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Garden Reads

New Tomes on Harvesting Rain and Eating Loca


Monday, October 24, 2011

E-readers abound (although Kindle may be burning up the competition), and they are increasingly turning away from the paper and glue to the digital screen. The world of publishing may be in flux, but good books on all sorts of subjects are still being penned and published. Recent additions to the horticulture shelf address different, but compelling, topics for a responsible citizen to assimilate.

Water conservation is a subject that everyone will be hearing about, probably with increasing alarm, from now on. Climate change and population growth will dictate a new attitude toward a commodity that many have taken for granted for a long time. The pressures on current water supplies will force a new mindset, however. Harvest the Rain by Nate Downey (Sunstone Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico) is the latest tome to bring awareness to the need to conserve this valuable resource. The principles of adding organic matter to the soil to hold more water, mulching to retard evaporation, creating swales and other water diversions to slow runoff, and even digging vertical water sinks are all very good and clearly described. These useful techniques should become routine for any gardener anywhere, and especially here in Southern California, where water comes only from above and only during the rainy season, which is followed by a pretty long dry season most years. What doesn’t really compute for gardeners in this climate zone will be the many (and very well-considered) measures to harvest the rain itself. It simply is not viable to catch and retain enough water to make much of an impact for the six-or-more-month-long dry season here. No disrespect to the author, but, for SoCal, much of this book will be of no real use. Read the first chapters and pass it along to another gardener in a zone with more evenly spaced rainfall.

The SOL (Sustainable, Organic, Local) Food Festival has just passed, and Santa Barbara is once again riding the wave of a trend that may of necessity become the norm. As prices rise for producing and shipping food products, the need to find area sources for nutrition will become more and more important. Eat Local: Simple Steps to Enjoy Real, Healthy & Affordable Food by Jasia Steinmetz (New World Publishing) details how anyone can learn to shop, cook, and eat more locally. Not only does Steinmetz outline how to find locally grown foods, she delves into the world of growing your own produce and supporting community and school gardens that empower a larger population to move to more self-sufficient lifestyles. Particularly useful are the two pages of resources: Web sites and databases that can connect people to each other and local food sources.

While these two books may not be specifically tailored for the Santa Barbara micro-environ, they can help to inform and even inspire gardeners about the need for water conservation and the means to reduce their water consumption in the garden, as well as the infinite possibilities for growing more of their own food and where to look for it in the community.

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Virginia Hayes, curator of Ganna Walska Lotusland, will answer your gardening questions. Address them to Gardens, The Independent, 122 W. Figueroa St., S.B., CA 93101. Send email to vahayes@lotusland.org.

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