Some home gardeners pass up Eliot Coleman's The New Organic Grower because it seems more suited to market growers than to home gardener. This is definitely not the case! Home gardeners can learn a lot from Coleman's book, including how to construct greenhouses, how to grow a winter garden, and how to improve your soil's fertility.
Review: "The New Organic Grower"
The New Organic Grower was first published in 1988, and has since been revised and expanded. The book is part philosophy, part gardening and farming handbook.
The first chapter in the book, "Agricultural Craftsmanship," covers a sort of philosophy of modern agriculture; basically, how can we do it better? Coleman looks at misconceptions of what farming "needs" to be, and gives his ideas on what makes for a good farming experience for both farmer and consumer. While this chapter is of less interest for home gardeners, it gives the reader a good insight into small scale agriculture.
The rest of the book is very practical. In addition to chapters on choosing land and deciding how big your farm or garden will be, Coleman includes many topics that will be of interest to organic gardeners. Some of these include:
- Planning and Observation
- Crop Rotation
- Green Manures
- Soil Fertility
- Farm (or garden) Generated Fertility
- Direct Seeding
- Soil Blocks
- Setting Out Transplants
- Season Extension
- The Winter Garden (Coleman also wrote an entire book about winter gardening, which I've reviewed here.)
The great thing about Coleman is his scientific, historical approach to gardening. He looks at how things were done in the past, before conventional agriculture offered a "miracle" potion for all of the garden's problems. He realizes that we can learn a lot from the past, and take into account modern science as well to make for a healthier, more productive garden.
The chapters on seed starting, transplanting, and soil blocks are especially good. Coleman gets into a lot of nitty-gritty detail here, even providing charts that provide information such as plant spacing. He gives recipes for seed starting and soil blocking mixes, and tells exactly how to use a soil blocker. These are, by far, my favorite chapters in the book. A close second is his chapter on winter gardening, which is really a must read for anyone who lives in a cold zone and wants to produce more of their own food. He explains how to build an inexpensive, but very useful, green house to grow crops all winter long -- and he does this at his farm in Maine. If he can do it, so can we!
Quotes from "The New Organic Grower"
Here are some of my favorite quotes from The New Organic Grower:
"Why bother with crop rotation? Because there are so many benefits to the grower from setting up a rotational sequence that exploits every possible advantage. Corn, beans, squash, and other crops all take different nutrients out of the soil. All respond to diverse fertilization patterns. All are amenable to specific cultivation practices. ...Whenever the crop or cultural practices of the current year can be chosen to benefit a future crop, there is reason for bothering."
"It is always satisfying to find a technique that is simpler, more effective, and less expensive than what existed before. For the production of transplants, the soil block meets those criteria. The Dutch have been developing this technique for some 80 years, but the human experience with growing plants in a cube of soil goes back 2,000 years or more."
I highly recommend The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener to any gardener who wants to know how to grow more of their food, and use the most effective, efficient methods to do so.