grow to live review

Submitted by turbosprout on Thu, 2010-08-26 10:47

Grow to Live: By Pat FeatherstoneGrow to Live: By Pat FeatherstoneGrow to Live: A simple guide to growing your own good, clean food is a book that every South African food gardener, whether novice or not, needs to have on their bookshelf. I've become quite a collector of gardening books and there are some really informative books out there. Some were written in the 80's and 90's, or earlier, when it was fashionable to nuke your vegetables with every herbicide, pesticide, fungicide and other -icide known. You were advised to routinely spray with the likes of Malathion, Karbaspray, Metasystox and other chemical weapons of mass destruction. And you had to know all about applying the right proportion of NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) ala 2:3:2, 2:3:4, 3:2:1 or whatever. Well, following this advice would lead to a 5:4:3:2:1 explosion and the death of life in your garden.

So now you know what the book is not about, enter Grow to Live. This is a book that will make your heart soar as an organic gardener. The book distills the considerable knowledge the author, Pat Featherstone, has gleaned growing and running Soil for Life, a Cape Town-based NGO teaching people to grow their own food organically. The book spans a wealth of topics that you need to understand as an organic grower and does so in a wonderfully down to earth and friendly style. There is no shortage of useful information and Leah Hawker's photography and illustrations add a special touch to the book.

urban sprout has a tenous link in the genesis of the book as we were approached a couple of years ago by Mike Kantey about who could write an organic gardening book and Pat was one of the gardening guru's we recommended he contact!

So what's in the book? Pat begins at the very beginning and outlines the necessity for organic growing, for those who still need convincing, referring to Sir Albert Howard who first coined the term "organic" to include the sense of "wholeness, unity, integration and a natural balance". The evils of modern food production are also touched on briefly in the first chapter e.g. top-soil loss, harmful use of pesticides, lower nutritional value.

The next two chapters look at what you need to get started (enthusiasm and other things for free, as well as the tools required) and the planning and preparation not just of the garden but your own body. I remember doing leg stretches and deep knee bends on the Soil for Life course, so glad this made it into the book! These chapters also have info on turning what most would be throwing away into useful garden implements e.g. watering can from plastic bottle, shade hats for plants from milk containers.

The Soil is where it all begins and two chapters are devoted to understanding your existing soil and its characteristics (v. useful info about water holding capacities and which crops thrive on different soils) as well as improving your soil. Trench beds and a particular adaptation using "ecocircles" are covered in detail with some valuable illustrations.

Chapters six and eight cover earthworms, compost making, feeding with homemade liquid teas and mulching. All vital aspects for the organic gardener to master to ensure that the fertilitiy of the soil is increased.

"Planting out your garden" looks at the different vegetable types, sowing seed, and strategies like crop rotation, succession planting and companion planting. There is a great list of good companions and bad companions for a range of vegetables (pg 88). When last did you use the word "companion" other than in the garden? It makes me think of my grandparents - "good companions". There are also good tips e.g. planting cut-'n-come-again crops which we use extensively and making plant labels with old cooldrink bottles or yoghurt containers.

Chapter nine deals in depth with how you deal with pests the natural way. This information is especially valuable as you won't be finding it in any of those old gardening books I referred to above. The seven golden gardening rules (as related to pests) are worth applying. Most important being thou shalt Never use artificial fertilisers or poisonous chemicals in thy garden. Diatomite or diatomaceous earth is useful to know about, although I still find most nurserymen haven't a clue what I'm talking about if I enquire whether they have any (don't use the pool filter diatomite, it's not food grade!). And there are plenty of recipes to deal with specific bugs should they become too much e.g. garlic soap spray, chilli spray, nettles etc. This is a very good chapter esp. the advice the "recognise that all creatures are actually your friends" (even snails, yes I'm still gettting my head around that too!)

"Food from trees" has general food tree planting advice and has a couple of indigenous ideas: marula, waterberry, kei-apple (with some recipes).

There is a brief chapter on gardening in containers, which also covers sprouting, and growing baby greens. And chapter twelve deels with propgating plants from seeds and slip.

The last chapter deals with "maintaining and protecting your garden". No, there are no tips on baboon proofing your veg patch, but some advise on watering and drip irrigation, weeding, mulching, shading, wind shelters, harvesting and collecting your own seed. A useful vegetable planting guide is included at the back of the book.

As the back cover mentions: "The benefits of food gardens are many. They deepen our connection with nature, quieten our minds and create a new understanding of life. The food that is grown gives physical sustenance. The experience of growing it feeds the soul."

Pat Featherstone and Jacana have produced a gem of a book which brims full of practical advice, but also references the spiritual aspect to one of my favourite endeavours. This is a highly recommended read and is one of the gardening books I'm always dipping into. Rumour has it that there may be another book in the pipeline - can't wait!

Get hold of a copy directly from Soil for Life (at a discounted price of R220 if you're a member), or any good bookshop, or online. Also check out the regular weekend courses on offer in Cape Town by Soil for Life.