Organic Home Garden: How to Grow Fruits and Vegetables Naturally

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A cornucopia of information.

Once available only at farmers' markets, organic produce is now basic stock at the supermarket. With mounting concerns about pesticides, climate change and consumption levels of fossil fuels, consumers are more careful about how, and where, fruits and vegetables are grown — and how far they have traveled to get to their table. More than ever, people are deciding not only to purchase organic and local produce, but ...

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Overview

A cornucopia of information.

Once available only at farmers' markets, organic produce is now basic stock at the supermarket. With mounting concerns about pesticides, climate change and consumption levels of fossil fuels, consumers are more careful about how, and where, fruits and vegetables are grown — and how far they have traveled to get to their table. More than ever, people are deciding not only to purchase organic and local produce, but also to grow their own.

The Organic Home Garden shows in detail how to plant, grow and harvest delicious vegetables and fruits from spring to fall and from seed to harvest.

Since most consumers live in urban and suburban settings with limited space, Patrick Lima explains how to create an organic garden that is both compact and productive. Through step-by-step examples, he shows how to prepare odorless in-ground compost;
transform fallen leaves into a valuable soil conditioner; and design, build and plant permanent raised beds. Among the important topics covered are:

  • Soil preparation
  • Using cold frames
  • Selecting seeds
  • Transplanting techniques
  • Natural pest and disease control
  • Multiple harvests fromasingle garden
  • Frost protection.

Extensive line drawings and charts plus 50 stunning color photographs illustrate the different gardening steps. For making the most of home-grown fruits and vegetables, 30 outstanding recipes are also included.

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Editorial Reviews

Rocky Mountain News - Dale Langford
Well-illustrated and written, this book has all kinds of tips... Strawberry instructions alone cover several pages.
Tulsa World - Megan Miers
How to create fruit and vegetable gardens that are both pleasing to the eye as well as the palate.
Columbus Dispatch - Michael Leach
Delightfully written, it covers the hows and whys of organic gardening.
Harrowsmith's Truly Canadian Almanac 2008
Lima's gardening books are consistently wonderful, and this is no exception... Though there's plenty of dirt under its nails, the book's practical side is elevated by gorgeous veggie photographs taken by John Scanlan. Bottom Line? The new kitchen garden bible.
Publishers Weekly
Lima's fourth gardening book shares his extensive knowledge of agriculture gleaned from years of tending Larkwhistle (his own home garden in Ontario, Canada) without use of chemicals or pesticides. Larkwhistle, Lima states, "grew out of a flat, sandy hayfield thick with twitch grass and weeds. Seasons of organic care and cultivation have transformed the field into a lush and productive garden." Scanlan's mouthwatering full-color photos of Larkwhistle and its harvest certainly add to Lima's credibility. Lima talks would-be gardeners through the planting of the first seedlings-early and indoors-and explains how to feed the soil with compost and natural fertilizer. He advocates designing the garden around small beds rather than long, tedious rows, and offers specific tips for fruits and vegetables from apples to zucchini, always providing line drawings to illustrate finer points. The book covers natural, effective methods of pest prevention and removal, and includes a comprehensive seeding, sowing and transplanting schedule to ensure fresh foods year round. Lima even tosses in several simple recipes in which to use the resulting bounty. The author's passion for natural gardening is infectious, and his language often borders on poetic ("Watermelons sit there, fat and inscrutable"). His knowledge provides an invaluable source for those just beginning their organic garden, as well as more experienced growers looking for some new tricks. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Almost 30 years ago, Lima and Scanlan relocated to a property in Ontario, Canada, so remote that they had to start growing their own food for survival a scary proposition for men who had only a couple seasons of urban gardening experience (e.g., hauling zoo manure home via a city bus). Now seasoned organic farmers, they share their successful horticultural experiences and recommendations relating to crop types, soil nourishment, intensive gardening, and fostering diversity, among other topics. Organized according to the food grower's year, their tips can be used by gardeners in varying zones but, at the same time, are very standard. The authors' real strengths lie in their encouraging tone and their humor, which they use to relate their trials and errors. Scanlan's photos of intensive beds will inspire readers. Relentless optimism and an appreciation for beauty are as evident here as in the authors' earlier collaboration, The Art of Perennial Gardening: Creative Ways with Hardy Flowers. Recommended for public libraries supplementing or updating existing organic gardening collections. [A Home Style Book Club selection.] Bonnie Poquette, Whitefish Bay, WI Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781552979242
  • Publisher: Firefly Books, Limited
  • Publication date: 2/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint edition
  • Pages: 160
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick Lima is a noted organic gardener based in Ontario and the author of several books, including of The Art of Perennial Gardening.

John Scanlan's photographs have appeared in many books and magazines.

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Read an Excerpt

Breaking New Ground

First Garden

Almost from the moment I set trowel to earth I knew I had found something I loved to do. Suddenly a world of wonders opened up. It was 1973. My friend John Scanlan and I had access to the garden of a rented city house. Like many other people then -- and now -- we were concerned about the array of pesticides routinely used on food plants. A small yard meant that we could grow at least some of our own food free from chemical residues. From the start, it never occurred to us to garden any way other than organically We knew that freshly picked vegetables and fruits are at their nutritional best, and we soon learned how delicious they could be: vine-ripened tomatoes, peas fresh from the pod, a crisp head of cabhage or lettuce mere minutes from garden to salad howl. We also discovered the simple pleasure and satisfaction that come from working with the soil, sowing seeds, tending a garden, bringing in the harvest.

The soil in our first city garden was dense and full of cinders, probably the dumping ground for years worth of coal ashes. But optimistically we dug and planted. Results were mixed. Tomatoes spread into a wild tangle, half their fruit lost under leaves; zucchinis swelled overnight, apparently blown up by some unseen squash fairy Marigolds bloomed among the vegetables and morning glories crawled over everything, Unwittingly we spread fungus on the Swiss chard by watering every evening. Not knowing better, we transplanted small pea vines from the shade to the sunnier front yard; the peas, not knowing that they "resent transplanting," attached themselves to strings and began to climb. Cucumbers soon joined them to veil the frontporch in green vines hung with fruit. Squirrels helped themselves. It was not a completely successful garden, but in a season we were smitten. And we had learned the gardener's perennial refrain: "Next year...."

Our homesteading instincts were roused. That winter we pored over copies of Organic Gardening magazine in preparation for some "real" gardening next spring. Seeds arrived in the mail. From bits of scrap wood, we knocked together shallow boxes for seedlings that sprouted under a bank of florescent lights in the basement. Gardening articles had convinced us that the key to good growth lay in adding quantities of organic matter -- manure, compost, rotted leaves and such -- to the soil. Dutifully we looked around for sources.

As it happened, this was shortly after the downtown zoo had closed. One day, while walking through the deserted grounds, we saw a heap of manure on the other side of a high chain-link fence. The sign on the fence read "Yak," but there was no yak (or any other creature) in sight. Longingly we looked through the fence. "If we could get in there," John said, "with buckets or bags and a shovel..."

Early next morning we were back, with two burlap potato sacks and a spade in hand. Up and over the fence we climbed, and in no time had two bags full -- and heavy. With considerable effort we hoisted the bags over the fence and dragged them to the boulevard. It was going to he a long haul home. There had to be a better way. And there it was, coming down the street. We were soon settled comfortably on the streetcar with our bags of soggy yak dung -- and no one the wiser. It was the first of several excursions to collect what is now sensibly composted and sold as Zoo Poo.

Eager to experiment that second season, we grew a little of almost everything. Adding organic matter to the garden made a noticeable difference. Spaghetti squash trailed along a wire fence, dangling yellow fruit on both sides. Brilliant Scarlet Runner beans coiled up a tropical looking sumac tree. Cabbages and romaine folded into proper heads, while yellow crookneck squash cascaded down a hill of compost. Tomatoes, staked and trained by the book, grew red in the sun. To our delight, the small city yard provided us with almost all the fresh vegetables we needed through the summer and into fall.

To use the yard to the fullest, we laid the garden out in beds (rather than rows) and planted the beds intensively so that every square foot of earth was growing vegetables, herbs or flowers. Even today with room to spare in a country garden, we continue to grow vegetables and fruit in beds tended with basic hand tools.

The chapter called By Design (page 23) details how to design, build and plant intensive beds that make the best use of any space. Throughout the book, photos show small, easily maintained beds of odd shapes and dimensions filled with lettuces, beans, carrots, even corn. To get the most from small space, tomatoes are staked and anything that can climb -- cucumbers, peas, beans, squash -- is directed upward on strings, wire, netting or trellises. For most home gardeners some variation on intensive gardening is the most efficient way to grow -- planting a little of this and that in whatever space you have, back yard or front, along a walkway up a fence or porch. Food plants take their place beautifully in any landscape.

Going to the Country

In July of 1975, just as our second city garden was overflowing with growth and color, notice came: the house was to be sold and we would have to be out by the end of August. Confirmed city slickers until then, it had never occurred to us to search for a place in the country. We had no car. Where would we work? What was out there anyway? And yet, when a friend told us about land four hours north, we decided to investigate. The land, she said, belonged to a couple, university professors who lived in town and had bought property to preserve it. In a spirit of experimentation, the professors had allowed some of their students to build a geodesic dome on the property and try their hand at "homesteading." A succession of students had lived in the dome and done some gardening; but all had pulled up stakes, usually after the first winter. The dome now stood empty our friend said, and assured us that the professors, almost second family to her, would not mind if we moved in and gardened a half-acre corner of the 300-acre parcel.

We had a rough map, a few lines and an X penciled on a scrap of paper. One Saturday morning, we boarded a northbound Greyhound, got off three hours later and reboarded a yellow school bus that traveled on from there on summer weekends. The driver opened her doors for us at a gravel sideroad. Laden with back-packs and tent, rake and shovel over our shoulders, we hitchhiked and walked the remaining six miles in -- looking for a place to garden.

Turning the last corner, we saw a flat field waist-high in swaying grass. A giant dead elm, gray and barkless, spread its twisted arms against the sky. A leaning barn, sided with weathered wooden shingles, sheltered a flock of swallows. Toppling fence posts, looped with rusty; barbed wire, outlined what may once have been a garden. Half-hidden in the grass, a rusty iron hand-pump stood beside a shoulder of exposed rock. The field was broken here and there by piles of rock, old apple trees and banks of lilacs. Later we came to recognize the signs that tell a story: here a family cleared land; piled stones by hand; joined with neighbors to build shelters; planted shrubs, an orchard, daylilies, daffodils, a vegetable garden; perhaps suffered a fire; rebuilt down the road or moved away.

After pitching our tent by the well, we were eager to find out what lay under the grass. Digging through the thatch of roots, we came up with handfuls of earth so dry it flowed through our fingers like sand in an hourglass. This was not the dark loam we were hoping for, but it was late July of a dry year -- and better sand than brick-hard clay. And weren't the magazines filled with tales of unpromising ground transformed into fertile soil?

Back in the woods, and the end of a rutted track, a quarter-mile from field and well, stood the dome, bug-eyed and silver, like an alien craft landed by accident among the maples, a pod-like assembly of 2x4's and canvas covered in something resembling sponge-toffee. The curious cabin was uninhabited, cluttered, dirty and filled with flotsam from previous occupants -- snowshoes, oil-lamps, buckets and basins, an old oak dining table, over-stuffed chairs and a massive wood-burning cookstove -- not, at first glance, unlivable, but not obviously inviting either. If we made the move this would be our home -- no indoor plumbing, no electricity water source a quarter mile away -- at least for a while.

What to do? Nothing in our experience had prepared us for this. The change from city life to living on the land would be drastic and complete. We had no vehicle -- once here, we'd be here. Winter would present special challenges -- firewood to cut, water to haul, the outdoor privy There would be no easy way to run out to a store; we'd be totally isolated. On the other hand, we could garden to our heart's content, without a hiatus of who knew how long, saving tips from waitering jobs, looking for a place, going into debt. The land was not for sale, but it was available. The price was risking change. We could simply start.

It is my experience that at life's inevitable crossroads -- times of difficult decisions-there is often a wise voice of guidance, either from within or without -- an intuition, a friend's counsel, a twist of fate. Was it a coincidence, then, that on the bus going home we happened to sit next to a woman who said exactly what we needed to hear to tip the balance? As we told her what we were contemplating, she asked a few simple questions: "Is there anything keeping you in the city?" (Not really -- no family obligations and restaurant jobs are not hard to find.) "Why not give yourselves a year, try it out, see how you like living in the country? You're not burning any bridges -- you can always go back."

Looking at it that way we were able to see the whole implausible scheme as experiment and adventure. Two weeks later, my brother-in-law hauled us (and three cats) back to the land, trucking our few possessions, a second-hand tiller, and heavy sacks of rice, grains and beans -- enough food to see us through winter, mere months away. After helping us move in, he pulled away with a wave and the encouraging parting words: "You'll never make it here." John tells me that at that moment he made up his mind to meet the challenges presented in this new phase and see them through. A line from the I Ching had stayed with him: "Perseverance brings good fortune."

Not that we knew where "here" was for a year or more. So focused were we on gardening, so tired from hauling water from pump to cabin and flats of seedlings the other way we had no idea that beautiful blue Georgian Bay was just over the hill until one Sunday we went for a longer-than-usual walk.

Digging In

We had come to garden. Taking a clue about where to start from the line of leaning fence posts in the field, we began to clear space. Sputtering with effort, the second-hand tiller chewed into the wiry grass roots. This was no tame lawn. We soon learned to identify quackgrass and bindweed, no friends to gardeners. Or were they? As we tilled, it occurred to us that this sandy soil would have been gone with the wind long ago without the closely woven roots protecting it from erosion. In a few days we had opened up a long narrow strip of earth.Curious to test the soil's potential, we seeded a row of "Purple-Top White Globe" turnips. Over the next weeks, until snow flurries called time-out, we continued to dig, clear, rake and shape beds for spring, It was an ideal fall for turnips -- warm, wet and drawn out. Despite the mid-August planting date, the roots turnips grew fat and round, and by late October we had two bushels of turnips -- our first harvest. We ate a lot of turnips with our rice and beans that winter -- curried turnip, stir-fried and mashed turnip, shredded turnip salad -- and, good as they were, we haven't planted them since.

Winter Wonder

How to describe that first winter? The landscape painted in swaths of simple color: black-and-white birch trunks, shadowy green cedars, the purple-gray haze of the leafless forest. Above the encrusted snow, crackling stalks and seedheads of last summer's wildflowers stood stiff under a sky brilliant blue for a spell, then drained of all color for days on end, even the sun coldly pale behind a veil of icy flakes.

Indigo night skies glittered with more stars than we'd ever seen; moonlit shadows lay across the blue-white snow. I remember the silence, nights so still that at first the silence made us as uneasy as the occasional creak of branches and the howling wolves. What was out there in the dark? Gradually we began to feel safe; to realize that we were in a benign place inhabited by a few industrious squirrels and chipmunks, some brave and lively winter birds -- and little else. During the first raging blizzard we realized how much shelter the trees gave. Moving from open field back into the woods, buckets of water bouncing on a toboggan, was like closing a door on the gale; it was always warmer and calmer in the forest. Chickadees, swooping down to take sunflower seeds from our hands, welcomed us.

It was a winter of new experiences. Priorities were pared to life's basics, first among them keeping warm. Lacking cut and dried wood, we burned what a neighbor called "gopher wood -- you need 'er, you go fur 'er." Cutting dead elm trees with ax and Swede saw, we discovered that wood does indeed warm you twice.

Homework

At one o'clock, every day but Sunday John or I would trudge down to the road, park ourselves in a seat cut in the snowbank, and wait for the mailman's station wagon, often the only car to pass all day. The mail brought gardening books from the library and seed catalogs from all over. In those winter weeks we took a crash course in food-growing. Seed and nursery orders reflected not only curiosity that now had room to grow, but also a wish to raise enough food to feed ourselves all summer and fall with plenty left over to store for winter.

By early March, as the days grew mercifully longer, seedlings began to sprout in pots and flats by the windows. Salvaged lumber and old storm windows became two cold frames that were set outside the moment the snow subsided. More scrap lumber and a pair of old bicycle wheels were transformed into a wobbly version of those expensive two-wheeled garden carts pictured in gardening magazines. We'd be making many trips with tools and plants from cabin to garden and back.

Never was spring more welcome, a stirring reveille after the long spell of sleep. Wet moss shone with emerald vibrancy against glistening snow remnants; spreading junipers shook off winter's weight and sprang back to growth. Ravens heralded the change. As the snow curtain receded from our patch of cleared earth, moist dark beds full of potential came to light. In the woods, white patches still lay in hollows and in the shadow of boulders, but the warming sun roused us to action. It was time to put away the books, roll out the wobbly cart and load it with tools, stakes and string, packers of peas, spinach seeds and onion sets -- the first seeds of our first full season on the land. A new garden beckoned.

For two seasons we concentrated on developing a big organic vegetable garden -- we needed something beside turnips to jazz up those rice and beans -- mining a dense accretion of sheep manure from the tumbling barn to nourish new beds. In standard organic fashion, bug-repellent marigolds and nasturtiums, vivid yellow, orange and scarlet, grew among the vegetables. We were caught. There had to be more color, something for spring at least. In our simple idealism, we took to heart the old saying: If you have two dollars, spend one on bread and one on daffodils: feed body feed soul. Spending our next-to-last twenty on daffodils and crocuses, we tucked them into the earth before hitching (cats and all) back to the city to sort Christmas mail and wait on tables for a few months. What can I say: we were young; we loved to garden.

For Inspiration

Times change. One trial year on the land has become many seasons of making and caring for a garden, putting down roots in a place that is now home. The old dome collapsed one winter under a weighty burden of snow -- luckily no one was in it. Suddenly our small tool shed by the garden had to be enlarged, insulated, and turned into proper living quarters. The old iron hand-pump, first powered with a solar motor, and now operated electrically continues to supply all the water for home and garden. Gradually our horticultural horizons expanded to include herbs, fruit trees and the lovely realm of perennial flowers. Our garden acquired a name: Larkwhistle.

Our purpose in this book is not to provide hard-and-fast rules, but rather to share how we meet the challenges of our site, soil, and climate. Local variations, as specific as the microclimate in your own back yard, need local solutions. Planting times also vary widely from north to south. The tomato plants which we put into our garden in late May might go into the ground in April down south, in June further north. The chapters that follow are organized according to the sequence of the food grower's year. The specific timing of seeding and transplanting changes from one part of the country to another, but the sequence remains the same: plant lettuce, whether early or late, in the cool of the year, and set out your peppers when there is no danger of frost. The calendar and charts on pages 34 -- 35 can be customized to suit your area once you know the approximate date of the last frost in spring and the first frost in fall.

Measuring less than one-quarter of an acre, our kitchen garden yields something good to eat from May until the following March, if you count what is stored, and the hardy roots that stay in the ground all winter. The entire one-acre garden, including a number of flower beds, is nearly full-time work for the two of us, with occasional helpers. All the work is done by hand, except for some spring and fall tilling. Larkwhistle is a big country garden, but the food beds are small, almost intimate, and the techniques we use can be translated to any yard. Whether you wish to grow a summer's supply of salad greens, a few tomatoes and peppers or a full season harvest of all your family's favorites, we hope you'll find both inspiration and information aplenty in these pages. On any scale, an organically tended kitchen garden provides the best-tasting and healthiest food you can find. The natural gardener leaves the soil in good condition, a valuable legacy for future generations.

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Table of Contents

Breaking New Ground

Earth Care
Creating and Sustaining Lively Soil

By Design
A Kitchen Garden Layout

Spring Steps
Indoor Seeding, Outdoor Cold Frames

Trouble
Insects, Weeds, Frost and Water

Sow Cool
Peas, Spinach, Onions and Leeks

Lettuce Alone
From Seed to Salad Bowl

Cultivated Coles
Growing Cabbages and Kin

The Root of the Matter
Carrots, Parsnips, Beets, Radishes and Potatoes

Tropical Fruits
Tomatoes, Peppers and Eggplant

Three Sisters of Life
Corn, Squash and Beans

Fruit of the Vine
Melons and Cucumbers

Second Season
Midsummer Seeding for Fall Eating

Green Exotica
Arugula, Corn Salad, Florence Fennel, Mustard Greens, Radicchio, Chicory and Swiss Chard

All about Alliums
Garlic, Shallots, Egyptian Onions and Wild Leeks

Kitchen-Garden Perennials
Asparagus, Jerusalem Artichokes and Sorrel

The Fruitful Season
Strawberries and Raspberries

Appendix
Seed Sources

Index

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First Chapter

Breaking New Ground First Garden

Almost from the moment I set trowel to earth I knew I had found something I loved to do. Suddenly a world of wonders opened up. It was 1973. My friend John Scanlan and I had access to the garden of a rented city house. Like many other people then — and now — we were concerned about the array of pesticides routinely used on food plants. A small yard meant that we could grow at least some of our own food free from chemical residues. From the start, it never occurred to us to garden any way other than organically We knew that freshly picked vegetables and fruits are at their nutritional best, and we soon learned how delicious they could be: vine-ripened tomatoes, peas fresh from the pod, a crisp head of cabhage or lettuce mere minutes from garden to salad howl. We also discovered the simple pleasure and satisfaction that come from working with the soil, sowing seeds, tending a garden,
bringing in the harvest.

The soil in our first city garden was dense and full of cinders, probably the dumping ground for years worth of coal ashes. But optimistically we dug and planted. Results were mixed. Tomatoes spread into a wild tangle, half their fruit lost under leaves; zucchinis swelled overnight, apparently blown up by some unseen squash fairy Marigolds bloomed among the vegetables and morning glories crawled over everything, Unwittingly we spread fungus on the Swiss chard by watering every evening. Not knowing better, we transplanted small pea vines from the shade to the sunnier front yard; the peas, not knowing that they "resent transplanting," attached themselves to strings and began to climb. Cucumbers soon joined them to veil the front porch in green vines hung with fruit. Squirrels helped themselves. It was not a completely successful garden, but in a season we were smitten. And we had learned the gardener's perennial refrain: "Next year...."

Our homesteading instincts were roused. That winter we pored over copies of Organic Gardening magazine in preparation for some "real" gardening next spring. Seeds arrived in the mail. From bits of scrap wood, we knocked together shallow boxes for seedlings that sprouted under a bank of florescent lights in the basement. Gardening articles had convinced us that the key to good growth lay in adding quantities of organic matter — manure, compost, rotted leaves and such — to the soil. Dutifully we looked around for sources.

As it happened, this was shortly after the downtown zoo had closed. One day, while walking through the deserted grounds, we saw a heap of manure on the other side of a high chain-link fence. The sign on the fence read "Yak," but there was no yak (or any other creature) in sight. Longingly we looked through the fence. "If we could get in there," John said,
"with buckets or bags and a shovel..."

Early next morning we were back, with two burlap potato sacks and a spade in hand. Up and over the fence we climbed, and in no time had two bags full — and heavy. With considerable effort we hoisted the bags over the fence and dragged them to the boulevard. It was going to he a long haul home. There had to be a better way. And there it was, coming down the street. We were soon settled comfortably on the streetcar with our bags of soggy yak dung — and no one the wiser. It was the first of several excursions to collect what is now sensibly composted and sold as Zoo Poo.

Eager to experiment that second season, we grew a little of almost everything. Adding organic matter to the garden made a noticeable difference. Spaghetti squash trailed along a wire fence, dangling yellow fruit on both sides. Brilliant Scarlet Runner beans coiled up a tropical looking sumac tree. Cabbages and romaine folded into proper heads, while yellow crookneck squash cascaded down a hill of compost. Tomatoes, staked and trained by the book, grew red in the sun. To our delight, the small city yard provided us with almost all the fresh vegetables we needed through the summer and into fall.

To use the yard to the fullest, we laid the garden out in beds (rather than rows) and planted the beds intensively so that every square foot of earth was growing vegetables, herbs or flowers. Even today with room to spare in a country garden, we continue to grow vegetables and fruit in beds tended with basic hand tools.

The chapter called By Design (page 23) details how to design, build and plant intensive beds that make the best use of any space. Throughout the book, photos show small, easily maintained beds of odd shapes and dimensions filled with lettuces, beans, carrots, even corn. To get the most from small space, tomatoes are staked and anything that can climb
— cucumbers, peas, beans, squash — is directed upward on strings, wire, netting or trellises. For most home gardeners some variation on intensive gardening is the most efficient way to grow — planting a little of this and that in whatever space you have, back yard or front, along a walkway up a fence or porch. Food plants take their place beautifully in any landscape.

Going to the Country

In July of 1975, just as our second city garden was overflowing with growth and color, notice came: the house was to be sold and we would have to be out by the end of August. Confirmed city slickers until then, it had never occurred to us to search for a place in the country. We had no car. Where would we work? What was out there anyway? And yet, when a friend told us about land four hours north, we decided to investigate. The land, she said, belonged to a couple, university professors who lived in town and had bought property to preserve it. In a spirit of experimentation, the professors had allowed some of their students to build a geodesic dome on the property and try their hand at "homesteading." A succession of students had lived in the dome and done some gardening; but all had pulled up stakes, usually after the first winter. The dome now stood empty our friend said, and assured us that the professors, almost second family to her, would not mind if we moved in and gardened a half-acre corner of the 300-acre parcel.

We had a rough map, a few lines and an X penciled on a scrap of paper. One Saturday morning, we boarded a northbound Greyhound, got off three hours later and reboarded a yellow school bus that traveled on from there on summer weekends. The driver opened her doors for us at a gravel sideroad. Laden with back-packs and tent, rake and shovel over our shoulders, we hitchhiked and walked the remaining six miles in — looking for a place to garden.

Turning the last corner, we saw a flat field waist-high in swaying grass. A giant dead elm, gray and barkless, spread its twisted arms against the sky. A leaning barn, sided with weathered wooden shingles, sheltered a flock of swallows. Toppling fence posts, looped with rusty; barbed wire, outlined what may once have been a garden. Half-hidden in the grass, a rusty iron hand-pump stood beside a shoulder of exposed rock. The field was broken here and there by piles of rock, old apple trees and banks of lilacs. Later we came to recognize the signs that tell a story: here a family cleared land; piled stones by hand; joined with neighbors to build shelters; planted shrubs, an orchard, daylilies, daffodils, a vegetable garden; perhaps suffered a fire; rebuilt down the road or moved away.

After pitching our tent by the well, we were eager to find out what lay under the grass. Digging through the thatch of roots, we came up with handfuls of earth so dry it flowed through our fingers like sand in an hourglass. This was not the dark loam we were hoping for, but it was late July of a dry year — and better sand than brick-hard clay. And weren't the magazines filled with tales of unpromising ground transformed into fertile soil?

Back in the woods, and the end of a rutted track, a quarter-mile from field and well, stood the dome, bug-eyed and silver, like an alien craft landed by accident among the maples, a po

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