Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book Review - Gardening When It Counts

You know you are a gardening geek when you love to curl up with a gardening book on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I own a whole shelf full of gardening books, most picked up at used books sales, and usually can't walk out of the library without another tome under my arm.

I have found that my favorite gardening books are written by long time gardeners. People like Gene Logsdon, Elliot Coleman, Dick Raymond or Ed Smith have years of experience with the soil. They may be opinionated, dogmatic and often don't agree, but usually they have something good to share.

I much prefer these authors to the encyclopedia type gardening book written by a committee. The disadvantage is that they may not have gardened in the same soil and climate as you and the planting techniques and varieties may not benefit your situation.

Most gardening books I read with a sheet of paper and a pencil near by, jotting down helpful tips or new information. Typically, I can skim through a book, scribble down a few lines, and return the book to the library without pangs.

But there are exceptions.

Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)
Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon is one. It was obvious within the first few pages, that this was a book that couldn't be contained in a few lines.  I'm not even sure how to do the book justice in a review. I finished the book, knowing that I would be rereading it many times before I hoped to retain all the information. Solomon has condensed his lifetime of gardening in one book. This book contains a huge amount of research, experience, graphs, and intensely practical information.

It was good I didn't mind opinionated authors. Solomon's advice often goes counter to what (as he states) "Everyone Else" recommends.  In some cases, I knew from my own experience that his advice was good. On other topics, I'm eager to try out his suggestions to see if garden production does increase.

Solomon's experience in different areas (from California, Oregon, Canada and now Tansmania) gives, I feel, a better rounded view of soils, climates, and their effect on gardening. There is enough info in this book to garden about anywhere but the tropics.

I wasn't sure of Solomon's goal with the subtitle "Growing food in hard times." Personally, I weary of doomsayers. But Solomon's thrust was more practical. If cheap oil does end, if irrigation is impractical or impossible, if fertilizers and other chemicals are unavailable and if your survival depends on your ability to grow your own food, Solomon strives to give you the tools to succeed.

So many times throughout Gardening When It Counts, I was saying "I never knew..." I was constantly interrupting my husband's reading (if he were nearby with his own book, the way we usually close our days) to exclaim over some new idea or tip.

For example, I never knew the vitamin content in vegetables depended on the nutrition of the soil. I never knew there were so many ways to salvage a garden in dry weather (wish I would have read this before our summer's drought). I never knew anything about the seed industry until Solomon (a former seedsman and the one who started Territorial Seeds) explains the basics. I never thought of some vegetables as high demand over other low demand vegetables. And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Besides chapters on seeds, irrigating, compost, pests, diseases and homemade organic fertilizer, there is a section on each vegetable covering growing details, harvesting and storage,  and seed saving.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this book for a beginning gardener. The massive amount of information could  totally overwhelm a newbie. A better choice may be Ed Smith's The Vegetables Gardener's Bible. One of the (few) drawbacks I found on the Gardening When It Counts is the lack of photographs. There are clear line drawings but for a beginner, The Vegetable Gardener's Bible with all of it's photos may be less intimidating.

Solomon does make an effort to simplify step by step for a beginning gardener, even sharing vegetables that a beginner is better off not even attempting without first gaining some experience. If you don't mind wading through a lot of information, or if gardening truly does count to you, if you can't afford to learn the hard way and want to gain from one man's experience, I would heartily recommend this book. Check for it at your library but don't be surprised if you need your own copy of Gardening When it Counts to dog ear in future years.

What gardening book to you find indispensable?

Linked to Tuesday Garden Party


  1. I really appreciated reading your review of this book and your perspective. I checked it out of the library some time back and was a bit put off by his counter-culture approach to gardening (I'm a huge Eliot Coleman fan). After some of your comments, I think I'm ready to pick it back up again and give it a try. Thanks for another look at this book!

  2. I have about 9 books on gardening out from the library right now so I am definitely a gardening geek. I am just trying to figure out how to get a ton of vegetables to grow in a small space. Right now I have some square foot gardens and I am thinking of doing some deck boxes because we have a small yard - any books you would recommend that would help me with gardening on a big scale in a small space?

  3. I have had this book in my Amazon cart for close to a year. I always put of buying it for some reason. After reading your review I think I will finally give it a whirl. I am an Ed Smith fan but I am up for something new at this point. Thanks for the review!

  4. Amy -
    I know what you mean, but I'd encourage you to dig into it!

    In his book, Solomon twice recommends Coleman's books for the winter gardener - so you might find much that you agree!

  5. Extraordinary Ordinary Life -
    One of the things Solomon mentions often is the danger in planting too closely because you want more production. I have definitely been guilty of doing this. He recommends spacing plants out so that the fruit is larger and production on single plants higher. You may want to keep that in mind when growing more veggies in a small area. Sometimes less is more!

  6. Gina, I'm glad to know about this book (I must be really out of the loop if it's been around more than a year!). Steve wrote the book I use the most "Gardening West of the Cascades" because it's so specific to our area. And I've been using his org. fertilizer recipe for years now. I'm going to check out this book (although know him, I'll find some things to disagree with...:-).

  7. Thanks for this book review. I've ordered it! It's just the thing we need here for harsh summers. I agree about planting at the right spacing not shoving too much in, so tempting though! I do love interplanting though with garlic (lettuces) and potatoes (beans and lettuce). seems to work ok.

  8. I will be checking our county library at my next visit for these!

  9. I just checked this book out. Whew - it is word intensive. It may take a litte while to get through it, but I'm always in the mood for new ideas. thanks!


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