Spring Warren – The Quarter Acre Farm

Ahoy gardeners! or anyone even thinking about picking up a spade. Whether you are growing tomatoes on an apartment balcony or have acres of rich topsoil with which to play, if you have any interest in gardening, or even eating garden fresh produce, I think you’ll be tickled with this instructive memoir (with recipes) by Spring Warren: The Quarter-Acre Farm: How I Kept the Patio, Lost the Lawn, and Fed My Family for a Year. Early in the summer of 2008, the author decided that she would plow up as much of her family’s Davis, California yard as she could, build out a garden, and for a year, consume at least 75% of her food by weight from what she grew. A noble experiment to say the least, and one that Ms. Warren approaches with light hearted humor and a spirit of adventure. She is a delightful storyteller, peppering her chapters with historical notes, biological tidbits, very useful gardening advice, and easy-to-make, garden-produce-using, good recipes.

What I love most about this book is that clearly the author doesn’t know what she’s doing, but she does it anyway, and learns as she goes. It’s not as if she’s a gardening expert who decides to just up her game. No, she makes the same mistakes all of us amateur gardeners make. I spent half the book laughing and nodding my head in agreement over far too familiar garden mishaps. Anemic tomatoes? Been there. Collapsing pumpkin trellis? Been there too. We’ve made similar discoveries as well, like how good the common weed purslane is in a salad, and how some vegetables and fruit trees benefit from aggressive pruning. We too put tanglefoot around the trunks of our fruit trees, to keep the ants from building scale nurseries on the branches, and spray our greens with earth-friendly BT. In addition to the garden basics of zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, and beans, there’s advice for raising chickens, geese, and growing mushrooms.


Now if this were just a good how-to on gardening, I probably wouldn’t be taking up space here on this site to sing its praises. The Quarter Acre Farm is simply a well crafted book. It’s beautifully illustrated by the author’s son Jesse. It’s thoughtful, funny, well researched, and well written, a gem.


  1. g.

    so inspiring! my husband and i have very similar aspirations. thanks so much for sharing this gem of a book, elise. hope you’re enjoying the weekend!

  2. Brenda

    If it wasn’t for this nasty drought, we would be doing the same thing. Oh well, maybe next year.

  3. Susan

    My daughter came by for a salmon dinner sided with vegetables fresh from our garden. She said she thought we should just plow up the rest of the yard, too! Uh..no.

  4. teawithhazel

    sounds like a great book..i turned my north facing front garden into a vegetable garden when i moved three years ago..apart from the obvious benefits of home grown produce i have met many people from the neighbourhood who stop to chat when i am working in my garden.. and its been great to offer them produce if i have any available…jane

  5. Dianne

    I can’t wait to get a copy. This was my first year planting a significant vegetable garden and I have to say- I am in awe! It has been a learn as I go experience, buy I am learning. My garden has become my new obsession – at least it’s a healthy obsession!

  6. Jean Marie

    I love books like this! It is going on the summer reading list asap. I would do the exact same thing that Warren did if it wasn’t for the massive oak trees that would have to be cut down first. Shade is both a friend and a foe.

  7. Cheryl Ross

    We are currently in the process of doing this. We already put in 1 small raised bed a couple of years ago when we had some grass killed off by dogs.
    Now we are ripping out 6 oleander trees for more sun, extending our raised bed & increasing our hydroponics.
    Already have 2 compost bins, worm composting & trying to figure out how & where to put small bee hive – all in a small suburban track yard.
    A good idea to start a vegetable bed is to just lay out bags of top soil where you want your garden. Cut slits in the bottom then a big X in the top & put in your plant. At the end of the season, build your raised bed around the bags & cut them open to fill it up. Worked great for us!

  8. Melissa in El Cajon, California

    AND! It has some really yummy sounding recipes! I just finished reading the book yesterday and have yet to try any of them, but I will!

  9. Frank

    Looks like a great book. We have a raised bed herb garden and we love it. We have always thought about adding a small veg garden as well.

  10. Pat H

    I’m about ready to move back north just so I can raise the veg and fruit I used to. 3/4 acre lot with a house, etc. taking up most of it. But I had a large raspberry patch, spots for garden hogs like squash and melons, tomatoes paired with marigolds, a shady patch only suitible for impatiens, a fenced area for greens and other rabbit friendly foods, snow peas and english peas grown on the fence around the greens. A strawberry patch. Room for garlic, onions and scalions. A plum tree and an apple tree.

    My daughter drove by the old place the other day and said the garden is gone. I’m heart-broken.

  11. CRM

    Looks like a great book. We have a raised bed herb garden and we love it. We have always thought about adding a small veg garden as well.

  12. Susan @ SGCC

    It sounds like a charming book! As one who has been struggling with starting my own vegetable garden this year, I’m sure I will find much to relate to – especially since I don’t know what I’m doing either. Can’t wait to track down a copy!

  13. Britt

    This is a great book! Spring is one of my dearest friend Jesse’s mother– I helped cook some of her DELICIOUS recipes at her book-signing party. She is charming, confident, smart, and funny, and undertook quite a challenge in her journey to farm her quarter-acre. As I have been aspiring to do the same thing she still does, grow the majority of one’s own food, this book has been instrumental, inspiring, and a fun and easy read! I highly encourage everyone interested in growing their own food to pick up this book; you will love it!

  14. Katrina

    This book sounds fantastic! Thanks for the review on this. Awesome.

  15. Jen

    Funny, I just put this on hold at the library the other day.j Up until a year ago we were living on 1/5th acre in a small city. We were in the process of converting the entire property into food production but we got sick of the long freezing winters and no-livestock bylaws. At the end of July we took possession of our new house in Nova Scotia that is on 4 acres. We now have tons of animals and a massive garden. Still, I love reading about urban homesteaders.

  16. Ellen Ferlazzo

    My friend gave me this book for my birthday last weekend, after seeing an article about it in the Sac Bee. I have been loving it, reading nearly a chapter a day. The recipes sound good too–except for the snails. I’m not going there!

  17. Elise Johnson

    Love it! Now I just have to convince my husband to give me the yard! :)

  18. Mrs. L

    I’m so glad you liked the book. The author lives across the street from my Grandmas house in Davis (my Gram is even mentioned a few times in the book). I can’t visit Grams house without looking across the street and marveling at Spring’s wonderful front yard.

  19. Adam

    This really hits home to me. I grew up in Davis, and my parents were avid gardeners, turning a fairly large portion of their quarter acre in to food producing land. While we probably never hit the 75% mark, our meals were filled with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, onions, squashes, chard, kale, potatoes and many other vegetables (and herbs, a few fruits, and flowers) that my parents grew.

    I never really realized how unique this experience was until my wife and I discussed the finer points of growing up. She grew up in Southern California, and had limited gardening happening at her house – both from climate, and lack of parental interest/spare time. Fortunately, while I didn’t get bit by the gardening bug (I prefer to cook the results, not grow them, but I’ll water the plants if I’m asked), she adores it. She’ll spend hours with my dad in my parents’ current garden (still in Davis!) absorbing as much knowledge as possible, and doing great things in our small garden back in the Bay Area.

    Elise, thanks for the heads up on this book. I’m going to have to get a few copies for my parents and my wife.

  20. R

    Omg! I am so buying a copy! I grew up in Davis (but am now in Europe) and my family just moved into a house with a garden…

  21. fabiola

    I absolutely love this! The thought of putting so much planning and detail into a labor of love like a garden and feeding your family gives me warm fuzzies. What a joy she must have felt to being able to do that. I cannot wait to pick up the book and read it, I am sure it is truly inspiring. I just planted my garden yesterday. I have only done a small raised garden in the past, but I have more space at his new house, so I did an in ground row of veggies and fruit. It was so much fun getting out there and playing in the dirt digging rows for my seedlings. It was satisfying to my soul, like it is when I cook a yummy beautiful meal. Loved it! Thank you for sharing.

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