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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Resilient Gardener

Carol Deppe is a scientist.  She has a BS in zoology from the University of Florida and a PhD in biology from Harvard.  She's also a gardener. So when she puts together a book about gardening in uncertain times, you can bet that it's well researched and has a lot of good information in it.

I picked up the book because it addresses exactly what I wanted to know about gardening for uncertain times- not knowing what is going to happen in the future is precisely why I'm trying to teach myself to grow our food in good times (if you can call this recession a good time).  I just want to make sure that we don't starve, or have to choose between our meds and eating when we're old.  I think a lot of people are gardening for the same reasons; from what I've read, all the stats say that there has been a huge increase in the number of families that are vegetable gardening.  That's why I think this book is really important.

In it, she covers the Little Ice Age (1300-1850) that occurred at the end of a warming trend since the last ice age.  During the Little Ice Age, weather became obviously much colder, but also erratic. She cites strategies that farmers from that time developed that are relevant now, and gives a very good argument why gardeners may be more important for feeding people in the uncertain future than farmers with their mono-crop, petroleum-based agriculture, which is fairly certain to fail. I don't know about you, but I think that our weather is getting erratic.  It's certainly getting more severe.  I was surprised to learn that based on dendrochronology (the study of tree rings) that the amount of rain falling in the Pacific Northwest these last several decades was because of an unusually stable period, and that we are subject to more droughts normally.  I thought that we were moving to where the water is- now I know better and I can prepare for it.

So the book covers how to grow staple crops in times of erratic and wild weather and climate change and strategies for dealing with that, how to grow with little or no irrigation, how to use tools more comfortably so that you can get done what needs doing without killing yourself, how to customize your garden so that you can deal with special dietary needs, and how to keep a laying flock and use them in the garden as well as grow most of their feed.  Interestingly, I'm convinced now that what I really need are ducks- they'll handle the weather here in the maritime Pacific Northwest far more easily, they lay better and longer than chickens, they can forage more of their diet than can chickens, they'll eat slugs and snails (the bane of the west coast) without damaging the garden (although Carol says that you have to watch them- if you leave them in the garden too long they'll make the first pass through getting all the slugs and start eating your salad on the second pass through).  I think I'll also get chickens, though, because I want something to scratch in the planter boxes and clean them for bugs and weeds, as well as 'fertilize' them. I also want the chicken manure inputs for the compost pile.  Ducks don't scratch.

I'm not going to say that this book changed my life- I did that already- but I will say that now that I've jumped in it, this book is like having a gardening mentor to help me learn what the hell I'm doing out there.  She will save me a lot of mistakes.  I need to stop growing Sugar pie pumpkins, for instance.  They supposedly will keep until December, but I've learned from her book that they'll get stringy and lose a lot of their flavor by then.  What they mean by keeping until December is that they won't rot until then. Cucurbita pepos do not keep long term.  What I need to be growing are Cucurbita maximas, which take longer to cure, but last for months and months and get sweeter with time.  Anything I can store without having to put up or freeze is a good thing.  I also know a lot more about field corn, and why I should be growing it: it's the easiest and most reliable of the grains, and the older varieties of flints and flour corns have a lot more flavor than the stuff we usually buy as cornmeal.  By the way, most cornmeal is from corn grown for animal fodder and the factory- those varieties were developed for yield and shipping, not for flavor.  For all the plants she recommends growing for survival- potatoes, corn, beans, and squash- she lists specific varieties of each type so that you can decide what to look for based on what you want or need or can grow in your area.

She also covers saving your seed and why it's important to hoard some of it in your freezer, and gives a little information on how to select seed that you would want to save and how to pollinate in times of few bees. 

If you don't want to or can't buy this book and add it to your bookshelf on homesteading subjects, at least look for it at your local library and read it.  Read the notes at the back as well- there's a lot of information in there, too.  In my own library on homesteading subjects, this will be the book to which I'll return and reread the most- it's just that useful relevant timely good.

4 comments:

Miriam said...

What a great recommendation - I'll definitely pick up a copy. Thanks for passing this information along!

Paula said...

You of all people should, because you'll find it really useful. Carol is celiac as well, and her recipes for various things are in the book including a corn bread that holds together well enough for sandwiches.

Allison Goodwin said...

Paula, we at Chelsea Green really appreciate this wonderful review of Carol Deppe's book! Thank you so much for spreading the word! Happy Gardening - Allison Goodwin, Web Editor, Chelsea Green Publishing

Kate said...

Sadly, I think these are still the good times, provided you still have a job. Thanks for the recommendation for this title. I'll see about having my library order a copy. If I like what I see (and it sounds like I will), I'll probably buy my own copy.