardening books with The Heirloom Life Gardener: The Baker Creek Way of Growing Your Own Food Easily and Naturally by Jere and Emily Gettle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. It's just as much memoir as gardening book, using Gettle's life-journey as a vehicle for sharing his gardening wisdom. The first four chapters outline Jere Gettle's childhood, and the establishment of his seed company, and, finally, his wanderlust to discover and preserve heirloom varieties in the United States and around the world.

In the fifth chapter, the authors (Jere, his wife Emilee with Meghan Sutherland) finally tell the reader "How to Garden." They dispense general gardening advice--organically oriented--whose most surprising admission is the use, when necessary, of plastic mulch because of its economy.

Mulch is one of the most important tools in your gardening arsenal, and helpful in many different ways.

The second half of the book is an "A to Z Growing Guide" which, in addition to the usual cultivation advice organized by variety, offers techniques for seed saving and even some cooking suggestions.

If you've read their Heirloom Gardener magazine, you'd be surprised to know that the term "Frankenfood"--meaning genetically modified organisms--doesn't appear until page 117 while discussing the incursion of GMO corn into the gene pool. The authors are surprisingly mild when discussing GMOs, especially when compared with the magazine, which can be strident, at times. They do make their point, however.

The Heirloom Life Gardener is well-organized by the staff at Hyperion, and colorfully attractive thanks to book designers Shubhani Sarkar and Sunil Manchikanti. Not surprisingly, it was published with sustainability in mind. The Heirloom Life Gardener is an enjoyable, informative read from one of the nation's premier seedsmen.

What about you? What's on your reading table?


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Richly Entertaining "A Rich Spot of Earth"

Thomas Jefferson, in addition to being President, was, arguably, one of the most famous gardeners in America and his Monticello served as the canvas of his masterwork. I visited the President's aerie a number of years ago, and so ordered Peter J. Hatch's "A Rich Spot of Earth": Thomas Jefferson's Revolutionary Garden at Monticello when it was published in 2012. I started it then, as my bookmark attests, but have only now taken the time to finish it. I hope you read it without delay.

Hatch is a renowned author, professional gardener, and historian who spent 35 years as Monticello's Director of Gardens and Grounds, supervising restoration of the grounds and gardens to a condition that Jefferson would recognize. In his book, he tells that story with the historian's mind, but the gardener's heart--so that the reader begins to feel the warmth of Virginia's rich earth. Woven into the story of the restoration is the story of Jefferson's foibles--and growth--as a gardener.

The book is divided into two sections: the story of the restoration and information about the plants grown at Monticello throughout the years. Some varieties are still grown, some are unidentifiable due to Jefferson's surprisingly vague descriptions ("early" & "forwardest"), and some are lost to time.

Thankfully, the story of the restoration of Monticello's gardens is not lost to time; it is engagingly written, beautifully illustrated, and handsomely published. It is a richly entertaining read.

What about you? What's on your reading table?


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Growing a New Nation with the Founding Gardeners

Barbara de Wilde's jacket perfectly matches the text.
I have no recollection of buying Founding Gardeners, but that happens often when you are a profligate book buyer. I found it when I was reshelving The Founders on the Founders, and packed it in my travel bag for a recent trip. Let me be frank about Founding Gardeners: it is not your typical, light "beach read." Author Andrea Wulf's scholarly writing style requires intellectual engagement, which is just fine with me. While being scholarly, the book is far from distant. Wulf weaves together a fabric which reveals just how much of a role gardening and agriculture played in the founding of our nation, and in the relationships among the founders. Focusing on Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, and Madison, she bids the reader join them on their various garden tours, both domestic and abroad. She reveals to the reader how, in the midst of crises, these great men turned to the earth for solace and inspiration. She shares with the reader their real passion these statesmen held for their gardens and how they used them to express their political ideals.

Very traditionally bound with full-color "plates" bound together.
I must reiterate that this is a scholarly work--of its 350 pages, only 214 are text and the remainder appendices, footnotes (80-odd pages), bibliographies, end matter, and an index. But, for the student of history and of gardening, Wulf's work is that rare work which, as a well-designed garden is multi-sensory, feeds multiple interests simultaneously. I recommend it highly.

What are you reading?


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Real v. "Reel" History

Real history is far more interesting
than "reel" history!
I have to confess I was really thrilled when I received the first email from the History Channel about its miniseries Sons of Liberty.  They were giving it the full-court press, promoting heavily, creating educator materials.  And then I watched it.  Beautiful, but hardly history.  Now I'm not an historian; I'm just a humble history teacher.  Sons of Liberty should have come with a "based on" disclaimer.  I'm not faulting the actors, the directors, the locations, or any other of the trades who contributed. I did enjoy watching their work, as long as I disassociated it from the actual history.

That dissatisfaction led me to my bookshelf, and, not having time to dive deeply into a biography of one of the founders, I pulled out a large volume that was digestible in small bites:  John P. Kaminski's The Founders on the Founders: Word Portraits from the American Revolutionary Era.  Kaminski is a genuine historian who, in this work, let the founders' own words speak for themselves.

To put it simply, this volume is a curated collection of excerpts from primary source documents.

With only occasional editorial comment, Kaminski serves up delicious entries by and about all the folks you've heard about and several you should have. What emerges is a far more realistic image of both the authors and their subjects which takes them out of the flat engraving and makes them human.

Far from diminishing their heroic efforts toward independence, adding this third dimension makes their accomplishment even more astonishing because so many managed to put aside, or at least work around, competing interests and feelings of intense dislike for one another. It is a lesson which could not be more timely.
The first two First Ladies are also included

What about you?  What real history books can your recommend?  Post them in the comments below!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

An Epic Tomato Book!

Although I'd promised myself that I would complete reading books I already own before purchasing a new one, I just could not resist buying Epic Tomatoes by the heirloom tomato guru himself--Craig LeHoullier.  Although I could have downloaded it immediately to my Kindle app, a quick look at the free preview showed me that I would want to read it on paper.  The weighty package that arrived in my mailbox a few days later raised my expectations.  One look at the book confirmed my choice.

It is a beautiful book.  Before I get into the nuts and bolts of the book, I must congratulate Storey Publishing, editor Carleen Madigan, and art director/designer Carolyn Eckert.  The cover is joyful, and each page of the book reflects the love of the subject and the teacher's heart the LeHoullier shares.  Wonderfully done, friends.

The subtitle of the book promises much:  "How to Select & Grow the Best Varieties of All Time."  The good news is that the author, whose Twitter handle is @nctomatoman, delivers on that promise.  His chapter titles include

  • The Origins of Today's Tomato
  • Anatomy of a Tomato
  • Planning and Planting
  • Growing Maintenance and Care
  • Harvest Celebration
  • Saving for the Future
  • Breed Your Own Tomatoes
  • Q&A
  • Troubleshooting:  Diseases, Pests, and Other Problems
Interwoven with LeHoullier's story of how he became "tomatoman" is solid information on selecting, starting, and growing your own tomatoes.  His advice is suitable for the casual (1 or 2 plants) through prolific home grower (although commercial growers may glean a bit of insight, too).  He is practical--when his garden wore out and the trees caused too much shade, he began using containers.  He confesses, quite without shame, that he does enjoy a few hybrid varieties, and also that he uses non-organic fertilizers--quite a refreshing contrast to the gardening wars that are often waged.

The book is chock-full of tables of his findings from his gardens, including 250 varieties rated for size, season, color, and taste.  He also shares his favorite 10 varieties, a several yummy-sounding recipes.

The troubleshooting section is especially helpful and includes color photographs for ease of identification as well as remedies which emphasize prevention first.

One of the things I appreciate most about the book is how truthful the author is about yields, size, and about some varieties' less-attractive tendencies.  Even in his photographs, which are beautiful, I find that the varieties which crack for me, seem to have cracked for him!  I cannot express how encouraging that is!

As informative as the book is, it is a quick read, so you have time to squeeze it in before gardening season starts.  You'll be glad you did.

So, thank you, Craig LeHoullier!  Epic Tomatoes is epic indeed.

What's growing in your Savory garden?


Friday, January 30, 2015

Devouring A Book on Edible Landscaping

It seems I've been tying up some loose ends, reading-wise.  A year after starting it, I've finally finished Rosalind Creasy's beautiful Edible Landscaping.  In a warm, engaging style, Creasy leads the reader through the design process with chapters like
  • The Evolution of Landscaping
  • Laying the Groundwork
  • Creating a Landscape Plan
  • Design Basics
  • Designing with Herbs
  • Designing with Vegetables
  • Designing with Fruits, Berries, and Nuts
  • Designing for Small Spaces
Each chapter is beautifully illustrated with color photographs and drawings.  Each "A Gallery of Design Ideas" is an especial delight.

Following these "teaching" chapters is "An Encyclopedia of Edibles" which lists all of the common and most of the uncommon edible annuals and perennials along with cultivation and recipe ideas.

The appendices contain detailed information on "Planting and Maintenance," and "Pests and Diseases," followed by an extensive list of "Sources and Resources."

Even though the emphasis is on design, this is, at heart, a gardening book that is as informative as it is beautiful.  While it is lovely enough to earn a ceremonial place on my coffee table, the truth is that it will be there because I will be reaching for it again and again for information, for inspiration, and for its beauty.

It's a lovely book which will inspire a lovely, edible garden.

What Savory book are reading?


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?