To Remain Nameless; what a strange title for a book on fruit gardening. Well, actually that’s not the title of the book. I decided to take this approach since I have encountered a book on my review list that is so full of deficiencies and misinformation that it really should not be in your library.
Normally, if I find a book lacking I just don’t give it a review. (You know, “can’t say something nice, just don’t say anything,” as our mothers taught us.) I don’t like to cut down and discourage new authors or publishers. I’ve been there myself. Rejection is hard to take and this business of writing is full of it.
However, in this instance I became concerned for the many novice gardeners who trust in presumably knowledgeable garden writers and publishers to bring them something worthy of their hard earned dollars. This book did not do that! In my opinion, it could lead to gardeners wasting their money, effort, and time only to have a successful harvest elude them.
To a certain extent, the novice might soon come to realize the book in question wasn’t going to take them down the successful gardening path. Some of the issues I encountered with this book included:
p. 20 — tree nuts are considered fruit because they grow on trees Correction: fruit or nut by definition is determined by botanical characteristics. “Fruit– a ripened ovary usually containing seeds or accessory parts. Nut — a dry indehiscent fruit with a husk covering a hard shell.” (Glossary of Vital Terms for the Home Gardener. Robert E. Gough, Ph.D) Also some nuts can be grown as shrubs (e.g. hazelnut/filbert)
p. 20 — brambles are perennials that grow back each year. More accurately: technically yes, the roots are perennial. The fruiting canes are biennial and this is important information when it comes to pruning or expecting a crop. Why no mention?
p. 33 — Gives a general listing of fruit and nuts grown in different regions of the country. Point of accuracy: You’d be hard pressed to harvest hazelnuts, almonds, or pecans in the majority of the Greats Lakes region. The trees will grow, but the blossoms will almost always succumb to spring frosts.
p. 39 — Why no mention of apples in the space requirements chart. They are one of the most commonly and widely grown tree fruit.
p. 43 — A large majority of the country seemed to be deemed too nutrient-poor for growing fruit in the ground. Container growing was advocated instead. Yet several of these areas are major commercial fruit growing regions and certainly acceptable for home growing.
p. 44 — The author advocates covering young seedlings with plastic if they are located in frost pockets. Yet there is no mention of the larger, long-term ramification of planting in these low spots in the first place — repeated loss of crop due to blossom damage from frost.
p. 50 — Planting and harvesting season chart, randomly lists planting distances for kiwifruit, pineapples, melons, and grapes without any seasonal references at all. Where was the copy editor?
p. 60 — The discussion of soil pH grossly lacks understanding of this concept that most of us would have studied (and likely hated) in high school chemistry. “.… pH below 6.0 is considered too acid, meaning it may have too much moisture and may drown the roots or render them vulnerable to .… diseases.” Conversely, “.… pH above 7.0 is considered alkaline, which means it contains too little moisture.” Correction: Soil moisture is not a function of pH! Soil pH is determined mainly by the native mineral or rock fraction from which the soil was weathered. Indeed certain soil types, due mainly to their particle size and/or organic matter content, may exhibit tendencies to be highly drained or of high moisture holding capacity.
The whole explanation of soil pH, soil types, and their interrelationship was becoming so muddled at this point that if I did not know what it was supposed to say, I sure as heck could not have understood what it was trying to say. Even a slightly experienced gardener would have thrown up their hands at all the reasons why one could not grow most fruit on most of the “soils” mentioned. What was the point?
Fast forward to the chapter on tools. Surely, this would be straight-forward. Socks and shoes — OK; spade — yah, rake — most gardeners do have at least one. Now, a backhoe (for rent at $650 a weekend) or Bobcat and power rake (also for rent at multiple hundred dollars) are likely overkill for a basic backyard fruit garden. At this point it would be time to find a more suitable site or give serious consideration to container gardening. And so it went — each man (or woman) has their own “toys.”
When the photo caption of fireblight said it was caused by a virus, that was it for me! Any reasonably proficient horticultural editor would know off-the-top-of-their-head that a bacteria is the cause of this disease. Most amateurs could find that info online with minimal effort. Then we get the mention of verticilium wilt on just melons; what about raspberries and strawberries? Surely the ramifications on a long-lasting perennial should be noted.
This was expressly touted as a “Back to Basics” book. However, there was no mention of pruning or variety selection, why? These are the most basic and common questions that I am constantly asked about. Readers want to know!
Yes this is a huge rant. This book is an unfair waste of money to the gardener and a speaks poorly of the author’s and publisher’s horticultural knowledge. I would not spend 25 cents, let alone $25 for it.
Spotting a Good Book
So how does the new gardener know they are getting worthy content when they pick up a new book, magazine, or online publication? A tough question without a foolproof answer, but here are a few criteria that could be a start:
- Does the publisher have a history of publishing other well-regarded gardening books. If they’ve done several solid titles, it’s a good bet the one in hand will be worthwhile too. Their good reputation is at stake.
- Look for an author with appropriate credentials and extensive hands-on experience. Although they may have some different philosophies than you — for example, in the use of various pest control strategies — people with open minds can learn from each other. More learning, more experience often broadens everyone’s thinking over time.
- Consider award winners. These books have usually been judged by their professional peers. True professionals in most any industry want to raise the bar and help their industry become even better. Few would reward substandard work.
You won’t go wrong when you buy The Backyard Orchardist: A complete guide to growing fruit trees in the home garden, The Apple Grower or Not Far From the Tree. All are packed with lots of information and advice on growing apples and more!