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.