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Dear Dirt Doctor: Questions Answered the Natural Way
(Revised and updated)

Howard Garrett
University of Texas Press: Austin, TX, 2003
206 pp., $16.95, paperback
ISBN: 0-292-72847-6

Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden
Ellen Sandbeck
Broadway Books: New York, 2003
196 pp., $10.95, paperback
ISBN: 0-7679-0902-8

" ....The organic method works within nature's laws and systems and is nontoxic to beneficial insects, birds, lizards, frogs, toads, earthworms, and other life. Pets and humans can be added to the list. Even the manufacturers of the toxic chemicals admit — in fact, brag about — the fact that their products kill all the bugs. That's right — they can't tell the difference between the good and the bad bugs."
Howard Garrett, Dear Dirt Doctor:
Questions Answered the Natural Way, p.1.
" ... I truly believe that all gardens are peace gardens. If we don't have something we love, believe in, and cherish in this living world, what will teach us love, empathy, and forgiveness? What will keep us from becoming destroyers?"
Ellen Sandbeck, Eat More Dirt: Diverting and
Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending
an Organic Garden, Introduction, p.x.

Two interesting organic gardening books published in 2003 are worth adding to personal libraries. The first, Howard Garrett's Dear Dirt Doctor: Questions Answered the Natural Way is a collection of tips for building and maintaining a garden's health. Questions and answers are collected in chapters on soil and bed preparation, compost, pest control and beneficial insects, landscaping and garden maintenance. While not meant for cover-to-cover reading, the tidbits found in the book certainly give gardeners looking for organic solutions something to ponder. Solutions to problems such as pest control seem straight forward and "do-able." From the virtues of household substances such as baking soda which works as a fungicide for black spots, cinnamon which repels ants and roaches and cornmeal which, he maintains, is a "natural disease fighter in the soil." Garrett provides recipes in his appendix for the homemade products he recommends, such as Garlic Teas, Garrett Juice and Manure Compost Tea. Some of the questions found in various sections are entertaining enough to read aloud to others. For example, one question: "We have heard that if you paint the ceiling of a porch or patio a sky blue color that dirt daubers and wasps will not build nests there, as the color tricks them into thinking the ceiling is sky." Garrett's answer? "I have heard that it does actually work, but I don't know how you determine the exact shade of sky blue — morning, afternoon, hazy, ozone polluted, or what?" This is, after all, a Texas produced book and some of the references need a bit of adjustment for our desert Southwest (or other areas of the country). And, because there is no description of "Texas greensand" — recommended at least eight times in the text as an important soil additive — you just might have to write to Dr. Dirt so he can describe it for you. All in all, this is a common-sense guide worth perusing.

For more of a meditative guide to the "serious playfulness" of organic gardening, read Ellen Sandbeck's Eat More Dirt: Diverting and Instructive Tips for Growing and Tending an Organic Garden from cover to cover. Title chapters include "Growing Healthy Soil," in which the author relates how she composts everything, including boots — but not 'inedible French fries,' which, she says, will remain intact, even when spread over a 150 gallon worm bin. In "Pests: learning from your enemies," Sandbeck describes bats as "the best mosquito-catching machine in the world," and how she uses instant coffee powder as an additive to "ponds, potholes, and puddles" to kill mosquito larvae, which she calls "wigglers." One of my favorites, "Growing Healthy; Gardening as Exercise," includes illustrations of stick figures doing pre-gardening warm-ups. Everything in this book appeals to the senses, from the author's narrative style and striking hand-drawn illustrations to the philosophic quotations sprinkled throughout the text, such as Karl Marx's "...from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs," which, in this case, refers to the value of allowing each plant to grow exactly where it must as one works to promote a healthy, organic garden. In her introduction, Sandbeck describes how, after finally finding a publisher who encouraged her, she began her writing this book on September 10, 2001. "The next day," she relates, "four passenger planes were forced out of the sky; and everything else suddenly seemed completely irrelevant." After much struggle she remembered Victory Gardens in World War II. From this meditation she came to believe that "all gardens are peace gardens...." and went on to compose this beautifully expressive piece.

— Jeanne Whitehouse

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If you are interested in writing reviews, please let us know via e-mail: Info@sric.org, or call us at 505-262-1862. You can also write to us at Voices, c/o SRIC, PO Box 4524, Albuquerque, NM 87106. Thank you.

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"Contrary to federal officials' vision of a largely vacant area, the West was never nearly empty enough. It contained too many residents who would, inevitably, be exposed to the pollution released by nuclear weapons programs. It also contained intricate ecosystems which, far from making for an "empty" place, ensured that radioactive and chemical waste would be absorbed into, distributed about, and concentrated within the landscape in quite complicated ways."
From The Atomic West

Edited by Bruce Hevly and John M. Findlay
University of Washington Press, 1998

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