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

You know what they say about judging a book by it’s cover? This one has a fantastic cover so go ahead and judge it. To be honest, the title kind of threw me because it almost seemed like it was aimed at the prepper community. I’m glad I dug into it though because I was pleasantly surprised. Not that there is anything wrong with being a prepper, but Carol Deppe discuss much more realistic day-to-day issues that can derail your self reliance. It’s not exactly a reference book so I took the time to read it cover to cover. Reading anything can take me forever with our schedule so it was a miracle that I was able to finish this book. I’m glad I did take the time though or I would have missed what this book was really about and who it was aimed at (hint: it’s you and me).

This book came at a great time. The economy had tanked and people were taking up gardening as a means of feeding themselves. The author, Carol Deppe, is an experienced “market gardener.” Her book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self Reliance in Uncertain Times, focuses on four main crops and one livestock animal for the majority of one’s diet. She is also a plant breeder and sells some of her varieties.

Ms. Deppe had some real life examples of why being resilient is important and not just in the end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it type of way. For example, when her mother fell ill and she had to care for her it made it nearly impossible for her to get out and tend to her garden. She relied on creating a resilient garden to get her through that period of her life. She also discusses having a bad back which makes many common garden chores, such as weeding and planting, difficult and painful. She has great advice on how to get around issues such as these to keep your garden going and being as comfortable as possible.

In addition, she also talks about diet and exercise and how that can make you more resilient personally, not just as a gardener. Ms. Deppe suffers from Celiacs, which means she cannot eat foods that contain gluten. For her carbohydrates she grows corn and includes some delicious looking recipes utilizing this grain. She also explains the differences between the different types of corn. I had kind of any idea of the different types – dent, flint, sweet, popcorn, and flour corn – but she gives a great rundown of what makes them different from each other and what their best uses are.

I think the main part that I don’t agree with is the way she waters. She doesn’t like drip irrigation because she says it’s too much work and instead prefers overhead irrigation and hand watering, which I think is way more work than automatic irrigation. Plus it wastes more water than drip irrigation. Otherwise I found this to be an incredibly informative book, including the best tools to use and where to get them and how to keep them in their best condition.

The best part about this book? It’s not your typical gardening book that I feel is a topic that is just over-saturated. It goes over information that most gardening books don’t cover. It’s been a very long time since I’ve learned a lot of new stuff from a book. Fortunately this book met the challenge and succeeded.

Michael Pollan for $12

For the last several years I’ve been wanting to see Michael Pollan speak, but usually it’s at a swanky center for way too much money. We did get a chance to sit in on one of his classes at UC Berkeley for free, which was awesome, but that was not a typical setting, obviously.

But now is our chance to see him at a swanky center for an affordable price talking about his new book.

SRFMichaelPollan2013Country Costa County Library announces Michael Pollan as featured author of 2013 Summer Reading Festival, “Reading is So Delicious”

Contra Costa County Library is pleased to announce Michael Pollan, best-selling author and journalist, as the headlining author for the 2013 Summer Reading Festival. The theme for this year’s festival, which takes place from June 8 through August 17, is “Reading is So Delicious.” Mr. Pollan will discuss his new book, “Cooked: a Natural History of Transformation” (to be released in April 2013) at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013, at 7:00 p.m. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Walnut Creek Library the day of the event and there will be a book signing following the presentation.

For the past twenty years, Mr. Pollan has been writing books and articles about the places where the human and natural worlds intersect: food, agriculture, gardens, drugs, and architecture. In “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” he explores the previously uncharted territory of his own kitchen, where he discovers the enduring power of the four elements – fire, water, air, and earth – to transform the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink.

Mr. Pollan is the author of the bestsellers “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals,” which was named one of the ten best books of 2006 by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and many other best-selling titles. He has been a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine since 1987 and has his articles have appeared in Harpers, Mother Jones, Gourmet, Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Gardens Illustrated, and The Nation. His writing and reporting has received numerous awards, including the California Book Award; the Northern California Book Award; James Beard Awards for best food writing and for best magazine series; the 2000 Reuters-I.U.C.N. Global Award for Environmental journalism, and the 2003 Humane Society of the United States’ Genesis Award. In 2009, he was named one of the top 10 “New Thought Leaders” by Newsweek Magazine and he was chosen by Time Magazine for the 2010 Time 100 in the Thinkers category. Mr. Pollan is the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Journalism at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the director of the Knight Program in Science and Environmental Journalism.

Michael Pollan appears as part of Contra Costa County Library’s Summer Reading Festival at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek on Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $12.00 and are available today. For ticket information, please contact the Lesher Center for the Arts at 925.943.SHOW (7469) or Copies of Mr. Pollan’s book will be available for sale on the day of the event at the Walnut Creek Library.

The Summer Reading Festival is an annual event that encourages people of all ages to read throughout the summer months and celebrates the importance and value of reading and literacy for all.

For more information on this event and highlights of the upcoming 2013 Summer Reading Festival, please visit the Summer Reading Festival website. Additional information on Summer Reading Festival programs and events will be announced in the coming months.

Book Review & Giveaway – A Chicken in Every Yard

*Update: Susan is our giveaway winner! Look for an email from us to get your address.

The Review

I rarely ever read a “reference book” all the way through. Actually I have never read a reference book all the way through (not even my college textbooks). That was until I got my paws on A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt, owners of the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon. It was an easy and quick read while containing quite a bit of information. It is a great primer for those that are planning on getting some backyard chickens. It’s also got some good information if you have chickens including a health section that goes over the most common ailments that your chickens might suffer.

It goes over various topics including some of the more popular breeds of chickens, brooding chicks (more on that below), litter management, feeding, predators, clipping wings and introducing new birds. A Chicken in Every Yard even includes simple plans for building a basic chicken coop. It discusses various options for runs that will effectively keep your chickens safe and happy. It breaks down how much time per day you’ll need to work at keeping chickens depending on what management system you’re using.The most interesting chapter, to me at least, was about eggs. I never realized there were so many different parts to an egg. It’s also got some delicious looking recipes that utilize those tasty homegrown eggs.

Because there are as many management styles as there are chicken owners, there are some things that they recommend that I personally don’t follow. Their recommendations include the use of medicated feed which is definitely an option but I wish they would have discussed other management techniques such as brooding without the need for medication. The one great thing they offer in their chapter on chicks is a checklist of all the supplies you will need if bringing home chicks.

This book is targeted towards those that will be keeping chickens as “pets with benefits.” If you want a book that also covers chickens for meat this wouldn’t be the book for you as they are clear in the very beginning that they will not be discussing using chickens for meat – even retired chickens. And this is really the only source of contention that I do have with this book. They don’t push the issue in regards to what to do if you end up with a rooster (while not likely with sexed pullets it’s still a possibility that people need to think about) and they “highly recommend” sending retired hens to farm sanctuaries if people don’t want to keep them past their egg laying years which I find very irresponsible. I always tell people that there are only two choices when you have chickens. They are either a pet or they are dinner. But don’t let this turn you off from the book because otherwise it’s quite good and if you are new to chickens you’ll be successful if you follow their recommendations (even if there are other ways to do things).

The Giveaway

If you would like a chance to win this book please leave a comment with your beginning chicken keeping questions. For extra entries you can like us on Facebook for one entry and get another entry if you share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter (that’s 3 extra entries). Just leave a comment here that you’ve liked us (even if you already do) and/or shared this post.

The giveaway will go until midnight on Friday, June 22nd and I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, June 23rd. Unfortunately I have to limit it to residents of the U.S.

Book Review and Giveaway!

Yes, I’ve done this review and giveaway before but I have another copy to giveaway in honor of getting our 1,000th like on Facebook!
Your Farm in the City: An Urban-Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals

I have to say I find this book very thorough. It discusses pretty much everything you need to know about how to start urban farming. I do find it more geared towards beginners though. Most of the info in the book I already knew. However, just because I know much of the book’s content does not lessen it’s value. And it did have info in it that I hadn’t learned elsewhere, such as why you might have certain weeds and what you can use those weeds for.

I also liked that they pointed out that everyone planning on raising food in their backyard should make sure to get their soil tested and to also not rely on those at-home soil tests that are quite inaccurate and unreliable.

I found the book easy to read. It cuts right to the chase with bullet points rather than having a monotonous tone.

I think my only disappointment in the book is the paper it’s printed on. It’s a bit thin, which, in my opinion, won’t stand up as well to being a go-to reference guide, especially a reference guide that will be used outside.

Overall though, I would have bought this book if I wasn’t sent a copy.

If you’d like a chance to own this copy just leave a comment below by midnight Friday, April 27th. I’ll announce the winner on April 28th. Unfortunately for our international readers, you have to be in the U.S. to win a copy.


Book Reviews – The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I’ve read two of Michael Pollan’s books – The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food (which will come up in a future review).

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is definitely one of those required college English class type of books. It has a lot of information and can become difficult to read just because of Pollan’s writing style.

But, and this is a big “but,” don’t let that dissuade you from reading it. Force yourself to plow through it if you can because it will really open your eyes to our food system.

The book is based on how difficult it can be to be an omnivore. We have so much food available to us, but what do we eat? What’s toxic and how did we learn what foods were safe for us to eat?

Pollan goes on a quest to create four meals based around four different food systems.

The first meal is based on corn. He goes over the history of corn and how it rose to the top and became central to our entire industrialized food system. He buys a steer from a rancher and then visits it on the feedlot. The meal he eats with his family to celebrate this food system is none other than fast food picked up from a drive thru and eaten in the car.

The second meal is from Big Organic. It’s that half step away from the previous meal. The plants and animals are still raised much the same way as the plants and animals are raised for the fast food meal but this time they are simply raised organically but still industrially. He discusses how seductive big organic can be but in the end it’s really not that much different from good ol’ factory farming. His meal, while drastically healthier than the first one, was still steeped in the myth of sustainability.

Grass was the centerpiece of the third meal. After unsuccessfully trying to convince Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms to send him a chicken via FedEx, he went to visit the self proclaimed lunatic grass farmer. Salatin’s system is mind boggling and yet completely sustainable. I recently saw an interview with him where he said he was on track to make $1M in sales this year. This meal he shared with some friends two roasted Polyface chickens, locally grown rocket, and a chocolate souffle made from Polyface eggs.

The fourth and final meal was foraged from the surrounding wilderness. He met awesome people that took him foraging for wild mushrooms and out to hunt feral hogs, not once, but twice. He unsuccessfully tried harvesting his own salt from the bay. He made levain from wild yeasts, salad from his garden and a dessert made from cherries he gleaned. He called this his perfect meal. Of course it’s not readily available for everyone for every meal so in a way it’s not perfect.

I learned a lot from this book and I hope if you haven’t picked it up that sometime in the (near) future you will and give it a whirl. It will make you think differently about that stuff you put in your mouth.

**Disclaimer: I was not asked to review this book and did not receive any compensation in any form.

Bucheron Cheese

I had received this wonderful book called Homemade Cheese: Recipes for 50 Cheese from Artisan Cheesemakers by Janet Hurst to review. I’ve been making some cheese with our goat’s milk but not very much because they don’t produce a lot. I wanted to get more practice but it was going to take us a while to stock up on goat milk.

The thing I really enjoyed about this book was that it was written by a goat owner so most of the cheese recipes could be done using goat milk. For each recipe she also includes with each recipe what equipment you will need for that type of cheese. The only issue I did find was that she didn’t tell you how many molds you needed for each recipe.

At the time I received the book I had only tried mozzarella, chevre and Monterey Jack. Both came out well but I’m such a sucker for soft cheese.

Soft cheeses, like brie can be difficult to make. But I guess you could say I’m a bit of an overachiever. I didn’t, however, want to do just a brie. I had my heart set on doing Bucheron, which is an aged chevre. It’s difficult to find and one I had really never heard of. I definitely had never seen a recipe for it before. This recipe was going to take 3 days to make so I made sure to do it on a weekend I was going to be home for. It required 2 gallons of goat milk which was going to take us quite awhile to stockpile. To stockpile raw milk we simply froze quart jars of it as we collected it until we got all we needed.

I had 4 small molds for making chevre, which ended up being enough. Five molds probably would have been more ideal though because I was really having to cram the curds into the four to make them fit. I also needed cheese mats, and a food grade plastic box to allow the cheese to retain moisture and keep the cultures from contaminating the wine fridge.

The first thing I had to do to make it was pasteurize the milk since it’s a soft cheese and isn’t aged long enough. I really hate pasteurizing milk just because it can take so long but if I wanted to make this cheese I was going to have to.

To pasteurize you need to heat the milk to 145 deg F and hold it there for 30 minutes stirring to keep it evenly heated. I find that my floating brewing thermometer works best for this but I have to rubberband it to the stirring spoon because my pot isn’t deep enough for it to float. After the 30 minutes is up you want to cool it off as quickly as possible in an ice bath. I cooled it of to 86 deg F so I could inoculate the milk without reheating it.

 This recipe required a Mesophilic DVI MA starter culture, Penicillum candidum and Geotrichum candidum, rennet and a brine solution.

Once the milk was down to 86 deg F I simply added the cultures, stirring until well blended. I then added the rennet stirring up and down. I left it overnight to firm up.

Without cutting the curds I scooped them into the molds filling them. The molds only took about 2/3s of the curds. I let the curds sit for just over 4 hours and then refilled the molds, packing the rest of the curds in. I allowed them to sit overnight to completely drain. The next morning I removed the curds from the molds and brined them for 10 minutes.

The brine was made up of 2 pounds of noniodized salt mixed into 1 gallon of water. Heat up the water until it’s nearly boiling and mix in the salt until it’s dissolved. When it cools some of the salt may precipitate out. You know the salt content is right when the cheese floats. If the cheese sinks there’s not enough salt. This is good to know because you keep the brine to reuse – adding water and salt when needed. Over time it will develop it’s own character from whey and cultures that are slowly added with each batch of cheese. Some cheesemakers have had the same brine for decades.

After I brined the cheeses I laid them on the cheese mats and put them in the box. The first day I repositioned the cheeses several times. I put the box in my wine fridge set about 55 deg F then for the next week I turned them to make sure they were evenly drained and allowing the mold to develop evenly over the cheese.

After three more weeks of aging the cheese was ready. It was much milder than chevre. It no longer had that bite that I associate with goat cheese. It was distinctively different from brie though being more delicate. It’s not creamy like brie either. It’s a delightful cheese that I will make again.

Book Review – The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading

OK, snicker. The name is funny. I’ve never really taken the Complete Idiot’s Guide line of literature all that seriously. I guess I just assumed most of them were, well, for the very new beginner.

Sundari Elizabeth Kraft’s book, The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Urban Homesteading, changed my mind. I have to say it is the most comprehensive book I have read on urban homesteading.

She includes just about everything you can think of from gardening to raising livestock to homesteading without a yard. Most importantly, she goes quite extensively into zoning and how to find out what you can legally do in your own city.

Of course it really won me over when I saw that it, unlike every other book I have on goats, included African Pygmy goats and even mentioned milking them. But that’s not where it ends.

There are recipes for different types of cheeses, how to raise fish using aquaculture, preserving food, how to spin your own wool using a homemade drop spindle, and how to reduce your energy. I told you this was an extremely comprehensive book.

The layout of the book is easy to follow and there are little icons with subtext next to them to point out important information from definitions to road blocks, small steps and urban info.

If there was just one book you needed for urban homesteading this would be it. It will definitely be staying on my bookshelf.

Vegetable Gardening Book Reviews

I’ve got quite a few books on vegetable gardening, some are great, some I wish I had never bought. So to help other gardeners, especially those just starting out, I’ve decided to review some of my books. I’ve included a rating, but for some books, while they are great, they may have a low rating based on how good they are for Vegetable Gardening.

Sunset Western Garden Book
Encyclopedic reference book of plant species and varieties that grow in the Western States of U.S.
Being in the Landscape Architecture industry, I use this book almost daily. It is an indispensable reference guide to all things plant. It gives great descriptions of plants, including size, color, watering needs, sun exposure requirements, etc.  However, this book is not good for vegetable gardening. It’s just too general for getting good information on how to grow a successful garden. It does have some useful info, however in the back on gardening techniques, but it mostly refers to shrubs and trees, rather than annual vegetable plants.
Rating: 2 out of 5

Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew
A method of gardening with specific soil mixes, bed sizes, and planting schedules and spacing.
This book is very self congratulatory to the writer. There is a certain arrogance in it pages. It’s also very repetitive.
I used his method for one year and had horrible results. The soil mix held too much water for some crops like onions and garlic so they just rotted. The spacing was too close for tomatoes – we only got 5 small tomatoes from 6 plants that year. Peppers don’t like to be grown in peat so they also failed. The plants were so close together we had a lot of problems with pests – something we had never had a problem with.

He “kind of” uses the French Intensive Method, but fails on some important points. Mainly the depth of beds. He recommends 6″ deep beds, which just aren’t deep enough for a lot of plants to be successful when grown so close together. It promotes lateral root growth rather than vertical root growth, which the French Intensive utilizes with double dug beds which result in beds that are 18-24″ deep.

Also his soil mix does not provide some essential micronutrients. My raised beds that had his mix never did as well, even after going back to my usual method, as my beds that contained native soil with compost. Because of the peat, they were highly acidic, which is fine for a lot of plants, but not all plants like highly acidic soil. Not to mention that the soil mix is expensive and is not sustainable – peat is not a renewable resource.

I will give him an extra star however for his planting schedule in the appendix. it is useful for those beginning. I however, no longer use this schedule as I base my plantings on the moon cycles.
Rating: 2 out of 5

How to Grow More Vegetables (and Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, and other Crops) than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land than You can Imagine by John Jeavons
Focuses on using the French Intensive Method to increase yields and how to grow a completely self sustaining garden.
I find this book to be very technical, but at the same time well written. It has a lot of charts and tables to fill out. I really like the planting schedule and garden layouts that it offers. It wasn’t until I read this book that I realized I should use a professional soils lab to test my soil. And I’m so glad I did! The at home kits just aren’t reliable. It covers just about anything you can think of in regards to gardening. Only one bad part of this book is that it is so technical, it might be a little too overwhelming for the beginning gardener. It just has so much information in it. It also doesn’t have much info on pests and diseases, which I feel is important to thoroughly cover if you are being organic.
Rating: 4 out of 5

The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food by Tanya L.K. Denckia
Reference book going over different crops of vegetables and fruits and how to diagnose and treat plant diseases and pests organically.
What I like about this book is that it covers nearly all diseases and pests and how to organically treat them. A lot of gardening books lack a lot of information pertaining to these problems either because they were written by gardeners that live on the east coast and are not familiar with west coast pests and diseases, or they just cover the more common problems. The book also offers information on specific crops and what problems they are prone to, beneficial companions, and cultural needs. It also tells you how much you should plant per person of each crop, however, this info can be difficult to find because it’s in the introduction to the crop rather than it’s own box. This is a good reference book, though I wouldn’t recommend using it by itself for beginners.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Reader’s Digest Vegetable Gardening; From Planting to Picking – the Complete Guide to Creating a Bountiful Garden by F.M. Bradley and J. Courtier
Basic vegetable gardening that incorporates both conventional and organic methods.
There doesn’t seem to be anything new about this book. It covers both organic methods and conventional methods (use of chemical pesticides, herbicides and fungicides). It does, however, offer information on keeping just picked produce fresh and how to store and preserve your garden’s bounty. I also like that there is a colored box with each crop variety’s description that explains spacing, time to plant and how much to plant per person.
Rating: 3 out of 5

Sunset’s The Edible Garden
A short 189 page gardening book that goes over basic crops of vegetables and fruits.
This is a pretty good book even though it’s short. Because of the short length though, it is fairly generalized. It doesn’t go over specific crops pH and nutrient requirements. I do like how they cover fruit trees along with berry vines. The first part of the book goes over basic gardening techniques, garden designs and then it has chapters on seasons and what needs to be done in the garden during those seasons.
Rating: 4 out of 5

Crockett’s Victory Garden by James Underwood Crockett
The companion book to the PBS television series.
I’m not even sure if this book is in print anymore, but if you can find it, get your hands on it. My mother bought this book when I was a small child, and I still use it as a reference. Between Jim Crockett and my Grandfather, my love for all things plant grew, so even though this isn’t necessarily the best book for gardening, it will always hold a soft spot in my heart. The book is divided by month and what you should do each month, whether it is starting seedlings, transplanting, harvesting, etc. It does not go over organic methods since it was written prior to the big “green” movement. However, there is still a lot of useful and interesting information in it. This book will definitely be more useful for people that have a shorter growing season, compared to those of us in warmer climates.  Don’t let the lower rating fool you though, this is a classic book that I think all gardener’s should have on their shelves even though it doesn’t necessarily offer the info everyone could use.
Rating: 3 out of 5

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible by Edward C. Smith
A gardening book based off of the “W.O.R.D.” system. Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, Deep Soil. Published by Storey Publishing LLC the quintessential publisher of all things sustainable.
If you can only have one gardening book this one should be it. The first half of the book is all about garden methods and design. The second half goes over specific requirements for popular crops. The book contains a lot of easy to read charts and explains how to get the soil requirements you need. Each crop overview contains easy to find info including when to plant, companion plants, crop rotation, and soil requirements. This is my go-to book on all questions I have, and I use it almost exclusively for planning out my garden every year.
Rating: 5 out of 5

Book Review and Giveaway

Your Farm in the City: An Urban-Dweller’s Guide to Growing Food and Raising Animals

We were recently sent this book by the publisher. I was just expecting one, but was happy to find two so I could offer a giveaway of the second copy.

I have to say I find this book very thorough.  It discusses pretty much everything you need to know about how to start urban farming. I do find it more geared towards beginners though. Most of the info in the book I already knew. However, just because I know much of the book’s content does not lessen it’s value. And it did have info in it that I hadn’t learned elsewhere, such as why you might have certain weeds and what you can use those weeds for. Little did I know that the reason we’re infested with bindweed and dock is because we have acidic soil. I also learned that both are actually edible.* Imagine that! Makes them not quite as evil as before. Don’t get me wrong, they are still evil, just not as much. 

I also liked that they pointed out that everyone planning on raising food in their backyard should make sure to get their soil tested and to also not rely on those at-home soil tests that are quite inaccurate and unreliable.

I found the book easy to read. It cuts right to the chase with bullet points rather than having a monotonous tone.

I think my only disappointment in the book is the paper it’s printed on. It’s a bit thin, which, in my opinion, won’t stand up as well to being a go-to reference guide, especially a reference guide that will be used outside.

Overall though, I would have bought this book if I wasn’t sent a copy.

If you’d like a chance to own this copy just leave a comment below by midnight Friday, April 1st. I’ll announce the winner on April 2nd. Unfortunately for our international readers, you have to be in the U.S. to win a copy.

*Update: Always research more than one source when determining something is edible. As pointed out by Anne, Field Bindweed (Convolvulus avensis) can be mildly toxic.

Book Plug!

Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living

OK, it’s not released yet but I just have to plug it because Dog Island Farm is in it! It’s Urban Homesteading: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Rachel Kaplan and K. Ruby Blume. Get it on presale now and check it out! I can’t wait to read it!