Attention Green Thumbs

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You'll love turning the pages of these books

By Jeneen Wiche

I like a book that tells a story while teaching me a little something along the way; I like when the writer’s personality is revealed in their prose; and I like when a book makes me feel like I am not the only one that marvels at what nature and people can do. Here are my 2010 picks for just this sort of thing.

I loved “Insectopedia” by Hugh Raffles (Random House 2010). This book is a collection of essays, experiences, musings, and some journalism. Raffles explores the natural world and our relationship to it (or our lack there of).

The underlying theme to me was that we need to engage in the wonders of the insect world and not shun it Raffles makes the wonder of it all abundantly clear.

He takes us through Insectopedia from A to Z. For example Chapter A is Air and chronicles the historic first aerial insect collection in 1926; Chapter F is Fever/Dream, a short 3-page recollection about the author’s experience with malaria, which of course is spread by mosquitoes; Chapter G is Generosity (the Happy Times) which follows Hugh as he meets with Cricket Masters in Shanghai to learn more about the ancient practice of cricket fighting.

The book is all over the place in a good way!

If you have ever been interested in beekeeper, “Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Hardest Working Creatures on the Planet” by Bloomington, Indiana beekeeper Susan Brackney (Perigee 2009), is a good place to start. She tells the story of the honey bee from history, behavior, anatomy and more; she also tells the story of the beekeeper to put it all into perspective. You get to know both more intimately in a engaging and informative little book.
For the serious gardener that always seems to see he flaws in plants you may want to get “What’s Wrong with My Plant? (And How Do I Fix It?),” by David Deardorff and Kathryn Wadsworth (Timber Press 2009).

This book makes diagnosing a plant problem super easy.
There are visual aids and a flow chart of sorts to move you through the process.

Clear drawings of symptoms and pests along with actual photographs in the last chapter make this book very user friendly. I have never seen anything quite like it and it works remarkably well. Of course it also offers up organic solutions once you have made your diagnosis.

Okay, this last one isn’t necessarily a gardening book but it illustrates what we can do to improve our health and eating habits which may lead us into gardening; plus it was written by my very favorite cook. Mark Bittman’s “Food Matters: A guide to Conscious Eating” (Simon & Schuster 2009) is part essay on the problem with industrial agriculture and our tendency to expect cheap food and lots of it; improving your health through diet; and being reasonable about what you shop for, cook and eat. This last part is why I like Mark Bittman and his books, he is reasonable about everything.

He gets you to think about food with a little more respect for where it came from and what it does to you when you eat it.

He simply suggests a more reasonable diet and offers up some moral, financial, health and responsibility arguments along with some solid and easy recipes to illustrate the point!

My favorite books this year illustrate the diversity of experiences we can have in the garden.

Get out there and enjoy the insects and the successes and failures and the bounty prepared in the kitchen. Find pleasure in all these things and we will be one step closer to a better world!

And a few favorites from the last couple of years: Bernd Heinrich’s “Summer World” (Ecco, 2009) which is a collection of stories about how the animal and plant world manages to survive through the seasons with an emphasis on the cycles of life during summer; “To See Every Bird on Earth” by Dan Koeppel (Plume, 2008) is a son’s recounting of his father obsession with listing; “The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed” (Norton Publishing, 2005) chronicles the story of Grant Hadwin, logger turned environmentalist, as he mostly goes crazy.

This is a book that really does read like fiction; and Tanya Denckla’s “The Gardener’s A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food” (Story Publishing) is still my all-time favorite guide to what I am doing when it comes to managing vegetables, nuts and fruits in an organic fashion here on the farm.