The Tao of
by Carol Deppe
Chelsea Green Publishing, 2015, 265 pp., $24.95
by Susan Mulvihill
I admit it: the title of this book initially put me off. I
don’t have anything against Taoism or other philosophies and religions, but I
just couldn’t wrap my head around what The Tao of Vegetable Gardening must
be about. Perhaps I should have read the book’s subtitle more closely -- “Cultivating
Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy, and Serenity” -- before passing
When I finally sat down to read it, I discovered this is a
thoughtful, at times quite funny, information-packed gardening book that has taught
me a great deal.
In the first six chapters, the author begins by briefly relating
a teaching or fable from Taoism, and then weaves her own garden tales around
For example, in the “Balance” chapter, she discusses growing
the right-size garden, dedicating one’s limited time to the most important
and/or rewarding tasks, and finding the right approach to soil and tilling
(adding enough organic amendments, not doing too much tilling, using the right
amount of water and fertilizer). She advocates soil-testing rather than just
adding nutrients to the soil.
When it comes to dealing with pests, she suggests a gardener
be realistic about the efforts one has to make in order to get a harvest.
In the “Non-Doing” chapter, Deppe points out how we should
be efficient at what we do, rather than doing something just because it’s how
we’ve always done something -- even if it isn’t necessary.
One chapter section is entitled, “Twenty-four Good Places
Not to Plant a Tree,” which is a great lesson on properly locating a tree. That’s
something all gardeners should have! She also covers “Seven Reasons Not to
Chop Down a Tree” and “Thirty-seven Reasons for not Planting Various Vegetables”
(my favorite is “I don’t like the taste... And I don’t care how well it overwinters. Part of the reason it overwinters so
well is nothing else likes to eat it either.”)
From chapter seven on, Deppe packs so much information that
all gardeners should know, it makes a reader really slow down to try to absorb everything.
For example, she has a 38-page chapter on important
information a gardener should know about growing tomatoes. She explains the
difference between hybrids versus open-pollinated varieties, and the importance
of avoiding hybrids since they don’t breed true from saved seeds.
An alarming development Deppe discusses is how late blight
has become so prevalent in the eastern and southern regions of the U.S. It is a
huge risk to heirloom tomatoes, reproduces both sexually and asexually, and
spreads by water, wind, tools and clothing.
While late blight doesn’t currently survive in temperature
regions like ours, she suggests several strategies gardeners and farmers should
employ. These include growing your own tomato plants or purchasing them from a local
nursery that has grown them, avoiding purchasing plants from the big-box stores
(which may have purchased their plants from areas of the country where late
blight is a problem), and avoid overhead watering to keep the tomato leaves
There were a couple of issues Deppe brought up that I felt
could easily be addressed through the use of drip irrigation and plastic
mulches but it’s possible her farming set-up makes those methods prohibitive.
The tomato chapter also includes a list of late-blight-resistant
hybrid varieties as well as other disease resistance, and lists heirloom and
open-pollinated varieties with disease resistance. She has her own seed company, Fertile Valley Seeds
, and has put her knowledge from a career in molecular genetics to
use in order to produce heirloom and open-pollinated vegetable seeds.
She shares her impressive experience on other gardening
topics such as weeding, growing squash, producing abundant crops of greens, and
cultivating peas and beans.
Two topics Deppe devotes a lot of space to are seed-saving
and how to “dehybridize” hybrid varieties so we can save those seeds for future
crops and generations. I’ve learned quite a lot from that chapter.
She is outspoken on several issues, such as grafted tomatoes
and the limitations of hybrid varieties, but to be honest, her views are sensible