How do you become a great gardener? Practice… practice… practice…
Yet on those days when the weather is freezing or the rain is falling in sheets, it’s very good to delve into the knowledge of others. By learning from their successes, failures and wisdom, your own gardening talent will increase by leaps and bounds. The books below are some of the ones that I’ve found helpful or inspiring. Though not a complete list, this set should give you a darned good start on your survival gardening plans.
All-New Square Foot Gardening: Mel Bartholomew
Mel Bartholomew’s method is easy and fail-safe. In my opinion, the full “square foot” method is not the best strategy for survival gardeners because it requires too much in the way of infrastructure and inputs on the front end; however, Mel’s modified technique that relies on compost instead of peat moss and vermiculite has been successfully used across Africa and other beleaguered regions. If you want to be encouraged to jump in to gardening – and don’t know where to start – this book presents a drop-dead easy approach.
Gardening When It Counts: Steve Solomon
Some gardeners swear by piling up mulch and organic matter… Steve argues against it. Other gardeners argue for tight spacing and intensive beds… and Steve shakes his head. People argue for laying down drip hoses, he argues for growing with only the water that falls from heaven. Solomon is the definition of “thought-provoking.” Gardening When It Counts gives you a plethora of ideas and a unique perspective on feeding yourself under less-than-ideal circumstances. Solomon also shares input on tools, irrigation, weeding, root systems and “dust mulch.” This book is a must have. Note: Steve’s new book The Intelligent Gardener is also well-worth reading.
Gaia’s Garden: Toby Hemenway
Fruitcake name, excellent contents. If you’ve never delved into the heady world of permaculture food production, this is the book that will open your eyes to the amazing possibilities. Unlike more complicated texts by Mollison and others, this book is hands-on and focused on a small homestead. You’ll learn how to plan our your gardens better, integrate your livestock and orchards, grow better perennial systems and make nature work for you, rather than having to slave away in the field to bring in some calories. Once you pick this book up, it’s hard to put down. Plenty of food for thought in here.
How To Grow More Vegetables: John Jeavons
This is the guidebook for the Biointensive method of gardening. The Biointensive method is also labor intensive, but it’s probably the best designed method of growing tons of food you can imagine. One thing this book includes that many do not: growing your own compost. Each crop is analyzed in terms of calories, nutrition and biomass, with a goal of allowing the gardener to produce his own sustenance without importing a lot of outside material. It also runs over the method of double-digging and gives a very good explanation for why loosening the soil should be a major part of your planning.
Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture: Sepp Holzer
Sepp Holzer manages to feed his family and rake in profit in one of the most difficult gardening regions on the globe. His location in the Austrian Alps suffers from poor soil, harsh weather conditions and high altitudes; yet through experimentation and observation, he’s built a paradise of pasture-raised meat, verdant fruit trees, towering grains and glorious organic vegetables. Though not as much of a “how-to” book on gardening, this is a “how-to” book on thinking. If you’ve fought with tough conditions and want a real-life success story, this is it. Sepp Holzer is one of the most brilliant men in gardening: don’t miss his insights.
The Humanure Handbook: Joseph Jenkins
Out of fertilizer? Then make your own. In the bathroom. On a bucket. Then cover it with sawdust, build a nice big compost heap, and two years later… voila! Amazing, rich compost. If you’ve ever wondered why using human “waste” as fertilizer seems to be verboten, Jenkins will give you some background… and some potty humor. This book is part soapbox, part instructional manual on why we should compost our droppings… and how. Jenkins’ system is safe, effective and tested. There are easier ways to use humanure, but it’s hard to picture a better planned and less infrastructure heavy method. If you’re worrying about fertilizing your crops post-Apocalypse, you need this book.
The Resilient Gardener: Carol Deppe
We mentioned this book in the survival gardening webinar the other night. From seed saving and plant breeding to feeding livestock and storing the harvest, Carol Deppe is a master. The down side to this book is that you have to wade through accounts of Deppe’s health problems and digestion to get to the good stuff. I really wanted to love this book – but the gluten issues, weight struggles, etc. get tiring after a while. Maybe that’s because I’m young, strong and healthy – your mileage may vary. Beyond that minor quibble, Deppe’s top survival crops are golden and her knowledge is hard to touch. I own both this book and her excellent “How To Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties” handbook. Definitely worth owning.
Seed To Seed
This book is the definitive handbook of seed saving. If you want to continue your garden from year to year without buying in new seeds, get this book. It contains details on cross-pollination, minimum populations required to avoid inbreeding depression, saving seeds from biennials, storing seeds long-term and plenty more. Created in collaboration with the Seedsaver’s Exchange, Ashworth’s text contains the knowledge you need to keep your heirlooms viable and producing from generation to generation. Though it’s “dry” reading, unlike some of the other books on this list, it’s a manual I refer to regularly when saving my seeds.