Tuesday, May 12, 2009

essential reading for beginners

Now and then on this blog we'll post hints and recommendations for people who are transforming yards to gardens, and this post will cover a few books for beginners that we find helpful.

We are unapologetic advocates of organic methods. For all the work that goes into clearing land, getting good dirt, pulling weeds, nurturing seedlings, and seeing the whole process through to harvest, it makes little sense to grow the same herbicide- and pesticide-coated vegetables that you can buy in any supermarket. It's just not good for you. And it's not necessary. So the books we're recommending in this post outline the foundations of organic gardening.

First, start with the dirt. It's the foundation of any garden, and it carries particular importance in the organic garden. Soil provides its nutrients to plants through an intricate web of minerals, dead organic materials, worms and bugs, fungi, and bacteria -- there can be billions of microorganisms in a single teaspoon of living soil. Teaming With Microbes is one of the best books out there describing soil biology to the layman. Though the descriptions of Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis, the reader can see how these various creatures provide food for plants and how the wanton addition of chemicals can damage the soil food web.

Good soil needs to be renewed, and that is done through compost. The Rodale Book of Composting is a useful handbook (which is available for cheap now and then at Daedalus). The book has been around in various editions for years, and it contains lists of materials that are suitable for composting, with their N-P-K values. (It covers items as unusual as prune refuse, mussel deposits, leather dust, and cattail reeds, along with the usual clover, eggshells, and grass.) It also provides various methods for building a pile. It's a great reference for a process that intimidates a lot of beginning gardeners.

Rodale also publishes an encyclopedic guide to organic gardening, but Ed Smith's book, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible, seems more user-friendly. Lots of bright, colorful pictures here, along with very clear descriptions for growing the most common vegetables (along with some less common ones). It covers every step, from clearing ground to vegetable storage. Other books are more comprehensive -- we'll discuss those in later posts -- but this is a great one to start with.

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