Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How to Grow More Vegetables, 8th Edition

How to Grow More Vegetables, by John Jeavons, was initially published in 1974 by John and Ecology Action with the help of copying machines. While that happened before I was even born, I have heard the claim substantiated by folks who bought the first edition long ago, and 35 years later made it to their first tour of Ecology Action's gardens. A few editions down the line it was picked up by Ten Speed Press, of Berkeley, which also publishes a number of other great books (and which has been recently bought by Random House).

It became thicker, edition by edition, as EA's work progressed and the concept of biointensive, and then GROW BIOINTENSIVE, mini-farming was further developed. And, as those of us who have owned recent copies know, it contained nearly sixty pages at the back known as The Bibliography that listed thousands of resources that pertained to sustainability, agriculture, simple living, solar cooking, and the like.

When Margo and I began our agricultural life we had the 6th edition, and soon after coming to EA the 7th edition was published.

Some folks, depending on their philosophy of sustainability, count it as the Bible of sustainable agriculture. We found it as a combination of three sections: a great introduction to principles of successful gardening (in general) and biointensive gardening (specifically), a constant reference for crop-specific flatting, transplanting, and diet information, and a collection of sample garden plans modeling true sustainability.

The first section, once read and understood, I seldom returned to except as a teaching aid. After practicing it the information has been internalized. The second section is known, infamously to some, as the Master Charts. Before attending a workshop at EA they were a mystery of numbers and lists, and now they are a constant companion in our planning. I never took much time with the third section, because it came across as too technical, and I didn't have the attention span for that kind of reading.

For the Master Charts, though, our book has accompanied us everywhere from dining room table to garden bed, California to North Carolina.

The 8th Edition has been published and is now on sale. Small and medium changes have been made throughout, with three large ones I've noticed so far: the technical "sample garden plan" section I talked about above has been boiled down from 20 pages in the earlier edition to 9 pages in the new one, and presents itself in a more approachable way. The Bibliography has been cut out entirely, and is now available online at EA's website on this page. In its place is a list of helpful tools and plans on how to build them. And, most pertinent in our long-term use of the book, the Master Charts have undergone a transformation. In previous editions each set of 20 crops would span four pages, requiring the planner to flip back and forth to get all the information. In the new edition crops are in sets of 10, and span two facing pages. Those who own a copy and have used the Master Charts will know what I mean; it will require some adjustment for us, but will likely be a big improvement.

In other news, we have flatted our alfalfa, clover, onions, and leeks, and will flat our green onions next week. Our pseudo-greenhouse has maintained temperatures above freezing for the last few weeks, which is good. I finished processing the last of our crops from 2011 and now have the yields for all of them calculated and logged, and plan to add a page to the blog that lists our high yields. So our sights are set on 2012 now, with EA's March Three-Day Workshop in Willits coming right up, classes at our local Audubon center on seedling propagation, compost, and bed preparation soon after, and then planting!

Winter, for all practical purposes, seems to be over...


  1. That's good to know; I didn't know I could flat my leeks yet, but I will try to get that done. I don't have a greenhouse so I'm using fluorescent lights indoors. I hope they would do all right in that setup.

    1. You're in West Virginia, right? Depending on your specific climate it might or might not be time. Most of our spring flatting dates are based on how early the weather will let us transplant. Leeks are cold-tolerant, so we plan to put them in the first week of April. How To Grow's master charts tell us leeks will spend about two months in the flat before they'll be big enough to TP, so that's where we get our flatting dates.
      We could put them in earlier, but in the average spring they wouldn't do much growing and the cold might kill them at that age.
      We haven't used fluorescent lights, though I'm sure I would if I had no south-facing window. At our first internship the Farm Manager had a set of the "grow light" style of fluorescents, though... I'd be interested to hear how it turns out for you!

  2. Thank you so much for all of that helpful advice. Yes, we are in West Virginia. The calendar I have from our extension agency says to transplant leeks on April 21, so based on what you have said about the Master Charts, it seems like it would be all right to start them here. That is one thing that I do wish they would have in How to Grow, a chart of when it is safe to start and transplant things, perhaps based on last frost dates.