Winter Reading Project, Post Script

Some other additions for the small scale ag side of things.  Notice that these are ALL from Chelsea Green.  They are a publisher (along with New Society Publishers) that I hit frequently and they are also offering 35% off EVERYTHING and free shipping over $100 until 12/31/10. Resilient Gardening has been on my short list for a year and with its glowing recommendations from several reader/bloggers, passing it up would be foolhardy at this point.  Laughton’s book is on a larger scale, but I refuse to let my dream of a small holding die and I also do consulting work on larger properties so that will be welcome reading as additional viewpoints are always welcome.  Cooper’s book seems to be right up my alley and I would like some more perspective from “over the pond”.

The Alternative Kitchen Garden
An A–Z

by Emma Cooper

“The Alternative Kitchen Garden is an evolving idea of what a kitchen garden could be in the twenty-first century: organic, environmentally sustainable, resilient, and about localizing at least some of our food production. It’s also a place not only for learning and practicing growing skills but also for enjoying ourselves and having fun. The Alternative Kitchen Garden is the ideal companion for anyone getting dirt under their fingernails for the first time and full of fascinating ideas and experiments for the adventurous gardener.”

Surviving and Thriving on the Land
How to Use Your Time and Energy to Run a Successful Smallholding

by Rebecca Laughton

“Surviving and Thriving on the Land looks at ways in which projects can be designed that care for the people involved in them as well as the earth that they are trying to protect. If land-based ecological projects are to offer a realistic solution to the problems we face in the twenty-first century, it is imperative that they be sustainable in terms of human energy. This book offers a framework, backed up by real-life examples, of issues to consider when setting up a new project or for overcoming human-energy-based problems in existing projects.”

The Resilient Gardener
Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times 

by Carol Deppe

“Scientist/gardener Carol Deppe combines her passion for gardening with newly emerging scientific information from many fields — resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine. In the last half of The Resilient Gardener, Deppe extends and illustrates these principles with detailed information about growing and using five key crops: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs.”

Enjoy your reading!


12 Responses

  1. Adding some of these to my winter reading list–thanks!

  2. I read the Carol Deppe book, and it’s good. It covers plant breeding, gardening, harvesting, and cooking food, as well as raising a laying flock, havesting, and cooking them. She’s head over heels in love with potatoes, and a treasure trove of information.

    My only quibble is she is very informative and well researched about her approach, while giving short shrift to reasonable alternatives. For instance, she likes overhead watering, so doesn’t describe alternatives like drip tape, etc. And again, she has some good methods for more sustainable gardening (different plant spacing, using less water, etc.) but doesn’t describe no-till methods as even existing.

    I would recommend reading it, but it isn’t the one perfect comprehensive book on personal sustainability, if there is such a thing.

    I’m also eyeing getting Mini-Farming: Self suffiency on 1/4 acre by Brett Markham, but it isn’t from Chelsea Green.

    • Thanks for the insights. I agree that there isn’t one book for ANY of this – and am incredibly skeptical of any book claiming to be that answer. As we re-write our individual reactions to the challenges that are confronting us we will need to pick and choose from the buffet of individual solutions that others have found. I expect no one to implement my solutions wholesale, and hope only to inspire and engage others in the thinking that they too can find their own solutions.

      That said, the more solutions you look for and are exposed to, i.e. the larger your buffet, the more likely you are to find the mix of dishes to suit your palate.

  3. Has anyone here read MetroFarm?

    It seems to plug growing high-value specialty crops, in or near the city. I know that’s different to growing food to feed yourself, but it may have some insights on small-scale intensive agriculture.

    Plus, if you can feed yourself off part of your land and make a living from the rest, that’d be a good thing, right?

  4. Well…this blew my morning of cleaning house away. I spent it checking out these authors/books and ordered them from the library. Thanks for the tip offs and links. I had a good morning. It is cooler and it rained and I think the Russian Comfrey has grown three inches overnight.

  5. this is kind of an out there suggestion, but i wonder if anyone has thought about applying lean manufacturing to gardening/mini-farming???….here is the book on lean manufacturing i’ve been meaning to read for a while. i linked to the old addition:

    • LEAN techniques are another name for mastering efficiency and minimizing redundancy and it could be strongly argued that this has been done to a staggering degree in conventional Ag. In a more sustainable or at least “unconventional” fashion SPIN Farming on the small scale, and massive CSA operations like Harmony Valley here in Wisconsin on the larger scale are truly amazing to behold in their organization and dedication to efficiency.

      A very strong caution is that any plan that maximizes efficiency sacrifices the redundancy of the system and when the environment moves outside of the one that the system was maximized for it will often collapse catastrophically. In other words efficiency and resiliency are often at odds. A sustainable system needs not just look at reducing chemical inputs, but also its ability to sustain itself through unplanned events and with Climate Change and Peak Oil on the way this needs to be a primary concern. Building redundancies into the system is one way to do this. Okala tomatoes will outproduce Oregon Spring 2:1 in most years, but in the cold wet years the Okala will produce almost nothing for a complete crop failure, but the Oregon Spring will produce a fair crop. An “efficient” garden plan will plant all Okala, but one that builds in redundancy will always plant a mix of plants to ensure a good harvest come drought, flood, or frost. Average yields over 4 years of pure Okala will be larger than 4 years of pure Oregon Spring, even with one season failing, but don’t visit the pantry in February the winter after that wet year.

      That isn’t to say that we can’t work to increase the potential for our systems – I am shooting for 2000#’s of food form about 1800 sq ft this coming year, and that will take careful planning and a keen eye for avoiding waste. But I am also leaving plenty of room for diversity and redundancy including the use of perennial food crops which are extremely dependable, but typically less productive until mature – which in the case of my chestnuts will be a decade or more.

  6. i always think its interesting to read something from a different discipline & seeing how it could apply. sure, not everything is going to translate from manufacturing to growing food, but i feel like you might be simplifying lean manufacturing a bit. from wikipedia:

    “Lean,” is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than the creation of value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thus a target for elimination. Working from the perspective of the customer who consumes a product or service, “value” is defined as any action or process that a customer would be willing to pay for. Basically, lean is centered on preserving value with less work.”

    sounds good! btw i’m my own customer, but if you are selling food you ought to have customers who see the value in how you grow it.

    in lean man. there is also an emphasis on documenting progress & continual improvements. what first gave me the idea was garden planning because there is a lot of work done on reducing wasted movement by planning the flow of work through the shop, placement of machines etc. i think some of this naturally happens in permaculture for instance, but then again keyhole beds beg to differ!

    • #christhamrin
      Interesting concept there, and I will have to do more research when I get off work, as I can’t get to wikipedia or google through work internet, but I can get here, go figure.
      So my thought would be that Eliot Coleman of Four Season Farm in Maine would probably be doing closest to this approach. Reading his most recent book- Winter Harvest Handbook- he actually goes into great detail about effective “picking” techniques even discussing how he coaches his workers to harvest more produce with less movement, thereby decreasing harvest time, etc. Very much along the same lines as relocating machinery/equipment. He has also spent a good deal of time (8 seasons i think) doing winter growing only, with specific crops and very scientifically determining a planting to harvest timeline and cultivar list, plus he also designed loads of his own tools to better get the job done- definitely “documenting progress and continual improvements” focus there.
      And I recently saw a very cool Aikido-style double-digging method that was intentionally focused on effortless bed prep, ala Jeavons and Grow Biodynamic. The goal was to perform the same outcome -double dug beds- while using a minimum of movement, energy, and strength. Sort of like eliminating extra movements from a C&C mill cutter.
      But I do see Rob’s point, from the Bigger scale philosophy of focusing on efficiency. Certainly in a factory setting where you have a very specific output/product and can control all the inputs, seeking greater efficiency would be particularly valuable in building value. Working with a living natural system like a garden however, introduces not only uncontrolled inputs, but also creates a variety of desired outputs. Even if you go back to the Permaculture concept of stacking functions, the possible number of functions is nearly limitless: N-fixing, mulch building, dynamic accumulation of sub-soil minerals, filtering runoff, stabilizing slopes, food for people, food for animals, insect habitat for beneficials, trap crops for undesirables, bee forage, beauty, even scent/aroma. All of those are desirable and therefore outputs/products of a living system. So instead of a factory producing a car, it is more like you are a factory that produces a car that also drives itself, connects you to the internet, schedules all your appointments, cleans the garage, increases its own fuel efficiency over time, and on and on.
      If you were to manage a Garden solely for efficiency of output of a single product-food, not only do you miss the redundancy that Rob was discussing, but you also over simplify the desired outputs and in effect might actually decrease the “edge” opportunities which increase resilience even more by allowing for the unexpected.
      And then of course, the keyhole beds, whose purpose is not in maximizing efficient flow (dendritic paths do that) but rather in minimizing path in order to increase planting area-focusing on increasing planting density in a given space.
      So Maybe utilizing Lean thinking in individual micro-scale actions/tasks would be beneficial, but applying a Lean philosophical approach to management of a natural system would actually be creating a limiting factor (focus on efficiency in creation of value/output) on the output of that system.
      At least that is my take, based on the wiki insight above.

      • Well said Richard. Coleman is a master – and after having farmed for Market for 3 years – I can personally attest to his tool design and techniques and their ability to make work more pleasant. Permaculture has much to teach us on a design scale for maximizing energy flow on site, and micro system design such as Coleman’s can be very, very important to reduce the labor inputs needed to allow one to get the tasks of the day done. If you’ve ever gardened more than 10,000 sq ft you know what I mean!

        That said, and this is a gross oversimplification, but I am really impressed by systems theory’s talk of energy flow in regimes – every system – be it an industry/economy or an ecosystem or a planet’s carbon cycle goes through a process of resource exploitation, then efficient maximization of resources as those most suited to using the resources conservatively prosper, then “creative destruction” which releases the resources that were locked up in the old system, and then a reorganization phase where a new or even same, system regime reestablishes itself to exploit the resources again. This can be seen in the long term ebb and flow of our carbon cycles, the rise, dominance and fall of companies such as Microsoft or GM, or in forest sucession where pioneer plants (exploiters) give way to canopy trees (conservative efficiency that locks up resources in their trunks), to creative destruction (large wind storm, etc topples the trees) allowing decomposers to free their resources (reorganization), which sets the stage for the pioneer species again.

        In larger scale I am firmly convinced we, from a macro-economic, energy availability, and a climate regime stand point , are at the climax of an efficiency maximizing regime and are in the process of going through a period of “creative destruction” which we prefer to call Transition or Energy Descent to eventually reorganize into a more stable state to begin rebuilding. As the energy availability will be very different without cheap oil, that economic regime will be a new one compared to what we have known, and with the unknowns of Climate Change in the mix redundancy will be the order of the day in system design to ensure that our personal economies (house holds, communities) survive the bumps without breaking.

  7. I have no great insights to offer Rob, but just a thanks for inspiring me to up my reading this winter. I started re-reading Coleman last night.

  8. Hi
    I enjoyed looking at your book list, and have just ordered the Dieppe book. I have read the new Sepp Holzer book, and it’s not bad. There’s more in it than ‘The Rebel Farmer’, and now he is actively using/quoting Permaculture principles.
    I also enjoyed your Pit and Mound article.

    All of the best

    The Sustainable Smallholding

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