November 23, 2019

2 Books to Add to Your Gardening Reference Shelf

 It’s been awhile since I have done a book review on this blog. It’s high time! Two books that I have read lately and found useful would both fall under the “reference” category for gardening (surprise, surprise).

Two of the biggest problems we have faced since starting our little flower farm have been the same that farmers have faced for centuries: pests and weeds. With both of them, though, you can’t know what to do about them until you know what you’ve got. While you may be able to take a good picture of a weed (they don’t move around much, after all), it can be difficult to snap a shot of that little creature scurrying under the nearest leaf.

Unfortunately, it also seemed like the solution to one of the problems only made the other worse. For instance, this summer I thought I would use cardboard in the pathways to keep the weeds down. That worked pretty well, all things considered, but all that cardboard being held against the ground? The earwig population exploded! I hate earwigs, so bad. So yeah—what am I supposed to do about that?!

I have not reached for the RoundUp or the insect killer (yet). I am trying to farm sustainably and with the health of our family in mind—I don’t want any of my kids coming in contact with that stuff!

So, enter these 2 books. Some clarity, some help, and I hope—a better year next year when it comes to bugs and weeds!

Good Bug Bad Bug: Who’s Who, What They Do, and How to Manage Them Organically, by Jessica Walliser

5 stars: Useful information, in an easily accessible format.

So, this one immediately addresses one of the main problems of bug identification: the sheer numbers involved. It can be overwhelming even trying to look up an insect, because where do you even start? She has boiled this down to 41 different common insects: 27 pests and 14 beneficial.

She starts with the pests. Each one has the name, a description, a picture, plus “Spot the Damage” and “Plants they Attack.” She then has a second page for each one that lists “Live Biological Controls,” “Preventative Actions,” and “Organic Product Controls.” There’s also added information at the bottom, as well as another picture—often showing the egg or larvae stage of the insect in question.

In the section covering beneficial insects, it starts out the same, with the name, picture and a description. She then describes their “Life Cycle,” “Pests They Control,” and includes a section on “How to Attract and Keep Them.” Each entry also contains a “More About…” section with interesting facts.

This book has already been useful to me, just thumbing through it. I found out within less than 5 minutes that the white cottony/sticky bugs on my houseplants are mealy bugs, plus what I can do about it (remove them with a Q-tip soaked in alcohol.) It’s got a spiral binding inside a hard cover. I’m planning on taking it out to the garden with me next summer and getting some things figured out!

Weeds and what they tell us, by Ehrenfried Pfeiffer

4 stars: What if weeds were not the enemy?

This a book from the 50’s, but the information was fascinating. Pfeiffer’s perspective on weeds is game-changing. Rather than declaring war on every weed you see, use them as soil indicators. Certain weeds prefer certain soil conditions. This is an idea I first ran across as I have learned more about permaculture. If you have lots of ox-eye daisies, for instance, that’s a warning flag that your soil is increasing in acidity. Fix the soil, your weed problem disappears.

One thing I found interesting is that a good number of plants he lists as weeds in this book are now grown by flower farmers for cutting! Larkspur, chamomile, feverfew, and Dauca carota (wild carrot), just to name a few. Also, he describes which plants bring minerals or vitamins up out of the soil. For instance, he mentions that tansy (which I just planted this fall) concentrates calcium in its leaves. So if you can cut them before they produce seed, they will add many nutrients to your compost pile. I have been so afraid of seeding my entire with garden with weeds, that I haven’t put any weeds into my compost pile. This has given me something to think about along those lines, for sure.

Also, I found out via soil test last spring that my soil has excessive amounts of phosphorus in it. I think he said (though now I can’t find the reference) that orach pulls phosphorus out of the soil. There are several varieties of orach that other flower farmers grow as filler! So guess what is going on my seed list?!

Advice is heavily geared toward tilling, which many people are trying to get away from now. We have still done it, but I think the information in this book can dovetail with a no-till approach. That’s what I would like to move toward. It sounds like, though, whenever you start a new bed—particularly one on weedy ground—tilling at the beginning can really help set back your weed problem. Don’t quote me on that; I need to do more research on permaculture and no-till farming.

I bought this one as an ebook, and to be honest, I’m kind of wishing I had a hard copy to mark up. I know, I know, I can highlight and make notes in an ebook too. I just prefer it on paper. Call me old school—-HEY, maybe that’s why I liked this book so much! Ha!

What have you been reading lately? Anything worth sharing? 

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