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Organic Gardener's

by Steve Solomon


On composting and soil organic matter
  1. Workshop on the Role of Earthworms in the Stabilization of Organic Residues, Vol. I and II. Edited by Mary Appelhof. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Beech Leaf Press of the Kalamazoo Nature Center, 1981. If ever there was a serious investigation into the full range of the earthworm's potential to help Homo Sapiens, this conference explored it. Volume II is the most complete bibliography ever assembled on the earthworm.

  2. Appelhof, Mary. Worms Eat My Garbage. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Flower Press, 1982. A delightful, slim, easy reading, totally positive book that offers enthusiastic encouragement to take advantage of vermicomposting.

  3. Barrett, Dr. Thomas J. Harnessing the Earthworm. Boston: Wedgewood Press, 1959.

  4. The Biocycle Guide to the Art & Science of Composting. Edited by the Staff of Biocycle: Journal of Waste Recycling. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: J.G. Press, 1991. The focus of this book is on municipal composting and other industrial systems. Though imprinted "Emmaus" this is not the Rodale organization, but a group that separated from Rodale Press over ten years ago. included on the staff are some old Organic Gardening and Farming staffers from the 1970s, including Gene Logdson and Jerome Goldstein. A major section discussing the biology and ecology of composting is written by Clarence Golueke. There are articles about vermicomposting, anaerobic digestion and biogasification, and numerous descriptions of existing facilities.

  5. Campbell, Stu. Let It Rot! Pownal, Vermont: Storey Communications, Inc., 1975. Next to my book, the best in-print at-home compost making guide.

  6. Darwin, Charles R. The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms with Observations on their Habits. London: John Murray & Co., 1881.

  7. Dindal, Daniel L. Ecology of Compost. Syracuse, New York: N.Y. State Council of Environmental Advisors and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, 1972. Actually, a little booklet but very useful.

  8. Golueke, Clarence G., Ph.D. Composting: A Study of the Process and its Principles. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1972. Golueke, writing in "scientific" says much of what my book does in one-third as many words that are three times as long. He is America's undisputed authority on composting.

  9. Hopkins, Donald P. Chemicals, Humus and the Soil. Brooklyn: Chemical Publishing Company, 1948. Any serious organic gardener should confront Donald Hopkins' thoughtful critique of Albert Howard's belief system. This book demolishes the notion that chemical fertilizers are intrinsically harmful to soil life while correctly stressing the vital importance of humus.

  10. Hopp, Henry. What Every Gardener Should Know About Earthworms. Charlotte, Vermont: Garden Way Publishing Company, 1973. Hopp was a world-recognized expert on the earthworm.

  11. Howard, Albert and Yeshwant D. Wad. The Waste Products of Agriculture: Their Utilization as Humus. London: Oxford University Press, 1931. Many organic gardeners have read Howard's An Agricultural Testament, but almost none have heard of this book. It is the source of my information about the original Indore composting system.

  12. - - - - - An Agricultural Testament. London & New York: Oxford University Press, 1940. Describes Howard's early crusade to restore humus to industrial farming.

  13. - - - - - The Soil and Health. New York: Devin Adair, 1947. Also published in London by Faber & Faber, titled Farming and Gardening for Health or Disease. A full development of Howard's theme that humus is health for plants, animals and people.

  14. Howard, Louise E. The Earth's Green Carpet. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1947. An oft-overlooked book by Howard's second wife. This one, slim volume expresses with elegant and passionate simplicity all of the basic beliefs of the organic gardening and farming movement. See also her Albert Howard in India.

  15. Kevan, D. Keith. Soil Animals. London: H. F. & G. Witherby Ltd., 1962. Soil zoology for otherwise well-schooled layreaders.

  16. King, F.H. Farmers of Forty Centuries or Permanent Agriculture in China, Korea and Japan. Emmaus: Rodale Press, first published 1911. Treasured by the organic gardening movement for its description of a long-standing and successful agricultural system based completely on composting. It is a great travel/adventure book.

  17. Koepf, H.H., B.D. Petterson, and W. Shaumann. Bio-Dynamic Agriculture: An Introduction. Spring Valley, New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1976. A good introduction to this philosophical/mystical system of farming and gardening that uses magical compost inoculants.

  18. Krasilnikov, N A. Soil Microorganisms and Higher Plants. Translated by Y.A. Halperin. Jerusalem: Israel Program for Scientific Translations, 1961. Organic gardeners have many vague beliefs about how humus makes plants healthy. This book scientifically explains why organic matter in soil makes plants healthy. Unlike most translations of Russian, this one is an easy read.

  19. Kühnelt, Wilhelm. Soil Biology: with special reference to the animal kingdom. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1976.Soil zoology at a level assuming readers have university- level biology, zoology and microbiology. Still, very interesting to well-read lay persons who are not intimidated by Latin taxonomy.

  20. Minnich, Jerry. The Earthworm Book: How to Raise and Use Earthworms for Your Farm and Garden. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1977. This book is a thorough and encyclopedic survey of the subject

  21. Minnich, Jerry and Marjorie Hunt. The Rodale Guide to Composting. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale Press, 1979. A very complete survey of composting at home, on the farm, and in municipalities. The book has been through numerous rewritings since the first edition; this version is the best. It is more cohesive and less seeming like it was written by a committee than the version in print now. Organic Gardening and Farming magazine may have been at its best when Minnich was a senior editor.

  22. Oliver, George Sheffield. Our Friend the Earthworm. Library no. 26. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1945. During the 1940s Rodale Press issued an inexpensive pamphlet library; this is one of the series.

  23. Pfeiffer, E.E. Biodynamic Farming and Gardening. Spring Valley, New York: Anthroposophic Press, 1938.

  24. Poincelot, R.P. The Biochemistry and Methodology of Composting. Vol. Bull. 727. Conn. Agric. Expt. Sta., 1972. A rigorous but readable review of scientific literature and known data on composting through 1972 including a complete bibliography.

  25. Russell, Sir E. John. Soil Conditions and Plant Growth. Eighth Ed., New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1950. The best soil science text I know of. Avoid the recent in-print edition that has been revised by a committee of current British agronomists. They enlarged Russell's book and made more credible to academics by making it less comprehensible to ordinary people with good education and intelligence through the introduction of unnecessary mathematical models and stilted prose. it lacks the human touch and simpler explanations of Russell's original statements.

  26. Schaller, Friedrich. Soil Animals. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1968. Soil zoology for American readers without extensive scientific background. Shaler was Kühnelt's student.

  27. Stout, Ruth. Gardening Without Work: For the Aging, the Busy and the Indolent. Old Greenwich, Connecticut: Devin Adair, 1961. The original statement of mulch gardening. Fun to read. Her disciple, Richard Clemence, wrote several books in the late 1970s that develop the method further.

Of interest to the serious food gardener

    I have learned far more from my ownself-directed studies than my formal education. From time to time I get enthusiasticabout some topic and voraciously read about it. When I started gardening in the early1970s l quickly devoured everything labeled "organic" in the local publiclibrary and began what became a ten-year subscription to Organic Gardening andFarming magazine. During the early 1980s the garden books that I wrote all hadthe word "organic" in the title.

    In the late 1980s my interest turnedto what academics might call 'the intellectual history of radical agriculture.' Ireread the founders of the organic gardening and farming movement, only to discoverthat they, like Mark Twain's father, had become far more intelligent since l lastread them fifteen years back. l began to understand that one reason so many organicgardeners misunderstood Albert Howard was that he wrote in English, not American.l also noticed that there were other related traditions of agricultural reform andfollowed these back to their sources. This research took over eighteen months ofheavy study. l really gave the interlibrary loan librarian a workout.

    Herewith are a few of the best titlesl absorbed during that research. l never miss an opportunity to help my readers discoverthat older books were written in an era before all intellectuals were afflicted withlifelong insecurity caused by cringing from an imaginary critical and nattery collegeprofessor standing over their shoulder. Older books are often far better than newones, especially if you'll forgive them an occasional error in point of fact. Weare not always discovering newer, better, and improved. Often we are forgetting andobscuring and confusing what was once known, clear and simple. Many of these extraordinaryold books are not in print and not available at your local library. However, a simpleinquiry at the Interlibrary Loan desk of most libraries will show you how easy itis to obtain these and most any other book you become interested in.

Albrecht, William A. The Albrecht Papers, Vols 1 &2. Kansas City: Acres,USA 1975.

Albert Howard, Weston Price, Sir Robert McCarrison, and William Albrecht share equal responsibility for creating this era's movement toward biologically sound agriculture. Howard is still well known to organic gardeners, thanks to promotion by the Rodale organization while Price, McCarrison, and Albrecht have faded into obscurity. Albrecht was chairman of the Soil Department at the University of Missouri during the 1930s. His unwavering investigation of soil fertility as the primary cause of health and disease was considered politically incorrect by the academic establishment and vested interests that funded agricultural research at that time. Driven from academia, he wrote prolifically for nonscientific magazines and lectured to farmers and medical practitioners during the 1940s and 1950s. Albrecht was willing to consider chemical fertilizers as potentially useful though he did not think chemicals were as sensible as more natural methods. This view was unacceptable to J.l. Rodale, who ignored Albrecht's profound contributions.

Balfour, Lady Eve B. The Living Soil. London: Faber and Faber, 1943.

Lady Balfour was one of the key figures in creating the organic gardening and farming movement. She exhibited a most remarkable intelligence and understanding of the science of health and of the limitations of her own knowledge. Balfour is someone any serious gardener will want to meet through her books. Lady Balfour proved Woody Allen right about eating organic brown rice; she died only recently in her late 90s, compus mentis to the end.

Borsodi, Ralph. Flight from the City: An Experiment in Creative Living on theLand. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1933.

A warmly human back-to-the-lander whose pithy critique of industrial civilization still hits home. Borsodi explains how production of life's essentials at home with small-scale technology leads to enhanced personal liberty and security. Homemade is inevitably more efficient, less costly, and better quality than anything mass-produced. Readers who become fond of this unique individualist's sociology and political economy will also enjoy Borsodi's This Ugly Civilization and The Distribution Age.

Brady, Nyle C. The Nature and Properties of Soils, Eighth Edition. New York:Macmillan, 1974.

Through numerous editions and still the standard soils text for American agricultural colleges. Every serious gardener should attempt a reading of this encyclopedia of soil knowledge every few years. See also Foth, Henry D. Fundamentals of Soil Science.

Bromfield, Louis. Malibar Farm. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1947.

Here is another agricultural reformer who did not exactly toe the Organic Party line as promulgated by J.l. Rodale. Consequently his books are relatively unknown to today's gardening public. If you like Wendell Berry you'll find Bromfield's emotive and Iyrical prose even finer and less academically contrived. His experiments with ecological farming are inspiring. See also Bromfield's other farming books: Pleasant Valley, In My Experience, and Out of the Earth.

Carter, Vernon Gill and Dale, Tom. Topsoil and Civilization. Norman: Universityof Oklahoma Press, 1974. (first edition, 1954)

This book surveys seven thousand years of world history to show how each place where civilization developed was turned into an impoverished, scantily-inhabited semi-desert by neglecting soil conservation. Will ours' survive any better? Readers who wish to pursue this area further might start with Wes Jackson's New Roots for Agriculture.

Ernle, (Prothero) Lord. English Farming Past and Present, 6th edition. Firstpublished London: Longmans, Green & Co., Ltd., 1912, and many subsequent editions.Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1962.

Some history is dry as dust. Ernle's writing lives like that of Francis Parkman or Gibbon. Anyone serious about vegetable gardening will want to know all they can about the development of modern agricultural methods.

Foth, Henry D. Fundamentals of Soil Science, Eighth Edition. New York: JohnWylie & Sons, 1990.

Like Brady's text, this one has also been through numerous editions for the past several decades. Unlike Brady's work however, this book is a little less technical, an easier read as though designed for non-science majors. Probably the best starter text for someone who wants to really understand soil.

Hall, Bolton. Three Acres and Liberty. New York: Macmillan, 1918.

Bolton Hall marks the start of our modern back-to-the- land movement. He was Ralph Borsodi's mentor and inspiration. Where Ralph was smooth and intellectual, Hall was crusty and Twainesque.

Hamaker, John. D. The Survival of Civilization. Annotated by Donald A. Weaver.Michigan/ California: Hamaker-Weaver Publishers, 1982.

Forget global warming, Hamaker believably predicts the next ice age is coming. Glaciers will be upon us sooner than we know unless we reverse intensification of atmospheric carbon dioxide by remineralization of the soil. Very useful for its exploration of the agricultural use of rock flours. Helps one stand back from the current global warming panic and ask if we really know what is coming. Or are we merely feeling guilty for abusing Earth?

Hopkins, Cyril G. Soil Fertility and Permanent Agriculture. Boston: Ginn andCompany, 1910.

Though of venerable lineage, this book is still one of the finest of soil manuals in existence. Hopkins' interesting objections to chemical fertilizers are more economic than moral.

--- - - - - - - The Story of the Soil: From the Basis of Absolute Science andReal Life. Boston: Richard G. Badger, 1911.

A romance of soil science similar to Ecotopia or Looking Backward. No better introduction exists to understanding farming as a process of management of overall soil mineralization. People who attempt this book should be ready to forgive that Hopkins occasionally expresses opinions on race and other social issues that were acceptable in his era but today are considered objectionable by most Americans.

Jenny, Hans. Factors of Soil Formation: a System of Quantitative Pedology.New York: McGraw Hill, 1941.

Don't let the title scare you. Jenny's masterpiece is not hard to read and still stands in the present as the best analysis of how soil forms from rock. Anyone who is serious about growing plants will want to know this data.

McCarrison, Sir Robert. The Work of Sir Robert McCarrison. ed. H. M. Sinclair.London Faber and Faber, 1953.

One of the forgotten discoverers of the relationship between soil fertility and human health. McCarrison, a physician and medical researcher, worked in India contemporaneously with Albert Howard. He spent years "trekking around the Hunza and conducted the first bioassays of food nutrition by feeding rat populations on the various national diets of India. And like the various nations of India, some of the rats became healthy, large, long-lived, and good natured while others were small, sickly, irritable, and short-lived.

Nearing, Helen & Scott. Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simplyin a Troubled World. First published in 1950. New York: Schocken Books, 1970.

Continuing in Borsodi's footsteps, the Nearings homesteaded in the thirties and began proselytizing for the self-sufficient life-style shortly thereafter. Scott was a very dignified old political radical when he addressed my high school in Massachusetts in 1961 and inspired me to dream of country living. He remained active until nearly his hundredth birthday. See also: Continuing the Good Life and The Maple Sugar Book.

Parnes, Robert. Organic and Inorganic Fertilizers. Mt. Vernon, Maine: WoodsEnd Agricultural Institute, 1986.

Price, Weston A. Nutrition and Physical Degeneration. La Mesa, California:Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation, reprinted 1970. (1939)

Sits on the "family bible" shelf in my home along with Albrecht, McCarrison, and Howard. Price, a dentist with strong interests in prevention, wondered why his clientele, 1920s midwest bourgeoisie, had terrible teeth when prehistoric skulls of aged unlettered savages retained all their teeth in perfect condition. So he traveled to isolated parts of the Earth in the early 1930s seeking healthy humans. And he found them-- belonging to every race and on every continent. And found out why they lived long, had virtually no degeneration of any kind including dental degeneration. Full of interesting photographs, anthropological data, and travel details. A trail-blazing work that shows the way to greatly improved human health.

Rodale, J.I. The Organic Front. Emmaus: Rodale Press, 1948.

An intensely ideological statement of the basic tenets of the Organic faith. Rodale established the organic gardening and farming movement in the United States by starting up Organic Gardening and Farming magazine in 1942. His views, limitations and preferences have defined "organic" ever since. See also: Pay Dirt.

Schuphan, Werner. Nutritional Values in Crops and Plants. London: Faber andFaber, 1965.

A top-rate scientist asks the question: "Is organically grown food really more nutritious?" The answer is: "yes, and no."

Smith, J. Russell. Tree Crops: A Permanent Agriculture. New York: Harcourt,Brace and Company, 1929.

No bibliography of agricultural alternatives should overlook this classic critique of farming with the plow. Delightfully original!

Solomon, Steve. Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades. Seattle, Washington:Sasquatch Books, 1989.

My strictly regional focus combined with the reality that the climate west of the Cascades is radically different than the rest of the United States has made this vegetable gardening text virtually unknown to American gardeners east of the Cascades. It has been praised as the best regional garden book ever written. Its analysis of soil management, and critique of Rodale's version of the organic gardening and farming philosophy are also unique. I founded and ran Territorial Seed Company, a major, mail-order vegetable garden seed business; no other garden book has ever encompassed my experience with seeds and the seed world.

--------Waterwise Gardening. Seattle, Sasquatch Books, 1992.

How to grow vegetables without dependence on irrigation. Make your vegetables able to survive long periods of drought and still be very productive. My approach is extensive, old fashioned and contrarian, the opposite of today's intensive, modern, trendy postage-stamp living.

Turner, Frank Newman. Fertility, Pastures and Cover Crops Based on Nature's OwnBalanced Organic Pasture Feeds. reprinted from: Faber and Faber, 1955. ed., SanDiego: Rateaver, 1975.

An encouragement to farm using long rotations and green manuring systems from a follower of Albert Howard. Turner offered a remarkably sensible definition for soil fertility, in essence, "if my livestock stay healthy, live long, breed well, and continue doing so for at least four generations, then my soil was fertile."

Voisin, Andre. Better Grassland Sward. London: Crosby Lockwood and Sons, Ltd.,1960.

The first half is an amazing survey of the role of the earthworm in soil fertility. The rest is just Voisin continuing on at his amazing best. No one interested in soil and health should remain unfamiliar with Voisin's intelligence. See also: Grass Tetany, Grass Productivity, and Soil, Grass and Cancer.

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