The Tao of Vegetable Gardening by Carol Deppe – Book Review

The most valuable parts to me

To me, the most valuable parts of this book are where she discusses the reasons, procedures and processes to create our own varieties of tomatoes and other vegetables. The reasons are excellent.  A home grown tomato, selected from the best tasting, and for your garden conditions, is a joy that no amount of money can buy; but you can grow.  This singular accomplishment is threatened by the disease called late blight.  As she points out, programs to develop new tomato strains that are resistant to late blight are likely to start with tomatoes selected for market.  Selected for uniformity, storage and mass growing conditions.

Heirlooms and open pollinated varieties, among others, may be completely lost unless home and small growers do their own work.  She gives concrete, how-to advice for de-hybridizing and creating crosses to come up with tomatoes that have the characteristics that we love in heirlooms plus the genes needed to confer resistance for late blight and other diseases.

She also goes into detail about creating landraces, using seed saving and genetic selection to produce plants that are most productive, flavorful, or colorful – you choose – for your own growing conditions.

Some Surprises

I’ve always thought that seeds were fragile and to keep them viable, they should be kept from getting too dry or being frozen.  Carol talks about using those processes to create a personal seed bank to preserve seeds for periods long beyond what I thought were possible.

Very interesting discussion about tomato taste and when to pick: late day, after the sun has warmed them, for her.  That’s not something that I’ve thought about.  If she’s right, most tomatoes purchased at a farmer’s market and picked the morning they are sold are not as full of flavor as they could be.  I imagine farmers would be overjoyed to find that they could pick the afternoon of the day before, (or a few days before for some varieties) sleep in and have better tasting tomatoes.

A few nit-picks. 

There is nothing wrong with Swiss Chard.  And I’m surprised as Carol really likes greens; it makes a wonderful counterpoint to the sweet winter squashes that she develops and grows.  I would never try to change Carol’s mind but you should try it for yourself and I would recommend you try it in Molly Katzen’s recipe, Pasta with greens and feta.

Regardless of the cover subtitle:  “Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy and Serenity”, it was hard for me to identify the audience that the author had in mind.  It gives some basic cultivation advice but not enough for most beginners to be successful.  That’s all right; there are other books that do this.  She mentions a lot of helpful resources beyond her own books.

The Taoist stories and sayings are amusing and entertaining but in my opinion, amount to a sort of “what ever” from a philosophical viewpoint. But then, the older I get, the more I resist any rigid belief system.  So maybe I am Taoist.  Whatever. <s>  When it comes to joy and serenity in the garden I am a long-time true believer and I can respect anyone who shares that and applaud anyone who wants to share it with others.

Unfortunately, with only room for about a dozen tomato plants; I grow only two or three of each variety (with no ability to rotate where they grow), I can’t afford even the modest space that she suggests to experiment.  So I hope some of you with a little more sunny space will read this book feel inspired. It’s probably less space and trouble than you think.