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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The best tool for your organic garden is... a good book!

by Marc @ GardenDesk

I enjoy gardening tools. A good co-linear hoe, a sharp digging fork and a sturdy trowel are all great to have while working in the garden. As good as it is to have great gardening tools though, the best thing to invest in to help increase your harvest this year is a good gardening book or books!

I have collected around a hundred gardening books over the years and regularly go to the surrounding libraries to check out the newest ones. I have spent much of this winter re-visiting my old favorites to hone my knowledge and plan for the best season yet! By doing this, I've identified my 25 most favorite gardening books. These are the ones that I return to again and again. They often have dirt or grass stain on them because they were out in the garden with me as a handy reference the first time I tried something new.

Unfortunately times have changed. In the "good 'ol days", wisdom about gardening and other life skills would be passed down from generation to generation by family elders and neighbors. This doesn't happen as much anymore, so when I wanted to start organic vegetable gardening some 20 years ago, all I had to rely on were books written by wise and seasoned gardeners. Now days, we also have the Internet and some great blogs to learn from. I'm glad that bloggers are willing to share their knowledge as Paul discussed last week. I do caution you however to not rely solely on garden blogs for you information. You can't usually take the computer with you out to the garden. There have been times when I read something great on a blog out of my growing season and couldn't find it again later when it was time to use that knowledge. There have been more times when I referred back to something I read in one of my books. It was easy to find by looking in the index or by locating my bookmark that I left there months earlier.

Not only have books helped me to learn the "how-to's" of gardening, they have helped me understand things like why organic gardening techniques are better. Through reading I have been able to study under gardening greats such as J.I. Rodale and Mel Bartholomew and gardening couple legends like Eliot Coleman and Barbara Damrosch, Ed and Carolyn Robinson (The Have More Plan), and Scott and Helen Nearing (The Good Life books).

So what about you? Am I preaching to the choir? Do you learn only by doing, or do you agree that reading good gardening books can help make you a good gardener? This really extends to all the other aspects of simple living and the other topics we discuss here at Simple Green Frugal Co-op.

If you agree that books are important, I'll leave you with one last question to ponder. The question is this; Other than the Bible or religious books, what is the one book that has been the most significant to you? The book that has helped you the most with gardening or cooking or homemaking or simple living or ________?

This is a difficult question for me. Since I just came up with 25 most significant books, I'll have to think some more to decide which one is number one. What about you? If you have such a book, please share it with the rest of us since it can possibly help us too. Please tell us the book and what area of your life it has helped.

Keep Reading and Keep Growing!

-Marc

11 comments:

Carol said...

I too have a large gardening library that is an important part of my gardens. But, if I were to select a book that has served me best over the years it would be The Mother's Encyclopedia, which I received as a new bride over 42 years ago. It has been so well used that it has lost it's spine, index, and publisher information. The pages are yellowed and stained from medicinal preparations being spilled on it. Some of the pages have the scribbles of my sons when I would leave the book on their sickbeds. This book helped through the development and illnesses of 2 sons and my 2, now teenaged, grandchildren. I don't think I could have survived those years without my trusty Mother's Encyclopedia.

Susan said...

I recently checked out "The New Victory Garden" at my library and it has really become a favorite, so much so that I will probably buy my own copy. (I am working on my super early tomatoes via his method right now. Hopefully by mid June...) I like being able to "test run" a book for a season by checking it out from the library before I buy. There's a lot of mediocre books out there that are all pretty pictures and don't have much substance, and I don't want to waste my money. And I live in Zone 4, so a lot of books simply don't apply to my situation.
I have also enjoyed "Dick Raymond's Gardening Year" and his "The Joy of Gardening" as well lately. I love it when I find a book that takes me step by step through a gardener's processes for the whole season, or whole year.

Chiot's Run said...

I have a few gardening books. I have found that networking with other gardeners is a great way to glean more information. I love FreedomGardens.org, not to mention all those great blogs out there.

Kimberly said...

I love books! I'm constantly reading everything I can lay my hands on!

I love this question. I think I'd have to say the first books that got me thinking about a different life were honestly, the Little House on the Prairie series. I reread them as an adult a few years ago and learned so much.

Practically speaking, as far as specific ideas and how-tos, I'd have to say MaryJane's Ideabook Cookbook Lifebook. I was given this book over a year ago and felt like--AHA!!! Here's a person alive today living the life I want!! And she wants to teach me how. It's a great book--beautiful pictures and clear information. It's a treasure.

ChristyACB said...

Tough one. I read voraciously and have thousands of books in my "too important to let go" reference and pleasure library at home.

Out of the 100+ gardening related books I have I think the one that had the most impact was the original Square Foot Gardening book by Mel Bartholomew as a companion to the PBS series. I have the new one and it is better, but the first one had the most impact since it changed the way I garden.

Overall, the most important book I couldn't even guess. I think it would be Nature's End by Whitley Strieber (sp?). I read it as a young and insulated person when it first came out and it totally opened my eyes to how we little people can change for the bad so much on the world.

Sadge said...

My primary go-to gardening books are Coleman's Four-Season Harvest, Sunset magazines's Western Garden Book, and Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living. One of my oldest books came from my in-laws - the 1947 edition of the Have-More Plan.

Canadian said...

Living More with Less by Doris Janzen Longacre. Practical yet inspiring.

Emily said...

Truffles, Candies, and Confections showed me that I could teach myself (from a book!)Since then, I've been much more brave about using books for home projects, such as baking, brewing, vinting, cheesemaking etc. Confidence made all the difference!

Em said...

I love books too. And forums and websites - lots of info I print out and file for later use. A well written explanation can be so helpful to cement information in my head, but I have to remind myself that just because it is written down (or even published in a book!) doesn't mean it's fact... it's good to keep asking questions and to try different things yourself. A long time ago I did a Science degree and even tho much of the detail has blown away with time, if nothing else it taught me to ask questions. There are a *lot* of assumptions and inaccurate pieces of information repeated on the net and in books... always keep asking and learning.

Hands on learning takes all the book learning and shapes it into something else for me; the words mean so much more when you experience the "thing". I farmed for 8 years and the infinite complexity of living systems never ceases to inspire me :) But I still love books.

Melinda said...

Such an important point! We have a lot of books, and I'm always reading at least 2 at a time.

I think Gaia's Garden and Four Season Harvest together really made me fundamentally re-think gardening. But the #1 thing that has really changed my world has been becoming a part of the sustainable blogging community. Reading each others' experiences, thoughts, and actions - these have got me going in a way that no book ever has!

Erin said...

Such a great topic for us bibliophile gardeners!
I love the list of 25 and found some new titles I'll look forward to checking out.
A few I haven't seen mentioned yet which I love:

"The Garden Primer" by Barbara Damrosch (Eliot Coleman's wife and gardening partner. A great book. Well organized, well written.)

"Undaunted Garden" by Laura Springer Ogden. Great for us Western gardeners working in dry landscapes but still seeking lush beauty. An eminently readable, enjoyable, educational gardening book.

I also love "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver - lots of inspiration and great information from gardening to home cheese making to eating with the seasons.