My barn has a split personality. On one side, you may not be surprised to learn, dusty in the gloom, carefully organized and stacked, are defensive implements of war, slumbering until the day of judgment. On the other side are implements of agriculture, for I also aspire, in the now, to be a peaceful gentleman farmer. That is, not a profit-making farmer, or even a farmer who sells anything, but someone who enjoys being outdoors and learning how to grow plants and husband animals (and bees). As I expand from simple garden plots to acre-plus growing, I turned to this book to expand my knowledge. I got what I was looking for, and I also was inspired to think about two closely-related topics: modern farming practices and fat people.
As befits one who seeks to be a man of wealth and taste (if I have to choose between them, the former), I aspire to live on a vast estate, leading the life of a gentleman farmer. That doesn’t seem to be the immediate future, but we do have enough land to keep some chickens and grow some apples. This year, we are planning to add some honeybees, so I figured I should educate myself before taking the first concrete steps. The Beekeeper’s Lament, a 2010 book by Hannah Nordhaus, which combines talk of bees and beekeeping with modest philosophy about both, seemed like a good place to start. I was not disappointed—I learned a lot, and I also found food for thought about modern agricultural and eating practices.
Man’s search for meaning is, in these days of alienation and anomie, always a topic that can generate interest. Meaning at its most concrete is tied to the things of Earth, to the nature of man and the world of nature. Thus, if man becomes wholly dissociated from Earth, bad things result. This, in a nutshell, is the message of not a few modern prophets, and among them is Alexander Langlands, offering a specifically British variation on the theme.
This book addresses what is, as far as the material comforts of the modern age, the central question of our time—can mankind have it all? The author, Charles Mann, does not answer that question, though I think his answer would be, if forced, “probably yes.” What Mann offers, rather than canned answers, is a refreshingly and relentlessly non-ideological work, comparing two philosophies of human development, embodied in the lives of two men of the twentieth century. The first, Norman Borlaug, engineered the saving of hundreds of millions of lives and won a Nobel Prize. The second, William Vogt, prophesied a global doom whose arrival date has been continuously postponed for fifty years, and then shot himself, whereupon he was forgotten until this book.
I hate milk. I find many of the recipes in this book frankly loathsome, were I to try them, which I won’t. On the other hand, I like science and history (and ice cream). So despite my stomach churning at some of the recipes and descriptions, I actually enjoyed reading this book.
“The Apple Grower” is an excellent book, but not one for the casual apple grower. That doesn’t mean that another, simpler book would be better for the casual apple grower. Rather, it appears to me (very much a non-expert) that apple growing isn’t possible to do casually, so “casual apple grower” is a very small group, consisting of those who pick a few apples of varying quality from their trees and let the rest drop. So, if you’re like me, and planning on planting and maintaining ten or twenty apple trees for my family’s own personal use, this book shows you very well how to do that. But it doesn’t make it sound easy.
This may be the best “how to” book I have ever read, at least for manual work. Yes, I haven’t even started raising chickens (yet), so my base of knowledge for that praise is small. And yes, the book I read before this was the not-good “Keeping Chickens With Ashley English,” so after that, anything would seem good. But for a combination of clarity, useful information, complete coverage, and a coherent but rational philosophy, I don’t think you can beat this book.
I read this book because my wife and I have decided to keep chickens. My wife is driving the project, but I figured I should participate fully. I started with this book. I would have been better off starting with the Internet.