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Reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening Book

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I was picking up a last-minute Christmas gift from the bookstore when I spotted a goodly green volume that became my own holiday treat.  It’s Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening.  This 2009 edition promises to be a thoroughly updated version of the one first edited by J.I. Rodale in 1959.  I’m interested because of my family’s ongoing efforts to garden smarter with organic methods.  I’m intrigued with the idea that this sort of information was already available back in the 1950s.  My local library is retrieving the 1959 edition for me through an interlibrary loan.  I can’t wait to compare the two volumes side by side.

The term organic that’s so trendy today became somewhat popularized by the elder Rodale, as early as the 1940s.  He founded Rodale Press, publishing numerous books and magazines on gardening and healthy living.  His son, the late Robert Rodale, expanded the message throughout the world.  Through the nonprofit Rodale Institute, he implemented the Farming Systems Trial in 1981, which compares organics to conventional farming methods.  Apparently, these men devoted their lives to natural growing methods at the same time that synthetic garden products and big agribusiness were taking hold of the nation’s food supply.  Family member Maya Rodale, now Director of Communications and Outreach at the Rodale Institute, shared her perspective with me.  “When my great-grandfather, J.I. Rodale, launched the organic movement in America, he was ridiculed for his ideas and practices.  But every year, organic gains more mainstream acceptance.”

Despite sounding like a reference book, this Encyclopedia reads more like a learner’s guide for beginning organic gardening.  It includes details on keeping soil optimal by choosing natural fertilizers, monitoring pH levels and rotating which vegetables you grow in a certain spot.  One entry highlights edible landscaping plants that can look beautiful while producing food.  I appreciate the long entry on garden pests that gives lots of background on managing common insects without resorting to toxic pesticides.

The most salient update to this new edition is the lengthy introductory chapter titled Green Gardening.  It covers everything from gardening analysis to consumer choices that all contribute to the state of our environment.  I showed my husband the instructions on making your own inexpensive rain barrel, another project I’m hoping he’ll add to his list for the spring.

I love the idea of using this book to not just reference a specific plant, although you can do that, but to learn more of the reasons behind organic gardening methods.  It seems like a great guide for helping to plan this year’s garden, even while the ground remains icy.  I hope that by reading it, I can be more intentional in planning for a better garden this year.


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