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The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line [Paperback]

Jeff Gillman
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 1, 2008

Gardeners tend to assume that any organic product is automatically safe for humans and beneficial to the environment—and in most cases this is true. The problem, as Jeff Gillman points out in this fascinating, well-researched book, is that it is not always true, and the exceptions to the rule can pose a significant threat to human health. To cite just one example, animal manures in compost can be a source of harmful E. coli contamination if imporperly treated. Gillman's contention is that all gardening products and practices—organic and synthetic—need to be examined on a case-by-case basis to determine both whether they are safe and whether they accomplish the task for which they are intended.

Ultimately, Gillman concludes, organic methods are preferable in most situations that gardeners are likely to encounter. After reading this eye-opening book, you will understand why, and why knowledge is the gardener's most important tool.

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Editorial Reviews


"How do you separate the hype from the facts? Spending 13 bucks on [The Truth About Organic Gardening] may go a long way."

“I’ve come away from this book―a reference text masquerading as a beach read―with hands-on knowledge that is just plain useful. The book gives you the facts about synthetic and organic techniques and encourages you to do further research, then make educated decisions about your own garden.” 
(Seattle Post-Intelligencer)

“One green book that isn’t buying into the hype.”

(The Washington Post)

“Jeff Gillman is a voice of reason.”
(Garden Compass)

“Both these books [The Truth About Organic Gardening and The Truth About Garden Remedies] are refreshing, lucid and enlightening. Their spare style, with no illustrations, and concentration on facts rather than ‘inspiration’ even gives them an old-fashioned charm.”

"[Gillman] examines over a hundred traditional gardening products and protocols, both organic and synthetic, to determine whether they are safe and effective."


"This fascinating book showed me what and how remedies work (or don't), and why. I was interested to learn about potentially hazardous 'quick fixes' and, as always, to have nonsensical myths busted. If I do keep any of my harmless homemade concoctions around, I know now that I'll probably be doing it for their placebo effect—on me."
—Ken Druse --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Timber Press; First Edition edition (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0881928623
  • ISBN-13: 978-0881928624
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #233,826 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
108 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Growing Our Own Food Safely--For Us and the Environment February 27, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
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49 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not all organics are good; not all synthetics are bad. February 21, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Don't assume that organic practices are always good and synthetic products are always bad -- get the facts. Gillman points out that plant-derived Rotenone, an organic pesticide, is highly toxic to aquatic life and causes tremors in rats. Other organics, such as Neem Oil, are often overused despite links to reproductive problems in rats and potential carcinogens. Conversely, not all synthetics are bad. Using a synthetic fertilizer in appropriate amounts once or twice a year is not harmful (if you generally attend to soil development by adding organic materials like compost and mulch). And a foliar spray made from (organic) liquified seaweed may be easier and just as helpful as making compost tea to spray on your plants. So make your gardening decisions based on knowledge, not on a bias for or against organics.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Balanced and well written April 8, 2008
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A surprisingly easy read, Jeff Gillman presents the pros and cons of organic and synthetic techniques for gardening, including soil management and pest control of all kinds (bugs, weeds, fungus, etc.). A good reference book and one I want to give my friend who covers everything in pesticide dust! Will not help with identification of gardening problems, but provides an understanding of the impact of all applications.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lesser book than his first, but still a must-read January 23, 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Well, organic agriculture is certainly big money these days, isn't it? The problem is that a lot of people think organic is automatically good, just like natural equaled good 20 years ago. Jeff Gillman, author of The Truth About Garden Remedies, returns for another go, this time to debunk the myths of organic agriculture.

The fundamental problem with the wide use of "organic" as a buzzword is that, like many other buzzwords, it becomes a thoughtstopper. Gillman does what a lot of people don't with their food -- he explains the many methods of organic cultivation and pest control (some of which are, for lack of a better term, surprisingly inorganic) and explains their history, how they're used, and the risks and benefits of each. And there's some surprising results -- for example, Gillman points out that many accepted organic methods are poorly tested and not well-understood for environmental impact and toxicity, and lots of popular, seemingly-sensible techniques can actually be damaging to the plants. Favorite organic ingredients turn out to be very dangerous (rotenone) or unavailable (quassia), and seemingly obvious ideas like tobacco sprays turn out to be highly impractical. Gillman does repeat some material from his first book, but a lot of it (particularly the pesticide material) is quite a bit fleshed out.

Perhaps surprisingly, Gillman is guardedly pro-organic, but his message is one of caution -- among other things, he recommends reading other sources with a critical eye to separate good information from woo, and he feels that organic practices are somewhat overrated compared to more scientifically-based approaches such as integrated pest management.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exactly what you want December 21, 2008
For all of the new organic growers and consumers out there, this book is exactly what you want. The author has created a well written book based on scientific facts and very little (if any) bias. The creation of a well balanced book about a topic that is becoming quite confusing and contradictory speaks mountains about the author's talent and perseverance for the truth of home and commercial organic gardening.
As for the contents of the book, it covers: fertilization, weed control, pest control, disease control, and animal control. Each sections has many entries that are common to the home grower (this is the very valuable part of the book) and commercial grower that each end with the overall benefits, drawback, and the bottom line use.
If you're thinking about going (or growing) organic this is a great book to have and I keep going back to it every week while I grow my garden.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Bought for school
Published 2 months ago by Natasha
5.0 out of 5 stars A balanced view
This is the first book that our Master Gardeners group chose for its book discussion in 2015. Mr. Gillman provides a studied, academically rigid, well presented discussion of the... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Gary Anderson
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Excellent book but somewhat outdated at this point.
Published 6 months ago by K. C. Griffin
3.0 out of 5 stars Truth through science? An old myth.
I had mixed impressions about the so-called "truth about organic gardening."

First I do agree with some of his conclusions because they square with my experience... Read more
Published 8 months ago by D. Bach
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read, with lots of information
I think this book helps give one a balanced view point on organic gardening. I think it is a good idea to look at both sides of the whole picture and to get information from... Read more
Published 8 months ago by A.. Buyer
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Good product.
Published 11 months ago by Wait! There is more!
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
If you're looking for a science-based, well-cited text book (and maybe you aren't) this is not it.
Published 11 months ago by HouseofG
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Information
This was a detailed book that debunked a lot of myths out there. I found it useful and insightful for practical methods to use in the garden.
Published 11 months ago by Elizabeth R.
3.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful and helpful
Thoughtful and helpful, but not exactly a debunking. Well written and scientifically accurate. Gillman is a real scientist and it shows.
Published 19 months ago by James W. Cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful
I am new to organic gardening and have found this book to be very informative about what is important, what works and what doesn't work. Read more
Published 23 months ago by Kathleen
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More About the Author

An Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota Jeff was raised in South Eastern Pennsylvania, and went to Franklin and Marshall College. He then moved South to Georgia where he received a masters degree in Entomology and a Ph.D. in Horticulture. He currently resides in St. Paul Minnesota. Besides teaching and research activities, Jeff runs a nine acre nursery at UMN.

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The Truth About Organic Gardening: Benefits, Drawbacks, and the Bottom Line
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