review of The Tao of Vegetable Gardening, Carol Deppe's new book

The Tao of Vegetable Gardening

Carol Deppe has a new book out. Readers of my blog will know I really like her stuff as discussed in my corn post, but I'm not sure if you know why.

It's not just that she provides a lot of practical information not provided elsewhere. All the books on my gardening shelf have that distinction, which is why they were purchased as opposed to the scores I just borrowed from the library and returned. There's only about 5-6 of them there frankly.

Carol's books are not on my shelf; Carol's books are on my Kindle, and besides my Kindle itself, I have a Kindle app on my phone. Carol's books are with me in the garden so I can look stuff up right when I need it.

But again, it's not just the wealth of information she provides. A lot of it is just... her.

First, I Just Like Her

There are certain authors you read and it's not just the story (for fiction) or information (for nonfiction) that is enjoyable; you just know you'd like them if you met them in person. Carol infuses enough of her personal experiences and thoughts into her books that I really get that. Aside from piles of useful info no other book has provided, I just know if she weren't on the wrong coast, if we sat down one night after dinner with a cup of coffee, we'd be up all night talking. Always assuming she liked me, of course!

There's few authors who've hit me like this. C. S. Lewis is one. Heinlein absolutely was another. Nancy Friday is a third. None of these folks write gardening books though. As far as authors go, this particular bit of my life is only "shared" with Carol.

Carol Approaches Gardening as a Scientist

Carol experiments with gardening like I do with cooking. As an example, all the rest of us gardeners buy inoculant for our peas and beans, cause we know we're supposed to. The symbiotic bacteria allow legumes to extract nitrogen from the air. Every single seed catalog, every gardening book, tells us to do this. Instead of following the instructions, Carol instead inoculated half a crop and didn't inoculate the other half, proving to herself it didn't matter at all.

In her new book, I particularly enjoyed her experiments with regards to whether carrots really do love tomatoes. Hilarious!

The Resilient Gardener (previous book)

I've read this book through easily 10 times in a year, not to mention the number of times I searched for reminders of her advice while out in the garden.

Though it is largely about how to grow real food crops for serious calories: dry beans, squash, corn, potatoes and eggs; it is also about how to garden in the practical sense. Having a great heirloom corn around isn't nearly so handy if you don't know how to cook it.

And as another example, she doesn't just tell you why you have to weed, but which hoes she's found most useful, how to use them without straining your back or wrists and how to sharpen them.

There's gobs of useful information gleaned from years of gardening experience boiled down and useful not only for beginners, but for experienced gardeners as well.

If you are a prepper, of either the gardening or cooking variety, this book is for you.

The Tao of Vegetable Gardening (new book)

Besides going all Zen on us, Carol again addresses both the beginner gardener and more experienced gardener in her new book with many practical tips. The crops covered include tomatoes, greens and fresh peas and beans, more typical of the crops newbie gardeners grow than the previous book.

The book wasn't supposed to be released until late January, but I pre-ordered the Kindle version weeks earlier and it was delivered the next day. So I had read it twice before it's release date!

As expected, she covered the crops in detail, provided much practical information from her years of experience and many personal stories. But honestly, I didn't buy it for those reasons.

There were two topics I was particularly interested in: what Carol calls eat-all greens and late blight.

Eat-all Greens

This is a method Carol came up with to make greens easy to deal with. Basically, it involves planting a fast-growing greens crop at the appropriate density that it grows upright out of the dirt. Then to harvest, you whack it off high enough to avoid the ickiest outer leaves and dirt, so you have a nice bunch of greens ready to cook without doing a bunch of clean up post-harvest. She explains this system and the appropriate spacing for her favorite greens.

Unfortunately, she does not like chard, which is my primary spring/summer green, so I shall have to experiment to find the best spacing to use it for eat-all greens. And while she does do a kale, which is my primary fall/winter green, it's not my favorite kale, so I'll have to experiment with that too.

Late Blight

This is a disease that is spreading through North America affecting tomato crops. It is related to the disease that caused the Irish potato famine, so pretty serious stuff.

When I saw this was one of the topics of her book, I freaked out a little bit. See, last year, my tomatoes started getting icky towards the end of the season. The thing is, I had so darned many of them, and was so far behind on processing them, that I didn't care. Hubby asked me at one point what was wrong with them and I just said it's probably because I'm not watering them cause I have too darned many tomatoes. But when I saw Carol was covering the topic, I googled for pictures and saw I had this nasty stuff.

The thing is, not knowing about it, I did everything wrong. I threw tomatoes that didn't seem worth processing over the fence for the chickens, nicely spreading the stuff around through the surrounding yard. I left the vines in the garden after I tore them off their support, cause no other nightshade is going to grow there for a while. So I've got this stuff all over.

I think this year to get a primary tomato crop, I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and spray a fungicide. The copper stuff seems to be basically the copper salt of a fatty acid, which does not strike me as too bad. But it will be the very first time I've sprayed stuff in my garden. 13 years here, and I've never added anything but compost, wood ash and some minerals before. :(

Carol provides a list of the heirlooms that seem to have some resistance. I grow Brandywines for fresh eating cause they're famous for yumminess and are from right here, Pennsylvania. I grow Matt's Wild Cherry cause it's the only cherry I've ever liked, but only a plant or two cause I just eat them outside, they're too small to bother hauling in the house.

But my beloved Opalkas! This variety is what I grow most of for processing. They're yummy enough fresh, but they're just HUGE sausage-shaped tomatoes, thick and almost no juice or seeds. I tried a number of paste-types before I settled on these and I adore them. And if I don't do something, they may cease to exist cause of late blight.

Here's the deal, I don't save seeds. I never have. I approve of seed-saving. I pretty much only grow open-pollinated stuff so seed saving is possible. I want seed catalogs to keep doing the growouts, so I keep buying the seed. I just have never been a hardcore gardening geek like Carol is.

Last year was the first time I had planned to save seed, Carol's Magic Manna because I wanted to keep growing it. I wanted to acclimate it to my region. And frankly, Carol is one person and the stuff might go away if something happens to her and I WANT it. Unfortunately, my chickens were blissfully unaware of how important this corn was, they broke through my fence and ate all my corn. Having put up a new and more chicken-proof fence, I have ordered more seed from her this year.

That was my first time even intending to save seed and it failed. But I've certainly never considered breeding. I mean, I just grow stuff. That's what I do. The complicated stuff is for other people.

Carol is a biologist and therefore has a different attitude to breeding than I do. I only ever took a single genetics course as an undergraduate and all I really recall is gobs of fruit flies were involved. As a graduate student, I took a recombinant DNA course. Dammit Jim, I'm a chemist, not a geneticist!

Carol manages to explain how to breed our favorite heirlooms with hybrids to achieve blight-resistance. And her explanations are such that even those of us who have forgotten more about genetics than we ever knew, thus yielding an actual negative knowledgebase, can follow her reasoning.

Apparently, I'm going to have to get into this as she does not seem to love Opalkas like I do and they may cease to exist if I don't do something.

And That's The Other Reason I Love Her Books

Chickens notwithstanding, I attempted to grow a flour corn last year - for the first time. And next year, I am going to give over my entire SFG to breeding experiments to try to build a blight-resistant Opalka.

And THAT is the mark of a truly great book, that after you've read it, you change your actual behavior.

But I need to read her Breeding Your Own Vegetable Varieties book first...

If You Are a Gardener, Buy Her Books

Seriously. And if you are NOT a gardener, but want to cook more fresh foods, at least buy The Resilient Gardener.

Disclosure: Affiliate