Resources for “Teaching Gardens” and More

General Vegetable Gardening and More

  • See: http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/03/28/3102083/put-lifeback-into-your-soil.html.  The best simple statement of how to deal with problem soil I've seen in a while.
  • Weedless Gardening, Lee Reich, 2001.  In my opinion, the best introduction to modern home gardening.
  • Lasagna Gardening, Patricia Lanza, 1998.  Extreme mulching!  Excellent tips, entertaining, logical.  Also its sequel, Lasagna Gardening for Small Spaces, 2002.
  • The Garden Primer, Barbara Damrosch, 2008.  Superior update of a classic.  The most complete introduction to organic gardening, and an invaluable reference for almost any type of gardening.
  • How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back, Ruth Stout, 1955.  A must-read classic!  Some details are impractical for Michigan, but the basic idea is sound.
  • Four-Season Harvest, Eliot Coleman, 1992.  Oriented toward the larger-scale vegetable producer, but relevant to any cool-climate gardener interested in extending the harvest season. Excellent section on straw-bale composting.  Used as a textbook on organic gardening at MSU!
  • All New Square Foot Gardening, Mel Bartholomew, 2005.  Revision of a 1981 classic.  Clever approach to making gardening simple.  Data on spacing of some plants is oversimplified, but still a very good introduction to small-scale vegetable growing.
  • Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Kowalchik & Hylton, Ed., Rodale Press, 1987.  Hardly an up-to-date guide, but interesting, especially historically, and covers a multitude of herbs grown for many purposes.
  • The Organic Gardener’s Handbook of Natural Insect and Disease Control, Ellis & Bradley, Ed., Rodale Press, 1996.  Well illustrated, helpful in identifying problems.  An added resource, but does not replace your MSU Extension experts.
  • The BackYard Orchardist and The BackYard Berry Book, Stella Otto, 1993 & 1995 respectively.  Stella, from Maple City (Leelanau County), Michigan, is a gem.  Fruit-growing deserves more emphasis in our backyard food gardens, and these books provide excellent guidance on how to proceed.
  • Salad TablesTM UMD: http://www.growit.umd.edu/SaladTablesandSaladBoxes/index.cfm.  A unique idea for the space-limited gardener.
  • Rodale’s Color Handbook of Garden Insects, Anna Carr, 1979.  Not exhaustive by any means, but a good reference book for kids to use in identifying and learning about many of the most common garden insects.  Over 300 photos.
  • The New Organic Grower, Eliot Coleman, 1989 &1995.  Wonderfully readable compilation of Coleman's first 25 years as an organic food gardener.  Chapter 14 gives probably the best available advice on using soil blocks for starting plants.

Edible Landscaping

  • Designing and Maintaining Your Edible Landscape Naturally, Robert Kourik, 1986.  Great overall reference--my most frequently opened book.
  • The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping, Rosalind Creasy, 1982.  I tend not to trust any book that begins with “The Complete…, but this was excellent for its time.  The comments on pesticides are outdated.  (Also see The Edible Herb Garden below.)
  • Landscaping with Fruits and Vegetables, Fred Hagy, 1990.  An informative reference on the landscaping values and cultures of many edible ornamental species.
  • Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco Seeds catalogs, www.johnnyseeds.com and www.fedcoseeds.com.  Good cultural information on vegetables relevant to northern climates.
  • Salad tableTM UMD: http://www.growit.umd.edu/SaladTablesandSaladBoxes/index.cfm

Soil Science and Composting

  • (Four-Season Harvest, above.)  Includes a good discussion of straw-bale composting, complete with a specific workable “recipe” on p. 18.
  • The Rodale Guide to Composting, Jerry Minnich, Marjorie Hunt, et al., 1979.  Revised in 1992 as The Rodale Book of Composting, Martin & Gershuny, Ed., but this original is still very relevant.
  • Mike McGrath’s Book of Compost, 2006.  Entertaining reading and good, sound advice.
  • Roots Demystified, Robert Kourik, 2008.  Excellent update of the portions of Kourik’s 1986 book, especially the portions on woody plants.  If you plan to read the Lowenfels & Lewis book Teaming with Microbes (below), it would be useful to read this first.
  • Teaming with Microbes, Lowenfels & Lewis, 2010.  The latest and best “popular” explanation of the soil food web and how it applies to the modern gardener.  Readable and even entertaining, yet technically sound.
  • The Compost Tea Brewing Manual (Dr Elaine Ingham)
  • The One-Straw Revolution, Back to Nature, and The Natural Way of Farming (Fukuoka Masanobu)
  • Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System, Mary Appelhof, 1997.  The “Worm Woman” provides detailed guidance on home worm composting.  My Goddaughter is currently using the companion Worms Eat Our Garbage: Classroom Activities for a Better Environment  by Appelhof, Mary Frances Fenton, and Barbara Loss Harris to get her kids involved in this environmentally friendly and productive activity.
  • Soil test results: http://web1.msue.msu.edu/monroe/soilweb2/Lab_Report.htm
  • Soil Texture: http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/214.pdf
  • Cover crops: http://www.covercrops.msu.edu/ 
  • Possible health concerns of composting: http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/health.pdf
  • Composting: http://compost.css.cornell.edu/OnFarmHandbook/onfarm_TOC.html
  • The Real Dirt (Northeast Organic Farming Association) 1998 Revision  (See:                                               www.nofany.org/ and click on SHOP.)
  • www.wormwoman.com
  • http://audubonmagazine.org/exotics/exotics0403.html
  • http://ohioline.osu.edu/hyg-fact/1000/1189.html
  • http://ohioline.osu.edu/b792/b792_2.html
  • www.mi.nrcs.usda.gov/soils.html
  • http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/132/1/44.full
  • http://soils.usda.gov/sqi/index.html

Seed Saving & Starting

  • Seed to Seed, Suzanne Ashworth, (Seed Savers Exchange, Inc.), 2002.  The best available guide to growing garden seeds.
  • The Wisdom of Plant Heritage: Organic Seed Production and Saving, Bryan Connolly, NOFA Organic Principles and Practices Handbook Series, 2004.  Second only to Ashworth’s book; a precise guide.   This entire series of at least nine manuals is directed mainly toward the commercial grower, but much of the information and many of the extensive references (including web sites) are useful to the home, school, or community gardener as well.
  • Growing Garden Seeds, Robert Johnston, Jr., 1983.  Order from Johnny’s Selected Seeds (www.johnnyseeds.com).  A 32-page booklet, but well-organized and accurate, and sufficiently detailed to get beginning seed savers off to a good start.
  • The New Seed Starters Handbook, Nancy Bubel, 1988.  Superb example of a Rodale author thinking ahead of her time.  Still the best how-to on seed starting, with lots of alternative approaches discussed logically.
  • http://www.seedsavers.org/Content.aspx?src=aboutus.htm

Using and Preserving

  • Root Cellaring: Natural Cold Storage of Fruits & Vegetables, Mike & Nancy Bubel, 1991.  Detailed instructions and design options for practical, inexpensive home root cellars.  I’m planning to build one in my basement.
  • The Edible Herb Garden, Rosalind Creasy, 1999.  Superbly illustrated.  Simple but accurate growing instructions, but more valuable as a guide to creative used of herbs in the kitchen.
  • Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, Deborah Madison, 2002.  “…and from your own backyard garden…”should have been added.  Lots of recipes and great tips.

Water Quality & Native Plants

  • Rain Gardens: Managing water sustainably in the garden and designed landscape, Nigel Dunnett & Andy Clayden, 2007.  Many interesting ideas based on case studies.  Well illustrated.  Plant recommendations include many nonnatives, but these are labeled by origin in the plant directory.
  • Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands: Volume 1, Guiding Principles to Welcome Rain into Your Life and Landscape, Brad Lancaster, 2006.  I haven’t yet read Volume 2 (Earthworks) or Volume 3 (Roof Catchment and Cistern Systems), but I intend to purchase them based on the thorough analysis presented in Volume 1.  These are oriented toward the US Southwest, but many of the ideas seem very relevant here.
  • http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,1607,7-135-3313_3682_3714-106374--,00.html.  Series of three brochures: Landscaping for Water Quality: An Overview; Designing Your Garden and Sample Designs; and Plant List.  The plant list includes botanical and common names, height, bloom time, flower color, water needs, exposure (to sun), native or not (most are), and “notes,” which are substantive and accurate.  An absolutely must-have reference set.
  • Landscaping with Native Plants of Michigan, Lynn M. Steiner, 2006.  Superbly organized and illustrated; provides thorough and reliable guidance on using native plants to replace traditional but environmentally less friendly alien alternatives.
  • Native Plants of the Northeast: A Guide for Gardening & Conservation, Donald J. Leopold, 2005.  Beautiful and helpful photographs and summaries of plant attributes and cultural needs.
  • Field Manual of Michigan Flora, Edward G. Voss & Anton A. Reznicek, 2012.  Voss was THE authority on Michigan plants.  This is an update of his 3-volume Flora of Michigan set, published beginning in 1985, which is used by the USDA in the Michigan portion of its exhaustive plant database.  See plants.usda.gov.  Descriptions are presented for over 2700 plant species with many accompanying maps showing locations by county.  Very useful for identification and decisions on plant suitability for various types of gardens.
  • Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, Updated and Expanded, Douglas W. Tallamy & Rick Darke, 2009.  One of the more important books of this young century.  It’s not a how-to, but a very convincing why-to study of the impact of native versus alien plants on animal life, beginning with insects, on our planet.

School & Community Gardens

  • Digging Deeper: Integrating Youth Gardens Into Schools & Communities, A Comprehensive Guide, Joseph Kiefer & Martin Kemple, 1998.  Few books I’ve ever read that claim to be “complete” or “comprehensive” really are.  This one is.  The Foreword by Alice Waters is less than a page long but worth the price of the book.  I don’t agree with the section on “turning over garden beds,” but I’ll accept that because (a) it was written in the previous century; and (b) the remainder of the book is full of creative ideas.
  • http://www.ecoliteracy.org/downloads/getting-started (51-page free download).  Based on experiences in California. The “bed preparation” recommendations for double-digging (p. 24) aren’t necessary, but the booklet contains some good overall guidance.
  • www.fldoe.org/bii/cshp/word/ActivePlantBasedLearning.doc
  • How to Grow a School Garden, Arden Bucklin-Sporer & Rachel Pringle, Timber Press, 2010.

Some Books for Young Children

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
  • Too Many Zucchini for Zachary Beany, Tina Dozauer-Ray
  • The Carrot Seed, Ruth Krauss
  • Carlos and the Cornfield (also Carlos y la Milpa de Maiz), Jan Romero Stevens
  • Garden of Happiness, Erika Tamar
  • Growing Vegetable Soup; also Planting a Rainbow, Lois Ehlert
  • Harriet and the Garden, Nancy Carlson
  • One Small Square Backyard, Donald M. Silver
  • Stone Soup, Marcia Brown

Talk about being upstaged!  On Wednesday afternoon, I wrote the following mini-review of one of my favorite books:

Mike's award for the best introduction to practical home gardening: Weedless Gardening, Lee Reich, 2001.  Reich presents a simple, easy-to-read, logical approach to growing almost anything.  This is the book I buy for friends most often.  It describes in detail a "top down" rationale that's at the heart of the “weedless” concept.  With few exceptions: don't turn the soil, just loosen it and nourish it with decomposing plant waste as Nature has done for as long as there have been plants on Earth.  "Weedless" isn't so much the point as "easy."  If you're new to vegetable gardening, this is a good place to start.  The first third of the book is the most important.  Please don't invest in costly garden equipment until you've read it.

Well, the very next morning, what should appear on Page 4B of the Traverse City Record-Eagle, Thursday April 4, 2013, but a really excellent article by that same Lee Reich?  I can’t seem to find a link to it in the Record-Eagle, so try this link.  Anyway, hats off to Dr. Reich for his advice—it works for me!


  1. I have read Lee Reich's article but still need a little counsel. My garden is new laid out last fall, 3 ft growing areas with 2 ft walkways. The ground is old farm land with a healthy weed base. This has been covered with 2 sheets of brown (kraft) paper topped with 2 inches of Dairy Doo with rye grass planted in the DD for green manure. Do I not need to cultivate this base to plant seeds or transplant plants such as tomatos? My thought was to cultivate the top 4 to 5 inches with a rototiller. Comments

  2. I can't speak from personal experience, as I've never used ryegrass as a cover crop. See, for example: http://www.mccc.msu.edu/documents/managingccprof/ManagingCoverCropsProfitably_AnnualRyegrass.pdf. I'm not sure if it will winterkill in your area; if not, although I always hate to suggest using a rototiller, that may be necessary. Also, if the kraft paper hasn't thoroughly disintegrated, it may impede root growth unless it's tilled in. Tilling can destroy many beneficial soil organisms, increase oxidation rates (speeding release of CO2), and may cause some compaction below the zone the tiller reaches. Any time you incorporate fresh plant material into the soil, there's a time during which bacteria "borrow" nitrogen from the soil, so crops may need some extra nitrogen for a time. In general, I much prefer to loosen (but not turn) the soil 10-12 inches deep with a broadfork. For tomatoes, you could simply dig a planting hole large enough to remove the ryegrass and any remaining paper from a small circle around each plant, letting nature take its course in the surrounding soil.