Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening by David the Good
What if everything collapsed tomorrow? What if the shelves on the supermarket were empty? What if you couldn't get gas for your tiller? What if you didn't stockpile fertilizer... or water? What if you've never even planted a garden in your life... and your life depended on growing your own food?
Grow or Die: The Good Guide to Survival Gardening has the answers. From hand tools that will till the ground better than a tractor to plans for growing all the calories you need in a crisis to easy-to-follow crop rotations that will beat the pests, this book is the cheapest insurance you can own against the crash we all know is coming sooner or later.
You'll discover how to scrounge for seeds in unlikely places. How to till without a tiller. How to preserve your harvest. How to beat pests without poison. How to convert a lawn into a food factory. How to garden to survive in emergencies and crises.
Expert gardener David The Good, author of the bestselling Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, has written the gardening book that could one day save your life. Easy to follow and entertaining, Grow Or Die doesn't bog down in the technical details, but focuses on how you can turn your garden into a tool for survival. It's perfect for those interested in preparedness, low-tech gardening and living with a lighter, more ecologically sustaining footprint.
This book has a peppy prepper attitude, is a fun and easy read, filled with inspiration to get us growing our own food. This guide to survival gardening is fast paced and funny. It is also practical. The target audience is beginner to intermediate gardener, but is suitable for gardeners (and farmers) of any experience level.
David the Good avoids the doom and gloom that often permeates prepper literature. he tells us, "if you're ready to quit worrying about the future and pull up your fears by the roots, you need to start gardening." There you have it, simple, one line, the premise of the book. And he's so right! No matter how many tins of beans you stuff under the mattress (a modern day take on the princess and the pea, perhaps: Prepper and the tin of beans), if times get tough and you want to keep eating, knowing how to garden is going to make certain one's belly is full. End of the world, zombies, or simply a job loss, gardening can be a simple and affordable way to eat.
Why should we listen to David when there are so many other sources out there? Most of these books and products are written by hobby gardeners, whereas David has "killed more plants than most people have ever grown. If there's a gardening problem, [he's] probably encountered it and slapped it silly." I agree, he's "totally bragging", but then again, when the going gets tough, David is the kind of gardener I want to learn from.
In the first two chapters, Methods and How Much Space does it Take, David walks us through several different methods of gardening, their pros and cons, and what kind of situation they might work, and where they will falter. He tells us that "the problem is that there is no single correct way to garden. There is no fifth element capable of joining together all our gardening knowledge into one Unified Field Theory of Vegetative Nirvana", the answer is always 'it depends'.
David tells us that widely spaced plants in widely spaced rows is the way to deal with drought. I've seen this sort of thing before. Carol Deppe also tells us this in her book The Resilient gardener. They both tell me that this is not a symptom of modern agriculture (well, not really modern anyway, it is an idea that only goes back a few hundred years but that's another story) and that we shouldn't crowd plants together. They like having their own space. David the Good and Deppe both imply that this is the only and best way to grow in a drought prone area. My personal experience is very different. In my garden, closely spaced vegies withstand drought and need less watering than 'properly' or sparsely spaced plants. Why is it so different than what David says? Could it be mine is more like a polyculture and something magical happens that makes the plants get along better? Possibly. More likely, I'm gardening in a very different part of the world, and unlike these guys, my 6-month drought is usually accompanied by a heavy morning dew. Sparsely spaced plants capture less dew and cause more evaporation from the soil. I feel like in this section, David is parroting the party line and showing us what works for him; however, he seems to have forgotten the 'it depends' part about gardening for this section.
The book also includes a bit on tools, watering, fertilizing, and pest control. He does concede that there are some advantages to chemical fertilizer growing food quickly during dire situations. David says, "When the manure hits the fan, it's better to have lower-quality fertilizer and something to eat... than to stick to your organic roots and starve. I know - I get hate mail - but it's true." A better alternative would be to already have great garden soil from gardening. A few plugs for his other book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, and a few tips and tricks for using urine in the garden, and David gives us enough information and encouragement to start growing organically now.
For the pest control section, there are some good ideas, like encouraging predatory insects, &c. There is also a recipe for Delicious Organic Aphid Spray - I hope to cook up a batch later today and give it a try on my cabbages.
The Big Ol' Giant Crop List has got some good stuff in it. It's basically a big list of plants that are worth growing in a prepper style garden. "Let's take a look at a bunch of them so this looks like a totally professional gardening book and people will say, 'Hay look, he's got a big ol' giant crop list in there'"
Most importantly he has a very sensible approach to eggplant. I don't see why he included the second two paragraphs, the first paragraph about eggplant said everything anyone could ever want to know about the stuff. shudders, eggplant.
I feel he's been neglectful of grains (which is fair enough, they take a bit of getting used to) and pulses (dry beans and peas). David includes lots about fresh beans and peas, but given how nutrient dense, easy to grow, even easier to processa and store, not to mention how good for the soil pulses are, I'm surprised he gives them so little attention. Sorry David, not enough pulses, you lost an acorn for that.
Preserving the Harvest chapter was an excellent addition. Growing this stuff is all well and good, but we need to know how to store and more importantly how to cook these foods. I was very tempted to knock another acorn off for not including more recipes, but it is a gardening book, not a cooking book - one day our culture will stop separating the two, but at the moment, that's still pretty standard. Besides, anyone who feels that way about egplant deserves an extra acorn.
The appendixes were a good addition. I especially liked Plant a Survival Garden From Your Pantry. For of those still waiting to read the book, it's a bit like this, only more prepper-y. The story of the avocado pit was something I can relate to, only with me it's date seeds. Still haven't successfully grown a date tree, but I am determined to. I 'harvest' date stones to the point where I'm either not invited back anymore or am greeted with a big bag of date-stones upon arrival. It's almost like they are saying, "here, now you have enough date stones, stop digging through our trash looking for seeds." - I never do. I don't imagine David would either. This section, David tells us how to "deal with a collapse in shipping or any number of things that might cause a total breakdown of the supply lines", and more importantly, no more seed catalogs. Be it dumpster diving or pantry raiding, seeds are all around us, we have but to rescue them.
All in all, I enjoyed the book. The gardening information is available in other books, but not the funny anecdotes, nor the shock at murdering popcorn. I like the way it's put together and presented in an encouraging way. I'll be recommending this book to my garden-curious friends.
As for "David includes lots about fresh beans and peas, but given how nutrient dense, easy to grow, even easier to processa and store, not to mention how good for the soil pulses are, I'm surprised he gives them so little attention. Sorry David, not enough pulses, you lost an acorn for that," point well taken.
The problem in the climate where I tested this book were the torrential summer rains. Our dry beans were consistently ruined making them a hard group to write about intelligently from a prepper perspective. Rather than reaching, I simply dodged.
Thanks guys. I'm always so nervous writing a review of other people's hard work because I'm so overly-opinionated.
David, your style in this book is a wonderful combination of entertainment and information. A very engaging read.
The part about the shed, the policeman, and the blasting caps made me laugh. Your big old crop list had some interesting goodies I hadn't encountered before. Can't wait to see if they will grow here.
Pulses can be tricky, especially finding the right one for the location. I'm on my third year trialing different kinds. I finally think I'm getting the hang of them. Overwinter and early spring pulses like favas, chickpeas, and soup peas do well here because they come ripe when the dew isn't too heavy (which makes later pulses go moldy). Basically, I got fed up and put most of my pulses in a new garden bed with the worst soil ever. The theory is they would grow then die and it would slightly improve the soil, but instead it grew - albeit poorly - and produced a half decent crop (which I'm just harvesting now). I'm thinking about using pulses as part of a pioneer crop for new gardens, maybe mixed with a deep tap root crop. About 20% didn't make any peas/beans, but that's okay because I can select for crappy-soil tolerance.
They (the people who made 2016 the international year of the pulse) say that there is a pulse that traditionally grows well in almost every place on earth. Of course, there isn't any traditional crop for where I live, but with a Mediterranean climeate, I'm guessing old world beans and peas would do well here.