Friday, April 16, 2010

Books on Gardening (and More)

For the past few months I have been checking out a number of books on gardening from the library. Firstly, I will share with you two books on herbs that have fast become my favorites. Keep in mind that I am fairly new to growing and using herbs, and there are many books on this topic that I have not yet read. These are just my favorites thus far, and I feel as though the journey has only just begun for me.

The Northwest Herb Lover’s Handbook is a handy source of information on growing herbs in general, but I also find it helpful that the author Mary Preus focuses on the needs of the Pacific Northwest (where I live). Each time I am about to plant an herb, I make sure I first consult with the sections in the book called “Planting information and cultural directions.” Additionally, at the end of each section on an herb, interesting tidbits of information are divided into sections such as “Garden uses,” “Craft and home uses,” “Culinary uses,” and “Medicinal uses.” Located toward the back of the book is a monthly checklist of to-do reminders.

Another book I have been referring to on a regular basis is Herbs for Pets. Since I’m not just growing herbs for myself, but for my furred buddies as well, it’s nice to have an all-in-one guide for growing herbs and using them medicinally for my dog and cat. The first chapter is a good primer for the beginner herbalist such as myself. And besides being an attractive book, it is also organized well. The section for each herb is easy to find due to alphabetized “tabs” on the edge of the pages. A large section in the back of the book is devoted to holistic care of pets and herbal remedies.

Another reference guide I sometimes use is Herb Gardening for Washington and Oregon. This book is very light on information and heavy on beautiful color photos (though the photos are actually useful in identifying herbs).

The Bountiful Container is a book on container gardening. I have been using it for supplemental information on herbs (and since I’m planting herbs in containers as well as in the garden, it serves a dual purpose).

As I delve more into using herbs, I have a feeling I’ll eventually find more detailed books on the subject. I’m also interested in the medicinal qualities and uses of native plants/herbs. Last week while browsing online, I found a book called Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West by Michael Moore (not "thee" Michael Moore; this Michael Moore is an expert herbalist) that provides more comprehensive information on how to collect plants that grow in the wild and how to prepare them medicinally. Who knew that Devil's Club, Trillium, and Skunk Cabbage could be used to heal? Not me...not until now anyway.

There is a belief among many gardeners that some plants grow better when planted adjacent to certain other plants. This method is called “companion gardening.” As a new gardener, I’m not sure how effective this is in reality, but I have been willing to give it a try. The book Carrots Love Tomatoes is a gardening classic, and I loosely refer to it when deciding where to plant my herbs (as well as other plants). Besides being a general guide for companion gardening, the author also throws in interesting bits of information about various plants that I have found helpful (I learned I can use all those crazy horsetails growing out of control in my backyard to make a spray that wards off mildew/fungus on other plants. Pretty cool!). This week I checked out a book called Great Garden Companions, also on the subject of companion gardening. I haven’t read much of this book yet, so I can’t vouch for it, but the color photos of the author’s garden are simply gorgeous. She obviously goes in for a decorative look, and she’ll closely mix together companion plants such as marigolds, basil, calendula, dinosaur kale, lettuce, and basil and somehow make them look like they all belong together in a magnificent splash of colors. That’s an end result that I could live with!

In terms of vegetable gardening, I have been religiously using two indispensable books that I have mentioned before on this blog: Growing Green and Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades.

I own (and know of) only two books specifically about veganic gardening. One is a book no longer in print called Veganic Gardening by Kenneth Dalziel O’Brien. To be honest, I don’t find myself referring to that book much (so far anyway). Instead, I use Growing Green when I have a question about veganics. I have found that the chapters on soil fertility and propagation have been the most helpful.

Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades gives tips on organic gardening for folks who live (yep, you guessed it) west of the Cascade mountains. Though the author Steve Solomon is not a veganic farmer, he does offer great information on organic methods and stuff specific to the Pacific Northwest, such as soil fertility and planting dates. I have learned a great deal about gardening from reading this book and highly recommend it (even to those folks who do not live in the PNW).

One thing you have to keep in mind while reading his book, however, is that Solomon is not a fan of biointensive gardening, and he will direct you to plant seeds in a very controlled and sparse fashion (he is the anti-John Jeavons so to speak). So far, I have gone along with his proposed method of spacing plants farther apart. However, biointensive methods are looking more and more appealing to me, especially since I have only so much space to work with in my backyard. So I might just be looking more into John Jeavons’ methods, and I have recently checked out his very popular book called How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I’ll hold off on recommending it until I’ve read it. I'm also interested in learning more about permaculture techniques, and plan on checking out some books by the two Grahams (Graham Bell and Graham Burnett). I did read Food Not Lawns last year, and am thinking I could go for a second reading.

There are other books that I am currently reading that are not directly connected to gardening, but I think I’ll mention them anyway. I started reading Seeds of Destruction a few weeks ago and after getting through about two-thirds of it, I literally had to put the book down and walk away from it for a while. It was just too depressing to learn of yet more ways in which the corporate elite are attempting to control our lives (this time through control of our seeds, and therefore our food supply). At the same time, I got it into my head to look into who was behind the Doomsday Vault (a seed bank where seeds from around the world are stored for “free”) – well, the same people managing this giant “seed bank” are the same people trying to control the seed supply (e.g., Dupont and Syngenta and the creepy people [CGIAR and the Rockefeller Foundation] who started the failed Green Revolution and have a long shady history that dips into eugenics – read Seeds of Destruction and you’ll know what I am talking about). Equally depressing is how every day the alternative news informs us of how Monsanto is pushing GM seeds/food on various developing countries and indigenous peoples, as if the company hasn’t ruined enough land, soil, communities, and farmers’ lives. And apparently, industry is not stopping at GM foods; they are now pushing boundaries by developing nano-food – and like GM food, don’t expect nano-food to be labeled or tested properly anytime soon either. It’s gotten to a point where I really can’t keep up with the aggressive self-serving agenda of the corporatocracy; their multitudinous moneygrubbing tentacles are reaching everywhere in a world that is dying from greed. But I suppose this topic/rant can be saved for another blog entry on another day.

In the meantime, I have turned to reading another book called Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution by Caroline Fraser. I’m only about thirty or so pages into it, but so far it’s a very interesting read. Among other things, the author talks about the technique of creating corridors between wild areas that allows animals to migrate when necessary. This is a subject in which I have become very interested, since it seems like a necessary solution to some of the problems that free-living animals are facing due to climate change. There is some speciesist language in the book, but I’ve tried to ignore it in order to receive the pertinent knowledge that Fraser has to offer. I previously thought this idea of creating corridors for animal migration was something that had developed in recent years, but as it turns out some conservationists have been doing it for many years now (and in fact, a project is already planned for creating bridges and culverts in the Cascades that will allow wildlife to cross over Interstate 90, a major barrier for migrating animals). As the climate changes and warms up, the ability for animals (and plants) to migrate to locations with more suitable conditions will become ever more important. In a world where animals and plants are going extinct faster than they are evolving (!) and where biodiversity is rapidly decreasing to the point in which it is becoming harmful even to humans, helping the remaining animals to survive and adjust to the vast changes in their habitats is becoming the responsibility of us humans who have put them into this mess in the first place.

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