Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

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Caterpillars in the Field and Garden: : A Field Guide to the Butterfly Caterpillars of North America,
by Thomas J. Allen, Jim P. Brock and Jeffrey Glassberg

The End of Food,
by Thomas F. Pawlick

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible
and Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers, by Edward C. Smith

How to Build Your Own Greenhouse: Designs and Plans to Meet Your Growing Needs,
by Roger Marshall

Building Your Own Earth Oven: 3rd edition: A low-cost, wood-fired, mud oven, simple sourdough bread, perfect loaves,
by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field

The Organic Lawn Care Manual,
by Paul Tukey

Human Sacrifice,
by James P. Moore

Caterpillars in the Field and Garden: : A Field Guide to the Butterfly Caterpillars of North America, by Thomas J. Allen, Jim P. Brock and Jeffrey Glassberg
2005, Oxford University Press; 232 pages, $29.95, paper

This field guide, the first of its kind, is a must-have for the butterfly gardener who wants to know whether those wormy plant-eating critters are in fact young butterflies-to-be. Those who want a guide that distinguishes moth caterpillars from those of butterflies will have to wait. Moth species outnumber butterflies 10 to one and, unfortunately, no easy guidelines differentiate the two (though Allen et al. devote three pages of photos to common moth caterpillars). Still, with pages packed with color photos, distributions and descriptions, this book offers a lot to the curious garden naturalist.

As one who has wondered why the wooly bear crossed the road, and where do Monarch caterpillars go at night, I appreciate the section on “how to find the caterpillars.” Searching for butterfly caterpillars is an undeveloped art, write the authors. Finding them is often harder than finding the adults. “In fact,” they write, “some of North America’s caterpillars have never been seen in their natural habitat.”

Their suggestions? Look for butterfly caterpillars on their suspected food plants. Because some of these caterpillars are secretive, look under leaves or in rolled leaves. Knowing when they’ll most likely be feeding on plants, and having a photo to help with identification, will contribute to success. You can also grow the preferred food plants in your garden and hope that an adult lays eggs there, or wait for wandering caterpillars to discover the delicacies you’ve sown. Except for a couple of species, notably the Cabbage White and Swallowtails, most butterfly larvae will not eat the same things you grow in your vegetable garden.

This book has useful information on identifying caterpillars by families, and a mini-lecture on the biology of butterflies. One of the more interesting sections is about caterpillar behavior. Because these creatures are small and generally go about their business unseen, we don’t often think about whether they communicate or how they scare off enemies. While Skippers hide in rolled leaf shelters, others may drop to the ground and hide in leaf litter. Some bore into fruits, flowers and stems to shelter from enemies, while others use coloring. The bright colors of the Monarch warn birds that “these taste bad.” Other, tastier species mimic the black and white look of bird droppings during their early lives, taking on more color as they shed their skin and grow larger.

Caterpillars that feed at night may do so to avoid predation by wasps. Others have huge eyespots to frighten predators. Swallowtails have a fleshy gland, the osmeterium, which gives off a pungent and offensive odor to intruders; others extrude acids from their spines and hairs.

While many people like the idea of planting butterfly gardens, most folks tend to plant the showy blooms that attract the nectar-feeding adults. “If you want to plant a real butterfly garden,” write the authors, “you need to provide the plants that caterpillars eat.” While butterflies will feed on many blooms, their offspring are more persnickety. In my garden Swallowtails seem to chow down on everything from dill to carrots to parsley, but the Harris Checkerspot dines only on flat-topped white asters. The astute butterfly gardener will plant host plants for butterflies that live in his or her region, along with the authors’ short list of “plants every butterfly garden should have.

“And, of course, avoid the use of pesticides in your garden,” they write. This probably is an unnecessary warning to most of us, but important for those who may just be developing an interest in butterfly gardens.

The meat of the book is, of course, the field guide. We are given both common and scientific names along with identification information, including habitat notes, best time to find, preferred host plants, and even garden tips. Each caterpillar has a range map and color photo. Perusing this guide, I discovered some of the caterpillars I’ve seen around my garden, Fritillaries and Skippers mostly. And I got a chuckle from this comment on Cabbage Whites: “considered a pest by some.”

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich
Candor, N.Y.


The End of Food, by Thomas F. Pawlick
2006, Barricade Books, Fort Lee, NJ 07024;, 201-944-7600; 256 pgs., paperback; 16.95

Pawlick, a science reporter, begins his book with his return to Canada after living in Italy, home of fresh, delicious, nutritious food, for eight years. He buys a tomato at the grocery store, only to find that it is tasteless, never really ripens, and bounces off a wall (rather than splattering) when thrown. He begins to wonder: What’s happened to our food?

Investigations lead him to U.S., Canadian and British data showing significant declines in vitamin and mineral concentrations in produce and wheat, along with increases in sodium and fat.  Pawlick interviews university tomato breeders to find out how this has happened. In response to his question about what they breed for, flavor and nutrition are not mentioned. Yield, uniformity, ease of harvesting, etc. – this is the stuff of modern tomatoes. One set of data, for instance, showed that today’s tomatoes had 30.7% less vitamin A and 16.9% less vitamin C than tomatoes did in 1963; while sodium increased by 200 percent.

Pawlick describes other disturbing trends in agriculture and food systems: vertical and horizontal integration; genetic engineering; additives, intentional and otherwise, that contaminate food, from heavy metals and brominated compounds to the products of nanotechnology. The book seems to leave no industrial agricultural stone unturned. It provides a lively and disturbing synopsis of modern industrial agriculture.

The book ends with solutions: farmers’ markets, Community Supported Agriculture farms, community gardens, farm-to-restaurant connections, and more. Pawlick make your taste buds tingle for a scrumptious meal of real food.

For those who have been following agriculture for a while, The End of Food will be mostly review. For those new to the subject, it offers a concise overview.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was Chapter 10: Connections, in which publications and organizations that are working to create an ecological agriculture are annotated. Lots of tempting stuff is listed here, such as J.T. Garrett’s The Cherokee Herbal (Bear & Co., Rochester, Vt., 2003); Frank Gardner’s Traditional American Farming Techniques (The Globe Pequot Press, 2001, reprinted from a 1916 text); Vegetable Crop Culture by V.I. Shattuck and M. McKnight (Univ. of Guelph Dept. of Plant Agriculture, Guelph, Ontario, 2003); Appropriate Technology Sourcebook  by Ken Darrow and Mike Saxenian (Volunteers in Asia, 1993); and several more.

– J E


The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, by Edward C. Smith
310 pgs., large paperback, Storey Books, 2000; $24.95
Incredible Vegetables from Self-Watering Containers, by Edward C. Smith
256 pgs., large paperback, Storey Books, 2006; $19.95

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible has been on and off my shelf since it was published. I’ve enjoyed it over the years when I’ve checked it for pest control or other cultural techniques related to organic gardening.  Sometimes I just browsed through it in early spring to dream about the coming garden while the ground was still frozen. The gorgeous photos, taken by numerous photographers, including Smith’s wife, Sylvia Ferris Smith; and the clean and inviting layout of the book hold my attention like a good movie or story or a beautiful garden.

This spring I referred to the Bible while “substitute teaching” a gardening class at Unity College and found that it was just the right level for students who had minimal gardening experience, even as it continued to reveal new information to me. Smith discusses his “WORD” system (Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds, Deep soil) in three sections: one on garden planning; one on soil building; and one on the basics of vegetable and herb culture. 

Smith’s newer work, describing growing vegetables in containers that are “self-watering” through various capillary systems, is just as inviting as his previous book. Some of the basic cultural information is repeated; some is new. I look forward to trying his suggestion for battling cucumber beetles: vacuuming them with a hand-held, portable vacuum cleaner. 

The information about how self-watering containers work, how to make your own such containers, and about Smith’s “secret soil formula,” which I guess I can’t reveal here, differentiate the Incredible book from the Bible. Anyone who has limited time, space or sunlight in the landscape will benefit from this book promoting Smith’s “POTS” system (Portable, Organic, Trouble-free, Secret soil formula). By using the POTS system, gardeners can grow even sun-loving crops: Put them in moveable pots and rearrange them as the sun moves.

Smith’s love of gardening permeates these books. Pick them up and you’ll be starting new garden projects, too, and you’ll be looking forward to reading about the next four-letter-word gardening system that Smith comes up with.

– J E


How to Build Your Own Greenhouse: Designs and Plans to Meet Your Growing Needs, by Roger Marshall
Storey Publishing; 2006; 255 pages; $24.95

With the effects of climate change becoming more and more obvious, we're seeing that change won't be as simple as milder winters and longer growing seasons. As this past winter and spring have evidenced, we can probably count on weather that's generally more erratic than we're used to: mud seasons in January followed by record breaking cold, then early thaws and April blizzards.  How timely, then, that this book has been published. 

How to Build Your Own Greenhouse contains over 250 pages of information for the homeowner and smallholder wishing to gain a bit more control over the weather on a small piece of land, as well as for farmers or current greenhouse owners hoping to upgrade or better use existing structures.

Starting with the history of growing "under glass,” the book then offers information on different styles of greenhouses, how to choose which is right for you, what materials you can choose from, how to build the greenhouse (from the foundation and carpentry to the wiring and glazing) and how to control the greenhouse environment. The author objectively covers many options in the design and construction of greenhouses, clearly discussing advantages and drawbacks of each. He covers alternative building techniques (e.g., rammed earth and recycled glass) as well as decidedly less environmental options (e.g., PVC).

The last and, by far, largest section of the book contains complete plans for 10 styles of home-scale greenhouses and cold frames.  Some are quite involved, with concrete or brick foundations, wood frames and real glass glazing; others are as simple as dirt floors with plastic piping for hoops; and some aren't even free-standing, being constructed off the side of a house or around an existing window.

If you've ever wondered how to extend your gardening season, how to grow tropical plants in Maine without rotting your house out from under you with all the moisture, or how to make better use of a hoophouse or greenhouse that you already have, then How to Build Your Own Greenhouse will be a great resource.

– Clayton Carter


Building Your Own Earth Oven: 3rd edition: A low-cost, wood-fired, mud oven, simple sourdough bread, perfect loaves, by Kiko Denzer with Hannah Field, Foreword by Alan Scott
Hand Print Press, P.O. Box 576, Blodgett OR 97326; 541-438-4300;; 2007, 132 pages, $17.95

About three years ago, I started baking artisan, sourdough bread, and the idea of making my own wood-fired oven appealed to me.  Until the fall of 2006, I had planned on building a wood-fired, brick oven. It was difficult to start the project, though, because it seemed so complicated. Then a friend suggested I make a clay oven instead. I had never considered a clay oven, but he let me borrow a book called Building Your Own Earth Oven by Kiko Denzer. After I read the book, I realized that a clay oven was exactly what I wanted to build. A clay oven is inexpensive, quick, easy to make, and in the end, you have a functional, beautiful and unique work of art. All the information I needed was right there in this simple book.

Now a third edition of Building Your Own Earth Oven is available, with more photos, drawings and detailed information on how to build a clay oven and how to make sourdough bread. Denzer walks the reader though all the steps in the oven building process, starting with considerations on where to build the oven and suggestions on where to get materials. (Maybe even right in your own back yard!)  He then goes over information about building the foundation, the floor, the clay walls and the door. He describes how to use the oven and emphasizes that it's not just for bread: think pizza, beans, veggies, meats, soups, cookies, pies, and even yogurt!  And – critical for the new oven owner – the book includes a troubleshooting section. Denzer's wife, Hannah, also gives instruction on how to make simple sourdough bread. 

The overall message of the book is: Experiment!   If you make a mistake when building the oven, "Don't worry!” says Denzer. “The second time is easier – and faster.” Knowing this helped take some pressure off me when I made my oven.  It doesn't have to be perfect. The point is to be creative – to create something that is all yours. I recommend Denzer's book for anyone who is interested in making and/or baking with wood-fired ovens.

– Kendra Michaud


The Organic Lawn Care Manual, by Paul Tukey
Storey Publishing, 2007; 272 pgs., large paperback, $19.95

With The Organic Lawn Care Manual, Paul Tukey and Storey Publishing have done their part to save the world. In this attractively produced, easily read book, the writer and publisher have clearly and invitingly stated the reasons for abandoning toxic lawn care practices.  Top among those reasons are the health of one’s children, of oneself and of one’s pets.  The cover photo of three sets of bare feet walking across a lawn, with none of those scary “Caution – Pesticide Treated” signs around, says it all.

In her foreword to the book, Nell Newman talks about preparing Thanksgiving dinner for her father, who previously “was skeptical about organic products and methods.” After he enjoyed the dinner, Nell asked, “So, how did you like your organic meal, Pa?” Nell showed by doing, and Pa got hooked on organic.

Tukey does the same.  With beautiful photos and with stories of individuals and communities (even a golf course) that have cut or eliminated toxic lawn “care” chemicals, and with straightforward directions about how to establish, renovate and care for an organic lawn, Tukey shows by example. He writes about building good soil to grow healthy plants that resist pests and weather extremes.  He teaches about watering, weeding and mowing lawns (even predicting that the gasoline-powered, highly polluting lawn mower will soon be a thing of the past). Tukey describes his own conversion to organic lawn care, and in so doing makes this book accessible to those who are still using synthetic lawn chemicals.  He does a nice job of inviting everyone to the party and not making anyone feel guilty for past behavior.

Abundant illustrations (of weeds, grass species and groundcovers, for example) and tables (of grass species, organic nutrient sources, organic pest controls, for example) make the information easily accessible and understandable. 

Even if you’re the most lackadaisical lawn care person around (as I am), you’ll enjoy this book for ideas you may not have considered before – such as using a rubber pond liner, which will last some 20 years, as a solarizing mulch to create a new lawn (or garden) spot; or installing a 4-foot-diameter, 4-foot-deep basin, filled with crushed stone, to intercept 200 gallons of water that might otherwise wash away or make a swamp of part of your landscape (the directions are a little more involved, but not difficult); or why you might want to apply humic acids to your lawn; and how to establish the ideal lawn for various lawn games—including disc golf, which involves throwing a Frisbee at a target until you hit it.

The Organic Lawn Care Manual is an important, useful and entertaining book. Perhaps reading it could be part of the “fine” that Maine’s Board of Pesticides Control imposes on lawn care companies that go astray.

– JE


Human Sacrifice,
by James P. Moore
Second edition, 2006; $15, Blackberry Books, 617 E. Neck. Rd., Nobleboro ME 04555
Human Sacrifice has little to do with farming or gardening – but a lot to do with a particular farmer, Dennis Dechaine, who has been in the Maine State Prison since 1988, serving a life sentence for the murder of 12-year-old Sarah Cherry. Moore’s quick and fascinating read questions Dechaine’s guilt and calls for a fair trial that includes DNA evidence. 

Why mention this book in The MOF&G?  Because readers learn how fallible and dysfunctional our legal system can be, and how easily a Maine farmer was put away for the crime – apparently without rigorous consideration of other suspects. MOFGA members have expressed strong feelings about this case:  Some are convinced that the right person is behind bars and that consequently we’re all safer; others cannot reconcile how such a gentle, fellow farmer was found guilty.  Whatever your sense of the truth is, this second edition of Moore’s book is a valuable read. For more information, see
– JE