From the Bookshelf - 405 Magazine

From the Bookshelf

Delve into the science behind the practice of growing things with “Gardening for Geeks” by Christy Wilhelmi.


The Poet Joyce Kilmer Wasn’t Necessarily Wrong When He Wrote That “Only God Can Make A Tree,” insofar as there truly is an element beyond our direct personal control in getting things to grow. Gardening – shepherding a tiny dollop of plant life into being – is not an exact science. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t improve the odds of success by utilizing all the science you can.

That’s more or less the mission of the website Gardenerd (“the ultimate organic resource for gardening nerds”) and its founder Christy Wilhelmi, whose book “Gardening for Geeks” – and for the record, those plural nouns are both terms of endearment – bears the subtitle “DIY tests, gadgets and techniques that utilize microbiology, mathematics and ecology to exponentially maximize the yield of your garden.” If your mind hasn’t wandered yet, that’s a good sign – Wilhelmi isn’t shy about her enthusiasm for the cellular mechanics and arithmetic aspects of her passion project.

On the other hand, that zest is contagious, her writing style is cheerful and patiently informative, and for every time she casually name-drops the award-winning chemists of the Haber-Bosch process or provides a formula for calculating the precipitation rate (in inches per hour, naturally) of drip irrigation emitters, she also gives practical and straightforward tips on which crops grow well in what seasons, how deep to plant seeds, the difference between heading and thinning cuts in pruning – even topographical suggestions for sketching out the layout of your garden in advance so the result will work with your space and aesthetic preferences. After all, geeks tend to excel at planning.

Prospective planters should bear in mind that this tome deals much more comprehensively with vegetables than decorative flowers. Some of the principles apply equally, but don’t be surprised if the only specific mention of nasturtiums is their potential use as a decoy for aphids.

The book’s efforts to converse with multiple levels of expertise are easily appreciated, and while it does have a tendency to provide more information than is really necessary (you probably don’t, strictly speaking, need to know the Latin name for tomatoes or some suspected causes of Colony Collapse Disorder), amassing extra knowledge that might not be immediately useful is one of the best parts about geekiness. If you’re ready to start a garden or improve the patch you have, pick up a copy and get ready to drop some science.