Pressed Between the Pages: The Reading List

I’m one of those folks who just has to have a real book in my hands to get “in the flow”. I have always had a library, and still love used book stores. I miss them terribly.  There’s nothing like sitting on the hard wood floor with a large mug of deep black coffee, shelves of books reaching to the ceiling , narrow aisles, worn covers, dog-eared corners on stained pages. Someone loved that book. Someone really used it. It’s even better when there are notes in the margins or a forgotten hand-scribbled sheet of paper stuck between the pages.

That very well loved and used book is even more powerful in the middle of an intense snow storm, with deep wind chill temps, a woodstove to save propane, cuppa Lapsong Suchong tea.

Just something about holding a real book that keeps me in the moment and grounded. It just isn’t the same thing to research online and take notes on the side. Not for me any way.

And what I found when I started to research this post was that if you want to build your permaculture / garden library based on the books I have in my stained, worn, noted and loved library, you will probably need to find those used copies floating out there in the used bookstore world.

Some of the books I bought years ago – even as “used” – have quadrupled in price. My research was shocking. So for those of you with friends in places like Seattle, San Francisco, Berkeley, Denver, Phoenix, Up State New York, you may want to re-connect and offer them a finders fee for going out into the other world of the used book store.

Most Important Before and During the Time You Crack Open That Book:

Observation. The ground you are responsible for or with which you daily interact can only be observed and studied by you, and those observations are the most important step in this changing. Where do the snow drifts build – in winter storms out of the north, and out of the south? Where does water stay? Where does nothing grow no matter what you do?  In summer which windows let in the heat of the sun, and where does the precious warmth of the sun come in during winter? What pollinators show up first and where do they congregate?  So many observations. And as the weather moves and changes, so much of what you saw changes again. But what stays the same through all of it? What seems to be the stability?

I keep my observations in notebooks and in online posts. But I do most of my research from my books.

Now: with those observations let us find out what that little black fly that pollinates the chokecherry is and what else does it like for nesting, or rearing, or food, or water. Let’s use that information to create more of what it likes so that we can get more chokecherries. (Hot chokecherry / rhubarb juice with a quick dash of cinnamon in the midst of this storm is heaven…)

A few more books not covered here. Read one and send a review and I will post your review here for others to read.

The Reading List:

College professors are famous for requiring their students to purchase the professor’s own books as texts for the class. (Now I know why! $$$$)  I have a few books that I strongly recommend to those students and clients who want to change the way their brains work, to change their assumptions about the natural world, to change the way they interact with their landscape and gardens – to re-wild themselves. (I am not the author of any of them!)

Yes, there exist (for very, very high prices!) two or three famous technical (as in Engineering) texts on permaculture. They go far beyond what is necessary for the majority of folks to change their lifestyle.

So let’s get real, and realistic. Let’s start with these:

Earth User’s Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow

I love this book. It is straight forward, clear, detailed but elegant. I want to see your copy with all the notes and highlights and stains after one season with you in the landscape. This is your step-by-step guide to actually getting things done. But it also weaves the underlying philosophies and principles adopted by permaculture practitioners. It is a global book so there are many examples that have little to do with Casper Wyoming. But the underlying idea or goal or method will work here – or anywhere for that matter. Use this book as a work book. Stick your photos, your drawings and sketches, your plant lists, your questions to research elsewhere (or send to me!) between the pages. Press “weeds” and flowers and leaves and sick pieces of plants between the pages. Use it; work it.  Amazon $24.95

Botany for Gardeners by Brian Capron

This book could easily be used for a college, general education science course, except that the author is a wonderful, clear, user-friendly writer.  Highly recommend.  Fourth edition, $21.95 (Previous editions are still excellent and can be purchased used on Amazon.)

Sagebrush Country: A Wildflower Sanctuary by R. Taylor

If your land is rural in the Sagebrush Steppe environment, this book is massively helpful to identify the native plants around you.  As dry and empty as this environment can seem, there is an amazing amount of plant life there that has been contributing and attracting native bugs and animals for eons. Balancing the native with the derivative or horticultural cousin of some of these natives is key to balancing resource use – water, soil, management, time, money….   Used copies with Amazon Associates from around $14.00

I also have some favorites that contain tons of good, solid, applicable information but support those activities with the heart and soul and grit that it takes to re-introduce yourself to the landscape. My favorite in this area is Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate by Wendy Johnson. It is the best winter read for someone who knows there is a deeper lesson in the landscape and wants to find it for themselves. Amazon $38.88

For the more specific research here are a few that I love and continually refer to every year.

Landscaping With Fruit by L Reich

Buy this book for the photographs alone and then learn so much from the text! If you are not sure that you want to build a “food forest” this book will convince you. It includes native fruit shrubs as well as horticultural “cousins” and plants that have ancestors here in central Wyoming.  Used on Amazon from about $20.00

Northwestern Wild Berries by JE Underhill

So many of these shrubs are easy keepers and will fill your freezer with fruit from season to season (I have pounds of chokecherries, currants and wild grape in my freezer  and have not purchased syrup, jam, jelly or juice in years). Photos are so important for identification if you are planning to forage in the mountains or river valleys of the Rocky Mountains and Pacific Northwest. Please note: fruit shrubs can be very sensitive to soil chemistry, i.e. Blueberry, Huckleberry and Serviceberry require high acid soils and waters of pine forests and granite rock. Before committing resources (money, time, space, soil, water, labor) check that your conditions and environment are appropriate for the shrub in which you are interested.  Amazon $20.94

Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond Vol 1 and 2 by Brad Lancaster

These two volumes have been the Holy Grail for rainwater harvesting for many years. Lancaster is the hands-on, go-to expert. Currently there are many books on the market about rainwater harvesting, but few address it as a permaculture practice and part of an ethical, resource conservation lifestyle. 

Amazon Vol. I  $32.09;  Vol. II  $41.23

Lancaster also has a web site that can help you determine if what he is writing fits your need.

And finally as a really good general reference on transitioning to more organic style of gardening Rodale’s Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening is always one of the best. The one in my library is decades old, but I regularly find useful, helpful information that still applies. With that in mind you should be able to find a copy within your book budget.

My “permaculture” book for this winter is actually some of the most organic, wild, native poetry available. I love it and it keeps my spirit up. My poor retired Kow Gurlz were trapped in the cow shed by mountainous snow drifts. I shoveled a nice little canyon through the drifts so that they could get out of the shed and get to the stock tank for water. Wind chills were in the minus thirties. At night I turn the furnace way down, layer on the blankets, stuff the cat under the covers, and read Gary Snyder’s poetry in Snyder: Collected Poems ($45.00) until all of the aches and pains subside.

Permaculture is a lifestyle, with heart and soul and grit … and art.

Dream on….

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me. I’m always interested in furthering the discussion.


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3 responses to “Pressed Between the Pages: The Reading List”

  1. That was a fun read, thanks! Brad Lancaster’s books are the only ones I’ve read in your list and yeah, I’ve read a couple of others but he’s the man, actually putting his techniques into practice.

  2. I just resurrected a “how to” book that really works: HIGH COUNTRY TOMATO HANDBOOK by Cheryl Anderson Wright, published by Pronghorn Press, 2004. It has simple, short sections on varieties, starting from seed, and container gardening.
    The container gardening section has really worked for me using An EARTH BOX, with plants from a local nursery: Better Boy, Big Beef, and Early Girl. The Earth Box container sits on a rolling cart so that it can roll the plants in and out of my garage to avoid cold weather for an early start and late into the fall and winter. Last year I picked my last tomato on New Years Eve! One plant of each variety produced more tomatoes than I could eat myself. This year I may cut back to just two plants. I find it simpler and not much more expensive to buy health nursery plants that deal with the hassle of starting from seed.

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