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Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series) Paperback – April 1, 2006
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The decline of cheap oil is inspiring increasing numbers of North Americans to achieve some measure of backyard food self-sufficiency. In hard times, the family can be greatly helped by growing a highly productive food garden, requiring little cash outlay or watering.
Currently popular intensive vegetable gardening methods are largely inappropriate to this new circumstance. Crowded raised beds require high inputs of water, fertility and organic matter, and demand large amounts of human time and effort. But, except for labor, these inputs depend on the price of oil. Prior to the 1970s, North American home food growing used more land with less labor, with wider plant spacing, with less or no irrigation, and all done with sharp hand tools. But these sustainable systems have been largely forgotten. Gardening When It Counts helps readers rediscover traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food.
Designed for readers with no experience and applicable to most areas in the English-speaking world except the tropics and hot deserts, this book shows that any family with access to 3-5,000 sq. ft. of garden land can halve their food costs using a growing system requiring just the odd bucketful of household waste water, perhaps two hundred dollars worth of hand tools, and about the same amount spent on supplies-working an average of two hours a day during the growing season.
Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series(2005-11-16)
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Top Customer Reviews
I had to really chuckle when I read his rudimentary back to basics tool list consisting of a shovel, a bow rake, a hoe and a file to keep them sharp and useful. A simple wheelbarrow, buckets, knife and stone fill out his recomendations. He's so very right when he suggests that it doesn't take an armada of gadgets and do-hickies and specialty tools to make a very sucessful garden. And his comments on using some commonly sold garden gadgets make for humorous images for those who have suffered too short handles, stooped backs and the associated aches and pains. Many folks pondering the latest garden knick-knack catalog could do well to remember Solomon's basic tools will get the job done advice. Admittedly, he does sound like what MY grandfather would've said in the tool chapter. ("Put down that dreambook, pick up that hoe, and get to doing something useful." ... <still chuckling>)
What I particularly thought useful was the idea of returning to planting based on choosing plant spacing not for intensity of harvest if thoroughly irrigated, but rather choosing less dense spacing based on potential for drought. In the drought chapter, Solomon makes the case that earlier gardeners more concerned with crop survival than sheer bulk of harvest knew to choose spacing that allows for stronger, more durable plants that better survive droughts. There's a lot more to it than that. I'm oversimplifying his points to make a point, and that is that there is something useful in this book for everyone; from those who've never dug their hands in dirt to those who think that they have a "better way".
I'm currently recommending this book as a good solid intro to veggie gardening that will produce the produce for those interested in delving beyond the picture books. Frankly, I've got lots of gardening and permaculture books and yet this was the first that I've seen fit to review, as I think it bears some recommendation to a wider audience.
The books subtitle, "Growing food in hard times", refers to the coming shortage of oil and the economic troubles ahead. Don't let this scare you away, the author spends very little time on this soapbox. The book falls a little short of the promise, though; after explaining why fertilizer, including the organic kinds, water, fuel for machines, etc. will be scarce and expensive, he spends a lot of space discussing imported fertilizer ingredients, sprinkler systems, and large plant spacing, none of which, by his own assertion, will be available to most of us in the future. He does discuss a few short term strategies, including compost cropping, increased plant spacing to save water and nutrients, but does little to help us prepare for the coming shortages.
This is one of those rare books that improve with the second reading. There is plenty of well-presented information. If you are new to gardening, or want to expand your harvest, this book is an excellent choice. If you are an intensive method gardener, this book will introduce an alternative perspective; read with an open mind, you will learn much about the strengths and weaknesses of both methods.
Sometimes the narrative left me behind and I didn't follow. Gardeners in general (not just this book) tend to gloss over details as if we're just supposed to know. For example, the fertigation section of the book doesn't have a really good definitive statement of what the heck fertigation is. Nor do I recall any specifications being provided on the size of the hole or how you make the hole in the first place. Good definitive (and idiot proof) topic sentences would've been a huge help.
Also, it was frustrating for a book that purported to teach gardening for hard times to say it's not worth it to garden in clay soil or rocky soil. I would've thought there would be a focus on things that can be done to maximize growth in all conditions. This is Gardening When It Counts, not Gardening In Ideal Conditions.
That and gardening is more expensive than I thought. Especially as the author notes that once oil prices go up so will the cost of all the fertilizers he advises you will need. Can I afford to garden when it counts? I'm not sure.
Plus, unless you can buy seeds at least every other year, you are S.O.L. (which I would've hoped there would've been more discussion on alternatives, perhaps some discussion of exchanging seeds with local gardeners etc...)
In addition the author recommends at least 2700 square feet of garden space times two (so you can rotate your crops). This is not practical for most of suburbia.
Again, back to my point that this book is not supposed to be about Gardening In Ideal Conditions With Unlimited Funds And Space, but it often seems to take that tack.
There are some positives.There is no question that the author is a master gardener so whatever info you do glean from the book is solid. Composting is covered in great detail. There are some excellent nuggets of information that make the book worth a read (the seed company recommendations were much appreciated). However, you will not learn everything you need to know in this book alone and I question whether it truly does offer any good advice on how to garden when it counts for the average person in the average house.