DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!
May 15 2015

(Not So Still) Life with Soil

by Dea Anne M

So yesterday morning I walked out my back door to head off to work only to find a squirrel rooting through my strawberry bed. I yelled at it, and it hopped away–but before he disappeared, he turned around, sat up on his hind legs and showed me the fat strawberry he was holding in his mouth. “Time to buy some netting,” I thought. The berries are coming in buckets right now and are proving irresistible to the birds as well. While I think of myself as a friend to wildlife, I am a selfish creature when it comes to strawberries and I’m not growing them to share with the non-human citizens of the backyard. Regular readers of this blog know that I have gardened for years. Despite limited success with such experiments as square foot gardening and ongoing battles with–yes–squirrels, growing fruits and vegetables remains a passion…in spite of smug furry animals thumbing their small noses at me.

Are you interested in testing the gardening waters for yourself? Have you experimented with gardening and now hope to broaden your skills? Maybe you would like to explore the experiences of others. If so, DCPL has the resources that you want.

Just getting started? Check out Grow Cook Eat: A Food Lover’s Guide to Kitchen Gardening, including 50 Recipes, plus Harvesting and Storage Tips by Willi Galloway. Not only will you find here a wealth of information grow cookto help you begin your gardening adventure, you’ll also find tips on storing your harvest and recipes with which to cook it. And if you want to start small, Jane Courtier’s Fast, Fresh Garden Edibles: Quick Crops for Small Spaces will tell you everything you need to know about growing an effective garden in containers and window boxes. My very first garden was a pepper and two tomato plants in large pots on my back deck. There was no going back after that.

If you’ve been gardening for a while and you’re interested in expanding the scope of what you grow, then Brett L. Markham’s The Mini Farming Guide to Vegetable Growing: Self-Sufficiency from Asparagus to Zucchini might be just what you’re looking for, wildlifeespecially if you have ambitions at self-sufficiency. If you’re anything like the kind of gardener I am, then just the title of Tammi Hartung’s The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature is enough to make you break into snorting laughter. My first act on discovering that rabbits were decimating my lettuce plants would certainly not be to plant parsley, just for them, to graze on instead. It makes sense though. Overall, Hartung makes an excellent case for living in harmony with the fauna in our gardens, and I would expect that she speaks from deep experience since she runs a successful (and large) organic herb and vegetable farm in Colorado.

Gardening is, all in all, a rewarding pastime and pleasure for me and for so many others who have embraced it.

…and then, there’s farming. Many people farm, of course, because farming has been a part of their family for generations. There’s another type of farmer, though, who becomes such by making a radical change in a lifestyle (often urban) that has lost its charm. Sometimes, these people write books about the experience. Her are three good ones available at DCPL.

One of my favorite accounts is The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristan Kimball. Kimball was a dirty lifejournalist living in New York City who encountered a young farmer named Mark for a story that she was working on. Soon enough, she found herself married to him and part-owner of Essex Farm in upstate New York. Kimball doesn’t sugarcoat the hardships of farm life. She and her husband use horses instead of tractors and for years they hand milked their dairy herd instead of using machines. Yet, the ongoing satisfaction and pleasures of building a successful farm and the joy of falling deeply in love–both with her husband and the beautiful land–comes shining through on every page. Highly recommended. You can read a story about Kimball that ran on NPR in 2010, as well as an excerpt from the book here.

dirtKimberly Schaye and Christopher Losee’s Stronger Than Dirt: How One Urban Couple Grew a Business, a Family, and a New Way of Life from the Ground Up is an account of the couple’s journey from busy, yet increasingly unsatisfying, urban lives to owning a 30-acre farm in upstate NY. Schaye and Losee alternate chapters. Each is an engaging writer, and the result is a vivid tale of their difficult–and ultimately successful–struggle to start Silverpetals Farm, which now sells flowers and vegetables at greenmarkets throughout the Northeast. True optimists, these two never give in or give up. Schaye breaks her leg at a certain point but the couple soldiers on. Inspiring.

Seattle restauranteur Kurt Timmermeister was only looking for an affordable growinghome when he found himself purchasing four acres of land on Vashon Island. Since then, Kurtwood Farms has grown into a profitable 13-acre farm that produces not only fruits and vegetables, but also meat, cheese and honey. In his book Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land, Timmermeister comes across as humble yet determined, and he certainly doesn’t gloss over how difficult–sometimes almost impossible seeming–farming can be. Here’s an article on Timmermeister that the New York Times ran in December of 2013.

In The Dirty Life, author Kimball tells of a man she met who spoke of his dream to have a farm someday and really get away from things and relax. Kimball thought to herself, “You don’t want a farm. What you want is a garden.” Well, I for one, recognize my limitations as well as my desires. I have an ongoing dream to live in the country (though not too far out in the country) and have not only a larger garden, but chickens and goats as well. I certainly harbor no ambitions for farming myself, although I admire those who do it. Anyway, for now, my modest raised beds give me all that my gardening heart desires.

Do you dream of gardening someday? Do you already garden? Do you use raised beds, containers, or do you garden in the ground?

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Camille May 16, 2015 at 11:49 AM

Dea Anne I am such a gardening wimp, promises promises, but you make it sound so easy, maybe this time…

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