Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)
Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)

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Product Description

The decline of cheap oil is inspiring increasing numbers of North Americans to achieve some measure of backyard food self-sufficiency. In hard times, the family can be greatly helped by growing a highly productive food garden, requiring little cash outlay or watering.

Currently popular intensive vegetable gardening methods are largely inappropriate to this new circumstance. Crowded raised beds require high inputs of water, fertility and organic matter, and demand large amounts of human time and effort. But, except for labor, these inputs depend on the price of oil. Prior to the 1970s, North American home food growing used more land with less labor, with wider plant spacing, with less or no irrigation, and all done with sharp hand tools. But these sustainable systems have been largely forgotten. Gardening When It Counts helps readers rediscover traditional low-input gardening methods to produce healthy food.

Designed for readers with no experience and applicable to most areas in the English-speaking world except the tropics and hot deserts, this book shows that any family with access to 3-5,000 sq. ft. of garden land can halve their food costs using a growing system requiring just the odd bucketful of household waste water, perhaps two hundred dollars worth of hand tools, and about the same amount spent on supplies - working an average of two hours a day during the growing season.

Steve Solomon is a well-known west coast gardener and author of five previous books, including Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades which has appeared in five editions.

Customer Reviews:

  • A good, basic, orgainic vegtable gardening book
    This is an excellent vegetable gardening book. Although Mr. Solomon has moved to Tasmania and now expands his scope to much of the English speaking world; if you have read his "Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades", you will find much that is familiar here. If not, you will find excellent information on seeds, where to buy them, how to prepare the garden bed and plant them, how to choose and maintain quality tools, composting and fertilizing, pest and disease problems, irrigation, and some specific plant growing advice.

    The books subtitle, "Growing food in hard times", refers to the coming shortage of oil and the economic troubles ahead. Don't let this scare you away, the author spends very little time on this soapbox. The book falls a little short of the promise, though; after explaining why fertilizer, including the organic kinds, water, fuel for machines, etc. will be scarce and expensive, he spends a lot of space discussing imported fertilizer ingredients, sprinkler systems, and large plant spacing, none of which, by his own assertion, will be available to most of us in the future. He does discuss a few short term strategies, including compost cropping, increased plant spacing to save water and nutrients, but does little to help us prepare for the coming shortages.

    This is one of those rare books that improve with the second reading. There is plenty of well-presented information. If you are new to gardening, or want to expand your harvest, this book is an excellent choice. If you are an intensive method gardener, this book will introduce an alternative perspective; read with an open mind, you will learn much about the strengths and weaknesses of both methods.
    ...more info
  • Mostly good - with attitude
    This book was highly recommended to me and I bought it hoping to learn some techniques to help in growing food plants and vegetables for our home use. Since the author lives in a very distinct growing area, if I lived in a maritime New Zealand area it would probably be a perfect book. Many of his techniques would only work in his specific climate and for a full time gardener, which I am not. Sigh. The section on growing and storing each individual type of food is excellent if you can adapt it to your own climate. I was not too happy with the preachy, arrogant, "Everyone else is an idiot and only I know how to do it right" attitude which extends the lenght of the book by quite a bit. Overlooking that, there are a few helpful tidbits but there are other books that I think are more helpful....more info
  • Wealth of knowledge
    Loaded with good no-nonsense information on preparing a productive garden in an efficient and economical manner....more info
  • Great hands-on resource
    I have a whole shelf of vegetable gardening books, but I turn to this one again and again. Solomon gives clear information on tools, making garden beds, mixing up your own fertilizer (this alone is worth the price of the book), selecting seeds, storing them (another great section), and growing individual crops.

    I especially appreciate his perspective as an ex-seedsman, as well as his discussion on different types of brassicas (cabbage, kale, broccoli, and the like) and onions. I had no idea what the difference between long-day and short-day onions were until I read this book. While I garden intensively, I find his discussion on the differences between the intensive method (John Jeavons, Square Foot Gardening, and the like), and the row method.

    This book is worth reading and rereading....more info
  • Stress-free gardening
    This book is excellent. It is my new gardening bible. I've been through all the intensive gardening books, and they all stressed me out with the intensity of the work that was required to get them started and keep them up. The whole philosophy here really makes sense to me. I felt like I could go ahead, get things started, without having to have so much in place. After all, this is about growing with the minimum amount of inputs. ...more info
  • Things you need to know
    Excellent book to own. I never had grandparents or parents that gardened and this is info that if they had been they could have passed on to me....more info
  • Great book!
    I found this book very useful and easy to understand. I have some old farm and garden experience from a long time ago. However, regardless of that, Mr Solomon's guide was concise and very easy to comprehend. Time is not wasted on making interesting tools, eccentric systems. He gets to the point and provides directions for an organic efficient garden. Very useful tables included- comparing things like seed meals and manures, and how to make one's own fertilizer mix in a 5 gallon bucket. Sure helped me! Thanks!...more info
  • Sort of Gardening When it Counts
    Very good book in general. For a book on extreme situation gardening he does spent too much time on sprinker systems. The author gives a very different perspective than most standard gardening book, utilizing alternative nitrogen sources most folks would not even imagine. Overall worth the cost. I am rereading it for the third time now....more info
  • Great title but not much else
    I had high expectations when I purchased this book, but soon became disappointed. After reading the entire book I felt like I had wasted much time working my way through the heavy material with very little gain.

    Also there was erroneous information presented which makes me suspect anything else from this book. It highlights growing in drought situations and at the same time recommends adding lime to reduce soil acidity. However, regions with little rainfall generally have problems with too much alkalinity which adding lime will only make worse.

    There are some bits of useful tidbits like suggesting to give plants more room and growing in mounds for low rainfall areas. But overall, I do not find this book very helpful and would not recommend this book.
    ...more info
  • Beginner's organic gardening book
    I bought this book because of the title "Growing Food in Hard Times" when I was obsessed with peak oil. The author discusses hard times very briefly and the main part of the book is low intensive organic gardening.

    My gardens before I got this book were pathetic low yield failures, except for tomatoes. I used only transplants and did nothing to the soil. Once I got the book I learned about complete organic fertilizer, seed planting and planting times, DIY transplants, vegetable descriptions, and a whole lot of other bits of useful information. Half of the growing season is over and I am up to my ears in beets, sweet snap peas, carrots, kohlrabi and cucumbers all planted by seed. Each of these vegetables is much better tasting than anything I can get at the grocery store.

    Without the information in this book I would have had another worthless garden, so I recommend this book to the beginner gardener. There are two things about this book that need addressed though. The book doesn't have any color pictures of the different vegetables that are described, so get a free seed catalog:

    Also the Author describes some vegetables as being difficult to grow, such as kohlrabi. This wasn't the case in my experience as the kohlrabi was rather easy to grow, so don't decide not to grow something just because the author says it is difficult.

    ...more info
  • Good book, very detailed
    I think this book is a very honest account of how to grow veggies under difficult circumstances. He has honest criticisms of the seed/garden center/etc businesses and how to avoid buying stuff that is of poor quality.

    His advice on simple methods for determining your soil type, making your own compost fertilizer, spacing for various crops, type of sprinklers that work best and where to get them, and a whole lot more is here and very valuable.

    I especially liked his advice on simple garden tools; how to find them and how to use them and how to maintain them. Truly great stuff that does not always mean a rototiller (although he tells how to use them, too, and which kinds work best).

    The only reason I did not give it a 5 is MY problem. I have not finished the book yet but I am still reading it. Just MY lack of time right now.

    Here is the deal. What if the grid is down and you cannot irrigate your crops with city water? How do you grow a garden without irrigation? How do you grow a garden without a gas-powered tiller? How do you save seeds for the next year's crop? Where do you find open-pollenating seeds?

    It's all here and more.

    Thanks for a great read.

    Warren of Kansas...more info
  • Author is a straight talker
    I have read far and wide on the subject and this book is a premier choice. The author is detailed enough without being overly academic. He takes quite controversial and revealing positions on heirlooms vs. hybrids, seed saving, buying seedlings, starting seeds, seed company tactics, plant spacing, intensive garening, fertilization and how much space, time and effort you really need to either reduce your food bills or else get "off the grid".

    Refreshing and practical.

    I am very glad I got this book....more info
  • very informative
    Packed with practical information. Geared towards the serious food grower which means people with at least 1/2 acre of usable land. Nontheless, good advice for us hobby food growers, too....more info
  • Good, but lacking
    This book claims to tell you how to 'garden when it counts' and specifically mentions gardening during times of economic hardship (i.e. Peak Oil). Yet, it's not nearly as comprehensive or as down-and-dirty survivalist as I had hoped. I wanted simple to follow, bullet point format, but the book did not deliver.

    Sometimes the narrative left me behind and I didn't follow. Gardeners in general (not just this book) tend to gloss over details as if we're just supposed to know. For example, the fertigation section of the book doesn't have a really good definitive statement of what the heck fertigation is. Nor do I recall any specifications being provided on the size of the hole or how you make the hole in the first place. Good definitive (and idiot proof) topic sentences would've been a huge help.

    Also, it was frustrating for a book that purported to teach gardening for hard times to say it's not worth it to garden in clay soil or rocky soil. I would've thought there would be a focus on things that can be done to maximize growth in all conditions. This is Gardening When It Counts, not Gardening In Ideal Conditions.

    That and gardening is more expensive than I thought. Especially as the author notes that once oil prices go up so will the cost of all the fertilizers he advises you will need. Can I afford to garden when it counts? I'm not sure.

    Plus, unless you can buy seeds at least every other year, you are S.O.L. (which I would've hoped there would've been more discussion on alternatives, perhaps some discussion of exchanging seeds with local gardeners etc...)

    In addition the author recommends at least 2700 square feet of garden space times two (so you can rotate your crops). This is not practical for most of suburbia.

    Again, back to my point that this book is not supposed to be about Gardening In Ideal Conditions With Unlimited Funds And Space, but it often seems to take that tack.

    There are some positives.There is no question that the author is a master gardener so whatever info you do glean from the book is solid. Composting is covered in great detail. There are some excellent nuggets of information that make the book worth a read (the seed company recommendations were much appreciated). However, you will not learn everything you need to know in this book alone and I question whether it truly does offer any good advice on how to garden when it counts for the average person in the average house.

    ...more info
  • Great for first time gardeners
    I will be starting my first garden this summer and this was the first book on gardening I read. It makes for a great introduction. Solomon goes into detail about how plants grow and what they need from the gardener. He has a good formula for Organic Fertilizer. He has a good list of what tools you need and what to look for when buying them. He has a great section is the back of the book that goes vegetable by vegetable and explains how to grow and harvest them. He also has a great bibliography in the back that points you to a lot of additional reading.[...]...more info
  • Gardening When it Counts
    This book is an exciting addition to books on vegetable growing- so much so, that many
    others become unnecessary. The author covers in detail everything about the art- from seed buying,
    his own complete organic fertilizer recipe, preparing the soil, simple tools, planting and watering etc
    His long experience and total integrity and commitment shine through and make it a must for those
    wanting to seriously feed themselves. ...more info
  • I just wanted to kill myself after reading this book!
    This author basically dismisses every other gardening method or technique as unrealistic. After reading this book, it amazes me that anyone has ever grown anything in a garden. The main point that I take away from this book is that if times get hard, don't count on being able to feed yourself or your family from a garden, it just won't work. Sorry if this is a dissappointment....more info
  • Nice counterpoint
    This book discusses less intensive gardening, which is relatively unique in modern gardening books. I question some of the author's opinions and assumptions regarding gardening east of the Rockies, especially his claim that it's not worth growing seedlings for transplanting except for the solanums. I found that other claims were also not well supported and there was a certain amount of spottiness to the information. Some information that the author implied would be discussed thoroughly wasn't, at least not in my opinion, but I felt it was a valuable book in spite of these flaws. The discussion of soil science was interesting and the spacing system was useful, although confusingly presented. I particularly liked the discussion of using the hilling technique, another topic not usually discussed in gardening books....more info
  • Great info!
    This very informative book is easy to read. I can't wait to put Mr. Solomon's years of experience to practice!...more info
  • Good Info.
    Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food in Hard Times (Mother Earth News Wiser Living Series)Good information. Easy to read. Glad I purchased this book...more info
  • Sensational Book
    We live in the high desert of rural Nevada. We try every year for a successful garden. I've really learned a great deal from this book. It won't change our conditions here, but the author's no nonsense approach to seed starting, fertilization and a multitude of other topics is refreshing....more info
  • gardening when it counts
    I own Steve's previous book and have gardened for years using his method. This book explains in great detail how plants grow and survive down to the line drawings of root structure for most vegetables. That helped me to understand just how important it is to space my plants correctly. His description of how to manage the soil before planting is great! I can't wait to get out in the garden and amaze my neighbors!!...more info
  • Highly recommend this excellent resource
    This is the first book I've EVER liked enough to spend my time writing a review. It is thorough, well-researched, straightforward, and well-written. Solomon is expert, yet not self-congratulatory. He supports his opinions, discloses his politics, and gives genuinely useful advice in clear terms. Worth every penny. ...more info
  • Dirty Fingernails
    After reading this book, I can hardly wait for spring. As a self-taught gardener, I can appreciate the many solid examples, instructions, and anecdotes that weave a robust thread. Clearly, Steve Solomon is a man who loves his work and the sharing of his decades of hard-won knowledge. Whether good times or hard times, there are a lot of fine gardening tips and rules here for improving any garden. The section on making your own fertilizer and how to apply it is worth the price of the book alone. The book would have benefited from a few more drawings, but that is a small complaint....more info
  • Self obsessed author who talks down to his readers
    I would give this book zero stars if I could. I am so surprised this book has such high ratings. First, the author can not stop himself from talking down to his readers, and making himself appear as he is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Half the book is about how great he is and how "Everybody Else" is stupid and worthless. This is the most negative book on gardening I have ever read. I do not recommend this book at all....more info
  • Great stuff
    This is the perfect book for people like me with no gardening grandpa at their side.
    Nobody ever told me that a garden hoe must be sharpened before first use....
    And how to start a garden if you have a patch of grass land - I never knew how to do it right or where to start.
    This book is great for basic beginners in veggie gardening. Advanced gardeners may be shocked a little about the very few and basic tools: hoe, shovel, wheelbarrow, rake, knife and file.
    But the book was written for "hard times" and than it's good to know you can do your veggie garden with just these basic tools, without all the fancy and expensive stuff around.

    Very remarkable is the chapter about seeds and plants from the garden centers, it opened my eyes that most of the failures of the last years weren't really mine but from the bad stuff I bought without knowing it was that bad (it looked good when I bought it....)

    So I want to say "THANK YOU, Mr. Solomon" for sharing your experience with us.
    Your advices gave me back the joy of gardening and the very first time in 20 years I'm running a satisfying veggie garden without any problems.
    Thank you. ;-)
    ...more info
  • Tell it Like it is
    This is a hard hitting do-it-yourself garden book. The author takes on many of the current techniques and purposes a return to the basics. His visuals are excellent....more info
  • Useless for Urban Gardeners
    Although this book is subtitled "Growing Food in Hard Times", it seems that those living in cities are somehow exempt from hard times and the need/desire to grow food.

    This book, like Eliot Coleman's books, works on the premise that you either have close to a half an acre or more or will lease/purchase this amount of land for gardening. Like Coleman, Solomon goes on and on about how the methods he describes will outproduce inefficiently composted "postage stamp beds in a tiny back yard" (p. 4).

    As an urban gardener on a 60' x 90' lot without the means to move to New Zealand (where Solomon lives) or a cute hobby farm in New England, this book is an exercise in frustration as the techniques are presented with the assumumption that one has at least 100' to work with room for wide rows.

    For urbanites, the ubiquitous Square Foot Gardening approach and/or micropermaculture are more applicable. I'm disappointed with this purchase....more info
  • Must Have!
    This is a must-have for the serious gardener; particularly one who is not just a "hobbyist" and wants to be more self-sufficient and frugal. I thought I knew a lot about gardening...but I have learned so much! Very easy to read and understand. ...more info
  • Fascinating crankiness
    This is a serious manual for subsistence gardeners. Steve Solomon differentiates himself from "everybody else" and the result is a no nonsense guide delineating the right way to get maximum yield from a piece of land using organic methods. He has no time for hobbyists, so this book is meant for those who are really trying to feed themselves from their gardens. I really appreciate the advice here, but for a light read, I would stick with Barbara Damrosch, who provides good advice in a more light-hearted way. ...more info
  • One of the books you'll need on desert island
    The author provides some excellent advice on growing a subsistence vegetable garden. He has developed and sold seeds and survived for 30 years on food he grew himself. This is the best book I've found so far on growing food. I especially enjoyed some of the stories sprinkled throughout the text:

    "It reminds me of the old American legend about Squanto, of the Patuxet tribe, who taught the Pilgrims how to grow corn. "Dig a hole," he told them. "Put in a dead fish and cover it. Plant four corn seeds well above the fish one for the worm, one for the crow, one to rot, and one to grow." Squanto should also have said, "If the one don't rot or the crow don't come, there's thinnin' to be done."

    Based on his years of experience with seed companies he suggests several reliable companies while exposing the lies of the home garden seed business.

    I especially enjoyed reading about chitting. Using this technique you can get your seeds past the germination period and avoid growing losers.

    All in all, this is an excellent book for surviving the upcoming inflation when food prices will soar. I strongly recommend taking the author's advice, buying an acre of land and growing your own food.

    Best of luck to all. If this review was helpful, add your vote.
    ...more info
  • Good Information---Poor Binding
    This book is full of good gardening information. However its hard to use it. The binding came apart 3 days after I got the book...more info
  • Gardening When It Counts
    This is a good resource for a new gardener desiring to make the most of his/her time gardening. The book helps identify the type of garden you have and how to make the most of it or how to improve it to the garden you want. A quick read and good resource to keep handy...more info
  • Great title but not much else
    I had high expectations when I purchased this book, but soon became disappointed. After reading the entire book I felt like I had wasted much time working my way through the heavy material with very little gain.

    Also there was erroneous information presented which makes me suspect anything else from this book. It highlights growing in drought situations and at the same time recommends adding lime to reduce soil acidity. However, regions with little rainfall generally have problems with too much alkalinity which adding lime will only make worse.

    There are some bits of useful tidbits like suggesting to give plants more room and growing in mounds for low rainfall areas. But overall, I do not find this book very helpful and would not recommend this book.
    ...more info
  • Aggressive author gets it all wrong!!!
    Everything the author discusses is downright the opposite of what I have found to be true. He even discusses his numerous failures on what he just directed as the only way to do something but doesn't get why it failed as he aggressively dismisses other very successful methods as worthy of doing he crushes Rodale. He just doesn't get it. I could give dozens of examples but here are 2. He can't grow celery because he has clay soil and celery roots can't tolerate clay, yet he is aggressively (and I mean aggressively) against raised beds that would solve this problem. His chapter on composting states 'I have not mastered the art of making the highest-quality compost. I have read about it at length. I have attempted it and never quite succeeded' Even as a baby gardener I managed to create a pretty darn good compost pile turning leaves, grass and kitchen scraps into 'black gold' used to feed an intensive garden that wowed every guest that came to pick the overabundance of goodies from my small garden! I have probably gotten twice the production per sq. ft. out of an area gardened since 1954 then this guy could dream of. I can't think of one thing he got right....more info
  • Detailed, Valuable Advice
    Gardening When It Counts is truly a book for our times. There's already a well-deserved buzz about this book among home gardeners I know. For one thing, it firmly refutes the supposed advantages of mulch gardening. In the burgeoning nationwide return to growing our own vegetables, it's important to produce the most food for the least amount of effort and expense, and this book offers the very advice we need. The author is a Master Gardener from whom beginners and experienced gardeners alike can learn much. Steve Solomon has provided full details on everything from soil preparation to harvesting, and the illustrator Muriel Chen has contributed helpful drawings for even further clarification. ...more info
  • great help for beginning gardner
    I found the book to be very helpful on how to get through the essentials. The author has great insight and offers his own experiences as a helpful guide through start up, maintenance and developement of a practical garden. Most importantly, IT'S USEFUL !!!...more info
  • Gettig back to basics of gardening
    Excellent book. Well written. As a gardener for over 40 years using many different methods depending on the type of crop, I even picked up some new ideas. Recommend for those who have not started a garden plot and need to know how to begin with the removal of sod and laying in of the first bed....more info
  • The only gardening book you need
    I've read so many gardening books, but this is the only one you really need. It is full of useful information you'll never see anywhere else. However, much of the important information is buried in the narrative and is not easy to find again, so mark those pages as you read....more info
  • Oldtime simple techniques that work when needed
    This book is written as if Steve Solomon is the grandfatherly type telling those who know nothing of gardening what's what. Initially, I was a bit put-off by this tone, but the author has earned a right to that tone and his opinions. I quickly became very interested in what he has to say, in that he rejects many ideas and fads on intensive, hyper dense garden production. Steve Solomon has been around long enough to have tried some of the high density, intensive gardening ideas and found them wanting.

    I had to really chuckle when I read his rudimentary back to basics tool list consisting of a shovel, a bow rake, a hoe and a file to keep them sharp and useful. A simple wheelbarrow, buckets, knife and stone fill out his recomendations. He's so very right when he suggests that it doesn't take an armada of gadgets and do-hickies and specialty tools to make a very sucessful garden. And his comments on using some commonly sold garden gadgets make for humorous images for those who have suffered too short handles, stooped backs and the associated aches and pains. Many folks pondering the latest garden knick-knack catalog could do well to remember Solomon's basic tools will get the job done advice. Admittedly, he does sound like what MY grandfather would've said in the tool chapter. ("Put down that dreambook, pick up that hoe, and get to doing something useful." ... )

    What I particularly thought useful was the idea of returning to planting based on choosing plant spacing not for intensity of harvest if thoroughly irrigated, but rather choosing less dense spacing based on potential for drought. In the drought chapter, Solomon makes the case that earlier gardeners more concerned with crop survival than sheer bulk of harvest knew to choose spacing that allows for stronger, more durable plants that better survive droughts. There's a lot more to it than that. I'm oversimplifying his points to make a point, and that is that there is something useful in this book for everyone; from those who've never dug their hands in dirt to those who think that they have a "better way".

    I'm currently recommending this book as a good solid intro to veggie gardening that will produce the produce for those interested in delving beyond the picture books. Frankly, I've got lots of gardening and permaculture books and yet this was the first that I've seen fit to review, as I think it bears some recommendation to a wider audience. ...more info
  • Keeping it real
    Steve Solomon finally confirms what I've suspected all along - that intensive gardening doesn't deliver what it promises. Undersized beets and radishes, under-productive corn, potatoes, peas, and beans are what I've harvested using the crowded "square foot" method. This year I'm going to go back to the old fashioned row cropping method for most of my garden, and hope to enjoy large, succulent, tasty veggies again.

    Solomon shares the realities of composting, use of manure, and advises spacings for irrigated, rainfall, and dry-cropping. Pictures of roots on various vegetables helped me understand why these spacings are important for optimal plant performance.

    There is also a valuable section on recommended seed dealers according to climate. Solomon recommends only ethical seedsmen who actively test the varieties they sell, to insure that the gardener receives the very best seeds and consequently, the best results.

    If he had only explained where I can find affordable land so as to have room for such a widely spaced garden, the book would be complete!...more info
  • Outstanding book
    This book is simply outstanding in everyway. We have been gardening for many years and found this book to just take gardening to another level. This book told us why things we had been doing for years in the garden worked. It also told us why we were having trouble with certain aspects of the gardening relm. We sent this book to everyone we know who has an interest in gardening and they all read it and gave it rave reviews. If you love being out in the dirt and working you will love this book....more info
  • Get Mad But Keep Your Copy! You May Need It Someday.
    "If your food gardening is little more than a backyard hobby, an amusement, an entertainment that leads to a random mix of positive outcomes and disappointments, then getting great seeds and seedlings is of little consequence. But for me, gardening has never been a minor affair. It is life itself. It is independence. It is health for my family. And for people going through hard times, a thriving veggie garden can be the difference between painful poverty and a much more pleasant existence." (page 105, @2005 New Society Publishers, Canada)

    If you are a hobby gardener or a staunch enthusiast of intensive methods you are going to dislike this book. You may even get your feelings hurt. Gardeners are an opinionated lot and Solomon doesn't pull any punches concerning his own experience successfully running a mail-order seed business or working a homestead.

    Plants are not political nor are the insects that feed on them. Much current garden literature perpetuates a garden of eden myth that purports to be an enlightened response to the supposedly brutal crass monoculture practices of the past. The methods and products sprouting from this glorified ideal make for good sales but often leave home gardeneners feeling like failures when their efforts do not pay off. Solomon provides a revealing if somewhat depressing look at the gardening industry and explains why I have been so often puzzled by low germination rates, low yield, or a piece of equipment simply not performing adequately.

    No matter your gardening persuasion, if you are beyond beginning gardening, Solomon is worth a read. His strengths as an advisor are:

    1) If you take away nothing else, at least learn how to sharpen your tools from this man. No other gardening book is going to tell you how to do this simple thing that every farmer knows.

    2) Solomon never loses his emphasis on cost containment and the little balancing trick we all must do on this subject. Most organic gardening guides don't approach the subject because most of their advice is quite costly, such as irrigation, growing of transplants and doubling up on seed for the necessary companion planting. Cost is a real world struggle for most of us and this issue permeates Solomon's experience and advice.

    3) A soil thermometer! What a novel idea for starting those seeds directly in soil! I don't see this item in the gardening shops as often as the light meters and such. But I am going to look for one. A sensible piece of equipment that I had never thought of seeking out.

    4) Low germination rates - it may not be your fault! Don't take to heart your failure to start plant from seed and resign yourself to buying costly transplants. Read the seed chapter and you are going to learn a lot from an ex-seedsman about what makes a good seed, how to save and buy seed, and for how long seed can be kept to contain your purchasing costs.

    5) Professional farmers know about the plow pan where the soil compacts over multiple plowings and they understand that managing soil fertility is more than applying Miracle-Gro a few times a year. If you plan to keep the same garden lot for many years you may find that you have decreased yield over time. Solomon's strength is bringing professional information to the lay person and his writing will actually hold your attention as he talks about trace minerals and other arcane bits of soil fertility.

    6) A soil amendment is provided in his COF formula (page 21) that addresses the trace minerals needed by plants over time and that doesn't flood the soil with one nutrient to the detriment of others. The ingredients are accessible and it is worth a try.

    7) When you are paying for water knowing just how much is needed can save you a bundle. Solomon provides a system for measuring your sprinkling system water output and gives ideas for cost management and placement that could be a huge help to someone whose environment makes irrigation a must.

    8) The cornstarch gel for laying out seeds, or fluid drilling, (page 126) what an awesome idea I have never seen anywhere else! Though seed is cheaper than starters if you have to buy enough seed the bill can run high. That means utilizing the seed you buy as efficiently as possible. Again cost containment is integrated in his approach and he brings some of the most valuable insider knowledge to the serious home gardener.

    Solomon's one recurring limitation is one that we all share, he has a hard time imagining a life vastly different than his own. Having homesteaded so many years he doesn't have experience with the average shady city lot and may not realize just how much many urbanites relish home grown produce. Part of the intensive movement is a response to urban gardeners wanting to engage in more sustainable responsible environmental practices and partly due to an increased interest in gourmet, ethnic and traditional foods. More people are cooking from scratch and they want to cook vegetables they have grown. They don't want to move 50 miles from work so they can have a large garden plot and the world still needs doctors, lawyers and such who keep our infrastructure going. Homesteading is not for everyone nor should it be.

    When considering your particular environment raised beds, irrigation and intensive planting schemes may be your best or only option. If you must garden intensively I recommend Sally Jean Cunningham who is as chummy as Solomon is crotchety. Actually I recommend that you read both authors, both organic growers whose well-explained diametrically opposed approaches will give you a strong broad knowledge base that will support you through years of gardening.

    Gardening is as simple as putting a seed into dirt, but it is also a craft with a large body of research, experience and debate. This book is an articulate beginning primer into the actual science behind gardening. Possibly overwhelming for a beginner, but intriguing and blessedly honest for the gardener or homesteader seeking to push ahead their soil management skills and increase their yields significantly.

    Solomon who describes himself as "gardening grandfather" is like all grandfathers, set in his ways, a bit crabby and way past any pretense of political correctness. When he trashes a practice he admits to his negative tone but does not soft peddle his recommendations. He shoots straight from the hip and be prepared to hear some of your more cherished notions challenged.

    That is how we humans grow, not just as gardeners but as people. Don't let any irritation with the old man lose you the chance to take in what he imparts. A contrarian voice is sometimes needed when the prevailing wisdom fails us. Get mad but don't throw away your copy. There may come a time when you will need it.

    ...more info
  • Very relevant
    This is an incredibly resourceful book for any type of gardener. We have been farming organically for 16 years and found a lot of information we are now practicing in this book....more info
  • best garden guide i've found
    after looking through a lot of gardening books, i can confidently say that this book provides the best basis of knowledge for starting a garden. My garden is in only its first year, but with the info in this book, I'm already making money selling organic produce through two different coops. ...more info
  • good but needs more pictures
    This is a good book to have on hand for reference. I would like to of seen more illustrations in it because the reading can be a bit boring but it still is a great book....more info
  • Just what I needed!
    Only a few pages into this book I realized I needed to read it before continuing with my gardening plans.
    I am thrilled to have the good solid advice. For me, I treasured the relearning of the things my father taught me so many years ago. Digging the garden, fertilizing the soil, using coffee grounds and how to weed were only vague memories which had been over-written by today's easy methods and equipment. Steve Solomon's words brought all the old learning back to my mind and provided so much more. I can't thank him enough and I highly recommend this book. The advice, techniques and subjects covered are of special importance for anyone interested in insuring their food source is available and safe. ...more info
  • great information - if you can get past the condescending tone
    A previous reviewer was being nice in describing the author's writing style As 'grandfatherly'. Personally, my grandfather never talked down to me like I was an idiot, and did not pat himself on the back every other sentence.

    While the book is intended to help the novice gardener, the tone made this title a difficult book to read. The author spends a great deal of time ridiculing other garden writers (John Jeavons in particular) that he refers to as Everyone Else. While describing these authors as foolish slaves to production quantity (apparently Everyone Else includes every person who believes in raised bed, intensive gardening), Steve Solomom extolls the virtues of planting in rows and giving plants 'room to grow'. He provides his own example of having not one, but TWO 2400sq ft garden beds - he allows one lot to lie fallow each year with a green manure while the other is planted.

    Steve also seems to loathe clay soil, so much so that he doesn't even bother giving any advice on how to improve it. He says clay is the worst, nutrient-sucking soil (like a battery that eats nutrients) and that even when adding lots of organic matter, it will still hurt your crop production. So instead of recommending a realistic and effective means to address this soil type, the author recommends paying someone to haul in a truckload of topsoil to create the ideal garden bed. That's what he did (spending $1200 in the process), and of course he has beautiful results. Seeing as how I am reading the book to learn how to garden 'in hard times', and I do live on northeastern American clay soil, I had to look past this ridiculous recommendation to get to the good information in the book.

    The book does contain very good information that covers many aspects of how to treat a garden if you are to truly rely on its production. He provides an inexpensive recipe for a complete organic fertilizer (noting that today's chemical concoctions of potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus are creating vegetables that do not give maximum nutritive value - garbage in is garbage out). He also explains the importance of seed quality and provides information on how to obtain the ideal variety for your area, as well as selecting plants for seed to improve future yields.

    While I did find a lot of good information, Steve Soloman's writing style made this book torturous to read....more info


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