The Complete Book of Potatoes
What's Gotten into Us? Staying Healthy in a Toxic World
The New Maine Cooking
The Complete Book of Potatoes: What every grower and gardener needs to know
Hielke De Jong, Joseph B. Sieczka and Walter De Jong.
Timber Press, 2011
260 pages, $34.95, hardbound
Potatoes are grown worldwide, adapt to a wide range of growing conditions and provide a good source of nutrients and fiber. Given its diversity and Andean origins, the humble potato offers great potential for sustainable and organic growers, even on marginal land.
In this book, De Jong et al. provide general guidelines about how best to grow potatoes using organic or conventional practices. They begin with an introduction to plant structure and function. Like tomatoes, potato cultivars can be determinate or indeterminate. And daylength, not flowering, determines tuber formation.
Soil fertility is important. The authors recommend incorporating a legume cover crop the previous year with manure no later than 120 days before harvest. They also emphasize the importance of planting healthy seed, and describe how seed potatoes are certified. They devote a brief chapter to establishing and maintaining plants. Put potatoes in early, they say, suggesting that growers plant green-sprouted seed under row covers and hill them as soon as plants are 6 inches tall. The key to successful growing, they say, is consistent watering when the plant is developing.
De Jong et al. devote a chapter to diseases, insects, weeds and other problems, such as deer and rodents. They include good photos of blackleg, blight and other problems.
A 10-page chapter on organic methods focuses on enriching the soil, insect management, disease management and weeds. However, the chapter on harvesting and storage is too brief, more like a checklist for experienced gardeners.
One of the more interesting discussions focuses on special techniques for growing potatoes, including container gardening. For the more enthusiastic growers, or those interested in backyard breeding, the authors include information about harvesting seeds (not tubers) and growing those into plants. Later they devote a chapter to cultivar development, an interesting resource for curious breeders.
Given that two of the authors are breeders, the book inevitably ends with a focus on germplasm conservation and plant diversity issues. Climate change will demand adaptation of our crops – including potatoes – they say. They point toward the Andes as the genetic homeland of the potato, noting that wild potatoes grow in places as diverse as rocky crevices and forest borders. But even there potatoes are experiencing “genetic erosion” through habitat loss, increased herbicide use and replacement by modern cultivars.
The most useful chapter, I thought, was the 48-page “cultivar descriptions from A to Z,” with important specs on 55 varieties: yield, vine maturity, culinary characteristics, storability and where the variety was developed. That’s where I learned that ‘Keuka Gold,’ a variety I love, was developed in New York and is “well suited for growing under organic conditions.”
This is a great book for gardeners with a bit of dirt under their fingernails. First-time spud farmers will want to first check a grower’s guide such as Cornell’s 2011 Organic Production Guide for Potatoes (http://nysipm.cornell.edu/organic_guide/potato.pdf)
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
by Patricia Foreman
2010, Good Earth Publications
464 pages, paperback, $22.50
If you wondered what City Chicks is about, the subtitle spells it out: “keeping micro-flocks of chickens as garden helpers, compost creators, bio-recyclers and local food suppliers.” From coops to poop, Patricia Foreman explains why chickens are a natural fit for urban neighborhoods and how keeping them makes your garden grow.
Foreman, who has raised chickens for more than 20 years, argues that city hens can divert food waste from landfills and save taxpayers millions of dollars. Letting chickens convert food waste to eggs and garden fertilizer means fewer truck trips to the landfill – less wear and tear on roads, reduced fuel costs and lower diesel emissions. Also, sending less biomass to landfills means converting less waste to methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
Some cities have already tried handing out hens to homeowners. The Belgian city of Diest gave three laying hens each to 2,000 households, expecting to save $600,000 a year in waste management and to extend the lifespan of its landfill.
Foreman outlines the job description for a backyard hen: aerate compost; clean up fallen fruit; weed the garden; pest patrol. Chickens nosh on pesky fleas and ticks – a plus for those living in Lyme disease infested regions.
Because she’s talking urban chick, Foreman focuses on small coops and “chicken tractors.” To maintain property values and to address odors, Foreman says to design coops that will enhance property values. She provides plenty of plans and photos and discusses space, ventilation, heating, water and bedding. She sizes things to fit garden beds 3 to 4 feet wide by 10 feet long. She details how to create good garden soil with the help of a half dozen hens, and discusses how to engage in a composting partnership with chickens.
Foreman devotes a couple of chapters to finding the right hens, from heritage breeds to breeds adapted to various climates.
One of the more interesting chapters describes how to be a “chicken whisperer.” Chickens have a highly developed auditory sense and communicate with a wide variety of sounds. “Hens,” writes Foreman, “have their own culture, vocabulary and their own view of the cosmos.” Understanding their language is central to decoding their pecking order.
Foreman includes excellent chapters on chicken health care, creating a home egg business, and legal issues.
– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
What's Gotten into Us? Staying Healthy in a Toxic World
by McKay Jenkins
Random House, 2011
321 pages, hardcover, $26
McKay Jenkins gets us up and about in this engaging exposé based on body-burden studies – bioassays that show high levels of industrial chemicals in the blood and urine of every subject tested. He walks us through the aisles of a store, identifying consumer goods that contain the most-toxic plasticizers: in particular phthalates (in soft plastics and in synthetic fragrances), bisphenol A (in hard plastic and in tin-can linings), perfluorinated chemicals (in Teflon coatings and stain repellents), brominated flame retardants (in polyurethane foam, fabric, electronics, etc.). The displays of cosmetics, laundry products and air fresheners, toys, paints and pesticides are subject to exacting scrutiny, with documented descriptions of chemical ingredients and the damage they cause.
The author takes us with him in an environmental inspection of his own house, on an excursion to assess drinking-water quality in the Brandywine Valley of Pennsylvania and Delaware, and to various parts of Maine, where he revisits the 2007 "Body of Evidence" report, interviewing survey director Mike Belliveau and several participants. The final chapter is devoted to lawn pesticides and the efforts of Maine organic landscaper Paul Tukey to raise awareness of the hazards of chemical weed and bug killers. We are introduced also to a rare entomologist, Doug Tallamy, who views insects as essential to ecosystems, not plagues to be exterminated.
The book begins with an account of Jenkins' own cancer scare (a tumor that, though benign, did not just happen without external triggers) and ends with strategies for future progress. Throughout, the Maine study participants have starring roles, two in particular: MOFGA director Russ Libby cites the deaths of 19 friends in recent months, 10 from cancer, and goes on to assert: "It's not my lifestyle that caused my exposure, it's the world's …. we all have to say 'enough.' " And despite aggressive lobbying by heavily vested interests, Rep. Hannah Pingree led the legislature to adopt "a European-style policy that gives the benefit of the doubt to public health rather than the chemical industry."
– Jody Spear, Harborside
The New Maine Cooking
by Jean Ann Pollard
Maine Authors Publishing, 2011
288 pgs., paperback, $24.95
Local bookstores and www.maineauthorspublishing.com
Jean Ann Pollard – one of the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmers in Maine (with her husband, Peter Garrett) and a long-time champion of local organic foods – has had her successful 1987 cookbook reprinted. With the emphasis on local, seasonal foods that has joyfully grown in recent years, her book is a welcome addition, providing creative and delicious ways to use those foods. From the beautiful cover to the easily read seasonal recipes and the helpful index, The New Maine Cooking will inspire users to feast on daylily blossoms and fiddleheads from their own landscapes, to serve up New Potatoes in Fresh Lemon using potatoes from their own gardens, to incorporate fresh farmers’ market produce in Cuban Black Beans, and to support local fisheries by serving Classic New Maine Fish Chowder. Pollard’s delightful illustrations complement the text, and her glossary of ingredients is instructional and fun to read. After an explanation about why sea salt is so good, Pollard adds that it “just seems more Maine-y.” Get this book now so that you can feast on Parsnip Stew and Fiddlehead Salad, among the first recipes offered.
– J E
“The United Nations Development Program recently reported that an astonishing 800 million people worldwide are now engaged in urban agriculture, producing from 15 percent to 20 percent of the world’s food.” So says an article called “The Constant Gardeners,” by Jocelyn Zukerman (Onearth, Nov. 28, 2011; www.onearth.org/article/the-constant-gardeners?page=1), which details interesting urban growing techniques used in Kenya, including “small biodegradable bags designed to hold human waste (urea crystals inside kill off pathogens) that can be collected and eventually processed into fertilizer.”
Live and archived webinars on organic farming and research are posted at www.extension.org/pages/25242/webinars-by-eorganic.
The New England Vegetable & Fruit Conference Proceedings are posted at www.newenglandvfc.org.
New York organic farmer Mark Dunau of Mountain Dell Farm celebrated the end of last year’s brutal farming season by releasing a music video of his song Truck Driving Dog. “It should bring a smile to your face as it celebrates truck driving dogs, the rural life, and the farm-to-table connection,” says Dunau. Watch the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=vONA8Ji3Rmg. Dunau has also been asking presidential candidates what they would do for the self-employed, who cannot deduct healthcare premiums as a business expense and who pay double in self-employment taxes. See http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/21/a-small-business-owner-bird-dogs-the-republican-candidates/#more-56127.
The Maine District Office of the U.S. Small Business Association has information about starting and managing a business, obtaining financing and training, and much more at www.sba.gov/about-offices-content/2/3163 ; and the U.S. Small Business Administration has a clear and concise list of “10 Steps to Hiring Your First Employee” at www.sba.gov/content/10-steps-hiring-your-first-employee.
The Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture and GROWN Locally developed a 24-page Grower’s Manual (www.leopold.iastate.edu/pubs-and-papers/2011-10-growers-manual) to help local food cooperatives improve their handling practices and meet food safety standards.
Crop Rotation on Organic Farms: A Planning Manual delves into the applications of crop rotation, including improving soil quality and health, and managing insects, diseases and weeds. Download the free pdf at www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/Crop-Rotation-on-Organic-Farms.
Jean Paul Courtens of Roxbury Farm in New York state has valuable cultivation information posted under “Information for farmers” at www.roxburyfarm.com, including the Roxbury Farm Crop Manual, a detailed and succinct description of the farm’s practices for individual crops; a harvest manual; seeding and planting dates; soil fertility practices and more.
Europe's Climate Farmers lists farming practices that reduce the impact of agriculture on climate change at www.najk.nl/ondernemende-jongeren/projecten-en-activiteiten/projecten/climate-farmers/