Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gardening Books

With all the environmental, economic, and social damage that our hyperconsumerist capitalist system has caused, I'm coming to believe that the best way to resist the system is to reduce our dependence on it. Perhaps the most effective way to do this is to try and take control of our most basic needs, food being one of them. With that in mind, growing vegetables might be the most radical action we can commit in America today. In an effort to act on that belief, I've started mucking about with vegetables in my own meager backyard.

I live in a building in San Francisco's Sunset District. Before this area was covered over with asphalt and concrete, it consisted primarily of sand dunes, which don't support much plant life. Couple the poor soil quality with the general lack of sunlight--this area is notorious for its fog and cold, especially in the summer--and you've got very challenging conditions for agriculture. A few months ago I planted a few broccoli and tomato plants, only to reap meager crops. Hoping to gain whatever advantages I could, and thereby improve my yield, I've started reading books on gardening for growing tips. The two books pictured here are the first I've finished.

THE ORGANIC HOME GARDEN: HOW TO GROW FRUITS & VEGETABLE NATURALLY, by Patrick Lima, details the author's experience with organic agriculture. The bulk of the book is informational in its focus, but you get enough tidbits here and there to piece together an idea of the author's life, and it's a pretty interesting story. He mentions living in a city with his partner (who happens to be the guy who took the pictures for the book) working as a waiter and just getting buy. On a whim, Lima plants a few things in his backyard, and he becomes so excited by the concept of growing his own food that both he and his partner go out to the country and squat on some land. They don't have a car, or a house, or even a tent, and they end up passing the snowy winter by living off dried beans and rice in a canvas dome, reading gardening books all the while. When the summer comes they clear land and start planting. Twenty years later, they're still there, still growing food. That's a pretty radical story for a book aimed at a mainstream audience.

A lot of the information in the book concerns itself with soil quality. You get the feeling that turning organic matter into compost, and using it to improve the soil, has made up the majority of his life's work. And it's interesting to read about such a long-term pursuit, especially when our modern lives seem to be shrinking our attention spans into shorter and shorter sections. I get impatient when I have to wait 15 minutes for a bus, but Lima's spent days, weeks, months, for Twenty Years, just helping things rot.

There's also a lot of info on individual plants, how to plant them and care for them, how to work with the seasons. Most of it doesn't apply to me, cause the Sunset doesn't have a summer, or a winter either. Just continual fog and cold.

The other book, CROPS IN POTS by Bob Purnell, takes the fertilizer and pesticide approach to growing things. I'd originally been interested in the idea of growing things in pots because I saw it as a way to get around my soil quality issues--just fill the pots with decent soil and you're ready to go--but this book states that a plant will use all the nutrients in a pot full of soil in just a month or so, while its growth period might last a lot longer. Purnell's solution is to dump in fertilizer, which doesn't appeal to me because doing that causes the very environmental damage, and dependence on our economy, I'm trying to minimize by growing some of my own food. The book spends more time on arranging for visual appeal than it does on growing for food purposes. In the end, it was a waste of my time.

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