I'm on a roll, so I thought I'd do a few more book reviews. This is another book that was written in 2010, and another that I knew would be great even before I read it, because so many people recommended it.
The main theme of the book is how to produce your own food, even during "hard times". By hard times, she means times when you really need your garden - when poor health, family crises, or any of the other problems of life take the majority of your time, but you still need your garden to produce for you. She focuses on five food staples: Potatoes, Corn, Beans, Squash, and Eggs (she is allergic to wheat and dairy, so doesn't eat (and so doesn't discuss) these foods). I particularly liked this quote: "Trying to live and be healthy on an agribusiness diet itself is a kind of hard times, even for those who don't have special dietary needs." Well said!
The first half of the book is "a synthesis of practical gardening with newly emerging information in many fields - resilience science, climatology, climate change, ecology, anthropology, paleontology, sustainable agriculture, nutrition, health, and medicine." Obviously, judging from this list, I don't agree with everything she says, but as with most books, you can still glean useful information even if you have differing opinions from the author (and it's also a good exercise to read ideas from people who don't agree with you - sometimes seeing things from another perspective can fine-tune your own thinking).
The second half "illustrates and extends the ideas and principles with detailed hands-on information about growing and using five kinds of yard and garden crops - potatoes, corn, beans, squash, and eggs." This is the meat-and-potatoes part of the book (where, indeed, she discusses both meat (briefly) and potatoes (a whole chapter!)
She is insistent on the idea that you should seek out gardening information specific to your local region - what works in one locale won't necessarily apply in the same way to where you live. Most publications are geared to a national audience; while these might give good general gardening tips, they won't be as useful as something specifically written for your area. Different varieties of vegetables, for example, will grow well in some areas and not others. Difficult climates, such as the arid southwest, will require much different approaches than wetter regions like Oregon. She suggests looking at what is grown commercially in your area - wheat? apples? tomatoes? - and why. This can give you a clue into what grows well near you, and help you plan your garden accordingly.
Naturally, after you've found varieties that do well in your particular area, the obvious plan would be to save seeds from those particular plants and raise your own stock, uniquely suited to your particular situation. Deppe goes into detail about plant breeding and seed saving (she has also written a book called Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties, and has several lines of beans, peas, and squash that she has selected and sells to companies such as Peace Seeds and Nichols Garden Nursery)
Obviously, having special dietary needs herself, nutrition is very important to Deppe, and she has an entire chapter on this subject, and another subject on exercise (focusing on what she calls "purposeful exercise" - specifically walking and gardening.) She writes about different styles of gardening that are more or less labor intensive, labor-saving tools and equipment, and knowing when to vary the kind of labor you're doing or stop altogether.
The last five chapters each cover, in-depth, one of the specific crops she mentions in the title: Potatoes, Poultry, Squash, Beans, and Corn. She covers varieties (with a focus on what grows best in her Oregon climate), best growing conditions for each (fertility, irrigation, etc.) storage, recipes (this is where I found the base for my Even Better Pumpkin Pie Bars), breeding, and more. This book would be worth buying just for these five chapters alone!
This book is one of those information-dense resources that give you more insights each time you read. I will definitely be implementing many of Deppe's gardening ideas this coming year, and am obviously already using some of her recipes regularly!