“The Resilient Gardener” & “Gardening When It Counts”: A Review Essay”
As Granny Miller readers may know, we have no TV. But we do have maybe 2,500 books in the house.
While we have no shortage of reading material, we do not have huge selection of gardening books. There are a few old favorites on the shelf: mostly works by William Cobbett, John Seymour and Gene Logsdon. There are some histories of plants and gardening. We also have some antique books from the era when the line between farming and gardening was a lot thinner.
I think there are two reasons for the dearth of garden books.
One is that we garden pretty much the way I learned as a little kid agrarian, combining my experience with my wife’s natural green thumb.
The second reason I don’t own a lot of gardening books is that most really don’t help the reader grow better vegetables. Some garden books are simply picture book eye candy for gardeners stuck inside during Winter. While I appreciate pictures of greenery during the 67 days of February, garden catalogs can accomplish the same purpose for free. I also find that many garden books sell gimmicks rather than advice. Most Americans look at raising vegetables as back breaking toil, so they buy books that promise oodles of vegetables without the sweat.
I only recently encountered two vegetable gardening books that are actually worth reading and recommending. The first is Steve Solomon’s Gardening When It Counts: Growing Food In Hard Times. The second is Carol Deppe’s The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times. These books came to my attention via two men whom I respect on the subject. Both are agrarians who actually know how to grow food; not self proclaimed experts (The Web is full of bad gardening advice).
I learned about the Solomon book from fellow agrarian blogger Herrick Kimball, who stated simply that was “his favorite gardening book”. Having avidly followed Herrick’s garden for years in his blog, his simple endorsement got my attention. As I was reading Steve Solomon’s book, I read a review of Carol Deppe’s book by another agrarian blogger and pen friend, Scott Terry over at the North Country Farmer. Scott is an organic dairy farmer, and from our correspondence, I think he knows his business. His review intrigued me when he stated, “I’ve grown all the crops covered in this book and I learned a few new things by the time I finished”. The folks from Chelsea Green publishing were kind enough to provide me an examination copy of Mrs. Deppe’s book, so I could do this comparative review.
Both books and authors share some similarities. Both authors were part of the 1970’s “back to the land” generation. Each writer brings decades of real life experience to their subjects. Both gained most of their experience in the Pacific Northwest, and don’t pretend to know every detail about gardening elsewhere. However, 95 percent of the information in both books is pretty universal regardless of region. Both are good writers with a quirky sense of humor, and it is obvious they love gardening as much as writing. Both also advocate a traditional approach to vegetable gardening that involves:
- Emphasis on the use of hand tools, especially the hoe
- Growing basic staples like Kale and Potatoes to gain the most nutritious calories with the least effort
- The importance of manure when it can be obtained (Both giving a positive nod to our famous neighbor Joe Jenkins’ Humanure Book)
These books both avoid foolish extremes of planting so intensive that the water bill results in $600 tomatoes, or the gimmicky no labor techniques that some praise but which don’t produce enough food to feed family though summer, let alone hard winter. Both authors also maintain a web presence to help others. Mr. Solomon is the founder of the online library at www.soilandhealth.org.
And Mrs. Deppe keeps a site updated under her name www.caroldeppe.com
Perhaps most important, both books also look at gardening as central to the family diet, not a garnish.
Solomon describes this as being a “vegetabletarian” who does not shun meat, but frugally bases his diet on what he grows.
For Mrs. Deppe, this information is presented around meeting the dietary needs of many people who cannot eat a typical American industrialized diet.
Both writers are correct.
We sell livestock, so I watch prices and trends with rapt attention. I believe that whatever happens in the future, the American cheap meat party is about to end. With high corn, high fuel, and low cattle inventories, there will be fewer steaks on the Nations’ grills this summer. Cheap meat is not the norm for human history, and we are about to return to normal.
During the Depression, my family thrived on this farm. Nobody went hungry, there was extra for family members who moved back home, and even hobos got fed. However, even on a farm, meat was not part of every meal. When it did appear on the table, there was enough for one serving; seconds had to come from vegetables.
Gardening when it Counts begins basic on soil fertility and the needs of various classes of vegetables. It continues with affordable options for soil building. This is essential to the new gardener who is turning over his turf for the first time, especially if that yard is a suburban lot. Most suburban housing developments had the topsoil stripped during grading, as the relative fertility needs of yard grass is low. The book then discusses some basics of garden tools, including the essential need to sharpen hoes and shovels. This simple task is often the difference between pleasant hard work and drudgery (We have a few old hoes around here with three inch blades from decades of repeated sharpening. I don’t use them but cannot bear to throw them away)
Among the most useful chapters are Mr. Solomon’s insider’s look at the mail order seed business (He used to own a seed company), and his common sense information about compost.
I have sometimes been guilty of buying cheap hardware store seed, but after reading this remembered why Dad always bought commercial grade seed. From now on, my seed dollars will be more carefully spent.
The chapter on compost will probably ruin a few myths among those who think that composted household garbage alone will grow top quality broccoli (Solomon proves that compost is not magic. The material used to make the compost influences its value as a soil amendment).
One of my favorite parts of this book is the author’s thoughtful criticism of super intensive vegetable growing methods. Mr. Solomon continually points out through the book that plants need nutrients. There are useful diagrams of the subsurface root systems of most common vegetables which show just how deep and wide roots must travel to obtain subsurface nutrients. As a stock-man, I would describe the super intensive planting scheme as a “feedlot for plants”. Like a cattle feedlot, lot of inputs must be brought to the crowded plants to ensure growth. I have read defenders of intensive beds state that nature plants that way, and gardeners must imitate nature. My problem with this is that nature’s concern is plant survival; not human survival. Nature’s approach often results in lots of scraggly plants, rather than a few good ones. I would urge the reader who doubts this to visit a pine plantation that has been thinned, and one that has not. Man accelerates plant growth through management; that is the essence of gardening.
The Resilient Gardener begins with some of the best analysis about the common sense “prepping” that was once the American norm, versus some of the nonsense surrounding Y2K (and similar nonsense that is rearing its head again today).
Mrs. Deppe remembers when all but improvident families bought apples by the bushel in the fall and stored them in basements. In real hard times, buying and storing food bought affordably in season seems more sensible to me than expensive freeze dried foods.
The author notes that expensive freeze dried foods will taste just as crummy in bad times as good.
I also love that she advocates growing vegetables as a basic skill that is part of being an adult.
She also offers some sensible options to land ownership, even in the expensive Willamette Valley where she lives. Her book represent a good lesson that anyone can grow some of their own food, even if they have challenges of health, age, or finances.
The book includes a very detailed discussion of the link between gardening and dietary needs. Mrs. Deppe suffers from some food allergies, and has developed her gardening around meeting her needs. This section of the book is very important for anyone who might be coping with both economic and dietary restraints.
Like Mr. Solomon’s book, this work also includes a section of basic tool use, but with an emphasis on working around natural physical limitations as we age. There is some great common sense advice about breaking up major tasks. Mrs. Deppe also includes a section of poultry keeping as an adjunct to gardening which in her case means a duck flock. As this is a book about cheap living, she had some innovative thoughts on alternative poultry feeds.
The last half of the book discusses growing the staple crops of corn, beans, squash, and potatoes. I am eternally grateful for her passionate defense of the value of corn and potatoes in particular.
Both crops have gotten a bad rap of late, mostly due to GMO corn and Americans’ over consumption of potato chips and fast food fries. Mrs. Deppe makes a good case that these crops should still play a role in the garden for anyone who wants to eat frugally but well. There is also some great advice on developing a breeding program for each of these crops and some recipes I cannot wait to try.
Which one to buy?
For the reader who wants to become a better gardener or is already a homesteader, I endorse both books.
They are also uniquely valuable for both the new and the experienced vegetable grower. However, since this represents about a $35.00 investment many readers might only want one.
In that case, The Resilient Gardener would be more worthwhile for any reader that has health or dietary restrictions (food allergies, diabetes, etc). It also contains more recipes, poultry husbandry and some breeding information, so it would be better for readers who wish to mix animal keeping into their garden. Gardening When it Counts is probably the better book for the reader who has already fallen on hard financial times, based upon price alone. The $15.00 spent on the book will be realized with more than that much additional produce on the table.
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Susan W. Clark's Blog - March 8, 2011
Author Carol Deppe has combined her years of vegetable breeding and gardening with her personal experience with celiac disease and other life challenges to give readers a very accessible book filled with innovative ideas and proven techniques for producing good food.
Deppe has structured the book in two sections, with the first focused on practical gardening, developing gardens that provide nutrition, good taste, and optimal health in good times and bad. She has developed 33 golden rules of gardening as a skeleton for a gardening methodology, and weaves her personal stories into the narrative with humor and humility. Her Harvard Ph.D. hardly shows.
In the second section she extends those principles with detailed information about growing and using five crops: potatoes, beans, corn, squash, and eggs. These are the crops that form the base of gardening to survive in hard times, regardless of whether the trouble is caused by a family emergency or an increasingly erratic climate.
Deppe gives the reader a trip into the Little Ice Age and Buffalo Bird Woman’s food preservation techniques, as well as a range of details about food production from the simple to the sophisticated. This is an excellent book, one you can dip into repeatedly as you absorb her very different approach to food production and thriving in hard times.
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Nathan Rupley - February 21, 2011
Why would someone as passionate about wild food as I am choose a gardening book for their first book review? Well, when it comes to The Resilient Gardener, there are a bunch of reasons. For one thing, as much as I love foraging, I believe that small scale cultivation of staple crops will be an important part of any sustainable future. This book is also well written, thoughtful, and actually discusses the authors experience foraging large numbers of black walnuts and hazelnuts during one of her “hard times”.
The book walks you though ways to cultivate your life to be more resilient when difficult times (personal or global) happen, and how to make your garden an asset instead of a burden. Unlike some similar books, it manages to remain calm and upbeat, never descending into simplistic ideology, fear mongering, or individualistic survivalism.
While The Resilient Gardener is a far more useful “how to” book than many books that largely fail because they attempt to cover every possible garden plant, it is more than a “how to” book and every bit as much about the gardener as the garden. It is full of compelling stories from the author about her challenges with health, diet, and caring for her sick mother. Deppe’s personality really shines in this book. Her writing is thorough, precise, and scientific without losing the human touch. In fact this is one of the most human books that I have ever read. I am impressed that the publisher didn’t make her edit out some sections where she examines some of the minutest details of her dietary issues and health concerns. While there were points at which I was incredulous at the degree to which she studies herself and her bodies reaction to various components of what she eats, it is a more complete and authentic work this way.
The first half of the book looks at gardening and resiliency in general, delving into a wide variety of topics including climate change, traditional Native American agriculture, seed saving, food preservation, ecology, soil fertility, gluten intolerance, and a whole lot more.
The second half offers an in depth look at five different staple foods. These are potatoes, duck eggs, squash, beans, and corn. These five profiles tell you how to breed, cultivate, harvest, preserve, and prepare each crop. As well as offering tips on selecting varieties, and ways to obtain a good yield even in those times that you can’t afford the time or resources to pamper your garden the way you might like.
Each profile has several recipes. The picture above shows my version of Carol’s Skillet Cornbread. The only difference is that I use one sixth the amount of butter, and still get excellent results. This is a cornbread with no wheat to hold it together, yet it crumbles less than most cornbreads that I have tried. Deppe has such an obvious love of good food that by the end of the book, I almost forgot that it wasn’t just about enjoying homemade meals.
So why did I chose The Resilient Gardener as my first review?
I guess ultimately the biggest reason is because it is the perfect gardening book for a forager to own. It gives you a whole lot of good information on getting the most healthy and usable calories with the least amount of toil. Combining the knowledge in this book with that of a few good foraging books, could put you on a path towards better food security and a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. I just wish that I had this book last growing season, maybe my garden would have produced something worth what little work I put in.
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Chicago Botanic Garden - February 25, 2011
Increasing interest in growing one’s own food, whether for economic or health reasons, has motivated author Carol Deppe to encourage readers to consider gardens that promote serenity despite environmental disasters and personal problems. A scientist and plant breeder, the author aims for better foods through improving the quality of crops that provide the most nutrition for the effort involved. She urges the development of a gardener’s techniques to garden efficiently. Writing as one gardener to another, she presents detailed instructions on growing, harvesting, and storing her favorite crops. Deppe also promotes raising fowl in the backyard. This comprehensive guide to gardening contains a bonanza of gardening tips, based on science.
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About.com - February 11, 2011
What I loved about this book, right from the start, is that Deppe believes that gardening shouldn't just be a good-time, leisure activity. She states, rightly, that most people grow a garden when they've got plenty of time and money on their hands. But a garden should work for us even in the worst of times -- when we're sick or injured, or when life is in chaos. I haven't had any injuries or devastation in my life lately, but I can tell you that I thought of her advice in relation to having a new baby around. I had a baby in 2009 and another in 2010, and I can tell you that my garden was not anywhere close to what I wanted it to be. There just wasn't time! Had I known about Deppe's advice back then, I could have planned for a more resilient gardener, and eaten more fresh food from my garden those years.
Whether you're finding that you don't have time to grow the garden you want, or life is becoming a bit more complicated, or you just want to grow and eat more food from you own garden, year-round, this is the book for you. Check out my full review here.
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The Sustainable Smallholding - February 7, 2011
I recently finished reading The Resilient Gardener, by Carol Deppe. Normally I would do a full review on a good book, but possibly the most telling thing that I can say about this book, is that there is so much outstanding content in this book, that it would take me hours to tell you about it. Instead, I’m going to tell you why you should buy your own copy, and study it hard.
One of the best reasons to read this book, is that there is so much useful stuff in it. I’ve read a lot of books, which means that I have a pretty good framework of knowledge, in which to put new information into. This normally makes it possible for me to concentrate on the new stuff, and to ‘get it’ in one reading. That isn’t the case with this book, and I expect to return to it regularly. ...
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A Basketful of Eggs
Trail Baboon - February 4, 2011
Today’s guest blog comes to us from Jim in Clark’s Grove.
Remember when Donna wished all of us “a resilient New Year”? I’ve already started.
I have been reading The Resilient Gardener, a new book by Carol Deppe . One reviewer suggests that this book is worth reading even for people who are not much into gardening. I agree. She presents many ideas, tips, and techniques for developing a gardening style that can help us get through difficult times, incorporating ideas about health, diet, cooking, and physical fitness. She sees these topics as being an integral part of developing resiliency.
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“Resilient” gardeners adapt to challenging health, dietary, weather, or financial situations to produce food that can sustain a family through adverse times. In this guide to becoming such a gardener, plant breeder Deppe (Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties) details her methods for safe and reliable food production—and covers more than strictly gardening—no matter your state of health or what climate you are in. She focuses on five crops with calorie, nutrient, and storage values: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and, yes, duck eggs. In each chapter, Deppe describes her experiences with specific varieties of crops (with particular reference to her own climate in coastal Oregon), specific techniques for success, and unusual recipes suited to the varieties she grows (all are designed for those with gluten intolerance).
VERDICT: Deppe’s idiosyncratic personality shines through her writing—this is as much a series of personal anecdotes by a lifelong expert gardener as a gardening book that will appeal to readers of a similar bent. Ideal for dedicated, independent gardeners who want to focus on food production despite dietary challenges, poor health, or other issues.—Margaret Heller, Dominican Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL
Rural Garden/Urban Garden Blog - January 24, 2011
This is a book that Northwest Gardeners will need to add to their library. It's quite unique in tone and content. Carol Deppe's gardening philosophy is the result of her long experience as a gardener and seed saver and her own problems with food, specifically celiac's disease, an intolerance to wheat gluten. Gardening ( her case more like farming due to the size of her "garden"), for resilience she has learned to focus on five crops that will provide food throughout the year: potatoes, corn, beans, squash and duck eggs. I resonated with these ideas because last year, on my own, I tried to plant for an extended eating season rather than just trying to produce the typical kitchen garden veggies like lettuce, chard and spinach. I picked beets, potatoes and green beans but Carol Deppe had given me lots of good ideas on specific varieties to try and grow. In addition to detailed information on potatoes, corn, beans, squash and duck eggs which each get a comprehensive chapter, she has very interesting ideas on watering, tools, help, labor, seed saving and preserving food. Highly recommended.
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The Resilient Gardener: In Tough Times, the Tough Grow Gardens
Suite 101 - January 24, 2011 Kelley Smith
Gardeners come to their art for different reasons. Some just enjoy plants. Some are looking for great taste. Some have concerns about modern food processing and pesticides. Some just want to save a little cash on the grocery bill. For all these gardeners and more, veteran author, Carol Deppe, has written, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times, sure to become a classic.
Emergency Survival or Just Good Eating
Deppe has a Ph.D., but no reader need be intimidated. Her down-to-earth style will quickly seize the attention of even a casual vegetable gardener. Deppe begins by reflecting on “hard times.” This can mean difficulties for individual families such as job loss or illness. It can mean difficulties for entire civilizations such as Europe during the Little Ice Age. For any of these situations, the self-reliance that comes from growing vegetables oneself is a source of hope.
The author’s vast knowledge of plant genetics and breeding quickly becomes evident. But more importantly, Deppe’s practical gardening experience shines through on every page. Any gardener will quickly recognize stories of successes, failures, and challenges as an authentic gardener-to-gardener story.
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Living the Frugal Life - January 20, 2011
I've just finished reading something excellent and thought I'd share. It's Carol Deppe's recent book, The Resilient Gardener. If you think you might one day want to feed yourself without recourse to purchased food, then I cannot recommend it highly enough. It's one thing to grow a garden for a few years, and even come to rely on it for a significant portion of your calories and nutrition. It's another thing entirely to really give up purchased foods, especially the cereal crops that make up such a huge portion of our western diet. And when I say give up, of course I have in mind a time when it may not be a matter of giving up, but of being unable to obtain them, for one reason or another.
Deppe is allergic to wheat, gluten, and dairy. Yet she feeds herself by concentrating most of her efforts on five crops: corn (maize), potatoes, squash, beans, and eggs. She chooses these crops for their caloric and nutritional values, storing ability, proven reliability, and resilience in the face of unpredictable weather or even the lack of attention from the gardener. It seems to me that anyone trying to feed themselves in a very large part of the world (certainly most of the US) would do well to devote much attention to those crops too. I love my wheaten foods, but there's little chance that I'll ever be able to produce even a fair portion of the wheat I would like to continue to eat. Corn is not my current starchy staple, but it's the most reliable grain in my region. We already produce our own eggs with a tiny flock of four laying hens. The other three crops consistently do well in my region too. Greens, other vegetables, and fruit are all nice for supplementing, but Deppe has clearly identified one year-round "crop" and four long-storing staples that would do the heavy lifting if we should ever need to provide all our own food.
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Garden for your Health and Survival
Idaho Statesman - January 21, 2011
Carol Deppe is a superb gardener, writer, cook and scientist who can change our lives. She has a new book out, “The Resilient Gardener, Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times” (Chelsea Green Publishing, $29.95 list price).
The first part of this book is about practical gardening based on new information about climate change, ecology, nutrition, sustainable agriculture and human health. The next part covers specific information about growing potatoes, corn, beans, squash and poultry (eggs), necessary for human nutrition. The last part of the book deals with gardeners’ resilience in cases of calamity such as mega-earthquakes, extended electrical failure, drought, flood, etc.
Deppe’s own health challenges and good taste motivate her to seek the best, most nutritious and best-tasting foods she can find (or create). As a scientist, she has bred some of her own varieties of garden produce, varieties I think that will ultimately benefit us all.
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The Resilient Gardener
Transition Lummi Island - January 17, 2011
I’ve been reading a new book by Carol Deppe called The Resilent Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. I’ve already blogged about it once here in Thinking About Potatoes. The book is so rich in information that I could go on and on. But this wouldn’t be fair to Ms. Deppe. I suggest that any gardener buy the book...
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Survive and Thrive
Corvallis garden expert’s latest book
Eugene Weekly - January 13, 2011 By Rachel Foster
The Good Earth Home and Garden Show is coming up in Eugene this month. One of the scheduled speakers is Carol Deppe, Corvallis plant breeder, expert gardener and an authority on duck keeping. Deppe will also be signing her latest book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-reliance in Uncertain Times, published by Chelsea Green. This exciting book could hardly be more timely. The uncertain times of the title extend from personal adversity to the shared uncertainties that now confront all of us.
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Henry Homeyer : What if you had to grow your own food?
Providence Journal - January 8, 2011
Imagine that a massive earthquake disrupted bridges, roads and power lines. Power and transportation could be interrupted for months, even a year. How long could you survive on the food you grow? I asked myself that recently, and I’m not sure I liked the answer.
The question was prompted by an interesting book: “The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times Including the Five Crops You Need to Survive and Thrive — Potatoes, Corn, Beans, Squash and Eggs” by Carol Deppe (Chelsea Green 2010). The book is not so much a primer for survivalists, but a guide to gardening in any hard times — personal or cataclysmic. What would happen, for example, if you could not tend or water your garden for a month or so due to illness or injury? Would your plants die of thirst or be swallowed whole by weeds? Deppe does imagine that climate change, or even war or terrorism might interfere with the food production system, but those ideas are just planted to provoke the reader, I think, to look at how and what we grow.
The author is gluten-intolerant, which prompted her to look at flint corn many years ago as an alternative to wheat, something she could grind and use for bread and porridge. She grew dozens of kinds of beans for drying until she found those that could grow without irrigation or chemical fertilizers in the Northwest, where she lives. She grew many kinds of winter squash to find those that store for months and those that can be dried to store even longer — while still tasting good.
In praise of potatoes she writes, “After water, the most important nutritional factor is calories. A garden that is going to get you through hard times has to produce calories, not just salads. In temperate regions there is no crop capable of yielding more calories per square foot that the potato.” She goes on to note that potatoes also produce protein, second only to beans as a source of protein.
Lastly, Deppe raises chickens and ducks for eggs and meat, though mostly for eggs. She does admit that in very cold climates (such as we have in New England) getting a flock of chickens or ducks through the winter is an expense — they cannot forage for food, and must be fed. I have thought about having a flock of chickens or ducks for egg production but so far have held off. But ducks do intrigue me — they are great bug eaters, love slugs, are easily contained and herded. Still, they are messy and need extra care in winter.
The author really has done her homework on all the crops she describes and presents lots of information I haven’t found elsewhere. She covers not only what varieties to grow and how to grown them, but how to store and cook with them. Not only nutritional value is important, she notes, but also flavor — and not all beans or squash are equally tasty.
I learned that three species of squash are grown in North America: Cucurbita maxima, C. pepo, and C. moschata. The first species, C. maxima includes Blue Hubbards, Buttercups, Kuri, Marina di Chiogga squash and Cinderella pumpkins. All these get their best flavor after a curing period of a month or more – and may reach maximum flavor in six months. On the other hand, the C. pepos, which include delicata, acorns and spaghetti squash only need 7 to 14 days after harvest to reach best flavor, and start to deteriorate now, after Christmas. So if you have some, eat them up! Summer squash are also pepos that are best eaten when immature. The C. moschata varieties, which include butternut, can be among the longest keepers. I’ve kept them nine months or more. But she notes they lose their flavor in soups and stews and are best roasted.
The author also dries squash as a way to keep it. Some do well dried, but others are tasteless, she says. The best is Costata Romanesca, a big summer squash with a ridged exterior that can easily get to be more than 2 feet long. I grew it last summer and one escaped my notice, growing to be over 3 feet long — and winning the blue ribbon in the Cornish Fair for biggest zucchini. But, since the skin does not get as leathery as other big zucchinis, it can be cut into three-eighths-inch rounds and dried, even when large. I am delighted to hear that, and will dry some this summer for winter stews. Deppe gives instructions on building a sun-powered squash dryer, including oiling the wooden dowels before using. She is very thorough when giving directions.
If you have found that eating cooked dry beans gives you indigestion, try soaking according to her directions. Most beans need 12 hours of soaking with several changes of water and regular stirring to oxygenate and hydrate the beans before cooking. She maintains that the more often you eat dried beans, the better your body processes them.
The bottom line is this: if you want to produce all your food, or even most of it, and if you want to be independent from the food production system the supplies most of us, it’s a lot of work. You have to do as Carol Deppe did, and make food production your primary focus. Quit your day job. But she has done a lot of the research for you if that’s your goal. I think I’ll try some of her ideas but not become compulsive about it.
Henry Homeyer lives in Cornish Flat, N.H., and grows much of his own food. His website is www.Gardening-Guy.com.
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Yardavore - The Resilient Gardener
January 4, 2011
Back to one of my favorite subjects; food... I mean gardening! I for one like to live in my little bubble where abundance is always there for the resourceful and those that can see beyond the propaganda. Yet another author speaks seriously about the importance of growing one's own food in uncertain times. This book is a favorite of those interested in both agriculture and science. Carol Deppe who is a scientist and expert gardener; focuses on growing and storing what she sees as the most essential foods. She received a pretty stellar review from the National Gardening Association and Chelsea Green.
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31 Books - The Resilient Gardener
Casaubon's Book - January 3, 2011
There are a lot of gardening books out there, and whenever anyone asks me for my favorite ones, I find myself struggling to make a list. There are three rules about garden books to remember.
1. All garden books are local to one degree or another, unless they are very general. That is, all garden books are fundamentally about the experience of gardeners in particular places and in particular circumstances. Beyond basic books, the best garden books are by authors who remember this and try and connect what they have done with others, while also acknowledging the limits of their experience. Bad garden books become prescriptive "no one should use mulch" or "everyone should use mulch" or whatever because their experience with mulch is deemed to be universal.
2. There is a difficult middle-space gap in garden writing between books that are written for the absolute beginner (many) and speak in such general terms that after you've mastered the basics, you don't really need to read more of them, and the technical research papers that often present new research or ideas. By this I mean that the experienced, engaged gardener who doesn't need to read another basic explanation of how soil fertility works or how to start seeds leaves them with little truly new, exciting and creative to read. The papers can be useful and inspiring, but they are rarely readable or entertaining, the general books may be fond and familiar material, but one goes back to them as reference, and there are only a few dozens of good books written for the expert gardener who wants to learn something new. One ends up falling back on personal narratives "the story of my garden" and trying to glean what you can of their expertise from that (which can be rewarding in its own way). Once you've read Eliot Coleman and Suzanne Ashworth, John Jeavons, etc... and the best books on herbs and fruit and pruning and perennials...now what?
3. The very best garden writers are the ones who are actual people with actual imperfections. As much as I admire, say, Dave Jacke's wonderful pair of books _Edible Forest Gardening_, for example, I do read his many, many part list of "things I should do before I plant a single thing" in his section on site preparation with a "I'm just not going to do all that." The same is true with double digging - I'm sure it is a great thing, but I'm way too lazy to do that. My favorite garden writers are the ones that acknowledge up front that we *shouldn't* ever let a weed go to seed, but realistically, we probably will, and have methods for adapting to our flawed existence.
4. Most garden books assume that you are gardening for pleasure, rather than from need, and often assume one has more money to spend than many of us do and no need to prioritize crops or space or time. They are good books, but often ill-adapted to difficult or hard times. The category of books that is well adapted to these is fairly small, and from one reason or another, often have some deep flaws that make them hard for me to recommend. But there's a real need for gardening books that actually address the reality - that gardening isn't about $64 tomatoes, but about keeping people fed in practical, inexpensive ways.
It is rare for me to read a book that does all three things - that fills that middle gap by offering me genuinely new and engaging ideas, is local to its place but thoughtful about how information gleaned in one environment might connect to another, is written by someone who does have limits on time and energy and occasionally desire to do it perfectly, and finally, is conscious of the need to garden in response to difficult times. That's why Carol Deppe's _The Resilient Gardener_ is such a gift.
Deppe's book _Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties_ has long been on my list of must-have books, and is something I recommend to anyone who plans to save seed - or even anyone interested in knowing more than the basics about the plants they grow. Carol Deppe is just such a profund well of knowledge about plants, and her deep curiosity about them drives her to do kinds of research that no one else is doing. _The Resilient Gardener_ is a reflection of her wide ranging interests and fascination with the process of producing her own food.
The premise is one that I can't but appreciate - she points out that hard times come to all of us, whether they are national or international in scale or purely personal. The narrative begins with the years she spent caring for her mother who suffered Alzheimers disease, and the ways that her garden was a respite and a nurturance to herself and to her mother, but also the ways that her garden had to become resilient to allow for demands on her time and resources. She then shifts us towards a world picture, but never forgets that our gardens have to serve us in complicated situations.
Deppe has celiac disease, and one of the values of this book is that it focuses on a smaller number of crops that provide dense nutritional value without grains - Potatoes, Corn, Squash, Beans and Eggs. This is value not only for many people who are intolerant of grains, but those who live on land or in environments not suitable to grain growing. She makes a reasonable case that from these five main crops, you could produce on a moderate sized lot the better portion of a balanced diet. Although one doesn't grow eggs in dirt, she offers an invaluable discussion of raising poultry on garden crops that alone would be worth the price of the book.
Deppe has so much to say and so much information to convey that occasionally she gets bogged down, giving every subject the full benefit of her analysis - I suspect the discussion of what protein sources make her feel full could have been cut down a touch. That is the faintest of criticisms of a book that was quite possibly the most intellectually engaging and delightful garden book I've ever read. I am only frustrated that I read it in winter and can't immediately rush out and begin trying many of her ideas - for example, I've clearly been drying the wrong variety of zucchini. Only Deppe would have the patience and wisdom to sort through dozens of varieties for the ones that retain their flavor best when dried, or to find the best popping chick peas. I find myself humbled by her energies - I too often have tried a vegetable variety in one preparation and said "oh, this one isn't that great..." rather than doing as Deppe does and trying to figure out what the variety might actually be good for.
This is not a beginner's book, although new gardeners might well want to acquire it and read through it, planning to take what they can now and come back again and again as they acquire new experience. It has much to offer a new gardener, however - her section on tools and techniques, and the one on physical exertions are very good, as are her basics. But this book throws *a lot* of information at you - so if you are a new gardener, expect to revisit this one. Actually, nearly everyone should expect to need to read it more than once, which is a good argument for ownership, rather than simply borrowing it. I know I'll be revisiting it over and over again, because it is that rarest of all things - a deep, complex garden book that is fun to read and entrancing, and that stretches one's mind far and hard. What a delight!
Read the original review.
The Resilient Gardener
Kitchen Gardeners International - December 30, 2010
A book by Carol Deppe. There are many scenarios painted by various sources that include hyper-inflation, de-valuation of the dollar, sky-rocketing food prices, etc,etc. What the Chelsea Green publishing site calls "fascinating gloom". Love it, we DO get fascinated don't we. However, there are many reasons to store food including emergency preparedness. I have ordered this book for it's invaluable growing and storing tips and variety suggestions.
Read the original review.
PeakOilHausFrau - December 13, 2010
Finally, a gardening book written for gardeners dealing with the realities of peak oil and unpredictable weather! Carol Deppe's book The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times describes how to grow, store and cook "the five crops you need to survive and thrive - potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs." Ms. Deppe covers these topics in a way that details, as she puts it, how to garden to "the appropriate level of sloppiness," using just enough time and effort to get the desired results, instead of how to garden to a fossil-fueled vision of perfection.
Carol Deppe, a Harvard-educated biologist with over thirty years of plant-breeding and gardening experience, has distilled an incredible store of knowledge into this book, which tops the scales at over three hundred pages long.
Ms. Deppe's unique perspective, which sometimes goes against conventional wisdom, kept the book both amusing and interesting. How often do you find gardening books with sections entitled "Why I Hate Drip Irrigation," "Why I Don't Compost Anymore," and "The Power of Pee?" She is also not afraid to take a stand on nutritional topics, and although I found the chapter on celiac disease a little distracting, I can see that the information might benefit many people.
Read the entire review over at Peak Oil Haus Frau.
The Imperfect Garden is Good Enough
Organic Gardening - About.com - Wednesday December 8, 2010
I'm reading Carol Deppe's fantastic book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times (Amazon link), and I have to say it is a very informative read. I'll be reviewing it here on About.com Organic Gardening in the next couple of weeks, but I heartily recommend getting your hands on this book.
What I love is that Deppe is very no-nonsense about many things. For instance, one of my favorite sections of the book is called "Selective Sloppiness." Deppe says that much of what we do in our gardens is just unnecessary busy-work. She begins the chapter with this statement:
"Only some things are worth doing well. Most things that are worth doing are only worth doing sloppily. Many things aren't worth doing at all. Anything not worth doing at all is certainly not worth doing well."
She goes on to give examples of what she means. Making the surface of your garden bed perfectly smooth, free of any little indentations or low areas, is a complete waste of time. An uneven soil surface has areas in which water will collect and slowly irrigate your plants. A smooth surface is great if you want to encourage water run-off.
Pulling weeds is necessary (unfortunately...) but carting those weeds off to another location is not. Leave them in your paths, or, heck, just throw them right back into the bed where they'll break down and enrich the soil. As a bonus, insect pests will often feed on the weeds and not your lettuce.
Are you obsessed with planting seeds at EXACTLY the recommended planting depth? Deppe explains that soil temperature has more to do with successful germination than planting depth does. She is inexact in her soil depth, and ends up planting seeds at different depths. No matter what, she always ends up with a successful sowing.
"Eschew unnecessary symmetry," she advises. Most of us rely on straight lines that, for one reason or another, never end up looking straight. Embrace curves and end up with a prettier garden (with less work!)
One final thought from Deppe: weeding the vegetable garden late in the season is generally unnecessary. The plants are too big to suffer from competition from weeds, and most late-season weeds won't have enough time to set seed before frost anyway.
Deppe is definitely my kind of gardener! What do you think?
Read the original review here.
Permaculture Activist Review - Winter 2010
American Abundance - Review by Peter Bane
Carol Deppe is trained as a geneticist and works as a seed breeder. She is the author of Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, which should give you a sense of her profession and her politics. It is evident from this book that she is not only a dedicated scientist, but a sturdy peasant, a woman in whom the lineages of history and prehistory converge. With the publication of The Resilient Gardener she invites us into the center of her home to learn how she provides her own hearty and nutritious food while maintaining a very demanding diet. This book presents an in-depth seed-to-table understanding of five culturally significant and life-sustaining crops: corn, beans, squash, potatoes, and eggs. Its power and promise are rooted in Deppe's lived experience and revealed in the careful detail by which she shares it.
The author makes an effort to explain how she grows, stores, and cooks these plants (and raises her ducks), and as an introduction to the process of gardening she also explains her search and selection process for land (she rents farmland in Oregon's Willamette Valley), her garden design (wide rows), and her organic systems of fertility (she makes and applies compost and distributes manure with considerable subtlety). We learn, and see illustrated, the author's use of tools for weeding and cultivation, why she has chosen them, and just exactly how she holds them in order not to unduly tire or injure her middle-aged body. I appreciated the respect she demonstrates for the empirical learning process. As someone who also can, no longer submit to much repetitive motion, I also valued the care she expresses for her readers.
This book is frank, plainspoken, and intimate. The basis for the author's diet is her intolerance for grain. She has celiac disease and cannot digest wheat or any of its near relatives in the grass family: rye, barley, oats, or triticale, and so has learned from much difficult experience to exclude completely from her table the foods most people depend upon for their daily bread. The basis of the book, however, is her determination to provide a reliable supply of staple food for her kitchen and to be responsible for every aspect of that from breeding and selecting the crops she uses to stabilizing and sharing the seed, to understanding the genetics, to exploring, cooking, and relishing the palate of flavors she nurtures and the rich and deeply satisfying foods that in turn nurture her, It is this quality of determination and careful empirical and practical work that recommends The Resilient Gardener to serious gardeners and home economists. Deppe is doing what many of us aspire to do.
In this book, for all its practicality, or perhaps because of it, we enter Carol's story. She tells the tale of her family's gardening and seed-saving practices and how they shaped her life and values. The pictures in the book show Carol at work. I liked meeting the author in this way, and I felt trust in her integrity and even affection for her blunt opinions and sometimes quirky choices: she’s earned the right to them, and they appear to work.
The logic conveyed by the book's title does not require that you share Carol's experience, but recognizes that everyone has need of food security. The knowledge of which crops will really feed us and how is relevant, whether the hard times arise from your own allergies, the disruptions of climate change, a shaky income picture, or food in the marketplace.