On the Bookshelf: The Truth About Organic Gardening

truth about organic gardening 12-09 December 9, 2009. Does your brain fog over like San Francisco Bay every time you try to decipher what approach might best handle a plant’s attack from pests or disease?  Are you overwhelmed by the  organic and synthetic chemicals found on garden center shelves touting to be the “best” at eliminating what ever?  Do yourself a favor then and read The Truth About Organic Gardening, by Jeff Gillman, a professor at the department of horticultural science at the University of Minnesota.

In the preface Gillman says:

I wrote this book to help the gardener, the weekend farmer, and the educated consumer see beyond dogma and into the truth behind different gardening practices, organic or otherwise. 

Gillman is successful in this task.  He takes an objective look at the overall safety of all kinds of gardening practices, from soil enrichment and fertilization to the use of pesticides and practices for pest and disease control.  He explains why we should not automatically discount the use of synthetic, over naturally-derived, products as more harmful to us or our environment through his consistent reminders that the terms organic and natural are synonymous with safe.  He notes the human and environmental impact for many commonly available compounds, and explains the controversy or opposing opinions that abound with each.

What I like about this book:

  • The in depth explanations on the plusses and minuses of multiple garden-related compounds including compost, mulch, cover crops, pesticides, disease fighting blends, creature deterrents, etc.
  • The short Benefits, Drawbacks, and Bottom Line assessments offered at the end of each explanation.
  • The unbiased, non-preachy, plain-language approach Gillman takes to both organic and non-organic gardening practices.
  • The Best Choices for You chapter summaries .
  • Gillman’s use of the Environmental Impact Quotient (EIQ) – zero (none) to 100 – gives quick readers a way to quantify the impact of many pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides.  While he acknowledges the EIQ is an imperfect rating method, it does give a sense of the toxicity level of certain compounds.
  • The no-nonsense look at many of the non-chemical practices for deterring pests – the flying, walking, and sliming types – and how well they work.

What I’m not crazy about:

  • It’s easy to become bogged down in Gillman’s lengthy explanations.
  • The lack of photos in the insect and disease control sections – it would have been very useful to have photos of the actual insects and diseases discussed.

My favorite quote from the book:

If we start to divide pesticides by natural versus synthetic rather than by their safety and efficacy in controlling pests, we’re just fooling ourselves into thinking that we’re making rational decisions when in fact we’re making a meaningless and artificial separation that could well be to our detriment.

All in all, this is a good book for the gardener’s bookshelf.   The summaries provided at the end of each product or practice description, and at the end of each chapter provide the quick-look explanation gardeners may need when pressed for time.  But to make best use of these summaries, you should initially read through the entire book.

I’ve not yet read Gillman’s other book, The Truth About Garden Remedies, and would love to hear the opinions of anyone who has.  Both of Gillman’s books are available at Timber Press.  You can also follow Gillman’s blog posts at The Garden Professors, a blog collaboration of horticulturalists at Washington State University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, and VirginiaTech, which I find both interesting and informative.

Now … I’m signing off to set up a very effective remedy for ridding my house of the tiny 4-legged field mouse (or mice) that has taken up residence in the walls of our house.  A couple of mouse traps baited with peanut butter and placed on the inside foundation sill should do the job nicely.

6 comments for “On the Bookshelf: The Truth About Organic Gardening

  1. December 9, 2009 at 1:21 pm

    I have the same problem with the mice. But they keep coming back. I keep a tally on my fridge door of how many I’ve captured.

  2. December 9, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Hey, a great post! I would buy this book!

  3. December 9, 2009 at 7:06 pm


    Great review. I just wrote a preview of Gilman’s other book you referenced, The Truth About Garden Remedies, which I will publish later this week. It sounds very similiar to …Organic Gardening. Like you, I enjoy his books but it is easy to get bogged down in them. It is comforting to know Gilman is a source of unbiased info since at times it can be impossible to make heads or tails out of the conflicting advice out there. I also enjoy the Garden Professors blog, I just wish it had an RSS feed so I don’t have to remember to go looking for it every week!

    Good luck with the mice…

  4. joenesgarden
    December 9, 2009 at 10:10 pm

    I haven’t started a tally yet, but I’m anxiously waiting to see how long it takes for the first mouse to bite – so to speak. Thanks for stopping by.

  5. joenesgarden
    December 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    If you’d like to read a review about Gillman’s other book, be sure to visit Debbie’s blog in a few days – just click on her name in her post here.

  6. joenesgarden
    December 9, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    I look forward to your review … once again you and I are on the same wavelength. Must be the CT air.

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