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My Thoughts On Gardening When It Counts

As I read through Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon, I often felt like Winnie-the-Pooh must have. The amount of information contained in the book turned vegetable gardening into a formal, scientific process where optimum results often seemed unattainable.

Piglet was busy digging a small hole in the ground outside his house.
“Hallo, Piglet,” said Pooh.
“Hallo, Pooh,” said Piglet, giving a jump of surprise. “I knew it was you.”
“So did I,” said Pooh. “What are you doing?”
“I’m planting a haycorn, Pooh, so that it can grow up into an oak-tree, and have lots of haycorns just outside the front door instead of having to walk miles and miles, do you see, Pooh?”
“Supposing it doesn’t?” said Pooh.
“It will because Christopher Robin says it will, so that’s why I’m planting it.”
“Well,” said Pooh, “if I plant a honeycomb outside my house, then it will grow up into a beehive.”
Piglet wasn’t quite sure about this.
“Or a piece of a honeycomb,” said Pooh, “so as not to waste too much. Only then I might only get a piece of a beehive, and it might be the wrong piece, where the bees were buzzing and not hunnying. Bother.”
Piglet agreed that that would be rather bothering.
Besides, Pooh, it’s a very difficult thing, planting unless you know how to do it,” he said; and he put the acorn in the hole he had made, and covered it up with earth, and jumped on it. ~ House At Pooh Corner

Since most gardening isn’t a means of an income and we are often busy with other facets to our lives, so many of the details found on these pages are lost on the average gardener. I’m just not in the season of life where I can fret over the technical aspects of my compost and the NPK ratios in manure. I expect my summer days this year to be full of breastfeeding and sleep deprivation. Calming a fussy newborn and trying to keep a toddler from wandering off. Reading lessons and exploring Creation, learning hymns and memorizing verses of Scripture. Applying bandages and cleaning broken eggs. Mediating squabbles and chasing a run away puppy.

Despite the fact that the author of Gardening When it Counts, who is the founder of Territorial Seed Company, seems to have a chip on his shoulder and made numerous attempts to use reverse psychology to coerce his readers to implement his methods, somehow I persevered in reading through this book and ultimately I believe my garden may end up better off for it.

My Thoughts on Gardening When It Counts

Gardening Is Hard Work

The Lord’s original intent for man was to stay occupied by  dressing and keeping a garden.  (Genesis 2:15) It wasn’t until the curse that working the land became difficult. (Genesis 3:17)

And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed [is] the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat [of] it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou [art], and unto dust shalt thou return.

The fact of the matter is that, while gardening often is hard, as there are many obstacles to surmount and it really is a never ending task, we like to do it. Most folks I imagine- I know we do- feel such a sense of satisfaction when sitting down to a meal prepared with ingredients that are the bounty of a harvest blessed and made prosperous by the Lord; grown with the same calloused hands that are now gripping the fork.  I had been approaching this growing season full of dreams and aspirations of a flourishing patch of vegetables and as I was reading through most of this book I felt the wind go right out of my sails.  Rather than providing motivation and inspiration to become more self-sufficient, I felt as though my plans were bound to fail!

I don’t mean to totally avert any prospective reader from this book however, just to give a word of caution. As evidence of that, I fully intend to purchase a copy of this book for my bookshelf in the future. (I’ve been reading a copy on loan from the library.) There is too much good information buried in this book to completely throw it to the curb. (While I’m giving warnings out, the word “humanure” is found within the pages. It’s jarring to read. Just skip those sentences and label them as “things-I-don’t-want-to-think-about-EVER.)

My Thoughts on Gardening When It Counts

Dirty Little Details

Following a snarky introduction in chapter one, the following chapter (2) focuses on basics. Topics covered include soil, compost and fertilizer composition requirements and how to amend them. There is a very useful chart listing low, medium, and high demand vegetables.

In Tools and Tasks (chapter 3), a basic and precise methodology is detailed for preparing land for growing and what tools are necessary (shovel and hoe) and which ones aren’t (tiller). You’ll learn how to wisely purchase your tools, sharpen and maintain them.

Be prepared to be discouraged during this chapter, you’re ground can’t properly be prepared. At least that’s the way I felt.

I found this chapter to be pertinent for us now as we had been contemplating venturing into raised bed gardening for the first time this year which the author of Gardening When it Counts, discourages. The primary reason being that raised beds are designed to maximize the use of the land giving each plant less room to grow. There are, therefore, less nutrients available to each plant. Less nutrients = less nutrition. In the end, when contemplating to raise, or not to raise, it all depends on what you’re planting. Small seeds will do better in raised beds as the soil is less compact and it’s easier for them to push through. Large seeds are capable of pushing through harder soil. I experienced this first hand last year as we did have one lonely raised bed in the corner of the garden for growing carrots and radishes and it was the first time that I’ve successfully grown a carrot. Raising the beds shouldn’t mean crowding the vegetable growing in it. Sure with fewer plants, you’ll get a slightly smaller yield, but you’ll be rewarded with superior taste and nutrition. In addition to a two page plant spacing chart in the book, the root systems of many vegetables are diagrammed in the last chapter illustrating exactly how much room should be alloted for proper growth.

Another bubble of mine was burst when I read that hoeing is the recommended method of weeding and mulching is generally advised against especially if you don’t live in a climate where the ground doesn’t freeze in the winter and summers aren’t hot enough to rapidly decompose the mulch. I had been counting on mulching to keep me from pulling weeds daily. Negatives of mulching included the fact that it is always in the way and that hay mulch will grow seed (making weeds); mulching doesn’t keep your soil from losing water as proponents tout; that the mulch requires constant re-supplying and throws off the balance of the nutrients in the soil; increases the amount of time required for the soil to warm in the spring; and invites pests where the soil doesn’t freeze. For me, since it can get pretty hot here in the summer and it definitely freezes in the winter, the jury is still out on this one. I just don’t know if time will be a commodity that I’ll have this summer. I know that weeds rob the vegetable plants of nutrients and must be attended to and are just as undesirable as the mulching could be.

The chapter {4} on Garden Centers cautions buyers when making purchases of seedlings instead of starting your own by discussing common garden center practices and how to make wise choices while shopping. Commercial seed quality and germination standards are covered and for those rejecting the garden center’s offerings how to start your own seed. (The easy way and the hard ~technical~ way.)

Seed discussion is continued in the next chapter{5} and includes how to properly shop from seed catalogues (it’s based on where you live), recommended companies, and includes very detailed seed starting methods and tips.

I must admit my head was left spinning after reading about watering{6}. There are seemingly so many factors to consider and I’m now certain that my garden will either be hopelessly over- or under-watered! And this as a result of reading from someone who advocates planning your garden so that it won’t need irrigation. Ultimately he recommends to heavily thin your plantings during droughts in order to combat the lack of moisture available to each plant. And while I like the concept of not having to constantly worry about watering, in tough times, I don’t mind dragging out the ole’ garden hose and giving the plants a drink.

Now here’s  where the book really started to pull me in. It took about a hundred and fifty pages to do it, but the homeschool mom in me was intrigued by measuring the clay content in soil and the different methods of fertilizing mentioned in this chapter. I’m sure I’ll be posting more on this later this summer as we take science class out to the garden!

Chapter {7} was a crash course on composting, a topic that is more thoroughly covered in another book
I was eager to read this chapter because we just started a compost pile this year and after having read from other experienced chicken owners how great the deep-litter method was because it was easy to compost, the first layer in our pile is wood chips mixed with chicken manure collected from the coop during the first cleaning from over the winter. And with one wrong decision, we effectively made our work three times as hard and have basically ruined our pile before it even had a chance to get off to a good start! Learning how to properly compost is obviously an art form and will take years of diligent tending to effectively achieve maximum results. Because of the great amount of detail on these pages, I’d be scared to buy the aforementioned composting book, but will be referencing these pages often as I try to build a healthy compost heap.

My Thoughts on Gardening When It Counts

The rest of the book is devoted to detailed, natural tricks and tips for dealing with insects and diseases {8} and comprehensive growing suggestions {9} for the various low, medium, and high demand vegetables. I felt like I was sifting through a gold mine and I kept thinking, “I need this book, I’ll never remember all of this!” In the end, the author of Gardening When it Counts, was successful in that now I’ll be purchasing his book, experimenting with many of his methods, and am making a general recommendation to do likewise to any other readers of mine that have a green thumb.

A New Approach

The most invaluable thing that I gleaned from reading this book is the shift in my mentality and approach to gardening. After much discouragement, Mr. Solomon succeeded at educating me to at least be concerned about how the quality of my soil effects the nutrition of my vegetables. He goes into much more detail on this topic in his newest book, The Intelligent Gardener. I have never viewed successful gardening as a quality vs. quantity issue. My focus was solely, “How much can I grow?” I always assumed that freshness was the key to optimum nutritional value and for that reason have rejected a lot of the modern organic hype (realizing that if my apple is pesticide-free but was wrinkly and in the beginning stages of decomposition, it wasn’t going to be fueling my body anyway- just emptying my pocketbook), opting instead for washing locally produced food. Together these books have shaped my gardening philosophy. My new focus is more on nutrition and less on abundance. If I were to grow intensively in the garden I would have to be very careful in my management to make sure I still get healthy produce. Naturally, the next logical step is to implement many of his suggestions to improve the quality of the vegetables I grow including improving the soil as much as time and materials allow, giving plants breathing room for their roots to grow and gather nutrients.

But it would be nice to have a bountiful harvest while at the same time improving the nutrition in your food, wouldn’t it?

Last update on 2024-02-21 at 22:21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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  1. Oh, and I meant to say that I would have no garden at all in my climate if I didn’t water and hoeing isn’t as bad as I thought. Last summer, we pulled and hoed both. We found that the hoeing was a lot faster and actually fairly easy – especially early in the morning when it’s cool.

  2. Quinn,
    Now I remember that book… I quit reading after the first page because he was so negative and seemed very prideful. I may need to plow through and try it again. I’ll continue to do both raised beds and in ground planting because some things in my area just do better that way – we have a HUGE gopher issue and until that is under control (probably never because there is acres of undeveloped land around me), planting in raised beds for certain crops actually makes it possible. My larger produce such as potatoes, tomatoes, squash, etc. all go directly in the ground. Lettuce, radishes, etc. go in boxes.

    I wouldn’t sweat the compost issue too much. Since the “fall” everything is in process of breaking down anyway – it’s more a matter of patience in my opinion, unless you are trying to achieve a sterile compost with high heat. I just let it happen slowly.

  3. Thanks so much for writing a very good review! I think I would benefit from reading the book – though I’m sure it would be over my head too!

    I was surprised that he discourages mulching. I don’t know if I would survive as a gardener without mulching! It saves so much weeding. I thought it was adding to the nutrition of our soil since our soil is better now then when we moved here seven years ago. But we do have cold winters and hot summers and the mulch is all composted by the next year.

    Thanks again for the review!

  4. Being a novice vegetable gardener myself…I think that book might be a little over my head 🙂 But that’s okay, I love gardening. After all, we were created to do it initially (as you mentioned). Some have more desire than others…but in the end, we’ll all be working on making the earth beautiful whether it’s through flowers or vegetables 🙂

  5. I love Winnie the Pooh! Such great stories. I feel like Pooh sometimes too:) Especially when it comes to our compost pile. I’ll have to check out that chapter:)