So peak oil has arrived, food prices are soaring and violent gangs are on the rampage. Things have come to a head. As you proudly survey your newly acquired modest acreage in rural France, however, it suddenly occurs to you that you haven’t the faintest idea what you are doing.
Lucky for you, then, that Steve Solomon, the Mr McGregor of self-sufficiency, is here to help. In his introduction he even generously offers to be ‘the gardening grandfather you never had’. Like most authors of books on self sufficiency, Steve Solomon is blessed with the healthy excess of self-confidence that comes from spending three decades with a solid inch of topsoil permanently wedged under his fingernails. This book describes the approach he has developed over this period. His aim is to help the reader to grow food reliably, organically and at low cost, and this is a straightforward guide to getting food out of the ground by time-tested means, with the kind of harvest that could feed a family.
In contrast to his nemesis, John Jeavons of How to Grow More Vegetables fame, Solomon advocates a less intensive approach to veg growing, requiring a little more land, a lot less water and a lot less time and effort. A key component of Solomon’s approach is plant spacing. By leaving enough space between plants we reduce competition between them, conserve soil water and make weeding a simple matter of running a hoe down between the rows. Tools, seeds, soil preparation, compost, insects and diseases are all given a thorough, well-explained treatment, and the book also contains tables giving correct plant-spacings, as well as a comprehensive list of reputable seed companies in the English-speaking world. The last section gives growing instructions for all the main crop varieties and is organised by ease of cultivation.
Thus far my own attempts at smallholding amount to a pitiful incident involving 12 heirloom potatoes, 20 car tyres and what turned out to be an excessive amount of shade. Next time I try, this will certainly be the book I will be using for reference.
Gardening When It Counts by Steve Solomon (New Society Publishers, £9.99)
This article first appeared in the Ecologist May 2008