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.

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Book Review: Four Season Harvest

Four-Season Harvest
Organic vegetables from your home garden all year long
By Eliot Coleman

You guys, I made a mistake. I bought the wrong book! Not that the Winter Harvest Handbook wasn’t awesome, inspiring, and great, but I kept getting the sense that I was missing something. That something was the information contained in this Eliot Coleman book from 1999, which a friend recently loaned to me.

Whereas Winter Harvest Handbook focused mainly on growing winter crops in a market-garden or CSA-farm scenario, Four-Season Harvest is all about the home garden. (Yes, I’m aware that 10 minutes of research and would have revealed this, but I’m here to serve you, dear reader, and prevent you from repeating my mistakes.)

Let’s dive right in and explore the many ways this book is influencing changes in my gardening life, starting this year.

My compost pile has always been OK… after a year, I do get compost, but it doesn’t move very fast, and I’ll admit that it occasionally gets smelly.  It’s also never heated up for me, as well-maintained compost piles should.  The past two years I’ve been adding dried leaves to it as “brown” material between the green layers, and this has greatly helped with the smell factor, and seemed to be an improvement overall, but still things were just not breaking down as quickly as I would have liked.

Enter Coleman’s very helpful chapter on composting. First of all, he does *not* recommend putting leaves in your compost pile, because apparently leaves are broken down primarily by fungi, while other compost ingredients are primarily broken down by bacteria.  The leaves and their fungi don’t necessarily subtract from that, but they definitely don’t add to it.  They can also end up slowing down the process when they clump together and form a dry, airless mass.  I’ve broken up many of these in my own bin.

Rather than leaves, he recommends keeping a bale of straw (not hay) and sandwiching your green layers (vegetable scraps, lawn clippings, and the like) with a layer of straw.  Because each stalk of straw is hollow, they help improve airflow, and they end up becoming a fuel to help heat up your pile.  I just checked my pile and it’s still frozen solid, but as soon as it thaws I am getting a bale of straw to try this method out.

But what about all my poor old leaves?  I have them all saved still, in bags!  Coleman recommends using them to create leaf mold.  Apparently leaf mold is a really great soil amendment for vegetables in the cabbage and carrot families.  To make leaf mold, create a round wire column out of fencing, 3-4 feet in diameter, (much like what I made for my potato tower last year), add leaves and water, and leave them for around 2 years. I may need a couple of these for the amount of leaves our trees produce!

Soil structure and aerating
Coleman uses a broad fork to gently aerate the soil, rather than tilling, which can disturb soil structure in the long run. I’m going to look for one of these at the garden store.

Garden layout
He has a map of his own garden, with details on crop rotation, succession planting, etc. If I had more land to work with, I would honestly just make an exact copy of his garden design, because it is brilliant. However, instead of a 43’x40′ garden spot I have a 21’x6′ spot that is shaded for 7 months of the year by the neighbor’s house. Humph.

Cold frames
Cold frame and green house/high tunnel design, maintenance, and care are covered extensively in this book. There’s even a table of planting and harvest dates for winter cold frame veggies (I’ve added some of these to my garden calendar). I would like to add a cold frame; there are limits to what we’ll be able to do with our mini hoop house, as cute as it is.  In order to really consider having greens from your home garden for 10 (maybe even 11-12) months, you really need a cold frame. Coleman recommends two 4’x8′ frames for each member of your family. YOWZA!  That’s definitely not happening on my less-than-1/4 acre!  I’m going to keep thinking about while being content with just my hoop house for this year.

Forcing endives and other root crops
There’s also a how-to on how to grow Belgian endives — it involves storing them in a root cellar, then sprouting them a few at a time in a bucket of wet sand under your kitchen sink. Very interesting stuff. He also gives details on sprouting cabbages, celeriac, beets and parsley root.

Finally, there’s several appendices full of descriptions of how to grow specific vegetables (including artichokes, and his technique is very interesting).

In short, I’m just going to have to buy my own copy of this book, even though I’ve totally blown my book budget for the entire year and it’s only March.  I recommend this one even more than Winter Harvest Handbook, especially for those of us who only dream of raising fields of food while gardening for ourselves, in the city.


Book Review: The Winter Harvest Handbook

The Winter Harvest Handbook
Year-Round Vegetable Production Using Deep-Organic Techniques and Unheated Greenhouses
by Eliot Coleman

This book has been on my list for a very long time. Glad I bought it, because I absolutely loved it and plan to start using it this year.

Mr. Coleman and his family run a CSA farm in Maine (USDA hardiness zone 5a, only one tick warmer than where I live in Minnesota), and they are able to deliver certain crops to their customers all year round with some pretty amazing techniques.

We’re not talking about tomatoes here, but certain cold-hardy vegetables — greens, carrots, turnips — are actually superior in flavor during cold weather.  Coleman breaks it down: the history of winter vegetable production, the maximum-yield yearly schedule, “cold” vs “cool” greenhouses, the basics of how he handles soil prep and pests, plus the very best cold weather vegetable varieties.

This book is written with the small farmer in mind, not the home gardener. If I bought a farm tomorrow, I would use this book as a guide. But most if not all of his ideas are totally adaptable to the home garden, and actually will end up being more fun for me to experiment with since my livelihood will not be dependent on the results.

Coleman’s major discovery that has revolutionized his winter greenhouse gardening is simply this: he creates two microclimates by doubling the layers of insulation over plants.  The first microclimate is the unheated greenhouse. But the second, equally important one, is a layer of thin fabric, draped over the crops inside the greenhouse, like this:

(From customer image gallery, click image for source)

On average, the temperature under the inner covers is up to 30 degrees warmer than the outside temp.  This means if it gets to -15 degrees F outside, it’s still +15 degrees F under the covers. So obviously you have to have hardy vegetables, but still: a huge difference!  (And this was the first part of the book where I squealed like a little girl.)

He also talks a bit about cold frames, which are very popular for small-scale winter vegetable production. They were not practical for his farm because of the volume of food they need to produce, but he got me thinking about where I might fit one in my yard.

I can’t stress enough how useful this book would be, to me anyway, if I was starting a small CSA farm.  He talks about tools, marketing, and growing vegetables that give you the most yield per square foot, and what’s worth your time or not, in terms of how successful he’s been in the past at selling various items.

Several things that I’m going to try that I learned from this book, in no particular order:

1. I’m going to build wee hoop houses for my new stock tank gardens in the back yard and try for a late fall/early winter harvest of carrots and greens, using Coleman’s schedule and methodology.

2. I’m going to try his method for planting leeks. Most people hill up soil around their leeks as they grow, in order to get that nice blanched stem. Coleman starts his leek in large 3-inch deep seed flats.  He lets them grow until they are at least 10 inches tall. To transplant into the ground, he first digs 9-inch deep, narrow holes with a tool he calls a “dibble,” then drops the leeks in so only 1 inch of the plant is above the surface of the soil. Then there’s no mounding necessary, and he gets beautiful leeks.

3. I’m going to start a gardening calendar here on the blog in the next few days. My plan: record the dates of every garden-related event for the entire year. I hope to experiment with planting and harvest dates year-over-year and develop a better system to maximize my yield from my wee 1/4 acre.  I hope you find it [marginally] interesting!

4. I’m going to work on convincing Adam that we absolutely must add at least 4 cold frames. This will probably be about as successful as my work in convincing him that we should get chickens.

This book goes on the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED and inspirational list, for sure!

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Recipe: collard greens and bacon

It’s been a long time since we bought a new cookbook. Nourishing Traditions was our most recent acquisition, nearly two years ago. That book now informs a lot of the cooking that we do, but we don’t make the actual recipes from it very often. We’ve had some hits and misses.

I do not expect to have any misses from Starting With Ingredients. The book is organized in a novel way — pick an ingredient, then see 4-5 recipes where that ingredient shines. This is not exactly a Betty Crocker cookbook — the recipes are very gourmet with a vigorous nod toward traditional ingredients and methods.  Adam made the glazed carrots recipe recently and it called for duck fat. (And we had it on hand, how awesome is that?)

Anyway, here’s a sample recipe that we modified/simplified a bit. Originally it called for pancetta and a variety of greens including dandelion, but we just used collard greens and bacon.  Keeping it simple, right?

Collard greens with bacon
2 bunches collard greens
1/4 lb bacon (4-5 slices)
1 large onion
2 T. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)

1. Wash, de-stem, and chop the greens. Steam until wilted. Set aside.

2. Fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the fat and set aside. Sauté the onion in the bacon fat until transparent. Add the greens and apple cider vinegar, toss to coat.  Roughly chop the bacon and sprinkle on top of the greens. Season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.

We served this over risotto, but I think any simple grain would do.  Anytime the three-year-olds eat greens willingly, I call it a successful recipe.


Book review: Amusing Ourselves to Death

Amusing Ourselves to Death
Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business
By Neil Postman
Published 1984

A while back, I saw a very well-drawn cartoon explaining, in a nutshell, the thesis of this book.  It contrasts George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s visions of the future, and concludes that Huxley was more accurate.  The cartoon really spoke to me.  It wasn’t until after I’d added the book to my library queue that I realized it had been published over 15 years ago.

What ended up being most interesting about this book was trying to imagine how and whether what Postman says applies to the internet, since he wrote at a time when culture was dominated by television.  We are already shifting away from TV, though the shift is still in its infancy.  So is this new shift an improvement or are we even worse off, in Postman’s worldview?  Well, he passed away in 2003, so it would have been hard for him to see exactly where the internet was going, culturally speaking.  Hell, we still can’t.

Did this book speak to me as much as the cartoon did? See for yourself:

Postman divides the book into two parts: the first is a history of the influence of media on culture and the rise of print and photography.  The second explores a culture steeped in television: 1980s America.

An interesting anecdote in Part I is that of a Revolutionary War-era religious group called The Dunkers. Postman came across their story in Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography. Franklin had suggested to his Dunker friend that they ought to write down the tenets of their beliefs, and they responded that they didn’t feel comfortable putting anything in writing because they didn’t want their descendants to be “bound and confined” by it, in case God chose to reveal more truths as time went on.  Taking specific measures to ensure openness to future ideas: wow.

Postman also explores colonial America’s dedication to education of every child, and how that widespread literacy shaped our early culture.  Examples: the volume of books being sold in the US was astounding, and attention spans were downright shocking (he cites one of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, which lasted SEVEN HOURS).

On to part II: the age of showbusiness, or 1980s America.  I did snicker at some of his criticisms, e.g. the “rapid-fire editing” on Sesame Street.  Yet, Postman pointed out several things which are still definitely true today.

Firstly, he points out the difficulty people have in discerning truth on televised programming, and how it forces us to rely instead on the credibility of the person on television.

This is a matter of considerable importance, for it goes beyond the question of how truth is perceived on television news shows.  If on television, credibility replaces reality as the decisive test of truth-telling, political leaders need not trouble themselves very much with reality provided that their performances consistently generate  a sense of verisimilitude.

You can just picture Postman watching Reagan on TV, then writing that sentence, can’t you?

He dedicates chapters to things that are now clichés, such as televangelists and pundits who confuse emotion with informed opinion.  But there are also some zingers, like his assertion that television commercials attack capitalism itself:

…the television commercial has mounted the most serious assault on capitalist ideology since the publication of Das Kapital. To understand why, we must remind ourselves that capitalism, like science and liberal democracy, was an outgrowth of the Enlightenment. Its principal theorists…believed capitalism to be based on the idea that both buyer and seller are sufficiently mature, well-informed, and reasonable to engage in transactions of mutual self-interest.  If greed was to be the fuel of the capitalist engine, then surely rationality was the driver.

Anyone who’s worked in marketing (or watched Mad Men) can see the problem here: modern advertising is wholly based on emotion, not reason.  And, at least in the 1980s, the television commercial was the pinnacle of this trend (which started in the early 1900s).

As a parent, I am very concerned about all this.  And for us that has translated into limiting the amount of screen-time our children get (see my review of Simplicity Parenting for more on that).  Postman explains well why this is important:

we learn what we do. Television educates by teaching children to do what television-viewing requires of them. And that is as precisely remote from what a classroom requires of them as reading a book is from watching a stage show.

Right now my kids can and should be kids — exploring, playing, learning, and discovering things on their own, rather than being passive receptors of one narrow kind of information.  I am not 100% anti-T.V.  We have Netflix, and watch DVDs several times a week (we’re a little behind on streaming still with our old power-PC Macs).

My challenge to you:  go DVD/DVR/Netflix streaming/whatever-only for one month.  Then try to watch a regular show on one of the networks.  You will not be able to stand the constant commercial interruption.  It’s become unbearable for me to watch regular TV now, and that’s just the way I like it because it’s a great way to control how much I watch–those three days waiting for the new disc to arrive are spent doing other things.  (Crap, how will I control myself if/when we upgrade and can finally use Watch Instantly?)

Postman is careful not to totally demonize TV, though, but to simply point out that, as high-minded as some TV tries to be, the message is limited by the medium.  Television demands interesting pictures, and simple explanations.  And shows that try to rise above the tumult and include actual thoughtful exposition fail, because the medium simply was not designed for it.  And that’s OK, but only as long as we are all aware of it.

So what are we thoughtful readers to do?  Postman:

What I suggest here as a solution is what Aldous Huxley suggested as well… He believed with H. G. Wells that we are in a race between education and disaster, and he wrote continuously about the necessity of our understanding the politics and epistemology of media. For in the end, he was trying to tell us that what afflicted the people in Brave New World was not that they were laughing instead of thinking, but that they did not know what they were laughing about and why they had stopped thinking.

Education.  There you have it.  And you all know where that starts.

The bigger question: how does all of this apply to a culture which is now shifting from TV to the internet?  My gut instinct is that some things are better and others are worse, but that the internet is somehow going to end up being this strange mash-up of print and television, hopefully eventually becoming more like the best of both worlds, instead of the worst.  Only time will tell.

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Book Review: Build Your Own Earth Oven

So it’s been over six months since my last book review (and my last few reviews were pretty lame).  I went on a total fiction binge this year.  I can now say I’ve completely exhausted any need to read about vampires for a very, very long time (at least until the sequel to The Passage comes out).

Anyway, so here’s a little non-fiction book that I picked up on impulse from the library a few weeks ago:

Build Your Own Earth Oven
A low-cost, wood-fired, mud oven simple sourdough bread, perfect loaves
by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field

Ever since I tasted pizza from my friend Robin’s wood-fired pizza oven, this idea has really intrigued me.  But why build it out of mud?  Well, firebrick is pretty expensive — $2-$3 a piece.  Denzer’s ovens use a handful of firebricks for the oven floor, but they are mostly built out of mud.  He gives seven basic reasons to use mud: it’s fun, fast, artistic, cheap, builds community, is adaptable, and finally — the most compelling reason of all — it turns to brick through the heating process.

Not just any old mud will do, however.  You need mud that has high clay content.  This generally involves digging down a couple of feet past the topsoil.  The easiest way to tell if your soil has enough clay is to pick up a handful, roll it around in your hand into a ball, then squeeze it into a snake shape.  The longer and smoother “snake” you can make (with no cracks), the higher your clay content.

Most people (theoretically) should be able to find soil with high enough clay content for cheap or free, even if they don’t have it in their own yard.

So you build a foundation (Denzer gives multiple options here), lay a couple firebricks, and build a mud-based (also called “cob”) dome top.  While that dries you make a nice neat little oven door.  And… you’re done.  Denzer claims the whole thing can be done in a 1/2 day.  I am skeptical.  Up here in the north country you also definitely need some sort of shelter to put this in: nothing fancy, just a simple structure to keep the rain and snow off.

The chapter on sourdough baking (with recipe) was interesting, but I’m not ready to pick that thread up again for a while.  There are multiple right ways do bake sourdough bread — I just have to [someday] figure out the one that works for me.  Maybe someday if I am lucky enough to retire from full-time work…

If we ever get around to building a wood-fired oven, I will check this book out again.  These things are way cool, and they churn out some really delicious pizzas and breads.  They can also be a neat work of art — here’s some inspirational imagery for you.

My ultimate fantasy: to have a building that somehow incorporates a root cellar, a chicken coop, a garden toolshed + potting bench, and a sheltered but open area with an earth oven.  And then to be able to play there all day every day!  (In my fantasy world, obviously, winter doesn’t exist…)

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The Coming Famine

Here’s another book to add to my list: The Coming Famine, by Julian Cribb.  Mark Bittman reviewed it for the NY Times today.  Basically, Cribb contends that we’ve reached peak food production (along with peak oil), and warns that our food system could collapse without major changes.  From the review (emphasis mine):

He proposes subsidizing small farms for their stewardship of the earth, and paying them fairer prices for production; taxing food to reflect its true costs to the environment; regulating practices that counter sustainability and rewarding those that promote it; and educating the public about the true costs of food. “An entire year of primary schooling” should be devoted to the importance of growing and eating food, he suggests.

An entire year of home ec.  Yes.  Read the whole review here.  My library doesn’t have this book in their catalog yet, but I’ll be watching for it.

Update, 8/26/2010: Apparently this topic is really gaining steam.  Here’s a review of another book about essentially the same thingEmpires of Food by Evan D.G. Fraser looks at the food systems of empires that failed, such as the Roman empire, and draws parallels with today.  So much reading to do…

Update, 8/27/2010: Gaining steam, speeding up:  The Atlantic Monthly’s round-up of stories related to this topic.

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Here’s another random post about lots of things.

Firstly, the garden seems to be mostly sprouted.  Lots of weeds, too.  I’ll do a garden update sometime this weekend.

Second, I’m going to go ahead and tell you about three books that I recently started but did not finish:

An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes
by Jennifer McLagan

I requested both this and McLagan’s Bones from the library at the same time.  I found a lot more useful information in Fat.  I will probably purchase this book, when I find that I am ready to start making butter, ghee, lard, and things like that.

This book would also be really useful to anyone who hunts ducks or geese — it contains plenty of interesting information about and uses for duck and goose fat.

McLagan also spends a lot of time dispelling popular myths about fat.  She covers all the main types of animal fats and what you can do with them, and what their composition is in terms of saturated, monounsaturated, and polysaturated.  So there’s also a little science mixed in with folk stories and recipes.

The Backyard Homestead
Produce all the food you need on just a quarter-acre!
by Carleen Madigan

I got most of the way through this book, too.  It presents at least 100 topics, each in a short, easily digestible article.  I think this would be a great book if you want to try your hand at being more self-sufficient, but have no idea where to start.

Madigan includes everything from vegetable gardening to beer brewing to sourdough bread to raising poultry to milking goats.  There is just enough information about each topic to give you at least a general idea.  I read the poultry chapter with great interest, since that’s something I [eventually] want to do — but honestly, I’ll probably pick up a book specifically about raising chickens if/when the time comes.  And the author also advises getting further information and instruction if you’re going to try, for example, raising and slaughtering your own turkeys.

But, for an introduction to what homesteading — you could even call it home economics — is all about, this is a great resource.  This was much more accessible than other “making your home sustainable” books I’ve read in the past.

Deeply Rooted
Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness
by Lisa M. Hamilton

Here’s one that I really enjoyed, but just could not get all the way through in the 6 weeks the library allotted me.  Hamilton profiles three farmers in a deeply compelling, rich narrative.  I absolutely loved the only profile I read in total: the story of an African-American dairyman in Texas.  Hamilton has a gift for story-telling — I really admire how she weaved her narrative so skillfully from interviews.  This is long-form journalism at its best.

So that’s it for reading lately; I’ve been pretty dismal at finding time to read every day.  Spring is always a busy time of year and this year is my craziest yet — by far.  But the weekend is here and I am going to make time to weed and even go to my favorite Minneapolis event of the year.  Have a great weekend!

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Mini book review: Food Rules

Here’s my first mini book review for April.  If I stay this busy, it might be mini book reviews forever.

Food Rules
An Eater’s Manual
by Michael Pollan

This slim, inexpensive little volume is really just an expansion of the popular slideshow from the NY Times that was published sometime last year.  He left out some of the sillier ones (don’t eat egg salad from a vending machine), and expanded a bit on some of the smarter ones (only eat desserts on days that start with an S).

This is a really fast read — I think it took me maybe one 30-minute sitting.  Some of my favorite “rules:”

“Plant a vegetable garden if you  have the space, a window box if you don’t.”

“Pay more.  Eat less.”

And my favorite: “The whiter the bread, the sooner you’ll be dead.”

So much good fodder for annoying things to say to my kids around the dinner table for the next 16 years.  Thanks Michael Pollan!

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Book review: all-in-one garden

all-in-one garden
Grow vegetables, fruit, herbs and flowers in the same space
by Graham Rice

Here’s a little gem of a book that’s useful for beginners, people who have grown flowers but not food, and people like me who already do both.  If nothing else, this book has major vegetable eye candy.  Just take a look at the author’s garden vegetable photo gallery to get an idea — vegetables can be very beautiful in the landscape indeed.

The book has ideas — with diagrams — for several different landscape situations (including containers), as well as plant guides and lots of top ten lists, such as “Graham’s top ten shade-tolerant food plants.”  In everything, he considers form as well as function.  He wants plants to look good at a distance, up close, and with each other, creating a beautiful and harmonious landscape.  He mixes flowers and fruits with cabbages and runner beans, and the results are gorgeous.

Rice is also very fond of putting in very young pear, apple, and peach trees and training them to grow in a fan shape against a wall or fence — this way they take up very little room and provide a beautiful backdrop for other fruits, vegetables, and flowers.  I am really unfamiliar with this technique but I am intrigued.  Not that I really have space for it in my current yard, but I’m definitely going to keep it in mind.

I would put this book on the highly recommended list if only for the inspiration those pictures brought me in the bleak month of February when I was reading it.  This book is a great way to get into more of a permaculture mindset without having to read about peak oil or composting toilets.  Not that those things aren’t important, mind you, but there are kinder and gentler ways to start, and this book is one.

Rice doesn’t really go into it all that much, but there’s also a companion planting aspect to all this — flowers attract bees which help pollinate your vegetables.  Interplanting lots of different plants helps confuse and deter pests — this is Integrated Pest Management 101.  A row of cabbages plus cabbage moths may equal a whole row of lost cabbages.  Cabbages spread out in different areas of the landscape, mixed in with flowers, might mean only 1 or 2 lost to cabbage moths.

If Minneapolis had planted a bunch of different species of trees instead of just one species of elm — by the thousands — our boulevards might not have been so devastated by Dutch Elm Disease.  Some elms may have even been spared because they need to be in close proximity to each other for the disease to spread.

But I digress, majorly.  Here are the ideas I’m going to try this year, from the book:

1) Keep on continuously starting more seeds through the months of May, June, and even into July.  That way as you pick things like kale out of your combined flower/vegetable beds to eat, you can pop in a new plant and avoid having bare spots all over.

2) Make beautiful containers of things like mint, nasturtiums, and sage.  Bonus: the container will keep the mint from taking over your garden.  (I’ve not yet tried growing mint but I have been warned by several different people now to be careful with it.)

3) Curly-leaf parsley — the most useful plant I have EVER grown — looks really, really great in the landscape with a couple of cute little petunias or violas mixed in with it. Seriously, you can put parsley in pretty much everything you eat — it becomes addicting.

4) I really ought to work an evergreen plant or two in my landscape — I have very little “winter interest” right now.

5) Someday, but not this year, I’d like to try growing a purple brussel sprout or two mixed in somewhere with my flowers.  They look really neat.

Rice also listed some common edible flowers, including: calendula, day lilies, geraniums, nasturtiums, sunflowers, and violas.  All good choices.  I also want to try Jerusalem artichokes, which look like sunflowers, but which apparently are fairly invasive.  So I might try them in a pot.  SO MUCH TO DO.  I have to try and control myself this year because with starting a new job, I’m going to be able to take days off work to garden, and there’s only so much one can do on evenings and weekends.

Yeah right, I’ll totally be picking raspberries wearing a headlamp again this year.  I might as well just mentally prepare now…