Book Review — Grow Organic: 250 Tips and Ideas

Maybe, like me, you are in awe of radio gardening experts. No matter who calls in with the wackiest of questions they are still able to answer a staggering array of enquiries, seemingly off the top of their heads. I’ve often wished I had a pen poised over expectant paper to jot down their pearls of wisdom. I think Doug Oster and Jessica Wallister must have been eavesdropping on my thoughts. Because with Grow Organic: Over 250 Tips and Ideas for Growing Flowers, Veggies and More they’ve answered my wish. Bookshops are drowning in gardening books these days, so it is a hard ask to write something different. This one seems to accomplish that feat. Possibly because the authors are also co-hosts of the radio show The Organic Gardeners on KDKA radio in the U.S. As if they were still on air, Doug and Jessica keep the book's tone light and breezy, always moving it along. At first this was a bit of an irritant. The innumerable punchy subheads and bite size chunks of information were at odds with the usual long narrative I expect of most books. But soon I was in the swing of things and found my poor wee brain crammed full of interesting and useful knowledge, quietly appreciating the trouble the writers had gone to, in demystifying the organic garden.For example, many people love the concept of composting, turning old plant matter into new soil and fertiliser, but are scared off by all the talk of nitrogen and carbon balances. Grow Organic just cuts through the jargon, saying you should be looking for three times as much brown stuff as green for the perfect compost. Brown (carbon) being straw, autumn leaves, shredded paper and like and Green (nitrogen), the food scraps, lawn clippings, etc. Simple.

Later on when you are feeling more comfortable with the concepts you’ll learn about soil additives. Again the explanation is presented in plain English. Nitrogen adds green, phosphorous makes roots and fruits, while potassium improves vigour and hardiness. A easy to follow chart shows why you might use varying ratios of these nutrients for different results. You’ll also learn about crop rotation, to maximise the quality of your organically rich soil.

And, of course, organic gardening is about the avoidance of synthetic chemicals so it follows that there’d be a whole chapter of beneficial bugs. Got aphids? Plant ing dill helps attract ladybugs who love to munch the aphids. And there is a long list of others good bug solutions too. Indeed at the end of the book a whole 20 pages devoted to the control of all sorts of pests

The book has a full wheelbarrow’s worth of tips. Like planting a second crop of cucumbers some weeks after the first, so you can harvest the latter after the cucumber beetle has made off with the first born. Or how veggies are best picked in the morning when still full of moisture. And carrots are sweetest when the thickness of your thumb, and will store for longer if their green tops are removed and they are packed into crates of damp sand!

But this is not just a book about organic veggies. Ornamental flowers warrant their own chapter as do fruits, and even lawns. Organic lawns? Yeh, seems that a study found the use of household and garden pesticides can increase the risk of childhood leukemia nearly sevenfold.

Grow Organic concludes with a hearty resource list, substantial glossary and pretty decent index. We were pleased to note that the publishers, St Lynn’s Press, had printed the paperback on recycled paper, though the % content is not expressly detailed.

I enjoyed this book. Appreciated the honest opinions of the authors and their brightly infectious not-too-heavy, not-too-light style. In an era of information overload they seem to have found a way of of presenting knowledge that will be retained. A rare trait these days. Not that they gloss over the problems and hurdles of establishing or maintaining organic gardens. The issues are clearly laid out in black and white. But the solutions are similarly described in such simple terms that you’ll just want to put the book down, and get out there and muck about in the soil, play with plants and watch bees at work. And what better way to remind us of the interconnectedness of all living things. ::Grow Organic via Amazon.

Tags: Agriculture | Books | Pennsylvania

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