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Vintage Rodale Organic Gardening Book

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Half-a-century ago, the garden publishing legend J.I. Rodale and his staff put together a hardcover Encyclopedia that incorporated much of the information they’d already been distributing via magazine.  When I recently purchased Rodale’s Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening and saw the notation about 50 years in print, I had to see for myself.

Thanks to the diligence of my local reference librarian, I was able to borrow a copy of the vintage book via interlibrary loan.  It’s the copyright 1959 edition, reprinted in 1975.  I wonder if my grandparents might have read the original book or related magazines.  They seem to have adopted some of the techniques described, such as storing root vegetables over winter in a pit in lieu of a root cellar.

The hardcover libarary book is in good condition, yet you can tell it’s been used over the years by library patrons.  The cover and jacket show some wear and tear.  The pages of the 1,145-page book show some light discoloration.  All of the pages are intact.  Its dimensions are somewhat smaller than those of the newer book.

style=”text-align: left;” align=”center”>The 2009 edition is both a great beginner’s resource and an easy-to-read reference.  It includes charts for subjects like common organic fertilizers, crop rotations, and fruit tree diseases.  It has condensed much of the information into practical topics, instead of trying to list each individual plant.  The 1959 edition boasts “over 300 illustrations” and goes to great lengths to show examples of plants and techniques.

The 1959 edition is a wealth of historical information about organic gardening.  It begins with a tribute to Sir Albert Howard, whose work in British agriculture the Rodales credit for inspiring the organic movement.  The book also notes the work of author Louis Bromfield in Ohio, as well as Maye Bruce’s work on composting, and Gregor Mendel’s early genetic work.  The new book includes a condensed history of the organic movement.  But more obvious is the 28-page section in the front called “Green Gardening” that addresses the realities of climate change, biotechnology and limited natural resources.

The vintage book speaks of a time when more family farms were still in existence.  It  includes a category about responsible land clearing, and another section on organic homesteading.  The newer book speaks instead of urban gardening and includes few references to the type of farming that can be done on a large acreage.  I appreciate that the 1959 encyclopedia includes a listing for mayapples, the wild perennial that can still be found growing in the woodlands.  I grew up hunting edible morel mushrooms that grew near the mayapples on our family farm.

Of course both books go into detail about organic growing techniques, greenhouses, composting and using natural products.  The older book not only promotes the use of natural fertilizers, but it explains more about the types of chemical fertilizers to avoid and how to identify them.  The newer book’s treatment of seed information is easier to use, with its tips for buying seeds and suggested timetable for starting them.

It’s impressive that long before today’s popularity of organic gardening, this literature was already available to those willing to read and learn.  Also notable is that some terms such as “green gardening” and “genetically modified organisms” were as yet unheard of to be mentioned in print in the 1950s.  I need the easy reference of the 2009 edition to help improve my gardening techniques.  However, it’s been fun reading the original volume, complete with its insight to what organic gardening experts were already learning decades ago.

The 1959 edition is edited by J.I. and Robert Rodale themselves, with Jerome Olds listed as Executive Editor and three others as managing editors.  The editors also identify themselves as the staff of Organic Gardening and Farming Magazine.  The 2009 edition, dedicated to Robert Rodale’s memory, is edited by Fern Marshall Bradley, Barbara W. Ellis and Ellen Phillips.  Today, you can find additional information from the Rodale publishers on their website and on the nonprofit Rodale Institute site.

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