The Tao of Vegetable Gardening: Cultivating Tomatoes, Greens, Peas, Beans, Squash, Joy and Serenity is the third gardening book by Carol Deppe, a genetic scientist who specializes in developing public market seeds, where she shares her experience, research, and observations with readers to provide a manual that is equal parts technique and reflection. She adroitly weaves together her passion for gardening and the understanding of life gleaned from the Tao, a classic philosophical Chinese text. For Deppe, the two form a single beautiful tapestry, and her vegetable Tao, as a result, is brilliant.
Each chapter begins with a quote from the Tao and a parable taken from Deppe’s Taoist Stories. Deppe explains how she relates this particular principle or idea to her work in the field, often beginning with a parable of her own. She chooses moments from a lifetime of work to illuminate particular techniques and ideas that work well for her and that she believes can change the world of food and gardening for the better. Her chapter on Do-Nothing Gardening describes the happy accident of kale and squash growing together, one shading and mulching the other, deliciously sharing space. Her Eat-All Greens chapter begins with a story of how she took a chance on growing her favorite greens - Green Wave - on a pile of compost in her driveway. The result is a practice of growing swaths of scrumptious greens year-round. She also includes recipes and preserving techniques.
Deppe’s dedication to public domain seeds (open-pollinated varieties not patented or limited in any way) is evident throughout, but particularly in the chapter called Seeds. Here she offers invaluable advice on creating a personal or neighborhood seed bank, sound reasoning why to do it, and a set of recommended reading to get started. Svalbard, Norway, home of the international seed bank, she points out, will be far away when disaster - personal, regional, or mega - strikes. It’s best to be prepared.
The Tao of Vegetable Gardening is also fun. Deppe translates serious genetic-speak into layman’s terms, especially as she discusses ways to breed blight-resistant tomatoes, and combines that with plenty of whimsy and laughter. For example, there is a gripping episode of Garden Woman versus Giant Pigweed complete with photographs. Gardeners will find the main characters in the Tale of Doing Carol and Planning Carol, a story of relationship and work management, remarkably familiar. The chapter on Joy is a series of vignettes, such as carrying a giant raab home from the farmers market or watching the sunset over a bed of verdant greens, where any gardener will recognize themselves.
Deppe conveys what we intrinsically know: gardening feeds the soul and belly, works body, mind and spirit in equal measure, and connects us to each other now as well as our past and the natural world. The Tao of Vegetable Gardening is full of good, practical advice, but gardeners will return again and again not just to refresh their memory of a particular technique or variety name, but to remember a recipe, to discuss an idea, to ruminate and reflect.
Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers markets in Japan when she’s not reading books. You can find more of her work at www.japanfarmersmarkets.com
Available in the US from the publishers, Chelsea Green Publishing at www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_tao_of_vegetable_gardening:paperback
Exclusive content and FREE digital access to over 20 years of back issues