Barbara Pleasant, aka Gardening Goddess

Thursday, December 9, 2010

As you get to know about a given area of farm life, invariably the cream rises to the top and you realize there are a few special experts out there who can help you.  I first remember reading gardening articles in Mother Earth News magazine a few months in a row which really spoke to me.  They were friendly, informative, and accessible, with information suitable to a beginner (like me) but not dumbed down at all.  Here was an author who respected her audience and seemed to have a good sense of humor combined with an educator's approach. When I realized this woman, Barbara Pleasant, had written books, I knew I had to try them.

I wasn't disappointed!  The first one, The Complete Compost Gardening Guide, is actually co-written with Deborah L. Martin and I had NO IDEA there was that much good composting information in one place.  My previous favorite composting book was Let It Rot! by Stu Campbell (another great writer) but with a copyright date of 1998, it was beginning to be little outdated in appearance and style.  The Complete Compost Gardening Guide goes beyond a wealth of information - it is a lush book (it was hardcover, I'd put it on my coffee table to impress guests) that goes beyond simply describing how to layer green and brown matter.  It blew my mind with all the options for compost piles, composting under ground (and not just the "lasagna method" usually listed in articles and books), vermiculture, comforter compost, and plenty of information about what tools are really helpful and what are just fun extras to play with if you have the money.  It's become my go-to book (I have five awesome wire bins filled with leaves and kitchen scraps), to the point where I impressed suburb husband with my compost pile from last year.

Conversation with husband:

Husband: "Hey, did you know something is growing out of your garbage pile?"
Me: "It's a compost pile, not a garbage pile, I've explained this to you already."
H: "Whatever.  Something's growing out of it. It looks scary and I want to mow it.  Come look before I do."
(we go outside to the compost pile)
M: "Huh, it looks like a some kind of squash plant and I think this is a tomato.  They're obviously volunteers.  That's cool!"
H: "What? You draft the other ones?"
M: "That's what they're called when they just pop up.  Don't mow them, let's see what happens."
H: "Are you telling me that food is coming out of your garbage pile? Is it going to be safe to eat?"
M: "Of course! Because it's COMPOST and not GARBAGE.  Compost is great for plants and we know we must like this food because we ate it already and the seeds took root here."
H: "So we already threw this away."
M: "Yes."
H: "And now it's coming back."
M: "Yes."
H: "That doesn't scare you?"
M: (sigh)

He was a convert when we had 9 gorgeous Waltham butternut squashes (and folks, I did NOTHING - I just let them sprawl) that were the children of the supermarket squash that I got to make Butternut Squash ravioli.  We also had an adorable red cherry tomato and some grape tomatoes as well, which were probably descended from the local farmer's market (because they tasted so good!).  Suburb husband could not get over it when we ate this produce!  "This grew in a garbage pile!  It's amazing!" he would exclaim over and over.  My mother and I just smiled at him, glancing at each other.

We also had a dilemma.  Mom and I are in charge of the gardening (husband does the mowing and he's a natural at it - I can't believe his family paid for a lawn service his whole life!  It's like Lance Armstrong's family traveling by rickshaw.) and we were torn.  Should we go through stripping sod and framing beds (and my spring was getting busier and busier in the library) and then setting out seedlings (we were going to start by getting them from a local garden center)? 

Barbara Pleasant to the rescue again!  I got my April/May 2010 issue of Mother Earth News and there was an article made for us, "Start a Quick and Easy Food Garden."  It was a lifesaver, and when I saw that the information was taken from a book she published, Starter Vegetable Gardens: 24 No Fail Plans for Small Organic Gardens, I bought it to have more information.  Another incredible book from Barbara!  HUGE format, gorgeous color, and the various gardens (for different size families, different areas of the country, different eating tastes) are actually projected out over a few years, so you can see how you might start with a few beds and then add more over time.

The first part of the book is the garden plans, the second is all techniques and valuable knowledge (types of supports, harvesting techniques, etc.) and the third part discusses tried and true varieties helpful for beginners.  Once again, while the material is accessible for the true novice, there is enough here that I've had experienced gardeners ooohing and aaahhing over the pages.

So what have you done for me lately Barbara?  Only saved my bacon, AGAIN.  I had seen on Mother Earth News' website that they were now offering some kind of vegetable garden planner interface online, of which I was instantly skeptical.  That would be a complicated undertaking, but I was still interested enough to take a look at the information page.  Ummm...guess who helped design it?  Yup.  Barbara Pleasant is listed as one of the developers, so it must be good.  I'm going to subscribe to it in January when Mom and I start fiddling with our plan for the garden this year (and I'll be sure to blog about it here.)

While her personal website is rather basic, I would recommend you check out (and maybe subscribe to) since it has a wealth of information and Barbara is one of the contributors.  You can see her lovely personality in an interview where she discusses her inspiration and upcoming projects.  And how could I not include a couple fun videos from her? Enjoy this gardening goddess and all her wonderful information!


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