Prairie Books NOW Review & Interview - Gardening, Naturally

You Reap What You Sow
Reviewed by: Linda Alberta

There is more to a garden than meets the eye. Amid the lush and colourful vegetation are munching mealy bugs, weeds, and sometimes a lawn's worst enemy - hairy chinch bugs. Hugh Skinner and Sara Williams offer readers the opportunity to identify and control garden interlopers. Most importantly, their strategies are chemical free.

Gardening Naturally: A Chemical-Free Handbook for the Prairies, introduces a compelling new philosophy of gardening, with pages of healthy and unusual garden solutions. With current changes in the legal use of pesticides, the book is timely.

"We've been given easy easy solutions to our problems with the introduction of chemical pesticides. But many of these chemicals are becoming less available, and that is a good thing. We wanted to provide alternative methods," explains Skinner.

"We aren't saying you should abandon your garden to whoever comes and eats it. But there are other ways to control these pests, and some of these methods have been around for many years."

With some weed seeds active for 30 years, the book suggests remedies like organic corn meal for weed control, baking soda for plant fungal disease, and garlic as insecticide. In his own garden, Skinner approaches potato bugs with a hands-on attitude.

"I have about two acres of garden in my yard, with a collection of apple, pear, and plum trees. I use very little pesticides in my garden. For example, I hand-pick potato bugs from potato plants, and I put them in a jar with soapy water. That takes care of them."

When it comes to weeds, Skinner reminds us that in the past chemical companies determined which plants were weeds.

"White clover was used as a component of grass mixtures until the 1940s. They couldn't keep the clover and knock out other weeds, so the chmeical companies made clover into a weed as well," says Skinner.

The co-author maintains that garden weeds are whatever your culture believes. In fact, one person's weed might be another person's lunch.

"I know a couple who did a house-exchange with a couple from France. Now the Canadians in France thought they performed a great service by cleaning out all the dandelions from the yard. But the other couple was furious, because they use dandelions for wine and salad. It's cultural."

A teacher for 15 years in Manitoba, Skinner says that he and Saskatchewan horticulturalist Sara Williams wrote Gardening, Naturally as a diagnostic tool. With this book, Skinner also wants to promote the view that we should protect and "be aware" of our environment.

But the good news is that people can enjoy a healthy and beautiful yard, without a quick fix of chemicals.

"Chemical-free gardens are important because they provide us with a method of gardening that is safer for the people who are in contact with the gardens, who live next door, or roll around on the lawn. When we think of our gardens, we only look at the plants and insects we see. But our gardens are a web of unseen creatures."

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