Monday, March 23, 2009

My 25 Favorite Gardening Books!

As you probably already know, I am obsessed with gardening. My friends, neighbors and family know that I live gardening. Many times they ask my advice on gardening matters and ask me how I know so much. That has surprised me in the past because I don't think of myself as knowing all that much more than the next gardener. I don't have a formal horticulture education except for a few month long Master Gardener Program 13 years ago.

So where have I learned what I know about gardening? Of course much knowledge comes from gardening a lot. After pondering this question a bit, I would have to say that most of what I know came from reading about gardening from great organic gardening books!

I own almost 100 gardening books and have checked out at least another 200 from the local libraries over the years. Even still, it seems that I keep coming back to the same 25 or so time and time again. After going through all of my books, these are my current "top 25" gardening books:

If you've been reading this blog for very long, it doesn't surprise you that I am really into gardening books. I often reference the book that I learned things from like when I built our coldframes and where I got the plans for our greenhouse and other posts.

To put my top 25 in some kind of order, I thought I'd share them in a few different categories and say why they are my favorites.

First, I have to mention The Rodale family of organic gardening books. These have been invaluable to me over the years.

First is the Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening: The Indispensable Resource for Every Gardener. I listed the subtitle because to me, it is so true - especially if you want to garden organically. I just picked up a new Rodale Organic Gardening resource encyclopedia from the discount bin and it also has great info. Next, 50 Years of The Best of Organic Gardening Magazineis great! It was published back in the Mike McGrath days and features the best vegetable articles from OG magazine. The last two are classics that deal with composting and organic insect and disease control. They are The Rodale Book of Composting and The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control. I use all of these Rodale books as constant reference books.

This nest group is my favorite "fun" group. They have much more personality than the Rodale books.

Four of them are from two of the most famous gardeners - Mel Bartholomew and Eliot Coleman. These are must haves in a vegetable gardeners tool box. Most people are familiar with Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening book, but did you know that he wrote a newer one called the All New Square Foot Gardening. In it he reports the discoveries he's made by square foot gardening for so many years. He makes some changes to his original methods which are great improvements. I haven't discarded his old book however, because it has better vegetable descriptions and spacing charts.

Eliot Coleman's books are Four-Season Harvest and The New Organic Grower. I could write a whole post about the wisdom of Eliot Coleman and what a great teacher he is. Coleman has influenced my gardening more than any other author. I often mention something from him like when I write about season extension or soil blockers.

The last two are my first gardening book, The New Victory Garden which I have written about many times before and Jeff Cox's 100 Greatest Garden Ideas. I used to love watching Jeff Cox's TV shows "Grow it" and "Your Organic Garden". Incidentally, Elliot Coleman had a great TV show as well called "Gardening Naturally". Sorry - off topic a bit. Easy to do when I start writing about all of my heroes in gardening. Anyway, Jeff Cox's book is a compilation of great tips to make your gardening better like how to keep Raccoons out of your corn. That is one I will be trying this year. I demonstrated it in last year's post about the Raccoons eating my corn!

Wow, this post is getting to be longer than I expected and I've not even covered half of my favorites yet! If I continue I'll either bore you to death, or rush through the rest with out writing much about the books. I think a part two is in order, don't you?

For this part one post, I'll list the rest of my top 25 in case you can't see them in the top picture. They are:

Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening

Backyard Market Gardening

Grow Vegetables: Gardens - Yards - Balconies - Roof Terraces

The 12-Month Gardener

Solar Gardening, Growing Vegetables Year Round

Gardening Under Plastic

Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System

Raising Earthworms for Profit

The Worm Book

Garden Insects of North America: The Ultimate Guide to Backyard Bugs

The Vegetable Gardener's Bible

Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers

Crops in Pots

And My Master Gardener Notebooks!

Soon I will post "Favorite Books, part 2" to explain why these books are so significant to me. Until then, I would love to hear what your favorite gardening books are. I know of at least a dozen more popular gardening books that could have been on this list. I do like a lot more books than this but these are the most significant to my garden.

What gardening books have influenced how you garden the most? Which ones are your favorites? I am always looking for great books that I haven't read yet, so if you strongly recommend a book there is a good chance I will look for it. So please share with us your list of favorites. I can't wait to find out. :)

- Marc

Monday, March 9, 2009

Seed Starting Operation is now Cat Proof!

This is the time of year when I get very anxious to get started with the vegetable garden. It's still too cold outside except for the crops that were overwintered like garlic, potato onions and horseradish.

A great way to get started is to tend your vegetable garden inside. I have written numerous times in the past few years about seed starting and am not going to re-hash it here. If you have never seen my posts about seed-starting under lights, you can see them here:

Indoor Seed Starting Doesn't Have To be Complicated or Expensive!

How To Grow Healthy Seedlings Under Lights

Don't Be Afraid to Start Vegetable Seeds Indoors

One aspect of seed starting that I will write more about this year is using soil blocks. I did write about my new Soil Blocker last year, but will be using it much more this year.

I start nearly every vegetable indoors with my light set-up. Here is a picture from last year of my early tomatoes under lights:


For years I had no problems with starting under lights. Last year I hit a bit of a speed bump when my pepper plants were eaten by our cat! The cat was okay, but the plants were not. Ever since both of our cats have shown more interest in our seedlings than they used to and we had to do something to keep them out! Here is the beginning of this year's modification to the seed table:


I've only got the bottom part finished so far but I plan to finish the top before it is needed. Right now we just have the early tomatoes, some lettuce, spinach and leek seedlings started - so the bottom level is enough.


I simply stretched and stapled garden netting over the support beams and made big hinged doors out of framing lumber. This way, I can open them up to access the seedlings.


The cats, however can not!

 Our cats, Macy and Maggie are not very happy with me but the seedlings are!

I'm ready to start many more seedlings. How about you? Do you start vegetable or flower seeds indoors? Do you have any problems with pets bothering them? What types of vegetables do you have started already?

It's exciting! Happy Gardening!

Monday, March 2, 2009

GardenDesk Has Moved!

I have finally made the switch from blogger to typepad. All of the previous GardenDesk posts have been moved to and all new posts will be over there.

If you have a blog and are linking to Garden Desk as, please change it to just

I guess the rss feeds will need to be changed as well. I am working on that from my end. Sorry for the inconvenience.

The new platform will allow GardenDesk to be even better.

Thanks, and Happy Gardening!

The Worms are Doing Great!

My 1,000 new worms are safely settled in to their new home! These great red wiggler worms arrived just after my post about putting our new worm bin together. They are doing great in the new Gardens Alive Worm Factory!

The worms seem happy and healthy. I think it is because the Worm Factory came with great instructions on how to set up the bedding to give the worms their best possible home. It also came with a block of coir, which has turned out to be a great bedding. I didn't know what coir was, but I found out from The Worm Book that it is the shredded fiber of coconut husks.

When you add water to the coir, it instantly swells up! My kids got a kick out of watching it grow so quickly.

After it soaked up the water, I broke it apart and made sure it had even moisture.

The Worm Book by Loren Nancarrow and Janet Hogan Taylor, lists the advantages of using coir coconut fiber in worm bins. It says coir (also called coia) is great because it retains moisture like peat moss but of course is more of a renewable resource than peat. Coir also mixes well with other bedding, is odor free and clean, doesn't compact in the bin and has a good pH of 6 to 6.5. Nancarrow and Taylor states that the disadvantage of coir is that it is expensive. This worried me a bit because I want to buy additional coir for the bedding in the other trays of my worm bin. In the small quantities that I need for worm farming, cost is not bad. I found the same size brick of coir at Pinetree for $2.95.

After the coir was evenly moist, I added some crushed egg shells and put the whole mix in the worm bin tray.

Next came a layer of shredded paper.

The last step to making the worm bed was to add a couple sheets of moistened newspapers. This is a great idea since it helps to keep the material underneath moist as well. It will also be easier to tell when I need to add water to the whole worm bin.

Finally, it was time to add the worms!

Every day since, we have added vegetable kitchen scraps in one side of the bin. You need to bury the scraps so the worms have easy access to them and so they don't smell. It has been shocking how fast soft foods like strawberry tops and eggplant pieces are consumed. Potato peelings and lettuce have been slower. In a weeks time, the worms have also digested much of the shredded paper and I assume they are also eating the coir.

I guess I should have stated this at the beginning, but this is the whole reason to have a worm bin. We have it located right in the kitchen so we can add compostable food scraps quickly and often. Each worm eats its body weight in food each day! Over time, the worms will supply us with rich vermicompost that we can add to the garden! Worm castings are amongst the best of organic soil conditioners.

I will write more about the benefits of raising worms as I learn more about them. Like I mentioned earlier, I am reading The Worm Book . I am also re-reading the classic Mary Appelhof book, Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System.

I was also able to find a new book on raising worms as a business called Profitable Earthworm Farming. A similar book, Raising Earthworms for Profit was actually the first worm book I read. It is a great book which got me very excited about raising worms! I'm not sure that I want to be in the worm-selling business, but I do want to expand my worm farming as much as possible in order to get more worm castings from them. These books will help me turn my 1,000 worms into 15,000 worms in a year. If I create space for them, in two years I could potentially have half a million worms! That's a lot of vermicompost! I definitely don't want to buy any more redworms. They are sold for up to $50 per pound (1,000 worms). At least I found a pound of worms available for $29.99. Maybe they would be good to raise for profit. Discussion for another day.

In the meantime, I will feed and visit my worm bin daily. Even our cats like to watch them wiggle.

I want to keep them healthy so I don't need to buy any more. There is one thing I would like to purchase for them though. I worry that I'm injuring them when I dig my hand through them to bury the food. I want to buy a Hand Compost Turner Tool. It is only $4.95 and using it would be safer for the worms. They probably sell this so you don't have to touch the worms. That doesn't bother me.

Don't they look great? I know, I'm like a proud pet owner. I'm sure I'll write more about them later!

GardenDesk   © 2008. Template Recipes by Emporium Digital