Grow the Good Life
I read a lot of gardening books, and though most have something to offer, many just cover the same old ground in one way or another. So I was happy to find a copy of Michele Owens’ book, Grow the Good Life: Why a Vegetable Garden Will Make You Happy, Wealthy, and Wise, at the library recently. It was a rainy, cold weekend and I’d heard good things about the book, so I planned on curling up on the couch with it, and a couple of others I picked out. As it turned out, those other books just lay there unopened on the coffee table because I couldn’t put Owens’ book down until I finished it.
If you’re not familiar with Michele Owens’ garden writing for Organic Gardening and other magazines, you can get a good understanding of who she is and what she believes in by checking out her blog posts on Garden Rant, which she founded a few years back with a handful of similarly smart, funny and straight-talking garden writers. As a former political speech writer and author of several best-selling business books, Owens is keenly aware of the need to do her research before writing and throughout the book she cites the work of many horticulturists, ecologists, microbiologists and others. But all these facts do not a snoozy tome make because she is adept at interweaving studies, facts and figures with her own passionate commentary as an experienced gardener who loves plants, nature and growing vegetables.
Because she’s married to a journalist who covers climate change, Owens gets a dinnertime update on just how much stress our warming world is putting on agriculture all over the world. This understanding, coupled with a love of good, healthy food, drives her to motivate people, everyone, not just gardeners, to grow at least some food in their own backyards. Sure, that will help relieve some pressure on the world’s food supply, she writes. But growing things to eat is also just a joyful, uplifting thing to do; just ask anyone who has ever grown even one tomato plant in a pot on a balcony or back patio. There really is nothing like being able to walk outside and pick something you’ve grown yourself and pop it in your mouth, or serve it up for dinner.
As a gardener with a small, urban lot and limited vegetable growing experience, I took notes on Owens’ recommendations on what she would plant if she could only choose a few things. So I’ll definitely be adding patty pan squash to next year’s gardens, as well as Brussels sprouts and Blue Coco pole beans. I already grow arugula and lacinato kale, though she says they grow well when direct seeded. I’ve not had that experience, but I’ll try again. Spring in Minnesota is notorious for being warmish and dry one day and freezing cold and wet the next, so direct seeding doesn’t always go as planned. I could start them indoors, but that seems like a lot of work when compared to just picking up some organically grown seedlings at the farmers market and plopping them into my raised beds.
I also appreciated Owens’ focus on the importance of good soil. Of all the things I’ve learned over the years, the need to feed the soil, not the plants, tops my list of important advice. Pour all the synthetic fertilizer you want on your plants, if the soil is poor, they aren’t going to thrive. Owens talks about ways to build good soil using organic matter such as compost, mulched leaves and composted manure. And she offers a digestible amount of interesting information on the relationship between plants and soil.
Whether you already have a vegetable garden, or are thinking about starting one, you’ll find something in this book that will motivate and inspire you. I gave my copy back to the library, but I’ve already put this on my Christmas list.