Book Review: The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds

complete guide to saving seedsThe Complete Guide to Saving Seeds: 322 Vegetables, Herbs, Flowers, Fruits, Trees, and Shrubs
by Robert Gough and Cheryl Moore-Gough
Gardening
310 pages
Published 2011

This is an amazing reference book. It begins with some general chapters on why you should save seeds, the anatomy of seeds, and some basic techniques for harvesting seeds, hand-pollinating, basic general principles of seed storage and the like. Then it dives into the real meat of the book, the chapters on the specific plants. They’re divided into the six broad categories listed in the subtitle: vegetables, herbs, flowers, fruits, trees, and shrubs. Within those chapters, each species is listed separately, with notes on the scientific name, the species family, the plant type (annual, biennial, perennial), seed viability, how many plants to save seed from, spacing for seed saving, and then a few paragraphs on flowering and pollination, any isolation requirements, and specifics on how to harvest, clean, and store the seeds for that species. It also has germination and transplanting notes for each species.

This would be an invaluable reference manual if you intend to save seeds from your plants and become self-sufficient, but it’s still useful if not, for its notes on the pollination of each species. The isolation requirements are especially interesting; there are some plants that will cross-pollinate with plants 10 miles away! The sidebar on pumpkins and squash was also fascinating – I didn’t know so many squash were technically the same species as pumpkins, just different cultivars. And that means they’ll cross-breed if you’re not careful! Even more fascinating, giant pumpkins aren’t the same species as jack o’lantern pumpkins, so they won’t cross breed.

I will absolutely be adding this book to my collection as a reference manual.

From the cover of The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds:

Improve the health and productivity of your garden season after season by saving seeds from your best plants. When you harvest seeds from your own garden, you will:

-Take another step toward food independence
-Save the money you’re spending on plants and seeds
-Enjoy a healthy garden filled with plants uniquely adapted to your own backyard
-Be able to swap seeds with other seed savers
-Preserve genetic diversity and regional favorites
-Ensure a safe and varied seed selection for future generations.

To begin saving seeds, choose healthy plants with desirable traits. Is pest resistance important to you? What about tomatoes that ripen early or spinach that’s slow to bolt? Do you have pink sweet peas whose color you want to replicate next year? Select for these traits and build your best garden ever. Plant-by-plant instructions guide you through all the seed-saving techniques specific to 322 plants.

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Book Review: The Food Forest Handbook

the food forest handbookThe Food Forest Handbook: Design and Manage a Home-Scale Perennial Polyculture Garden
by Darrell Frey & Michelle Czolba
Gardening
229 pages
Published 2017

Another book in my permaculture research, this in-depth guide is definitely going on my To-Buy list. (I always check these out from the library before spending money on personal copies.)

There is SO MUCH information in this book. Unlike some of the other books, there’s no big spreads of full-color, glossy photos (which can be useful, I’m not digging on those); The Food Forest Handbook is mostly text with a few black-and-white photos tucked in. There are spreadsheets and diagrams and lists, sidebars of useful information, how-to walkthroughs and case studies of specific plants. I’m not sure how they packed so much into a little over 200 pages, but this book is a treasure trove of permaculture strategies.

The book starts with a chapter on why permaculture is important; they explore past examples of permaculture, some present food forests, and why it could be useful to us going forward. The second chapter gets into designing a food forest to fit your needs – scoping out your site, determining what resources you have, all of the planning aspects. Then we have a short chapter on putting all that knowledge together and going “from concept sketch to detailed designs” – how to refine your research and plans into something you can work off of. Chapter 4 is about selecting the specific plants; going from “okay here I want a fruit tree and a nitrogen fixer” to “a peach and comfrey.” Plant varietals are discussed here, as well as the different needs of tree guilds.

The rest of the book gets into maintenance, harvesting, and propagating the food forest, and the last chapter is on a tour of established food forests in various climates, to see what’s possible.

This is definitely a book I want on my resource shelf; it can get a little dry at points, but there is so much knowledge here. One thing I really liked was the diagram of tree shapes – if one tree says it has a conical shape when full grown, and one has a pyramid shape, there’s a diagram that shows what exactly the difference is.

Overall an excellent, information-packed book, if a little difficult to read straight through.

From the cover of The Food Forest Handbook:

A Food Forest is a productive landscape developed around a mix of trees and perennials, helping increase biodiversity, protect valuable habitat for beneficial insects, and promote food security and resilience, all while providing an abundant annual harvest.

Rooted in permaculture principles, this integrated approach to gardening incorporates a variety of plants such as fruit and nut trees, shrubs, vines, and perennial herbs and vegetables. Authors Michelle Czolba and Darrell Frey bring years of experience building and maintaining food forests to provide this practical and accessible guide to creating your own food forest landscape, whether you’re urban, suburban, or rural. 

Book Review: Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist

edible landscapingEdible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist: How to have your yard and eat it too
by Michael Judd
Nonfiction/Gardening/Homesteading
143 pages
Published 2013

I’ve been making a habit of checking out gardening books from the library before buying them, so I know what I actually want to have around as a permanent resource. This book has definitely made that list. Other books talk about some of these same principles – swales, herb spirals, rain gardens, tree guilds – but this book actually goes into detail with step-by-step instructions and pictures on how to MAKE many of those things. I also appreciate that the author lives in Maryland, about an hour west of me. So our climate is the same.

I really enjoyed his chapter on uncommon fruits – I’d been reading that pawpaws are one of the fruits that do well with black walnuts, and his description of pawpaw fruit REALLY makes me want to grow one! They’re an uncommon fruit largely because they’re too delicate to ship, but they apparently taste delicious! And they’re native, which is always a plus. I’d love to stick with native plants as much as possible.

His chapter on mushroom growing was also interesting and VERY detailed. (I quite enjoyed that he included “a good beer” in his list of supplies at one point.)

It’s a short book, and it only covers a few topics, but it is EXCELLENT for those few topics he touches on. Definitely want a copy of this in my personal library!

From the cover of Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist:

Edible Landscaping with a Permaculture Twist is a fun-filled how-to manual for the budding gardener and experienced green thumb alike. Full of creative and easy-to-follow designs that guide you to having your yard and eating it too!

The ABC’s of Creating an Edible Landscape
– Herb Spirals
– Food Forests
– Raised Bed Gardens
– Earthen Ovens
– Uncommon Fruits
– Outdoor Mushrooms and much more . . . 

Book Review: Autism in Heels

autism in heelsAutism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum
by Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Nonfiction/Memoir
247 pages
Published December 2018

I try to be very mindful when reviewing books on autism, or other #ownvoices books that I’m not part of the demographic. They’re very important books for people who are not of that demographic to read – that’s how we learn about each other – but we get into iffy territory when reviewing them. It can be problematic to say “I didn’t like this book” when you’re not the target audience. That’s why for Black Enough, I linked to some #ownvoices reviewers when I didn’t care for the book. For Autism in Heels I don’t have that problem, because this is a really good book! I’m sure autistic people will still get more out of it that I did, and female autistics even more. But there were paragraphs that definitely reminded me of my husband, and we had several good conversations inspired by this book. (“What makes a good friend?” being one of the more interesting ones.)

Jenny tells an engrossing story of her life; interwoven with facts and anecdotes about female autistics in general were specific examples from her life, and both problems she’d faced because she was autistic, and problems everyone faces that were particularly problematic for her as an autistic. Much like my husband, she comes at stories sideways, giving several details and tangents before getting to the point that ties them all together. That’s much easier to deal with in print; I often have to stop my husband, specifically ask him where he’s going with his story, and then let him get back to all the surrounding details. Knowing that he DOES THAT lets us deal with it in a manner that is less frustrating for both of us. (I get frustrated because I can’t hold all the loose ends in my head without knowing how they connect, so once he gets to his point, I often have to make him repeat some of the earlier parts, and he gets frustrated because I can’t follow his train of thought.) In text form, I can skim forward when I need to and come back to the earlier tangents. I suspect she also had an excellent editor, because that only gets confusing a few times. (Or she did it herself in revisions. Either way, it’s far less confusing than a lot of conversations I’ve had with my husband!)

She does talk about some pretty intense domestic abuse from her college boyfriend near the end of the book, and then segues into eating disorders, so be aware of that. Those are both things that autistic women are particularly vulnerable to, and they definitely deserve a place in the book, but they can be difficult to read about, and my heart broke for college-Jennifer.

This is a great memoir of an amazing woman. I might need to look up her other books, even if they are targeted towards teens.

From the cover of Autism in Heels:

THE FACE OF AUTISM IS CHANGING. AND MORE OFTEN THAN WE REALIZE, THAT FACE IS WEARING LIPSTICK.

Autism in Heels, an intimate memoir, reveals the woman inside one of autism’s most prominent figures, Jennifer Cook O’Toole. At the age of thirty-five, Jennifer was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and for the first time in her life, things made sense. Now, Jennifer exposes the constant struggle between carefully crafted persona and authentic existence, editing the autism script with wit, candor, passion, and power. Her journey is one of reverse self-discovery not only as an Aspie but – more importantly – as a thoroughly modern woman.

Beyond being a memoir, Autism in Heels is a love letter to all women. It’s a conversation starter. A game changer. And a firsthand account of what it is to walk in Jennifer’s shoes (especially those iconic red stilettos). 

Whether it’s bad perms or body image, sexuality or self-esteem, Jennifer’s is as much a human journey as one on the spectrum. Because autism “looks a bit different in pink,” most girls and women who fit the profile are not identified, facing years of avoidable anxiety, eating disorders, volatile relationships, self-harm, and stunted independence. Jennifer has been there, too. Autism in Heels takes that message to the mainstream.

Book Review: The Suburban Micro-Farm

suburban micro farmThe Suburban Micro-Farm: Modern Solutions for Busy People
by Amy Stross
Nonfiction/Gardening/ Homesteading
347 pages
Published 2018

I’m going to buy my own copy of this book. It is stuffed full of useful information! It focuses on growing food in your yard when you don’t have much time to spend on the yard, so there’s a lot of permaculture techniques and gardens that are largely hands-off once you get them set up, which is exactly what I want. With the chronic fatigue, I often don’t have the energy to get outside and work on a garden, and Maryland summers exhaust me simply by stepping outside. I really want to garden and grow food, but I need easy ways to do that.

The Suburban Micro-Farm delved into planting hedgerows, which is something we’ve been thinking of, rain gardens (which we probably should do, we have a couple places in the yard that do not drain well), and tree guilds, which are plantings that go under trees to work together in little micro-environments. One of the tree guilds Stross specifically talks about is a Black Walnut tree guild, which I was excited to see because we have a huge, beautiful mature Black Walnut that I’ve been trying to figure out how to plant around. Black Walnuts produce juglone, a chemical that kills a lot of plants, so you have to be very mindful of what you plant near them.

This is an excellent reference book for suburban gardens, and she has lots of extra resources on her site, The Tenth Acre Farm. I will be exploring those as well, but I’m definitely going to buy my own copy of this book!

From the cover of The Suburban Micro-Farm:

Yield abundant harvests from your own yard with only 15 minutes a day!

Do you long to find the secrets of gardening with the time you have?
Are you ready to feel more connected to your home?
Would you like the satisfaction of growing healthy food for your table?

Author Amy Stross talks straight about why the suburbs might be the ideal place for a homesteading lifestyle. If you’re ready to create a beautiful, edible yard, this book is for you.

In these pages you’ll learn how to:
-Stop letting your garden overwhelm you
-Develop and nurture healthy soil
-Use easy permaculture techniques for stress-free, abundant harvests

Book Review: You Have The Right To Remain Fat

right to remain fatYou Have The Right To Remain Fat
by Virgie Tovar
Nonfiction
128 pages
Published 2018

You Have The Right To Remain Fat is a short manifesto on why society needs to change the way it treats fat people, and that we don’t need to lose weight to fit into society. Tovar talks about the sexism, classism, and racism that is often behind fatphobia and discrimination, the way culture has shifted around looks, and feeling comfortable in your own skin. She rips diet culture to shreds, shining a spotlight on the gaslighting technique that is heavy in dieting language. (You’re not losing weight because you’re not doing it right. You don’t have enough willpower to deprive yourself of essential nutrients? Shame on you.)

I could understand people being offended by this book – she basically says if you’re trying to lose weight for the sake of losing weight, you’re wrong. But if you really look at it, if that really is all you’re losing weight for, to be thin, shouldn’t society accept you as you are? If you need to lose weight for actual, valid health reasons, that’s different. But if it’s just for the sake of being thin – maybe rethink your reasons.

I’m going back on the Auto Immune Protocol as soon as we settle in to the new house – and while losing weight is a nice side effect, I’m doing it to control autoimmune symptoms. And in all the literature around AIP, it’s about not feeling fatigued or nauseous. It’s about getting your digestive system back on track and reducing the chronic pain. It’s NOT about losing weight, though people often do lose weight on it because it boosts the metabolism and cuts sugar. (Although it’s also used for hyperthyroid people, who often have unhealthy weight loss, so really it’s about stabilizing your weight!)

One of the most interesting parts of the book was when she discussed a conference she’d gone to and talked to women about fatphobia and inferiority complexes. First she asked if anyone there felt inferior. Of course, no one did. But then she asked a series of follow-up questions that pointed out behaviors born of feelings of inferiority. Things like: “Are you wearing something physically uncomfortable because you believe it makes you look better? Today did you refuse to do something you wanted to do because you were worried how it would make you look to someone?”

Out of curiosity, I read all the questions (there were eight or so) to my husband. He’d done exactly one of them. I have done all of them in the past, and still do some. (I’m currently a housewife. I don’t wear uncomfortable clothes.) It was rather eye-opening.

You Have The Right To Remain Fat is a quick, thought-provoking read that is uncomfortable at times but also makes you want to shout HELL YES at other times. I definitely recommend it.

From the cover of You Have The Right To Remain Fat:

Growing up as a fat girl, Virgie Tovar believed that her body was something to be fixed. But after two decades of dieting and constant guilt, she was over it―and gave herself the freedom to trust her own body again. Ever since, she’s been helping others to do the same. Tovar is hungry for a world where bodies are valued equally, food is free from moral judgment, and you can jiggle through life with respect. In concise and candid language, she delves into unlearning fatphobia, dismantling sexist notions of fashion, and how to reject diet culture’s greatest lie: that fat people need to wait before beginning their best lives.