Stacking Functions Garden

Book review: The Resilient Gardener


The Resilient GardenerThe Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times

by Carol Deppe

The title of this book is a bit heavy-handed; I probably wouldn’t have looked it up if my favorite permaculture blog hadn’t recommended it.

Yet, her broad definition of “hard times” resonated with me. Would your garden survive if you were unable to water it for two weeks? Weed it for three weeks? This concept was brought home to me long before I read this book, when Adam had a random injury in August that left him unable to do any lifting for well over a month. I had to do everything during that time, and it was both eye-opening and exhausting.

So, what if I, the primary gardener in the family, get a random injury? Or what if we have a drought and the city imposes watering limits (a very real possibility, actually)? I actually think these two questions should be asked about ANY landscape, not just a food-producing one.

Before I go any further, I should outline my recommendation regarding this book. Choose whichever of the following best applies to you:

1. If you live in Willamette Valley, Oregon and garden at any scale: BUY this book.

2. If you live anywhere else, and own or have access to acreage and have a desire to increase self-sufficiency by raising some staple crops like corn, beans, squash, or potatoes: BORROW this book from the library. (You may end up buying it.)

3. If you do not meet conditions 1 or 2: well, borrow it only if the topic really interests you.

This book suffers from the same problem affecting nearly all gardening (especially permaculture-oriented) books I read: warm climate-itis. The upper midwest is just a whole different ball game in gardening (though that’s not all bad, either).

Still, there are some useful nuggets in here. Here are a handful:

Plant spacing for resilience. Deppe grows corn, squash, beans, and potatoes enough to be self-sufficient on them as well as sell at market (i.e. she grows a shit ton of all four on acreage). The Willamette valley gets very dry in summer, but she grows most of her crops with little to no irrigation. She achieves this, in part, by increasing plant spacing to even double the amount recommended on the seed packet.

Timing. Because her region has rain at specific times (lots in the winter but very little in the summer) she plants strategically so that crops that need more water are maturing at the time when her region tends to get water. (This does not apply to the upper midwest, but still worth noting.)

Potatoes. She outlines three strategies for planting potatoes: hilling up, trenching, or growing in mulch, with details about how to determine which strategy is best for you. My own potato tower experiment was not successful, but I think that hilling up is probably a classic Minnesota potato strategy for a very good reason.

Ducks vs. Chickens. Deppe’s chapter on ducks offers a great comparison on determining whether you should raise ducks or chickens, and how raising fowl can have a dramatic effect on your resiliency. They can be a great choice if the land you live on happens to not be ideal for growing vegetables or fruit. Unfortunately they are not a choice for me right now, because of problems with obtaining a city permit.

Corn. Deppe has a real fondness for the lowly corn plant, and this book has great in-depth information on types of corn (flour, flint, dent), reasons and how-to’s for growing each, seed-saving and breeding techniques, and even recipes. As a person who is gluten-intolerant, she has a keen interest in providing high-quality non-wheat flour for herself—there are several interesting gluten-free recipes in the book.

Beans. One of the shortest chapters, but Deppe still manages to make a nice case for growing drying beans, and offers advice for those of us who still romanticize the old interplanting corn, beans, and squash myth. Deppe’s answer: it can be done, but mind your spacing and choose varieties that are suited for it.

I would love to think that someday Adam and I might be able to afford to buy a handful of acres somewhere in Minnesota or western Wisconsin. But since we likely wouldn’t be able to live there for many years, what crops (if any) could I realistically grow on this fantasy land, which I would only visit once per week in the best of times? Deppe’s book gave me LOTS of ideas to dream on, for now.

7 thoughts on “Book review: The Resilient Gardener

  1. This book is new to me, so I really appreciate your take on it.

  2. What is a ‘shit ton’?



  3. As an Aussie I have taken books out with barely reigned in excitement only to be deflated like a helium balloon 10 days after New Years…our conditions are not like those in most other countries at all. I live in Tasmania and found a fantastic book called “The Wilderness Garden” that is completely about what you are talking about…growing a resilient garden and one that will survive should you have to take yourself out of the picture for a sustained period of time. The woman who wrote the book, one Jackie French, spent a fair proportion of her early life living amongst and observing nature at work here in our Aussie climate and we are pretty dry here at the best of times…”drought” is a word that can also be translated as “summer” and any book that shows me how to grow enough food with the minimum work is alright by me! I doubt you will be able to get a copy even at your library, of this wonderful tomb but if you can, check it out. It is completely relevant, pertinent and adaptable to any climate, any conditions, anywhere in the world (except the polar ice caps and their nearby neighbours perhaps 😉 ). I am going to try to take that book out of the library. If it contains natural food production using trees, shrubs, vines, groundcovers and perennials predominately I am IN! 🙂

  4. Thanks for pointing out the big problem we in Minnesota have with most gardening books. Warm climate-itis is exactly it! And thank you for your review and pointing out what might be useful for gardeners in 4b. I’ll snoop around here a bit more and see what else I can learn. (BTW I arrived while looking for a copy of St. Martin’s Table Cookbook…. you don’t have a line on a extra one that no one wants, do you?)

    • I have my own dog-eared copy, and I’d be happy to send you an email if there’s a specific recipe you’d like me to type up. Loved that restaurant and was so sad to see it go. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. I for one am loving the glut of region-specific gardening books lately! It seems like every urban farmer in the PNW is publishing a book and I have them all. Including the Resilient Gardener. I have begun to get rid of all my general gardening books for lack of specificity. Now I have books that tell me how to grow tea, ginger, grains, hops, etc for MY area. Love it!

    I have to say I feel blessed to have a case of warm-climatitis (especially since my just furnace died!) and I would be truly stupid not to take every advantage of that (almost endless) growing season.

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