When I started my garden I was overwhelmed to say the least. Of course like many first time gardeners, I went into it with visions of lettuce, cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, peas, green beans, squash creating a sort of back yard utopia. After spending a day tediously planting seeds with my niece, the worrying began. Were the seeds going to come up? Were they getting enough water and nutrients? Did I ruin the soil by working it when it was wet? It was such a thrill to see that first row of tiny green leaves. From that point, I was hooked and through some failures, diseases and traumas, I still get excited when in January the seed catalog comes in the mail and it’s time to start thinking about Spring.
There’s so much to learn and say about gardening that I don’t even know where to begin so I’ll begin with my gardening bible: Gardening When it Counts, Growing Food in Hard Times by Steve Solomon who founded Territorial Seed Company, now probably the biggest seed company on the West coast. The basic premise of his book is that growing vegetables requires fertile soil, space, sun and the right amount of water in order to become nutritious food. He argues that a garden with fertile soil and adequate plant spacing cuts down on the amount of water necessary.
His book covers pretty much everything a beginner gardener needs to know in a big picture kind of way. His descriptions are detailed yet not so technical and scientific they become overwhelming. He clearly explains how to prepare a garden bed with nothing more than a shovel and bow rake. But the thing I like most is he explains not only how to grow food but what makes food grow and why. Yes, sometimes I have to read a chapter (such as the one on compost) a few times before it sinks in. There’s so much science involved with growing things that it’s kind of hard to do right if you don’t understand something about the why of it.
There are many ways to garden but so far his methods have worked for me and his reasoning just makes sense. Sure it would be great to grow all kinds of stuff in a 4 x 8 square foot space and I’m sure with lots of water and fertilizer it can be done but if you think about a plant with an extensive root system that needs lots of nutrients and water to grow, it only makes sense that plant would need a fair amount of space as well.
There are some methods and instructions in the book I do question such as his adversity to using mulch which I’ve found to be helpful in several ways, and his method of turning the soil. I’ve read that tilling soil can disrupt the soil structure but I’m not sure how I would be able to mix in fertilizer, make a slightly raised bed and control weeds without turning my soil.
I’m aware Solomon’s methods are criticized as being old school and there are many other methods of gardening which I mean to explore and discuss in this blog, but for me, this book was a great starting point.
And here is a short video by Steve Solomon. Interesting but guaranteed to bring you right down.