Oh, dear–I’m afraid I didn’t do a very good job reviewing this book, because people are getting the wrong impression. I was in the midst of writing a very long comment to rectify the situation, and decided it would make a better post instead. First of all Mary Ann Newcomer commented:
Good grief! I am so with you. I am not gonna fine tune the flippin compost. And I am not going to make the tea. . . . Thanks for the fine book report. You saved me tons of time and money
Soon after, Annie from The Transplantable Rose remarked:
. . .Your review has made wonder about the authors.
Am I getting this right? They first behaved badly, describing their actions as â€œwe carpet bombed our lawnsâ€¦.strafed their weeds with a popular broadleaf herbicideâ€¦. commercial fertilizerâ€¦etc.â€. Then they see the light! Now, like former smokers who feel it their duty to teach everyone else how to quit, the authors give prescriptions as to how to make perfect compost?
If you never smoked, do you need to buy a book on how to quit?
To answer Annie first, here is another quote further down on the same page as the “carpet bomb” quotation:
Don’t misunderstand us. At the same time we were also practicing what we considered to be an “appropriate” measure of environmental responsibility and political correctness. We left the grass clippings on the lawn to decompose and tilled fallen leaves into the garden beds, and occasionally we let loose batches of lacewings, ladybird beetles, and praying mantids–our version of integrated pest management. We composted. We recycled our newspapers and aluminum cans. We fed the birds and allowed all manner of wildlife to wander in our yards. In our minds we were pretty organic and environmentally conscious (if not downright responsible). In short, we were like most home gardeners, maintaining just the right balance between better living through chemistry and at least some of Rachel Carson’s teachings. (p. 11)
In essence, there were two things they didn’t understand: that when it comes to plants, all forms of nitrogen are not the same. And that disturbing the soil is harmful to the creatures that are living there.
I think the information being presented here is something every gardener should know, and that every soil science class should teach. (And I agree with Carol: there are some excellent science fair/homeschooling projects in there. Every Master Gardener class should try them, too!) But I was also trying to point out that just as some people are hemerocallis nuts and others can go into great detail regarding minute differences in colchicum cultivars (ahem!), these guys are now really into making the best compost and compost tea on the planet. But not all their readers will be. I mean, their list of Soil Food Web Gardening Rules has 19 items on it. Hello, guys, let’s keep it to 10! I’m sure they tried to whittle it down to what they feel are the most essential, basic principles, but they’ve still got too many basics for the average joe. In the introduction they advise
You might be tempted to skip right to the second part of this book, but we strongly discourage doing so. It is essential to know the science to really understand the rules.
That is their inner geek talking. To me it is like saying, “Before you can really grow a daylily, you need to know the names of all the botanical structures and the genetic history of the species from which modern cultivars have been bred.” Eventually, you just might want to know all that. But not the first time you plant a daylily.
I don’t consider myself the average joe, but in practice, at least, I’m still lightyears behind where they’re at, and, let’s face it, feeling a little bit guilty about it. And I think the negativity both Mary Ann and Annie picked up on was the ambivalence I feel when reading this book. I’m not even mulching; how can I worry about whether the mulch I do put down is fungally dominated or bacterially dominated? I don’t even manage a thorough spring cleaning in my house, much less my garden, and I’m supposed to clean the compost tea brewer right after it’s done brewing? Oy vey!
But if you’ve already earned your Master Composter’s certificate, or even if you’re not as vulnerable to horticultural guilt as I am, this could be the perfect book for you to further your gardening knowledge and skills. Again, let the authors speak:
For too long, for too many gardeners, everything we needed to know came in a bottle or jar and all we had to do was mix with water and apply with a hose-end sprayer: instant cooking meets home gardening. Some hobby. Well, we want you to be thinking gardeners, not mindless consumers who react because a magazine or television ad says to do something. If you really want to be a good gardener, you need to understand what is going on in your soil. (p. 15)
Isn’t this what so many garden bloggers have said they wanted, a garden book that treats them like intelligent human beings? To put it another way, this book is not the least you need to know to partner with the soil food web when gardening, but the most you’d want to know (short of becoming a soil scientist yourself). For most of my readers, I think that is a good thing.