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Book Review (Step by Step Organic Vegetable Gardening by Shepherd Ogden)


I just finished reading Organic Vegetable Gardening by Shepherd Ogden. Normally I tear through gardening books but I have to admit that this 288 page book took me awhile. On one hand there is a lot of personal information that happen to be specific tales of his own gardening experience in Vermont, which of course is completely understandable, one writes about their own experiences. The catch is though while the reader plugs away through Ogden's script you uncover a treasure of wealth and knowledge. This is a resource book, not a quick weekend read. He goes over the specifics of gardening in extreme detail from previous season garden prep to harvest. Then again I suppose the title of the book, "Step by Step", should have given that away to me.

It is interesting though how certain information can be so timely. The particular copy of the book that I am reading is from 1992. In it while talking about the environmental impact we play as gardeners he mentions natural gas and its role in big agriculture, specifically for creating ammonia which is used in the massive amounts of fertilizers monoculture farming uses. The issue of natural gas is huge in Delaware County NY right now and I couldn't help but see the connection between two environmentally destructive industries.

The other bit of info that really stood out to me was his discussion on pesticides in the world of organic farming. Over the last year or so I have found myself leaning heavily towards a more holistic approach to gardening, most likely along the lines of what one would label permaculture or biodynamic gardening, though I don't follow the rules of either to a T. For example I had a few friends in town recently and they were asking how long it took me to weed the garden. I explained that I take plants out that are really causing a problem for my produce but for the most part I allow a lot of the native plants to exist in the garden because they eventually flower inviting in pollinators and also create a natural habitat for beneficial insects. The point being I don't really address insects positive or negative with pesticides because they eventually take care of themselves in a healthy environment. Ogden in his book speaks of dangers involved in the "organic" use of pesticides. When one really breaks down what a biological, botanical or mineral pesticide does they realize that organic does not exactly mean safe. Obviously it is slightly better than the standard approach but how much better, especially to the gardener applying the poison is debatable. NPR recently did a report on organic pesticides, http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2011/06/18/137249264/organic-pesticides-not-an-oxymoron and readers and listeners went crazy accusing the station of being funded by Monsanto, personally I don't know if they are, but the point is that most people have been lulled into thinking there are no poisons involved in organic food production and that is simply not the case. Thus the reason I am going with a more holistic approach towards the whole process, or what Ogden himself would call being a "Steward of the land".

Another note on the pesticides that I found interesting is that they are basically left overs from World War II chemical warfare research , organochlorines, or for those of us who have read Rachel Carson, Chlorinated hydrocarbons. In other words we take something meant to kill people and spray it on our food to kill insects and then sell it to the public to feed their families with?

All in all I enjoyed this book. It was extremely educational and Ogden obviously takes pride in the process and art of gardening. I definitely would like this one in my collection because it really is a book that you could thumb through over and over again. Pick up a copy you will not be disappointed.

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead  https://www.facebook.com/seedtoharvestbossyhenhomestead/ which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here https://amileinhershoestalesofastayathomedad.wordpress.com/

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