loligo: (anemone)
[personal profile] loligo
This book is like a charming, light-hearted companion to Toensmeier & Jacke's much more hardcore Edible Forest Gardens. It should be of great interest to food geeks as well as plant geeks; I come from a whole family of obsessive foodies and there were a lot of things in here I'd never heard of before. It makes a nice coffee table book, too -- nearly every page has full-color photos.

Just about the only perennial vegetables grown in most American gardens are asparagus and rhubarb, with artichokes, sunchokes, and sorrel trailing way behind. But this book has a hundred more! There are edible plants here for every site -- sun, shade, bogs, deserts, you name it. They were selected based on taste and productivity, with the only requirement being that they're suitable for growing *somewhere* in the United States, even if that somewhere is just a couple square miles of upland Hawaii (a real example -- the basul tree bean).

I was expecting to find crops from Asia and South America that I wasn't familiar with, but what really surprised me were all the traditional European vegetables I'd never heard of before -- vegetables like skirret, sea kale, and Good King Henry, all of which became minor culinary footnotes after the introduction of all those shiny new veggies from the Americas.

I have yet to try growing or eating anything from this book (besides the usual suspects like asparagus, etc.). I actually have pokeweed growing wild all over my property, but since that one's toxic unless you cook it in a couple of changes of water, I haven't worked up the nerve yet. Oh, wait, actually I did plant Chinese artichokes last year (Stachys affinis)... they'll be ready to harvest this fall. I'll let you know how they turn out!
loligo: (anemone)
[personal profile] loligo
The first book I ever read about permaculture was Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway (which is coming out in a 2nd edition this spring). It explained the basics of the theory and presented some inspiring examples, but it was kind of short on nitty-gritty details, particularly regarding plants suitable for eastern North America. (Most English-language resources on permaculture focus on Australia or the U.K., because that's where a lot of the hands-on work has been done.)

When we bought our house a couple years ago, I knew I wanted to use permaculture ideas in revitalizing the long-neglected garden, but I just didn't know where to begin. I was actually thinking of hiring a permaculture consultant to get us started, much as that goes against my DIY ethos, because I was just *that* confused. But then I found Edible Forest Gardens, and suddenly I had all the information I could wish for.

It's a two-volume book. The authors say that vol. 1 focuses on Vision & Theory and vol. 2 focuses on Design & Practice, but there's enough overlap to make either volume useful on its own, should you happen to run into just one in a used book store. For example, a very practical aspect of vol. 1 is the lengthy appendix describing forest gardening's "Top 100" most useful plants. I actually found vol. 2 to be a bit tl;dr in places, when it comes to the design process, but people with a larger lot (or more site flexibility) might need a lot of the info that I skimmed over.

The highlight of vol. 2 is the Plant Species Matrix, detailing the properties and uses of over 600 species suitable for forest gardening in eastern North America. This is the kind of solid, specific information that I was longing for!

I was going to type out the inspiring introduction to vol. 1, which encapsulates a lot of the basic ideas of forest gardening in a nutshell, but then I found that a lot of that information was available at the authors' website here, so I encourage you to go celebrate Earth Day by reading it! It might change how you think about your garden forever!

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Permaculture: Food From Sustainable Landscapes

November 2012

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