Skip to main content

Jerry Apps' Gardening Wisdom: A Little Something for Everyone

Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 years of Gardening (Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012)  by Jerry Apps charmingly combines his areas of expertise: Wisconsin farm history, farming and gardening. One of three books published in 2012 by this prolific author, Apps takes readers through the seasons on a gently rolling ride of memory and taste all through the prism of his garden. Starting with good basic gardening tips – how to site a garden, prepare the soil, and how to choose what to plant – the book moves into descriptions of Apps' favorite crops. And it is here that the text really begins to shine.

We meet Apps' parents as they worked their land and a kitchen garden larger than some of today's backyards.  We join them for planting, hoeing (the weed is, for Apps' family, the grower's arch enemy), harvesting, and preserving their crops. We glimpse his mother in her chair on a February evening with her stack of “promise books” a.k.a. seed catalogs and pencil dreaming of spring. We watch his father lead a team of horses to plow and find him later, in his nineties, with his trusty hoe still in hand. We learn a method for testing germination rates of seeds using an old wool sock and how to properly process horseradish for homemade sauce - pique the readers interest. We share meals (and thankfully learn recipes) featuring the vegetable in question as it would have been eaten then as well as tasty modern versions, courtesy of Apps' wife, Ruth. Everything from grape jelly to green bean casserole to a very scrumptious sounding navy bean soup is offered up to make the gardener's mouth water. 

Apps' years spent as an agricultural extension agent in Wisconsin and writing a weekly column for the local paper are evident in his easy tone. For my part I would have liked a bit more information on the nuts and bolts of how the farm worked. Apps touches on how the fields were prepared and how, for example sorghum was processed, but this garden-farming geek was left wanting. Such stories and details  would have nicely rounded out his reminisces and the recipes here, and would also be quite timely given the increasing urgency of climate change. A companion volume on these processes would be a welcome (and surely well-used) addition to any gardeners bookshelf.

It's also worth noting that Apps brought his garden to the front yard well before any one else gave such an idea a thought. His account of that – simply placing his garden in the best and most logical spot for it – in 1970's America was not a rebellious statement but rather good common sense put into practice. Apps' perspective on his whole yard as potential growing space should be inspiration for those feeling a lack of viable space for growing.

Garden Wisdom is a touching memoir of a childhood full of practical advice that gardeners today can put to good use. For my part, receiving a review copy from the publisher and reading it connected me once again to my own rural heritage. It reminded me that whether my garden is a series of pots or a patch of land it connects me to my ancestors with every seed planted, every jar canned. Apps provides a perfect nudge for the person interested in growing their own food and learning to process it. Apps' genial tone and knowledgeable yet everyday voice are just the reassuring companions a novice needs. Tucking it into the shopping bag when heading out the door to the local farmers market wouldn't be such a bad idea, either. Paired with a solid reference book like Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening or Teeming with Microbes, the new gardener's library will be off to a fabulous beginning.

Garden Wisdom: Lessons Learned from 60 Years of Gardening
by Jerry Apps with photos by Steve Apps, and recipes by Ruth Apps
Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2012.
Available from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.


Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro