Tiny farming: books

More books arrive

More books arrive

No matter how digital things get, books arriving by mail is always…a treat! I did download the ebook version of The Intelligent Gardener over a week ago, it’s now on laptop and smartphone, but still wanted the hardcopy…and now it’s in my hands. Sepp Holzer’s Permaculture was an impulse buy, browsing Amazon is pretty much like being in a bookshop: lots of temptation. Anyhow, print matters! :)

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The Intelligent Gardener

The Intelligent Gardener

More winter reading , and the buzzword is…”remineralization,” which here means carefully replacing missing soil minerals in a holistic way (as opposed to just topping up with this or that). The other keyphrase is what that leads to: “nutrient-dense food.” The book is The Intelligent Gardener by Steve Solomon, published only a couple of months ago. I heard about it chatting with Shannon, and read it while visiting their farm in Nova Scotia, last week or so. Only a few pages in, it became a kind of tipping point experience for me. Where I used to happily rely on cow manure and compost, thinking about soil chemistry only in bits and pieces, now I find myself suddenly quite FOCUSED on the arcane details of cation exchange capacity, sample extraction methods, and the like… Odd!

“Skepticism is a healthy attitude when it comes to taking garden advice,” says the preface, and then the book takes off on a kinda wild ride through Solomon’s world of soil and fertility, including interesting attacks on popular beliefs in organic growing, like the reverence for compost, and in general, the organic practices promoted by Rodale to millions of North American gardeners. The main purpose of the book, though, is to provide practical and easy-to-follow, soil test-based remineralization instructions. Which it does.

Definitely worth a read, and quite possibly a game-changer depending on how you manage your own garden dirt. More to follow…and my tubular soil sampling probe should soon be on its way!

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Dirt Farmer’s Dialogue

Dirt Farmers' Dialogue (book)

At the top of the winter reading book stack. From the 1970s. Bought by chance from a used book table in the trade show at an organic farming conference. Always fun to hear someone explain what they know and believe, in simple, articulate words. As opposed to…weasel words!

“When I am milking my cows in the barn early in the morning or when I am working in the field, sitting on a tractor for many hours with little interruption, sometimes with searchlights into the night, who is there to talk to? It is then that I have put questions to myself and tried to find the answers, and in writing about farming, why not retain this form?”

Um, why not! Dirt Farmer’s Dialogue, Carsten Jens Pank, B-D Press, 1976. More to follow…

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Building Soils for Better Crops

Building Soils for Better Crops, 3rd Edition

Had the downloaded digital version of this book since the 2nd edition, for at least a couple of years now, dipped into it, but still haven’t read it through. I should and I will. This winter! The 3rd edition of Building Soils for Better Crops: Sustainable Soil Management came out last year and it’s even better, full of practical science for the upward-looking tiny farmer and veggie gardener. Here’s the blurb: “A one-of-a-kind, practical guide to ecological soil management. It provides step-by-step information on soil-improving practices as well as in-depth background—from what soil is to the importance of organic matter. Case studies of farmers from across the country provide inspiring examples of how soil—and whole farms—have been renewed through these techniques. A must-read for farmers, educators and students alike.” The PDF version is a free download, the printed version is about 20 bucks. There’s a fair number of soil books and books that cover soil out there, but for the tiny farmer, this is pretty much one of a kind.

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Reading about building stuff

Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings book

A great chance find at the library, lying there on top of a returned-book cart. This isn’t a book review or recommendation, although Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings is a cool browsing volume, full of clear explanations, instructions, and photos. What it did was remind me, as my year of living mainly in town has its effect, how little most of us (I’m talking about the majority of North Americans, at least, living in cities and towns) have to do with actually building things. And how kinda HELPLESS we are, not knowing how to put together and repair the structures we need. I read somewhere that in the 1950′s, around half of the houses in Toronto (so, I assume, in other big cities as well) were built by the owners. Who’d think of doing that now?

The interesting thing is, like growing food, building basic structures IS NOT HARD. For me, working alongside Bob to put up a wood-framed, winterized, 450 sq. ft. barn extension clued me in to that a few years back. Not a huge project, but it was basically a tiny house constructed to withstand cold Canadian winters. We leveled land and poured a concrete pad, built a concrete block retaining wall, framed, installed a metal roof, windows and doors, insulated and wired…everything. Being warm and dry in the middle of winter inside a structure I knew literally down to the nuts and bolts was satisfying and fundamental. Working alongside someone with old-school farmer skills, following his lead, doing whatever he did, made it…simple.

There aren’t that many old-school farmers left to learn from, but we do have books! :)

Barns, Sheds & Outbuildings book detail

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Hitting the books: Composting!

The Rodale Book of Composting

Winters on the tiny farm have always been a time for research and a bit of book learning. My first two seasons were crazy for reading, especially the winter before Year 1, when I had four months to pick up enough, from zero knowledge, using books and the Net, to map out the initial one-acre plot, order seed, get some gear, and “pass” the initial organic certification inspection, in order to start the market garden that spring. That was fun!

Over the last six years, though, a curious thing happened. My original urge to find out how everything worked, to soak up endless technical detail, full of labels and scientific explanations, died down quite a bit—often I’d rather watch a squash decay than read about it…

It seemed more fun to find specific, practical solutions on the farm: how to fix this or improve that. At the same time, I’ve become more and more aware of the growing process as a whole (and really, how relatively little I have to do with it…), not so concerned about its parts. It’s a little hard to explain, though real easy to feel. Maybe it’s just…a phase!

MEANWHILE, this year, Year 7, is a bit of a shake-up. Compared to the old farm, the new farm is pretty bare-bones. One big change: I don’t have the tons of well-aged, almost completely composted cow manure that was available there.

Every year, I made manure-based compost in 50′ (15m) windrows, incorporating crop residue and culled veggies, turning it with the tiny tractor, checking it out, but it wasn’t CRITICAL to fertility. A fall spreading of fine, on-farm, composted manure always did the trick!

Now, with no on-farm animals yet (chickens to come first!), and no prospect of generating huge amounts of manure, compost that relies more on plant sources will be my new friend. Composting and green manure are on my mind.

New necessities require…new learning! So along with everything else over the last 2-3 months, there’s been a more intense hitting of the books, thinking over, chatting, scouring the Net. It’s not exactly like starting over, but it’s definitely…FRESH. I’m excited. More as it happens!

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