Book Review

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Allen V. Barker University of Massachusetts
Amherst

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The Tao of Vegetable Gardening. Carol Deppe. 2015. Chelsea Green, White River Junction, Vermont. $24.95, Paperback. ISBN 9781603584876.

The author holds a Ph. D. degree in biology from Harvard University and is a plant breeder and gardener in Oregon. She specializes in developing crops for organic farming and sustainable agriculture. She is author of several books on gardening and plant breeding. This book concentrates on the way to grow vegetables, particularly tomatoes, green beans, peas, and leafy greens. It has thirteen chapters. It contains much advice and personal experiences of the author.

The first chapter is “Honoring the Land”. Several pages cover how nature and human intervention are similar. She notes that monocultures are not rare in nature and that pesticides are not uniquely human inventions. Organisms produce chemicals that repel, damage, or kill other creatures. She describes how some keystone species make marked changes in the environment and landscape and change the abundance of other species. Humans are keystone species but also so are beavers. She notes how humans are part of nature just as other species are. The rest of the chapter is devoted to a presentation of the practices and benefits of organic gardening.

The second chapter is “Honoring the Essential Nature of the Plants” and is an introduction to the topics of the following chapters, concerning growing conditions of shade and sun, weather, when to plant, and selection of crops. A seasonal planting guide is at the end.

The third chapter is “Honoring Your Own Essential Nature” and deals with what gardeners know and understand in planning and managing a garden and with her experiences and needs as a gardener.

“Flexibility” is the fourth chapter. It covers choosing gardening styles and methods, with topics such as using beds or rows, sizes of plots, orientation of planting, kinds of crops to grow in each case, books to read, managing of volunteers, and eating of weeds. As an example of the flexibility that gardeners need, her reply was one “Yes”, to a series of questions asking if she irrigated or not, grew crops in beds or rows, oriented rows north and south or east and west, use hand tools or machinery, and direct-seeded or used transplants.

“Balance” is the fifth chapter. It deals with long-term and short-term issues, such as to grow annual crops or to plant fruit trees. It also deals with how big a garden to grow covering the limits of too little food from a small garden to the ability to manage a large one. With management of over-sized gardens, some of the garden parts may receive less attention than others, or the garden can be organized so that some areas can be written off with minimal losses. Other things to balance include the amount of tillage, the amount of watering, the amount of fertilization, and pest control.

The chapter on “Non-Doing” discusses reasons for not taking certain actions. Not tilling, not mowing, and not tending may be good practices. One section of the chapter is “Twenty-Four Good Places Not to Plant a Tree”. It is followed with “Seven Reasons Not to Chop Down a Tree” and by “Thirty-Seven Reasons for Not Planting Various Vegetables”. Weeds should not be planted or cared for, since they are still weeds and are not as productive as crops.

Chapter Seven is an extensive one on the growing of tomatoes. The author notes that homegrown tomatoes are a top priority of experienced gardeners. The various kinds and colors of tomatoes are discussed. The issue of growing heirloom or hybrids and selection of tomatoes for flavor are covered. Several cultivars are recommended as ones to grow. Starting tomatoes from seed and growing of transplants, hardening of transplants, and preparing the ground are discussed. The chapter continues with discussions of interplanting or polycultures. It is not clear whether these practices are recommended or not. Supporting of plants to keep them off the ground, watering, and mulching and ripening of green tomatoes are discussed. A lot of attention is given to avoiding late blight.

Chapter 8 interjects Weeding into the text with presentations of types of tools to use and the merits of the moldboard plow. Some pictures or drawings of some of the hoes described in the text would have been useful as readers may have to go to the internet to identify some of the tools.

The next three chapters cover squash, greens, and peas and beans. These chapters discuss how to grow and how to select, prepare, and eat these crops.

Joy is the twelfth chapter and is hard to summarize. It deals with the joy of gardening with instances of weeding, noting presence or absence of insects or diseases, admiring and eating a harvest. Several color plates of gardens and gardening activities by the author are in the chapter.

Chapter 13 is about seeds. Every gardener should have a seed bank of vigorous, regionally adapted varieties that are of interest to the gardener. A three-year or more supply of seeds of each crop should be in the bank. Having a bank of saved seeds prevents the loss of varieties, can allow for purchase of seeds in bulk amounts, and can save money and time. Saved seeds should be from open-pollinated not hybrid varieties. If good or better seeds can be bought than can be saved, then seeds should be bought. Preparing for storage and storing of seeds are covered with emphasis on the fact that seeds must be dried generally artificially, put in air-tight containers, and frozen for long-term storage. Dehydrators and containers are described with recommendations. The chapter covers eight seed-saving myths, mainly dealing with maintaining a variety and preventing cross contamination. This chapter also has text on creating landraces, rejuvenating heirloom varieties, breeding for organic gardens, and dehybridizing hybrids. Much of this text is for plant breeders.

The book has an appendix on seed companies and sources and has an index.

This book offers a lot of practical advice on diverse topics and is useful to all gardeners. It is an interesting book to read and is an inspiration for all gardeners. All readers will learn from and agree with the content of the book.

Allen V. Barker University of Massachusetts
Amherst

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