Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Summer Reading

Decades ago (boy that make me sound old) I used to read a lot of vegetable gardening books. I don't often do that anymore. I would read a book about a "new" system and it would just say the same things over that I already had heard before. Each author just packages it differently.

I felt that way about the one vegetable gardening book I read last year - "How To Grow More Vegetables," by John Jeavons. Ok I know it was first written over 30 years ago. So I'm slow. I'm not saying it isn't a good book. It is. In fact it is a wonderful book. I've just heard it all before. Intensive gardening isn't very new. It was done by South Americans and Chinese for Millennia. The French took it over, I think in the 1800s and started the French Biointensive Method (which is the system that this book evolved from).

I do have some beefs with the book. First off, my raised beds have always been about four feet wide. His are five feet. He must have inhumanly long arms to be able to reach the middle of a five foot bed. Do any of you make your beds that wide? I sometimes feel stretched with my four foot rows.

Secondly he tells you to grow all your own carbon sources for building soil. As a sustainable issue this is a good thing. If you want the grain, I can understand it. I live in the middle of suburbia. My neighbors THROW AWAY their carbon sources (leaves in the fall). Farming carbon for me seems kind of silly. My neighbors package it up every fall in nice brown carbon rich bags. Yes even the bags are carbon. All I have to do is collect it on the way home from work. It doesn't even take an extra trip in the car. I see no need to farm carbon, so I don't. Well OK I am a bit.

I was taught to never have bare soil from many books I've read and since forgotten. I do put down cover crops when my soil is not being used for crops. So I do farm both nitrogen and carben to a small degree. Those crops get ripped up as soon as my vegetables need their space.

I agree with his take on saving your own seed. It really is a good thing to use open pollinated seeds and save them from year to year. I'm trying to do more, but I'm weak. Please don't take away my hybrid cole crops or my seedless cucumber that I can leave on the vine way too long and it still doesn't have nasty seeds. I love my Diamant cucumber. Most of my crops are open pollinated. I'll save more seed this year. I promise.

I am keeping this book and not passing it along for one reason. I love the tables in the book. I don't agree with all of his numbers, but it really is a great reference. If I can't remember how far apart to space the little brocolli seedlings I can look it up. He really has more information in his charts than I will ever need.

I've missed having charts. I don't actually have a normal howto book on vegetable gardening on my bookshelves anymore. I used to. I have no clue as to what happened to them. The only book that comes close is Fukuoka's book, "The Natural Way of Farming." I think I read that one in the early ninties. It really made me want to grow my own grains and sold me on no till methods of growing food. Well except occasionally. I'm allowed to dig that bed up every fifteen years. Right?


  1. Five feet?? I'm with you: that's too wide to work well for me. My raised beds, which do not have strict borders, are only about two feet wide--more like rows--and about eight feet long.

    You've inspired me to consult my few gardening books, but I've got to catch up on weeding first.

  2. Hi Daphne, every fifteen years? Hooray! Now about that five feet versus four feet width, I am a little person and have trouble reaching the center with four, like you. I don't want to tread on the soil. Planting seeds is the most difficult reaching, for you have to get way low, even in a raised bed. Tables with spacing info are a great reason to hang onto that book. What will you be reading next?

  3. Well, the good part about reading old gardening books is that I've probably forgotten far more than I've read about gardening and it never hurts to be reminded. That's part of what I get out of gardening blogs, especially the references to plants that I always meant to plant :)

  4. Hi Daphne, my beds are just 4 feet and that is of 'my small feet' ;-)
    Isn't just that it should be wide but reachable so that you don't have to put your foot in the bed?

    I have a question for you. When I weed I do not put it on the compost, I actually dig it down in the soil somewhere straight away, what do you think about that? Do you see any negative aspects of doing this?


  5. Iris, I know isn't it crazy. I'm actually fairly tall, but still my arms aren't going to reach that far in.

    Frances, yup not very often, but I do fork the beds over every year to loosen the soil. I just don't turn it over. If I put in another order to Amazon, I'm going to buy that book I tried on my kindle but had to return (less than a quarter of the way through) "Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties" by Carol Deppe.

    MacGardens, Yup I like that about blogs too. You get a little window into how other people garden. Also they plant things that the books just don't talk about. Like Sea Kale (a perennial vegetable). I heard about it twice on blogs before I ever read about it in a book. BTW I read about it in a very old vegetable gardening book off the Gutenburg library (so online). It was written almost a century ago. It was fun to see how the popularity of vegetables has changed.

    Tyra, yup you are not supposed to step in the bed. Otherwise I'd have to turn it over more often. Ick work ;>

    I sometimes dig old vegetable matter (like my tomato stems) into the soil right where they grow. That way I don't put diseased plants onto my compost pile. The bed gets rotated so the tomatoes won't see it for years. I don't do that for weeds, since the heat of the compost pile can help kill weed seeds (only if you keep a HOT compost pile). So if the weeds have not seeded yet digging them into the soil is great, but if they have seeded, the seeds might get turned over to the top of the soil. Of course if you dig them far enough down and don't turn your soil over, it should be fine.

  6. I'm with you on the garden book issue. Not much new out there. I do read on specific topics that I want to learn about. Right now I'm reading about raising Fresh Cut Herbs for market, Cider making, and Orchards. All "new" topics for me.

    My garden beds are supposed to be 4 feet, but most of them end up being 3.5. That works for my body and my system. The right way is to do what works for you. As for carbon, sounds like an efficient system you are using.

  7. Alan, I love books about new topics. Right now for me it is seed saving. I just ordered a couple of books on it and can't wait to read them.