Books

A selection of books from Heidi Rader's shelves. Curtesy Heidi Rader

FAIRBANKS — If you’re looking at the snow outside and can’t wait for it to melt so you can plunge your hands in some dirt, perhaps a good garden read can help satisfy your urge until spring. It might even give you some ideas to make your garden bigger and better this summer. Here’s what’s on my shelf now.

“The Garden Classroom” by Cathy James is an excellent resource for teachers, parents or anyone involved with children. It’s intended for kids aged 4 to 8 and has all sorts of fun, creative ideas for integrating learning with the garden, whatever subject is the focus (math, science, reading or art). 

Brenda Adams is an award-winning landscape designer in Southeast Alaska and has written two books: “There’s a Moose in My Garden” and “Cool Plants for Cold Climates.” Although you’ll need to filter her plant recommendations through the lens of an Interior gardener, the books are inspiring, beautiful and backed by a very experienced Alaska landscaper. They will help you, whether you’re designing a new flower bed or an entire landscape.

Not only will Carol Deppe’s “Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties” spark your interest in saving seeds, it might also inspire you to develop a new vegetable variety. Deppe explains it’s easier and more fun to develop new varieties to suit your own desires and location. We live in a unique climate and have a relatively small population so it’s worth trying!

If you’re inspired, then check out the Ester Seed Library at https://bit.ly/2zpsqfq and “borrow” some seeds that other local gardeners have been adapting for Interior Alaska. The seeds are free, but you’ll be expected to save and replenish the seeds. While you’re there, look for books on this reading list at the John Trigg Ester Library or other books on sustainability and agriculture.

In “Eating on the Wild Side,” Jo Robinson goes beyond the cursory recommendation to “Eat your fruits and vegetables” and drills down to which types and varieties are most nutritious, particularly in terms of phytonutrients and sugar content. She points out that our domesticated fruits and vegetables are far less healthful than their wild ancestors. It’ll make you more discriminating when choosing what to grow and what and where to buy your produce. 

“The Market Gardener” by Jean-Martin Fortier provides some excellent tips for planning a small-scale farm. One tip that will save you money, headaches and time is to make your rows the same size. This makes it easy to calculate compost or fertilizer rates, rotate crops, and recycle and reuse frost cloth, plastic and drip irrigation. Fortier tests a variety of low-tech hand tools and has a YouTube channel as well. He also has a good system for determining profitability of different crop types.

I loved “The Lean Farm: How to Minimize Waste, Increase, Efficiency, and Maximize Value and Profits with Less Work” by Ben Hartman. Hartman applies the lean manufacturing principles developed by Toyota to his farm to turn it into a smoothly running operation. It’s a farmer’s answer to the popular book, “The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Even if you’re only a gardener and not a farmer, it might help you improve your productivity and efficiency. Actually, the philosophy can be applied to any system, job, chore or daily task.

You live in town with a small yard. You want to have a farm, but you don’t have any money to buy land? In “The Urban Farmer,” Curtis Stone reveals how he how farmed in a city on leased or borrowed land and ended up with more land offers than he could use. He highlights some of the considerable advantages urban farmers have compared with rural farmers.

If these books inspire you to quit your job and jump headlong into farming, read “Letters to a Young Farmer,” compiled by the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. Whether you’re young or old, it’s a good reality check for life as a farmer.

Heidi Rader is the tribes Extension educator for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Service and the Tanana Chiefs Conference. She can be reached at 907-452-8251, ext. 3477 or hbrader@alaska.edu.