For months I’ve been meaning to write a review of One Magic Square by Lolo Houbein, and then today I heard a great interview with her on the radio. She has a new book! Outside the Magic Square: A Handbook for Food Security. Who can resist a title like that?
But that’s not the book I’m giving away. I have One Magic Square: The Easy, Organic Way to Grow Your Own Food on a 3-Foot Square. This, you may notice, is not quite the same title as the one I linked to. Its subtitle is “Grow Your Own Food on One Square Meter”. That’s because I have the US version, which I bought when I was visiting friends and family in the US last year. It’s a great book, packed with useful information and ideas, but I am decluttering my house, and the truth is I already have more gardening books than I really need. So I’m passing this one on for someone else to make use of. See the bottom of this post for details on how to enter the giveaway.
Lolo Houbein is 78 years old. She moved to Australia as an adult, having grown up in the Netherlands and lived through real and devastating famine at the end of the second world war. Understandably then, food security has been an ongoing preoccupation for her.
“Now”, she says “I witness the the world’s food producing regions declining again through wars, landmines, and farmers’ deaths.” In a paragraph that reminds me inevitably of Angela Christensen’s recent article on local food security, Houbein introduces her book saying
“By growing some of your own food and starting a pantry collection of staples, you take control of your food needs if times of chaos should arrive. Meanwhile, you eat healthier, fresher, tastier food, enjoy gentle exercise, and make new friends. Nothing unites people more congenially than eating, swapping and comparing locally grown good food. Food gardening is the most intelligent adult endeavor on earth and ought to be understood by anyone who eats.”
One Magic Square is something of an entry level food gardening book, accessible to the absolute beginner, but at the same time containing masses of useful information and ideas for experienced gardeners. It starts out with some inspiration and motivation (with sections like ‘The Terrifying Importance of Growing Food’ and ‘How to Find Time to Grow Food’), then follows that up with some practical advice on subjects like composting and companion planting, problem solving and predators, plus an A to Z to of Problems & Pests, interspersed with great tips like the toilet paper roll starting pots I keep seeing everywhere just lately.
The second half of the book is made up of the sections on plants and plots. The book “presents plot designs graded from the easiest and most robust to the complex and tender.” The plots are also divided into the best season for planting. So what do you plant in a square metre plot? Is there really room for more than one or two vegetables? But yes, as a matter of fact, there is. Houbein is an advocate of mixing up lots of plants in small space, confusing predators and maximising production, a la permaculture garden designs (she has a section on permaculture too).
I’ll give you an example. The Autumn & Winter Soup Plot contains carrots, onions, garlic, Siberian kale, beetroot, sorrel, drumhead cabbages and leeks. But what on earth do you do with kale and sorrel, I hear you ask. The thing I really like about this book? She doesn’t just give you a list of foods to plant and then leave you to it. She tells you how to use them.
So her Soup Plot is followed by a section on winter soups. Borsht, Cabbage Soup, French Onion Soup, Garlic Soup, Leek and Potato Soup with Sorrel, Siberian Kale Soup, Cucumber and Yogurt Soup and Gazpacho. Okay, I admit, not all the ingredients are covered in that little plot, but you will learn how to use everything you planted.
Not all the plots have corresponding recipes (do you really need one for the Pizza/Pasta plot? Thought not), in fact most of them don’t. But there is a lot of information sprinkled through the book about eating the food you produce.
For the seasoned gardener, there is a lot in this book if you can take the time to browse through it. Read it at night after the kids are in bed for some inspiration and motivation. Try some of her plots and eat some new foods. For the beginner, the advice Holbein gives in her chapter ‘How to Get Started’ is spot on:
“To start growing your own food without delay, put down this book, go out into the garden, and select a spot in the sun. Dig over one square yard with a garden fork and remove all the weeds by hand. <snip>
“Come inside again and thoroughly wash your hands and clean your nails, as you must always do after working with soil. Pick up this book and in Part 1 (page 1) find all the information you need to make your Magic Square flourish. The turn to [page 161] to select what you want to grow in your first salad plot.” (p.12)
Would you like a copy of this book? It’s in almost as-new condition, very slightly dog-eared on the corners, but really, packed full of good information. I have one copy, which I will post to one lucky reader (anywhere in the world).
To enter, just mention this giveaway on your blog (with a link back to this post) and leave a comment here telling me you’ve done it, and that you’d love the book. Don’t have a blog? No worries, follow me on twitter and either retweet my tweet about the giveaway (and leave a comment here), or send your own tweet, but be sure to include @SustainSuburb in the tweet so I see it (and, leave a comment here). No twitter account either? Facebook is your last hope. Like our facebook page and ‘share’ the post linking to this giveaway (and, you guessed it, leave a comment here).
Double entries for anyone who has the sustainable suburbia linky lists button on their front page (mention it in your comment).
I will draw a name out of a hat on May 31st, and post the book in June.
(By the way, I am counting this review towards my commitment to the Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge, as per my commitment here).