I confess I had high expectations for “Decoding Garden Advice” having read glowing reviews across the Net but confess I was left with mixed emotions after having read it myself.
First let me say that Dr. Jeff Gilman is a respected plantsman and researcher in the trade and certainly knows his woody plants cold. He may even have single-handedly saved thousands of woody plants from a certain, early cruel death with his planting research trials and by promoting this data on the blog at The Garden Professors. I’ve learned a lot from reading him and I’ve long considered this blog as one of the must-reads on the Net having told readers about it more than once. His co-author Maleah Maynard is described as a master gardener and we know from the introduction they didn’t always agree about the contents of the book.
Having said that, my disappointment is not with the serious meat in the book but rather with the sense that some of these “myths” were created in order to pad out the length of the book to publishable lengths. One such is the “Good Advice” to add lime to soils. In deference to the authors, they do point out it’s related to the preceding “Get a soil test” but as written it’s not a “myth” but rather an outcome of a soil test showing a need for raising pH – perhaps more properly titled, “About Lime”.
Another so-called myth was the advice of not bothering to control small rodents in the garden – from moles to rabbits. Maybe somebody, somewhere is actually telling gardeners not to control these creatures but in over 30-years in the business, the only thing I’ve ever heard is advice about how to accomplish this as well as plaintive cries from readers about telling them the things that work and don’t work. So if the authors had focused on bad advice here, we’d have been on the same page because there’s a lot of that running around.
As far as bad advice or the authors promoting their own myths is the advice about blossom end rot on tomatoes (funny how we gardeners always have our own prejudices and the longer we garden the more we have – myself included.) 🙂 BER is, according to my reading on the research the result of water not moving calcium to the fruit. Now some folks think it’s a lack of calcium in the soil and recommending adding calcium (the authors recommend eggshells which is itself a subject of controversy on the Net).
But the only time to add calcium to the soil to solve this problem is if there is indeed a shortage in the soil – if there isn’t a soil problem, then adding more won’t solve anything.
There are a wide variety of other causes the authors ignore. The authors do point out this can be caused by improper watering but not the following: by spring temperatures causing a slowdown of plant respiration at critical times (plant growth slows down and water isn’t transported) and excessively high heat (if Florida research is too believed). Over-fertilization (the plant is outgrowing the available water) with Nitrogen as well as imbalances in fertilization that creates minor nutrient excesses preventing calcium from being absorbed are implicated in available research.
I learned all this stuff when I grew tomatoes commercially (and yes, did soil tests regularly) This book recommends adding calcium in the form of eggshells and improving the watering systems to eliminate stress.
Gardeners who experience BER on first fruit set but not later fruit are likely experiencing a temperature problem rather than calcium deficiency (at least here in the north) but if the second and upper fruit sets have BER, then we’re looking at watering and other issues (of which soil calcium-deficiency might be one)
Doug’s Bottom Line
So we come to the end of the review where I generally recommend or pan a book – I do this regularly as you’ll see at my main garden blog page – but I’m at a loss for words here.
Overall, it’s an easy read full of great advice but contrary to my gardener friends, I’m not gushing over it.
Get if from the library and read the back issues of his blog instead.
Having said that – if you want to see other reviews that may be more positive, here is the Amazon review section. Decoding Gardening Advice: The Science Behind the 100 Most Common Recommendations