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The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening

The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
by Gene Logsdon
Chelsea Green Publishing Co., 1997

Mistress Mary, quite contrary
how does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
and pretty maids all in a row.

This summer our raised vegetable beds have produced berries, beans, peas, corn, carrots, lettuce, spinach, garlic, onions, leeks, tomatillos, tomatoes, squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, potatoes, radicchio and many assorted herbs. Our trees have offered pails full of cherries and apples.

An accounting of all the flowers my wife, Sandy, attends to would go on for pages. She's cultivated a half dozen flower beds and rock gardens and bloom-filled berms around our home and from March to October there's always a new splash of color and a sweet fragrance to be enjoyed.

But as much as we have tilled and planted, and despite the many hours we've invested, it seems there's always more ground to work and something else we want to try growing. And because of these unbridled ambitions, Gene Logsdon's book is particularly irritating.

Logsdon is one of my favorite farm writers. Based on a working farm in Ohio, he's an ardent advocate of American farmers and the farming lifestyle, promoting fair prices and open markets and ridiculing corporate agriculture and its reliance on chemicals. An onery cuss with a lot of provocative opinions, he's an entertaining read even when you disagree with the points he's making.

"Invitation to Gardening" is not so much an offer as a challenge -- a challenge to expand the definition of "garden" far beyond vegetable patches and flower beds. Logsdon asks why folks don't grow wheat in their gardens along with their corn and melons. He recommends chickens, pigeons, rabbits and earthworms in a chapter on "garden husbandry" and suggests water gardening both for food and aesthetics.

Logsdon keeps pushing on the definition of gardening until it begins to resemble the small-scale farming of earlier generations, albeit with modern implements, amenities and techniques. Can we really feed our families from backyard hobby gardens? Logsdon argues that properly managed kitchen gardens will not only reduce grocery bills, but improve the family's health and even provide some income.

Take wheat, for example. Here's how he figures the economics of home-grown grain:

"If a typical family today decided to produce annually 200 pounds of bread flour (1 pound per loaf of bread) and 50 pounds of cornmeal (1/2 pound per pound of cornbread), the amount of land needed would be minimal. For the wheat flour, figuring a yield of 50 bushels (about 300 pounds) of wheat per acre, you would need a plot approximately thirty feet by one hundred feet. For 50 pounds of cornmeal, at an average yield of 120 bushels per acre, you would need a plot roughly twenty-feet square. Yields could be much higher in both cases, and so less space might be required."

Logsdon goes on to provide more specific examples of  his "home grown" economics, showing how to grow more with less space, time, effort and non-organic inputs.

If you're happy with your garden and don't want to change anything, or if you're satisfied with the way things are going and don't need anyone disturbing your nest, then by all means avoid this book.

Review by Michael Hofferber. Copyright © 1997. All rights reserved.

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The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening
The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening

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