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The first, and most impressive, of the three books is Diagnostic Techniques for Improving Crop Production by Benjamin Wolf, Ph.D. (1996) 426 pages, hard cover, $89.95 (U.S./Canada/Mexico).
From time to time we see information on factors that help or hinder our plants from being as productive as we would like. But unlike other good books on particular aspects of the subject (like pests), Dr. Wolf writes about the broad field of improving plant productivity and does so with 55 years' experience as a private consultant in the field. He goes at the subject in a clear and simple way, discussing soil, then seeds, plant nutrition, and product maturation, then water handling and quality, pests of various sorts, the plant environment including light, temperature, atmosphere, pollutants and wind. Finally he winds up with a good section on how to go about troubleshooting a problem on the farm. He gives a very sound, but not overlong, description of theory in each field and explains the measurement techniques that apply and how to interpret the data they produce. The book also incorporates his impressive collection of tables, graphs, examples, lists, and other data.
Clearly, this book covers the field like a well-written textbook and there is, in fact, an Instructor's Manual that comes with it. It would appear that courses covering this subject matter are not common and Dr. Wolf hoped this book might stimulate some. The subjects are covered somewhat more technically than would be expected in a typical course for gardeners, but the writing is lucid, and insofar as I could check, scientifically accurate. Many of the chapters have reference lists and these seem to have been selected for their quality.
This book is expensive. And the time it would take to read through it carefully and digest all the information would probably be more of a commitment than the cost of the book. However, I would suggest that this dual investment could provide an integrated core of knowledge about crop production that would serve as the nucleus of an education on growing fruits and vegetables successfully.
This book compiles, in alphabetical order, a paragraph or two on each of the fruits and vegetables that one might run into in the grocery business. There are more of these than one might imagine. In fact some of the fruits that we consider rare, such as monstera, langsat, jaboticaba, ugli fruit, ramontchi, Nanking cherry and others are included. Some, it is noted, are not grown commercially. In the case of common fruits such as apples, the author describes about a dozen varieties. Then he goes on to describe nine more fruits for which the grocery trade uses the prefix apple in their common name -- for example the star apple (caimito), the sugar apple (sweetsop), the Bengal apple (bael fruit). He does not burden the reader with botanical names, so it is not always immediately clear which fruit he is talking about. For example, the name mammee apple could perhaps refer to Pouteria sapota or to Mammea americana. The description favors the latter. Then I found the other one listed under "sapote mamey."
It is a nice book which reflects a grocer's view of our field something we should appreciate. Several tables in the back give the number of servings per fruit or vegetable, the post-harvest life, and the best temperature and humidity to store it at. For most fruit gardeners the Glenn Tankard book at about the same price would probably be more useful to say nothing of the Louis Glowinski and Julia Morton books which are outstanding surveys at a higher price (see the CRFG Book Service List). The advantage this book has, however, is that it includes vegetables.
This is a book written in the style that characterizes literature on taking care of old people who have substantial disabilities such as those in many nursing homes. It lists various activities involving plants that can be used to assist in the care of patients but does not go into any detail about the horticultural processes. In nearly all cases the horticultural subjects are ornamentals. Fruit does not seem to be discussed, and vegetable gardens are not attractive to patients.
Nevertheless, various articles in the book make the point that there seems to be some deeply felt affinity between people and plants. Sitting in a garden seems to reach even people afflicted by Alzheimer's. Others respond to the accomplishments of planting seeds, nurturing the plants, and finally, making flower arrangements.
Reading the book did stimulate reflection on the bond that must have existed between our distant ancestors and plant world. Australopithicus, the upright walking ape that preceded the genus Homo, apparently lived on the edge of the woods. He was not fast enough to compete with the animals of the plains, nor a good enough climber to excel in the deep forest, nor a good enough swimmer to spend his life in the water. But he was, apparently, a better swimmer than the climbers, a better climber than the runners and certainly a better runner than the swimmers. So our ancestor probably lived on the margin between the plains, the woods and the water.
The garden preferences referred to in this book are for the presence of water and for savanna kinds of vistas -- plains with groves of large trees. Disabled people also appear to like fences or walls that may give them a sense of security. This is not inconsistent with the idea that our affinity for plants may be a strong one even if we are not always conscious of it, and that toward the end of life, it and the love of children may outweigh our interests in TV and the other attractions of civilization.
As I read this book, I kept wondering whether some of the places where these people live might not be eager to find a few horticulturally oriented volunteers to work with their patients. Could that be you?