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Between the Rows

Between the Rows: Isn't this a good time to read a good book?

The vegetable garden has been put to bed and, right now, is neatly covered with an inch of snow and ice. The planting, cultivating, harvesting and preserving seasons are past; now we are in reading season. For me, plans to make things better usually start right about the time I am in mid-harvest. And, there are always new books to help me find new ways.

“What’s Wrong with My Fruit Garden: 100% Organic Solutions for Berries, Trees, Nuts, Vines and Tropicals” by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wads-worth (Timber Press $24.95) is a reference book covering a wide variety of fruits. I’ve had discussions with people about how they choose what edibles to grow in their limited space and one of the answers is to grow the things that are most expensive to buy. Fruits can fit in that category. How much does it cost to tend a couple of apple trees or a trio of blueberry bushes or a couple of hazelnut trees compared to the cost of buying those items over a season, for many seasons? Besides cost, fruit bearing plants tend to need less work than vegetables and the fruit you pick will be the freshest possible. A fruit garden is a wonderful long term investment.

“What’s Wrong With My Fruit Garden” begins with an introduction and then is divided into three main sections. The introduction presents basic information about the needs of fruit plants and includes clearly illustrated pages that tell you how to identify problems related to temperature, light, water or soil.

The first main section is devoted to plant profiles of 34 fruits, from almonds to watermelon. We will not be able to grow all of them here, but I have been surprised lately by all the people who are growing figs! Each profile gives you general growing information about the needs of individual plants, including pollination and pruning.

Section two is the Plant Problem-Solving Guide with several pages for each plant with clear photos of the damage done by specific insects and diseases. Each photographed symptom is followed by a diagnosis and a variety of solutions.

Section three — Organic Solutions to Common Problems — gives more detailed information about solutions. There is a good supplementary reading list and excellent index.

“Gardening For Geeks” (Adamsmedia $15.95) by Christy Wilhelmi, founder of Gardenerd.com, promises “DIY tests, gadgets and techniques that utilize microbiology, mathematics and ecology to exponentially maximize the yield of your garden.” Wilhelmi delivers, but I have found that I might be geekier than I ever imagined, or this book, which gives a lot of good information for the new gardener, was just looking for a unique hook. Maybe she thought reluctant husbands (not mine) would be more likely to pick it up with that title. If you are not a geek, don’t let the title frighten you off.

She delivers good basic information on preparing the soil, various kinds of compost, utilizing small spaces by using bio-intensive methods and other intensive planting schemes, planting, irrigation, building trellises and such, pest control AND preserving your bountiful harvest. That’s 223 pages of good information with a good index.

As much as we like good information, we gardeners also like beauty. “Seeing Flowers: Discover the Hidden Life of Flowers” (Timber Press $29.95) with spectacular close-up photography by Robert Llewellyn, and text by Teri Dunn Chace, is a beautiful book about flowers.

Llewellyn and Chace capture 28 plant families from amaryllis to viola. Did you ever imagine that clematis would be in the buttercup family? Along with the photographs, you will enjoy information about each genus and its myriad species. Some families, like the iris, are relatively small, while others, like the lily, are very large and include those flowers we easily recognize as lilies, but also trillium, bluebells, hostas, snowflakes, kniphofia and many others, all shown with gorgeous photographs.

Chace takes us into a garden of fascinating facts, botanical history and medicinal uses, which take us to the poetry of plant names. How did tomatoes come to be considered poisonous? Well, tomatoes were recognized as a member of the Solanaceae family, which included deadly nightshade, a poisonous plant. All plant parts of nightshade contain atropine “from the Greek word atropos, which means ‘to cut the thread of life.’”

This is a book that will give you many hours of happy reading all year long, but I cannot think of a happier time to begin than when the sky is pale and snow is swirling in the wind. It is also a companion to Llewellyn’s earlier book “Seeing Trees: Discover the Extraordinary Secrets of Everyday Trees.”

While not a book about plants, I must include a new book by one of our local poets. Carol Purington of Colrain has written many books of haiku and tanka. She has described the natural world with strength and delicacy. In her new book, “Faces I Might Wear,” (Winifred Press $15.95) her narratives suggest the women who might have lived on this landscape, embracing hardships and joys. “This elegant gift/ from a woman who told her son/ not to marry me — / in so many ways/her taste impeccable.

One story follows another. “New Year’s day/ flipping all the blank pages/ in last year’s journal/ the secrets I didn’t want/ to remember.”

This is an extraordinary book that will surprise and delight Purington’s readers who are more familiar with her tender depictions of nature and life on a farm. It is available at Boswell’s Books and The World Eye Book Shop in Greenfield.

Readers can leave comments at Pat Leuchtman’s Web site: www.commonweeder.com. Leuchtman has been writing and gardening in Heath at End of the Road Farm since 1980.

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