I read a lot. With a BA in Philosophy and History, that is kinda par for the course, but even in this age of instant research, books still play an absolutely vital role for growing the Deep Knowledge that is critical in this Era of Change.
I stand on the front lines in the War against the Dumbing of America… Who’s with me?! Here is a list of the Important Books that have inspired and augmented my thinking and thusly many of the posts on this blog. I have included links to where you can purchase these books, but most are available at your library-and if not, donate them when you are done reading them! I am lazy and use Amazon and Barnes & Noble a lot. If you know of better online sources for listed books, please drop a comment and I will update my links. Updated regularly (I read incessantly) so check back.
Gaia’s Garden, by Toby Hemenway
Best published attempt at entry level Permaculture Gardening for Temperate areas. This the book that started it all for me. Great Primer for everything from Permaculture guilds, to soil ecology to chicken tractors, to nutrient cycling. Essential Reading!
Intro to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison
Second only to Gaia’s Garden and Where the Red Fern Grows as the Most Influential Books of All Time. More in depth than GG, but you have to muddle through all the stuff aimed at Tropical Climates. Still, the ideas are mind blowing. Essential Reading!
Edible Forest Gardens Vol 1/2, by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier
If you ever wanted to read 1400 pages on how to create a Food Forest, then please email me because I would love to talk with you! Volume 1 is amazing, I learned more about soil ecology and plant guilding than I ever thought possible. Vol 2 gets much deeper into the nuts and bolts of ecological design, and it lost me. But you really need Vol 2 because it has the most incredible perennial edible plant appendixes you will ever find. It took me over a year to justify the cost of the books. I shouldn’t have waited. Read Into to Perm. and Gaia’s Garden first, then read this.
Sub Acre Ag/Gardening
One Straw Revolution, by Masanobu Fukuoka (Out of Print so go to Amazon)
Hard to categorize, but more inspirational than perhaps any other book I have read. This is the book that began my re-orientation from viewing Nature as the enemy to Nature as Teacher, Partner, and Ally; helped alter my view of gardening and agriculture from a masculine domination to a more sustainable partnership with the Earth. Actionable tips are few (designed for rice farming in Japan), but his poetry, philosophy, and wisdom will alter your life if you open yourself to it.
The New Organic Grower, by Eliot Coleman Eliot details a very successful system of market gardening covering everything from soil fertility to marketing. His crop rotations are an incredible resource. One of the true Heroes of the Small Farmer resurgence. Essential Reading!
Four Season Harvest, by Elliot Coleman Yes, it truly is possible to grow edibles in Maine for 10 months of the year, and harvest for 11-12 of them. Simply amazing resource for season extention using only passive solar greenhouses and intelligent variety selection. This book blew my mind.
How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons The rest of the title “…Than you ever imagined, on less land than you thought possible” had me hooked instantly and was one of the books that launched me down the path to sustainable growing: my original 3 garden beds were designed to John’s specs. He has plans to literally grow the entire food needs of a small family in their back yard. Hmmm…. kinda sounds like this blog! Bio Intensive is a bit esoteric for me, but the results are proven. Essential Reading
The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, by Ruth Stout and Richard Clemence (Out of Print) A great slice of gardening history. Intermixed between all of Ruth’s colorful anecdotes is a workable Deep Mulch agriculture system.
The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food, by Tanya L.K. Denackla Great one stop shop for growing info of hundreds of different kinds of veggies. Great resources for planting times, and growing tips. Great reference book
Organic Gardening, by Botanica 610 pages of insanely detailed info on organic gardening. If I had a gardening bible, this would be it. Great reference book
Manage Insects on Your Farm, by Miguel A Altieri and Clara I. Nicholls A thorough book to help design for “ecological pest management”. Most permacultre books mention planting various plants to attract beneficial insects. This is an entire book on the subject attempting to push it into a relevant science. Combined with enhanced soil fertility management this should allow Organic to become “Sustainable” Ag and to exceed our expectations. No one sprays a prairie…
Better Soils for Better Crops, by Fred Magdoff and Harold van Es Accessible text on the incredibly important topic of soil fertility. Sustainable Ag simply cannot work without learning how to manage soil fertility long term. Its all about organic matter, and this book tells you all about that!
Crop Rotation and Cover Cropping, by Seth Kroeck A NOFA handbook. These 80 page publications are incredibly useful and information rich. These two topics are what I believe takes my “gardening” and turns it into Agriculture, and both are essential to the long term sustainability of your land, while increasing yields.
Secrets of Plant Propogation, by Lewis Hill If Fed Co Seeds shut down, would you be able to make more apple trees? Me either, so I bought this book. Technical reference book that will give you the confidence to take root cuttings, splits and begin grafting.
Seed to Seed, by Suzanne Ashworth Written by one of the founders of the Seed Savers Exchange, a.k.a. the Gods of Horticulture. When It Hits The Fan we will need to know how to save seeds. I didn’t, so I bought this.
Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability, by David Holmgren Taking Permaculture out of the Garden and allowing it to become a unifying philosophy to bind the various facets of Sustainability. Essential Reading
The Art of Happiness, by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C Cutler M.D. “A Handbook for Living”. If only it were that easy! HH is a great counterbalance to the Great American Dream. We’re not buddhist, but we’re closer there than to Christian.
Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan If you haven’t read this book yet, I am sure there is at least one or two other people that haven’t either, so don’t feel bad. Gives Whole Foods a raw deal and cops out on the vegetarian chapter, but makes up for it in straight forward talk about the eff’d up way we get our food today. One of my favorites to recommend to fence sitters.
Noah’s Garden, by Sara Stein “Restoring the ecology of our own backyard’s” More narrative than How To, it regardless is chocked full of great ideas. Great book for inspirational anecdotes.
The Contrary Farmer, by Gene Logsdon Absolutely fantastic book halfway between a how to book on “cottage farming” and sitting next to your grandfather at coffee shop and talking shop. Gene is an absolute American Treasure. ALL of his books are highly recommended.
Collapse, by Jared Diamond. Great bit of research on the, um, collapse of societies and the stark similarities between their falls: as civilizations abuse their natural resources they inevitably push past a breaking point and erode the very basis of their society. The underlying moral is that we are doing the same thing now, but as we so often hear: we live in a global society. Eep! His book Guns, Germs and Steel won the pulitzer and deserved it. Great Books!
The Eternal Frontier, by Tim Flannery Flannery is nothing if not controversial (any surprise that I like him so much?), but this book posits some very thought provoking theories as to why Americans act the way we do. Plus he wants to turn the Great Plains back into a giant wildlife park, stock it with Camels and return to a hunter gatherer society. Its so crazy it might work!
Cottage Economy, by William Cobbert Lots of down to earth talk about self sufficency. “never pay for what you can trade for”. Written almost 200 years ago, but still valid.
21st Century Challenges/Solutions
The Meaning of the 21st Century, by James Martin Freaky Smart author of the Wired Society 30 years ago is attempting to soothsay again. Lays out the Big Challenges of the coming century and some high level solutions- it gets dark but the facts are there. Feels strongly enough to have given $100 mil of his own coin to start a college to study the issues. Essential Reading
Natural Capitalism, by Paul Hawkens, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins Written by the founders of the Rocky Mountain Institute. Essentially Permaculture meets the Business world, while also dabbling in efficiency, renewables, and all sorts of other things. Read this book and spend the next 2 weeks wondering how the hell the world can work without all these common sense ideas in place.
Food Not Lawns, by Heather C. Flores “How to turn your yard into a garden and your neighborhood into a community” Short on specifics, but long on revolution. Heather takes aim at our Suburban Insanity and lets ’em have it! Loads of ideas on how to Be The Change
The Long Descent, by John Michael Greer
The Long Descent makes a strong case that both our current societal myths: Eternal Progress and Apocalyptic Catastrophe are both unlikely to come to pass. Greer instead lays out the more likley scenario of a staged decline that most civilizations have followed that can take centuries (Imperial England, Rome, etc). Like most Peak Oil writers, Greer at times has hints of almost gleefulness as he describes the coming “corrections” to our current excesses while glossing over the incredible societal suffering that is already ensuing as we start the trip down from Hubbert’s Peak. Greer is strongest when he is extolling the reader to prepare for a reduced energy future *now* by relearning ways to accomplish tasks using water/wind/muscle rather than fossil fuels and in his insistence that community and religious responses are more important technological fixes. The dark spots will not be the loss of oil, but in our society’s emotional reactions to the shattering of our current myths in Eternal Progress.