Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association

Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening
The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity
An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
New Growth – Portraits of Six Maine Organic Farms

Will Bonsall’s Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening
By Will Bonsall
Chelsea Green, July 2015
400 pages, paperback, $34.95

Anyone who has listened to Will Bonsall speak at MOFGA’s Common Ground Country Fair or at the Seed Swap and Scion Exchange, or who has read his writing in The MOF&G and other publications, will find a familiar friend in this new book of far-reaching gardening and homesteading ideas. Bonsall’s in-depth, firsthand knowledge of growing food for one’s family in novel ways is clearly presented – as is his irrepressible humor and his thoughtful philosophy about some of the ways we might help ourselves economically and nutritionally while also helping the environment – through our “garden without borders.”

“Some of what I do in my garden is radical, but much of it is ordinary,” says Bonsall of his Industry, Maine, homestead called Khadighar. The radical and the ordinary are covered in five parts: soil fertility (compost, green manures, mulch, mineral nutrients, grassland improvement and management); the seed (a section covering sexual and asexual propagation); the crops (vegetables, grains, pulses, oilseeds and permacrops); the garden in context (rocks, water and land; smaller footprints – e.g., ways to grow crops intensively; pests and diseases); and using the harvest (milling, baking, sprouting, freezing, fermenting and more).

From his 40-plus years of gardening experience, Bonsall tells readers how to compost, taking the topic beyond the normal discussion and covering nutrient retention, composting in known quantities, destroying pests in compost, and using ramial wood chips (chips from branches of deciduous trees) in compost. His discussion of soil fertility includes humanure – how his family produces the valuable material and how he uses it in the garden. The chapter on green manures focuses on those he uses – buckwheat, rye, oats and sweet clover – and so makes growing green manures seem doable for the gardener and homesteader.

As an example of Bonsall’s creativity in the garden, he describes how he transplants winter squash into an earlier planting of oats and peas. Once the squash starts to vine, he tramples the oats and peas with a 4- by 4-foot piece of plywood that he steps on. Then he mulches the area with leaves and old hay or chipped twigs. This is a great solution for those of us whose gardens are too small for a roller-crimper!

Mulches may include living mulches of oats and ladino or red clover in corn, shredded leaves or ramial wood chips. Bonsall talks about “the profoundly radical importance of forest-based fertility” and the idea that “we won’t choose trees over people; we’ll keep trees in order to feed people.” This is all part of Bonsall’s veganic (plant-based) cultivation and use of local resources, rather than using imported animal manure, for example – or, horrors, synthetic chemical fertilizers. Even materials commonly used on organic farms and gardens, such as azomite or Sul-Po-Mag, are rarely used at Khadighar, because “they don’t grow here and they have a huge carbon footprint.”

As with green manures, Bonsall explains seed saving in terms and methods that should have readers saving seed of at least a few species. “You don’t need a mission statement, just a healthy appetite!” says Bonsall. He explains such topics as self- versus hand-pollination and isolation distances clearly and simply.

If you want to know how to grow beans on sunflower stalks, which type of wheat is good to grow in your garden, how to thresh hazelnuts, how to make a stone retaining wall or a drainage ditch, how to shell flint corn or make wheat berry “meat loaf” – and tons more – this unique addition to the horticultural literature is the book for you.

– Jean English


The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity
By Carol Deppe
Chelsea Green, 2015
288 pages, $24.95 paper

The Tao Te Ching is an ancient Chinese text that, for some people, provides everything from political advice to practical wisdom. For Carol Deppe, it provides a framework of concepts that allow her to dig deeper into the essence of gardening. Looking for wise words about tomato blight? She’s got you covered. Same with sowing seeds, transplanting crops and preparing the harvest. Car repairs and marital advice? Not so much.

Deppe organizes her newest book by important Taoist principles: balance, honoring the essential nature of the earth, nurturing, not-knowing and effortless effort. But her discussion is down to earth. Gardening, she says, is about more than growing food. It’s spiritual and emotional.

Gardening involves honoring the land and honoring the plants we grow on that land. It also means honoring our inner gardener. Just as the crops we plant should suit our climate, the way we garden should suit our nature.

Be flexible, Deppe advises, like the supple branch that bends in the wind. Do you plant in rows or raised beds? Or do you do a little of each? Be open to substituting greens for lettuce in salads, to using containers for growing plants along a walkway or drive, and to appreciating weeds as potential food.

One of the essential principles of Tao is finding balance. Gardening is about more than how much space you have, says Deppe. We don’t need to mow – or tend – every square foot around us. “The garden is one of the best places to learn about knowing when to stop,” she says, and provides reasons to not plant vegetables: Don’t plant it if you don’t like it. Don’t plant it if it’s hard to grow in your area. Instead of messing around with sweet potato slips, why not plant winter squash? Before committing seed to soil, Deppe asks WIRHMT (would I rather have more tomatoes)?

Deppe likes tomatoes so much that she uses them to illustrate basic seed-starting techniques and tries to answer the age-old question of whether they really do love carrots. (Yes, but only when they sleep in separate beds.) In addition to advice about water, vine support and blight, she lists 30 interesting, open-pollinated tomato varieties to try. As for weeds, Deppe reminds us that we should “stop trouble before it starts.” For most of us that means hoeing them or using mulch to avoid epic battles later on.

What I found most interesting was Deppe’s “eat-all greens” garden. This is a no-labor gardening strategy in which she sows ‘Green Wave’ mustard along with 10 more greens that provide great nutrition. Instead of broccoli, where you eat just the florets, these greens are consumed in their entirety. You can eat them in salads, soups, stew, steamed or lacto-fermented. Growing them in monoculture patches works best, she says.

There are cycles of life both in and out of the garden, and Deppe ends with a chapter on seed saving. She tells how to save and store seeds, and offers guidelines for creating your own landrace (locally adapted variety). While saving seeds offers a wonderful way to complete the garden, she reminds readers that “you will not fall off the edge of the Earth if you don’t save all your own seed.” Like the Tao says: Find balance.

– Sue Smith-Heavenrich


An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
by Tamar Adler
Scribner, 2012
272 pages, paperback, $15

Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal” is a small and humble-looking book, but much like the old wooden spoon on your counter, it is a simple and lovely thing of great value. Modeled on M.F.K. Fisher’s “How to Cook a Wolf,” Adler’s text unfolds with plainspoken eloquence. In whimsically named chapters such as “How to Make Peace” and “How to Build a Ship,” Adler speaks for what is simple, sound and time-tested in the kitchen realm. Without playing preacher or cheerleader, she advocates humanely raised meat, sustainable seafood and well-grown produce in a voice that’s both poetic and pragmatic. Her tone is one moment filled with reverence (“If cheese is milk’s leap toward immortality, aioli is garlic and egg’s collective shot at the firmament”) and the next with wry humor (“Unless you are an aspiring laser beam, your microwave won’t teach you anything”). Recipes are scattered like judicious seasoning wherever they’re fit, in terms that don’t allow the cook to be intimidated. Simple but daunting tasks such as roasting an entire fish or making confit are laid out in exactly the same light as poaching eggs or roasting vegetables, with equal dignity dispensed to each. Adler even spends an entire chapter on reclaiming boiling as a deliberate and satisfying means to cook.

Adler, who has cooked her way from Italy to Brooklyn and in lauded restaurants such as Chez Panisse, never lets us feel unwelcome or ill-prepared in the pages of her kitchen. In each elegant but adaptable recipe, we’re reminded of how intimately we can be acquainted with the work of nourishment, and how that work is a worthy labor in itself.

Perhaps the best summary of Adler’s book comes from her own pen: “... there is great dignity in allowing oneself to keep clear about what is good ... Whether things were ever simpler than they are  now, or better if they were, we can’t know. We do know that people have always found ways to eat and live well, whether on boiling water or bread or beans, and that some of our best eating hasn’t been our most foreign or expensive or elaborate, but quite plain and quite familiar. And knowing that is probably the best way to cook, and certainly the best way to live.”

Reading “An Everlasting Meal” is a renewing experience for the work-worn or novice cook alike, reminding us that nourishment is a practice, not a blessing arriving from out of the blue.

– Hannah Kreitzer


New Growth – Portraits of Six Maine Organic Farms
By Peter Felsenthal
Gray Crow Press, P.O. Box 483, Trevett, ME 04571, 2014
146 pages, hardcover; $23.80

Writer and photographer Peter Felsenthal of Boothbay has created a work of art and a tribute to Maine farmers by portraying six of them in his self-published book, “New Growth.”

The images, says former MOFGA president Amanda Beal in her introduction, “reveal the obvious joy these innovative and dedicated farmers experience as they produce our food, and illuminate why it is that farmers who work to use sustainable farming practices hold a much-deserved growing importance in our culture.”

The MOFGA community will garner deep satisfaction from these photos of friends pictured on their farms, with their kids (some now grown), their crops and livestock; in their fields, greenhouses and kitchens. This is a glimpse of the life we all know and love, with fascinating variations on our own personal farm and garden themes.

Rob Johanson of Goranson Farm, a MOFGA certified organic farm, says, for instance, “Here in Maine, there is a general perception of farming as an honorable profession, so there is an underlying level of respect for those of us who make our living this way.”

The chapter on MOFGA certified organic Balfour Farm, a Pittsfield dairy, begins with a shot of owners Doug and Heather Donahue’s unique looking cows – a mix of Normandes, Holsteins and Jerseys, many with captivating coloring around their eyes, like cow makeup. Doug talks about their “forever cow,” Blackie, a “family treasure” who’s been part of the farm for more than 14 years.

Jessie Dowling of Fuzzy Udder Creamery raises sheep and goats and makes cheese. Prospective farmers will be interested in how she got and financed her farm, with help from Slow Money Maine, Maine Farmland Trust, an Indiegogo campaign, off-farm work at Fedco, renting rooms … and selling cheese.

The photos of Jeff Burchstead farming Buckwheat Blossom Farm with draft horses are classic. Jeff’s credit to his wife, Amy, is sincere and heartwarming: “It’s tricky to run a business and a family at the same time … I don’t even pretend that I run the family. Amy really does, and I try to do what I can.” Jeff’s off-farm work as a sheep shearer helps the farm succeed financially.

Nate Drummond and Gabrielle Gosselin’s MOFGA certified organic Six River Farm offers more gorgeous shots of happy crops and happy farmers – except, perhaps, for the photo of their hoop house plastic shorn off by wind. Discussion about sharing tools and equipment in their farming community in Bowdoinham is inspiring.

Who wouldn’t identify with Felsenthal’s description of the “deep satisfaction” that Kyle DePietro and Angela Trombley reap “from the first sight of their crops coming out of the ground to the look of the harvested vegetables” at their Squire Tarbox Farm – also MOFGA certified – on Westport Island? Trombley is quoted, “The universe always provides for us. That’s our mantra, and it’s very true.” The reader will agree, from looking at Felsenthal’s rich photos of lush crops, contented pigs, happy children, and from reading his prose, that this universe of farms is providing us with good food and a nourishing environment.

– Jean English