The Bookshelf

THE BOOKSHELF is our new webpage for interesting and useful books and periodicals, both old and new, that provide valuable information for gardeners and food producers.  We invite you to send us short reviews of books and magazines that you have found useful.   This section is another way we can exchange information to learn together.

THE CHINESE GREENHOUSE by Dan Chiras: Recent work by Jianyi Dong, a Chinese immigrant living in Alberta, has highlighted the passive solar greenhouse design in use in his country of origin. In China, huge greenhouses passively heated by the sun are already used for food production. Jianyi has had success here in Canada with an earth or clay berm as thermal mass, plus a double layer of transparent covering to trap sunlight once it enters. It is great to see a new book, published by our friends at New Society on Gabriola Island, that has just arrived. This comprehensive guide to the design and construction of a low-cost, passive solar greenhouse will inspire others, with its detailed, comprehensive description, accompanied by clear, full colour illustrations. Whether for a home garden or a commercial food production site, this approach has promise to help bring food production back home to local communities across Canada.

THE YEAR-ROUND VEGETABLE GARDENER by Niki Jabbour: This comprehensive book about raised bed gardening and season extension, written by a Nova Scotia-based organic gardener and teacher, is currently the best garden book for our location and climate, in terms of the skills and structures for weather protection.  Well illustrated, with recommendations for protective structures and growing techniques, followed by a section about each vegetable and fruit crop.

FOUR-SEASON HARVEST by Eliot Coleman: The grand old man of unheated greenhouse production has now expanded his crop production to thousand square foot rolling greenhouses that can be moved on rails, allowing him to grow and harvest six separate areas with one greenhouse structure. Eliot started his exploration of unheated greenhouse structures at the home level and Four-Season Harvest is his how-to book about season extension for home gardeners.

THE GARDEN PRIMER by Barbara Damrosch: Eliot Coleman’s partner has created a wonderful encyclopedia of basic techniques for growing food, fruit, flowers and herbs.   Like Eliot, she lives in Maine, a similar climate to our coastal one in the Atlantic Provinces. Her book presents all the basics for home gardening in one thick comprehensive volume.

SAVING SEEDS by Dan Jason:   Dan Jason, a new friend of ours is the creator of Salt Spring Seeds, on the island of the same name in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia.  For decades he has been growing plants, propagating seeds and leading workshops in organic techniques.   In this thin book he explores basic issues related to seed saving as a way to preserve the incredible biodiversity which is increasingly being eradicated and lost in commercial agriculture.  Very inspriring.

THE SEED GARDEN: THE ART AND PRACTICE OF SEED SAVING by Lee Buttala and Shanyn Siegel: Published by Seed Savers Exchange, the American group keeping varietal and heritage seeds available, this is the best and most carefully illustrated of the seven seed saving books we own.   It lays out in clear detail, backed up by how to step-by-step illustrations the what, why and how of seed saving for each difference plant, including how to harvest, dry and save wet seeds from tomatoes and cucurbits.   Great reference book.

SEEDS OF WOODY PLANTS IN NORTH AMERICA (revised and enlarged edition, 1992) by James A. Young and Cheryl G. Young:  Dan Rubin first heard of this book when it was reviewed in Stewart Brand’s Whole Earth Catalogue, then managed to order a copy for the school library on the little island where he taught and was school principal, until someone checked it out and never brought it back.  So, a few years ago, he ordered a copy of his own.  This large, thick volume tells everything known about the seeds of all the shrubs and trees that grow on our continent, including how they are produced, how to scarify and germinate them and is an essential reference if you want to deal with these species.   All solid scientific knowledge, organized by family and species.

HIGH-YIELD GARDENING: HOW TO GET MORE FROM YOUR GARDEN SPACE AND MORE FROM YOUR GARDENING SEASON by Marjorie B. Hunt and Brenda Bortz: published by Rodale Press in 1986, the publishers of Organic Gardening Magazine, this is another great general source for techniques for growing food, flowers and herbs.   Black and white illustrations, but everything you need to know is here in great detail.   

ROOTS DEMYSTIFIED: CHANGE YOUR GARDENING HABITS TO LET ROOTS THRIVE by Robert Kourik:  Kourik is a lead researcher in building understanding of the root systems that support all plant growth.  By showing how roots branch and extend he lets us understand what we need to do to give our plants what they need to grow and thrive.   There are many surprising facts here, illustrated by amazing well researched diagrams.  Did you know a carrot’s tap root can go down six feet if soil is deep enough?

PERMACULTURE DESIGN: A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE by Aranya:  While there is a wealth of reference material now in print about basic permaculture principles, the history of its founding by Australians David Holmgren and Bill Mollison, this little book is a guide for designing gardens by applying basic permaculture principles and techniques to achieve the goal of a garden landscape that meets our needs with a minimum of work by harmonizing cultivated plants with wild plants, insects and birds to create self-sustaining perennial landscapes.   Since we are doing a lot of garden consulting these days, we ordered this book and have found it clear, concise and very helpful as well as being inspiring.  Written in clear everyday language, this is a great introduction to a powerful way to understand and work with nature, in your garden.

THE MARKET GARDENER: A SUCCESSFUL GROWER’S HANDBOOK FOR SMALL-SCALE ORGANIC FARMING by Jean-Martin Fortier: Translated into English, this book by the renowned Quebec food producer is a practical, step-by-step guide to develop a high intensity organic grow site.   What is most unusual about his approach is his focus on details which make all the difference between success in growing and marketing at a manageable scale and financial failure.  Jean-Martin has become a garden guru who is helping others across his province substantially increase local food production.

CROP PLANNING FOR ORGANIC VEGETABLE GROWERS (a Canadian Organic Growers Practical Skills Handbook) by Frederic Theriiault and Daniel Brisebois: This is a well-organized guide to how to make a small organic farm succeed and prosper.   It focuses on crop planning, scheduling and profitability to assist growers in doing a better job of managing and planning their farming.  For anyone setting out to grow at a small market scale, this will be an essential reference.

THE NEW FARM: OUR TEN YEARS ON THE FRONT LINES OF THE GOOD FOOD REVOLUTION by Brent Preston: while a true life story, rather than a novel, The New Farm has all the drama, humour and passion of a great story. It tells how a couple of desk workers from Toronto moved with their children to the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario to begin a new life as organic farmers. Along the way, their seasonal foreign farm workers become almost family, as they made the farm really work, so they were paid bonuses and then funds for their children’s education. Then the New Farm worked out an amazing partnership with a food bank in Toronto, and helped preserve local farmland. The story wraps up with the Tragically Hip performing in their barn during an annual fund raiser to allow organic farmers to sell their produce at cost to the food banks.   An amazing, funny, endearing and inspiring story showing what is possible.

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