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.