In the spirit of DIY and self-sufficiency, we want to encourage everyone to do more ‘grow your own’. It’s not only a great way to reconnect with the earth – something we could all do a lot more of – but it’s also just plain common sense to learn this basic life skill. Avoid the supermarket and dig into the soil which will offer you its own deep therapy in the COVID-19 lockdown. Here are six good reads on organic growing that will help you to get started.
Grow Your Own Vegetables – Joy Larkom
Joy Larkom has been called ‘the queen of the kitchen garden’ and she is an esteemed figure in gardening and growing. Grow Your Own Vegetables is one of the classic books on small-scale veg production, covering just about everything you need to know, from cultivation techniques, dealing with pests and disease to detailed information on growing 100 different vegetables. Larkom popularised techniques such as cut and come again salads, and she’s also introduced a wide range of varietals such as rocket and endive to the British palate.
She has written prolifically on vegetable growing through the years in a way that is accessible and informative and her other books are also well worth reading – especially her memoir Just Vegetating. She has travelled widely through her life, always seeking to learn about new techniques and interesting vegetables. As one gardener commented, ‘Most of what is commonplace in the veg patch today – from popular productive practices to the types of veg we grow – was built upon Joy’s own investigations and experiments.
No Dig Organic Home & Garden – Charles Dowding and Stephanie Hafferty
Charles Dowding is now well-established as the guru of no-dig growing. He’s been involved with the land since the early 1980s and his experience is deep.
No dig growing and gardening is all about feeding the soil with organic matter and allowing the natural microbiome of the soil to generate fertility. There are no chemicals used and even organic additions are foregone. Its simplicity is part of the appeal – you don’t turn the soil over in no dig, you rather let it work its magic on its own, leaving compost to do the work.
No Dig Organic Home & Garden is written with his partner, Stephanie Hafferty – it focuses on what you can do at home, in both small and large gardens, using no dig techniques. Hafferty is also a chef and the book, very helpfully, offers recipes, so you have some ideas for what to do with all you’ve grown. It’s a good starting place for ‘increasing self-reliance, saving money, living sustainably and enjoying the pleasure of growing your own food, year round’!
The New Organic Grower – Eliot Coleman
Eliot Coleman is the doyenne of organic growing in the US – deeply respected both for his techniques and his stance on the importance of organic principles in growing and farming. His book The New Organic Grower is an essential read for smallholders and market gardeners. It had its 30th anniversary edition out in 2018 – it is unquestionably still as relevant today as it was when published. He has long been an ardent proponent of organic principles, more so recently as hydroponic production has been given organic certification by the USDA.
Coleman’s Four Season Farm in Maine is an exemplar in organic production. Eliot’s ideas on organic growing are valuable to growers on a range of scales and he has been a particularly influential figure to ‘market gardeners’ who aim to be intensively productive on a small-scale, using organic methods. He argued for the ‘biological completeness’ of organic production as a living entity and for the importance of organic matter in soil fertility and the use of green manures and cover crops long before they were standard practice in organic growing.
For anyone interested in growing their own veg organically, Coleman has wisdom and sound advice both practically and philosophically.
Do Grow / Start with 10 Simple Vegetables – Alice Holden
We’re not including Alice Holden in this list because she’s SFT director Patrick Holden’s daughter, but because she’s one of the great faces of farming and growing, which are increasingly female. Alice has been the head grower at the Dagenham site of Growing Communities based in London for a number of years now and her experience is myriad.
Do Grow is a straight-forward introduction to growing 10 vegetables, offering practical advice to get the uninitiated started on their growing adventure. It covers what tools you need, things to understand about soil, how to make compost and what kind of space or container you may want to grow in as well as what to consider in making this decision. It also offers tips and trouble-shooting for each veg. A range of favourite recipes to use those ten tasty 10 veg in is included, coming from cooks both great and small – from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Pea, Lettuce and Lovage Soup to Alice’s own Best Pesto.
Do Grow reminds you that ‘small can be intensive, productive, sustainable and beautiful’.
Grow Food for Free – Huw Richards
Huw Richards started growing at a young age with his own You Tube channel, Huw’s Nursery. He’s now in his early twenties and full of good ideas about how to make growing easy, engaging and most of all, inexpensive.
His latest book is spot on for the lockdown with so many, many people out of work and finances tightening. The premise is straight-forward – you don’t need to spend a lot, or really anything to grow your own food. Richards is full of suggestions for thrifty food production: get your patch going with sprouting onions, potatoes and other veg that might be going off in your fridge; save seeds; use old pallets and tyres to make raised beds for growing. Richards demystifies what it takes to grow food: you don’t have to have all the right stuff or the perfect plot and in fact, repurposing materials and being hands-on making your own compost can take you a long way.
Growing Green / Organic Techniques for a Sustainable Future – Jenny Hall and Iain Tolhurst
Iain Tolhurst has been growing vegetables on his farm, Tolhurst Organic, in the Thames Valley for more than 30 years. He’s a master grower, and like Eliot Coleman, is respected for his enduring commitment to his land and for the radical way in which he farms it. Tolhurst grows in a ‘stockless’ system, without any animal manures, relying on green manures to build fertility on the farm. He’s worked closely with the Vegan Organic Network to set standards for Stockfree Organic products which are free from any slaughterhouse by-products and animal manures.
Growing Green lays out the techniques that Tolhurst has developed on the farm, which is remarkably productive. Free from animal by-products and manures, Tolhurst asserts that plants are healthier and pests and disease are better managed. Weeds have a value in this system as well – it’s a holistic and very green approach. Organic practice strives for a closed system, and Growing Green teaches what best achieves this. And growing without animal inputs means the farm’s carbon footprint is lower as well as its energy usage. There is a lot to learn from doing things differently!
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