The Resilient Gardener: A Must-Have Book

One of the most joyous things we can do is to find our place, the land we fit into, the land where we belong. Having found our place, we snuggle into it, learn about it, adapt to it, and accept it fully…We cherish it. We become native to the land of our living.  Carol Deppe

If this spring is any example, I’m not a very resilient gardener. Rain washed away most of the peas I planted in March. Some creature keeps chewing my newly emerging broccoli and kale plants. A freakishly late freeze killed all 12 pepper plants and 28 tomato plants I’d started indoors. Yes, I planted them in the garden too soon. No, we haven’t had a freeze at the end of May in my memory. Every time I replant it costs time and money and frustration, exactly what a garden is supposed to save. But I’ve got stubbornness on my side. And Carol Deppe.

Dr. Deppe is the author of a brilliant book, The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. It’s based on five crops she deems the
easiest to grow, most productive, and most essential to feed ourselves: potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs. Sounds organized. It isn’t, in many ways, yet it’s entirely useful and unexpectedly enlightening. Deppe branches off in all sorts of directions. She covers adapting to climate change, poor soil and minimal irrigation, physical limitations, and dietary restrictions. Still, some of her assertions made me laugh out loud. In one section she proclaims that anyone can grow and store sufficient squash to last a year. Simply build shelves on all inner walls of the house. Now I really want a glimpse of her house!

She goes into depth in ways no other gardening book does. For example, she doesn’t just write about planting and harvesting potatoes. She explains why this particular foodstuff yields more protein per acre, with less work, than any other crop. She covers potato nutrition, the benefits of particular breeds, and different methods of planting. Plus, how to avoid potato diseases and rogue growing plants, different methods of harvesting, how to store seed potatoes, and various potato cooking methods.

I read it when it first came out in 2010 and have tested many of her ideas, even ordering seeds she’s bred. When she says that Costata Romanesca is the best zucchini for growing, eating and drying, she’s right. I planted it last spring. The plants gradually developed powdery mildew, as is becoming increasingly common in our area, yet they didn’t perish and continued to produce.The zucchini fruits stayed tender-skinned even at 4 pounds, with small edible seeds. They were more mild and yet flavorful than any zucchini I’ve ever grown. I dried far too much of it, yet the slices aren’t at all intrusive tossed in soups and stews. You can bet I saved seeds.

Here are a few of the many fascinations I’ve gleaned from The Resilient Gardener.

  • On pages 76 through 78 Dr. Deppe speculates on eight possible evolutionary reasons for today’s obesity epidemic. They’re all reasonable. Here’s number six: “During our evolution, the fact that we had to walk…in order to forage might have mattered. This might have made getting seriously overweight difficult just on mechanical grounds. But there may be more than just mechanics involved. I speculate that exercise of the big leg muscles might be integrated into energy metabolism and weight control. That is, we may need to walk (or run) in order for energy metabolism to be optimally controlled.”
  • Manure should be covered as it composts. If it’s left out in the sun and rain, much of the soluble nitrogen can be leached out. (Our manure pile is so tall, I’m hoping that most of it is protected by the top layers.)
  • Potatoes develop high levels of poisonous glycoalkaloids when harvested too soon, stored incorrectly, or exposed to sun (even an hour’s display at a farmer’s market is too long). I knew that greenish areas under the skin were evidence of these high levels. I didn’t know that any green on a potato indicates the ENTIRE potato shouldn’t be eaten. Peeling or cutting off those areas doesn’t help, nor does cooking the potato. It shouldn’t be fed to livestock either.
  • Most of us eat winter squash that is picked too soon and uncured. Which means the squash is not very good. Some varieties aren’t fully sweet and flavorful until they’ve been stored for six months. That is, if they weren’t picked too soon. Which most squash are.
  • Dry beans bought in the store are often too old or too low quality to cook properly. They also tend to contain split beans and moldy beans. When cooking dry beans, it’s best to avoid adding salt, vinegar, tomato paste, or even additional cold water as the beans won’t cook properly and will have poor texture.
  • Corn has been bashed, but it’s hardly the same crop that we can grow in home gardens to make our own silk-fine flours, hearty polentas, and parching corn snacks—all protein rich and flavorful. I ordered a traditional Hopi variety, Parching Magenta, from Deppe last year. The kernals are gorgeous–red and white striped. They dry easily on the stalk and, once I dried them further, make amazing flour.

Actually, every page offers something fascinating. Read this book with a highlighter.

About Laura Grace Weldon

Laura Grace Weldon is the author of four books and served as 2019 Ohio Poet of the Year. She's the editor of Braided Way: Faces & Voices of Spiritual Practice. She works as a book editor, teaches writing workshops, and maxes out her library card each week.
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7 Responses to The Resilient Gardener: A Must-Have Book

  1. Margaret says:

    Laura, thanks so much for this! I know many Native Americans of North America call corn, squash and beans the “3 sisters” and revere them and I love potatoes and am always happy for an excuse to grow more – now I just have to get those chickens I keep thinking about! Shall look into this book post-haste – you are a wonder! — Maggie and Co.

  2. Lorie Januska says:

    Hi Laura, I just checked out your latest post, after putting down the book I was reading, The Resilient Gardener. What a surprise to see what you had written. I love this book too. One of the best books on gardening I think. Two years ago I grew Floriani corn for polenta and cornbread. Delicious. I used to grow Bloody Butcher every year and the stalks were 8 ft high at least. I just wish they would change the name, silly me. It is a gorgeous corn, big ears, deep red and made tasty meal. I wasn’t planning to put in flint corn this year but I might see if I can find room in the garden. Might not have enough time. I’ve been getting a local grown organic cornmeal down in Wooster but like having my own. Last year we planted winter squash at the end of June and had a good crop. Potatoes, as you know, we don’t grow anymore but buy them from the Amish. I like Carol Deppe’s book because she talks about giving up things if it gets too hard. Keep it simple. Makes me sad to plant a smaller garden but it makes me glad we can still grow plenty for the two of us. And we love having our own eggs, don’t you.

    Best of luck in your garden this summer. Please stop and visit.

    Too bad about your loss of plants. Ed covered everything and we came through the frost with no problems.

    Thanks for all you write.

    • Great to hear from you Lorie! You and I are so similar aren’t we?

      I saved seeds from the parching corn we grew last year, I’d be happy to bring you some. It’s not too late to plant. Let me know.

  3. Bill says:

    I’m so glad to discover this review. Lots of great information in it, which tells me the book must be loaded with great stuff. It’s been a tough year for gardening, according to just about everybody, so you’re not alone. I’ve made a note to try Costada Romanesca zukes next year!

  4. DennisP says:

    A good review of a very interesting book that I read a couple of years ago. But I never could figure out what to do with her ideas in my garden, which is different every year. I’ve been seriously gardening for 8 years now and I’m finally rounding my garden and selection of crops into what suits my wife and me (our kids flew the coop some years back. My first years gardening I was tempted to try so many varieties of crops and wound up producing more than we could eat.) I will have to go back and re-read Carol’s book and think more carefully about her ideas.

    By the way, another similar and very informative book is “Gardening When it Counts” by Steve Solomon. It is somewhat out of the mainstream but I found it very useful.

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