Hey guys! It’s Phil the Smiling Gardener and I’ve just put together a list of my 50 absolute best organic gardening books, or at least my favorites.
You can check that out - if you’re not already on the website you can check those out at SmilingGardener.com/books and I’ve put together pictures and little reviews and links to other reviews and other information on them so it’s actually a really good list. I spent a lot of time on it.
And I thought what I'd do is take my five favorite organic gardening books and just tell you a little bit about them here. So the first book is about plants and it’s called the Secret Life of Plants. Ot’s a classic book and it’s a little bit more esoteric but really good advice and it will change the way you think about plants, they’re a lot smarter than a lot of us think.
So a little bit of information on how plants can read our mind, what kind of music they like - they definitely prefer certain kinds of music and they don’t like certain kinds of music, and how they respond to being threatened either physically or even if we think about hurting them.
But there’s actually some practical information there, it’s really well researched and well footnoted and everything. So even if you’re skeptical I think you should check this book out, it is one of my favorites.
The next category is about microorganisms and the book is called Teaming with Microbes. Microbes are so important in the garden, as important as you know calcium and nutrients and this is a really great introduction to what they do in the garden, in the soil and on plants.
And more important how we can help them do their job and even bring them in through compost and compost tea and other microbial inoculants, so this is another practical book, lots of good advice but a really fun read and you'll learn a lot from this one, too.
Next category is soil, my favorite topic. I have lot of books in the list about soil that are really good, this one is definitely at the top of my list of organic gardening books because it’s a pretty easy read, it’s called The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook but it’s not just for farmers, it’s for everyone who wants to have really good soil.
Phil Wheeler uses the Albrecht and the Reams systems of soil management. Lots of information there on how to test your soil, fertilizing it and a lot of information ultimately about pest control, weed control, insect control and all that because you know you have healthy soil and healthy plants and those things don’t cause problems and, so I love that book on soil management.
Next category is permaculture, permaculture is basically a system of sustainable design and there’s a focus definitely on growing an abundance of healthy food. But it’s a design system looking at the relationships between all the elements in your garden, so you know, where do you put your compost pile and your vegetables and your chickens and how do they all relate to each other and how they can actually provide, provide things for each other such that it become a sustainable garden, a garden that pretty much takes care of itself.
So that’s kinda a quick definition of it, it’s a really good topic and this is my favorite introductory book on permaculture. It’s a lot easier to read than the Mollison books which are really good, but this is a good intro.
Next category is vegetable gardening, I’m always kinda leery of books on veggie gardening, they just never seem to do that great of a job frankly, especially when it comes to soil management.
What some of them are good at and this is one of my favorites is just giving you information on the plants and how to select them and grow them and harvest them, it has a lot of plants in it, it's presented in a really good way. I like how it’s done.
And there’s a lot of information in here on short term pest control, as well. So when you have a problem how can you get rid of it in the short term. For long term pest control you might want to read the Non-Toxic Farmin Handbook and other soil books.
And the book in the next category which is just general organic gardening, what’s my favorite general book and that is Working with Nature which was written by my friend Heide Hermary, founder of Gaia college. It’s more of a textbook so it's more expensive, but it's bigger too and it just really, it brings all of these other disciplines together.
A lot of information on soil management and water management. Again more on soil testing and fertilizers. There's a great chapter on energy on the garden and radionics and just really cool stuff, the future of gardening in my opinion, and the overall book is just about creating health in the garden such that you don’t have any pest problems and you have healthy food and healthy people and definitely one of the best gardening books.
So those are my top I guess six I have in here and if you want to check all 50 go to SmilingGardener.com/books and that is all for today so until next time keep your eye on the soil and remember to smile.
These organic gardening books are some of the best gardening books out there. Feel free to post down at the bottom if there are other books you would include on this list.
I've now spent about 15 hours putting this together, finding pictures, getting the book summaries, writing my thoughts and so on, so I hope you really enjoy it.
Organic Soil Management Books
The organic gardening books in this section are some of the most important gardening books in this whole list, in my opinion. If you get your organic garden soil right, most other problems solve themselves, so to speak. Look closely at this section.
Building Soils Naturally. I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own organic gardening book. It was published in July of 2012. It starts with the basics and gets quite advanced on some topics. Although growers and landscape professionals will benefit tremendously, I've written for home gardeners who are interested in growing nutrient-dense food. There's background information and some science, but all with a view to let you know why we do the things we do in the organic garden. Most of the information is very hands-on, letting you know what to do, and when and how to do it.
Secrets of the Soil. This is a thoroughly researched organic gardening book, a classic. You won't find most of this valuable information in a standard soil science textbook, but it's important stuff. Some of the info is fairly straight-forward and some gets a little far from convention, such as biodynamic gardening and other energetic methods, but you can take what you like and leave the rest. I've slowly been incorporating many of these ideas in my organic gardening for years.
The Non-Toxic Farming Handbook. This book is easier than 'Science In Agriculture' (below), but is still a successful integration of diverse techniques and technologies of classical organic farming, Albrecht-style soil fertility balancing, and Reams-method organic soil and plant testing and analysis. It covers fertility inputs, in-the-field testing, foliar feeding, refractometers, tillage, livestock nutrition, moon cycles and subtle energies, and more. One of my favorites.
Science in Agriculture. This is one of the more advanced organic gardening books, one of my absolute favorites. The science points out that low-to-mediocre crop production, weed, disease, and insect pressures are all symptoms of nutritional imbalances and inadequacies in the soil. It is a concise recap of the main schools of thought that make up organic farming - all clearly explained. Learn how to design a program to produce plants of balanced nutritional and mineral content. For advanced gardeners, this is another favorite of mine.
Hands-On Agronomy. An ecologically balanced organic soil system is essential for maintaining healthy plants and this comprehensive manual on organic garden soil management gives the “whats and whys” of micronutrients, earthworms, soil drainage, tilth, soil structure and organic matter. Kinsey shows us how working with the soil produces healthier crops with a higher yield. He seems to focus more on Albreht than the more recent Reams methods, but he has many years experience making it work.
Mainline Farming for Century Twenty-One. Dan Skow studied under Carey Reams, and the lessons he learned are important ones. This book teaches how to measure fertility down to the atomic level and bring up brix high enough to ward off fungal, bacterial and insect attack, and weeds. The shortest book of the lot.
The Ideal Soil. Great organic gardening book, although you may not find a copy for cheap enough to warrant buying it. It advocates balancing the soil according to the teachings of Dr William Albrecht and Dr Carey Reams. It takes the focus away from merely trying to achieve high volume yields to achieving the highest yields of the highest quality and nutritional value, while building optimal health in the soil, the crops, and the people and animals that rely on them for food.
Permaculture/Forest Gardening Books
Permaculture has become hugely popular, and with good reason. It basically just means sustainable, intelligent design with a focus on growing food, but it is so much more than that. I highly recommend you check it out.
Gaia's Garden. This is one of my favorite organic gardening books for beginners. It describes an organic gardening system that combines the best features of wildlife habitat, edible landscapes, and conventional gardens into a self-renewing landscape that lets nature do most of the work. It has many good design principles, so it is partially a design book. This is my favorite introduction to permaculture because it is a fun read that really simplifies the topic. It's not as comprehensive as Mollison's works, but a great intro.
Permaculture: A Designers' Manual. This is the permaculture bible. If you're searching for an ecologically responsible lifestyle amid urban and suburban insanity, Bill Mollison's most comprehensive book is full of helpful organic gardening advice. The focus is on letting plant, animal and microbe species work together to form a self-sustaining system from which people can reap a continual harvest of food and other benefits. This book is more complete than his earlier works.
Sepp Holzer's Permaculture. This is book is part hands-on and part philosophy. Sepp has taken a rocky, hilly, difficult piece of land and turned it into a big permaculture farm (over 100 acres). He did a lot of this without ever hearing the term permaculture, as he just figured a lot of it out on his own.
The Holistic Orchard: Tree Fruits and Berries the Biological Way. I loved this book! It's not only for people who want an orchard, but even just anyone who wants a few fruit trees. I'm a bit biased because he echoes almost everything about holistic garden management that I say in my book. But I also learned a lot about growing fruit trees, shrubs and berries. I really appreciate his proactive approach to the whole process.
Creating a Forest Garden: Working with Nature to Grow Edible Crops. A forest garden is generally a food garden that is inspired by the diversity and resiliency of a young woodland. You can incorporate hundreds of edible and otherwise useful plants into an ecosystem that can eventually be very productive with little maintenance.
Vegetable Gardening Books
I am often leery of vegetable organic gardening books because most of them seem to rehash the same old advice, which is often not great advice. What I really mean is that most people who get good at growing vegetables in their vegetable gardens and decide to write a book about it are not necessarily the best at growing nutrient-dense, high-brix food. They often don't know that much about organic soil management other than composting and adding some lime.
I'm not saying they shouldn't write a book and I'm not saying I'm some kind of organic gardening genius (I still have a heck of a lot to learn about gardening). I'm just saying that my experience with reading organic vegetable gardening books hasn't been as profound as reading the above organic soil and permaculture books, for example. But here are the ones I thought were decent:
The Gardener's A-Z Guide to Growing Organic Food. This is one of those organic gardening books that shows you how to select, grow, harvest, and store many varieties of vegetables, herbs, fruits and nuts. Not all that much info on growing from seed and transplanting, but a pretty darn big encyclopedia of food plants and good information on vegetable garden layout.
How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. This book played a part in changing food production methods, bringing biointensive organic gardening methods to people all over the world who want to feed more people with less land. It's a bit dated and not the most fun book to read, and it's more complicated than square foot gardening, so it's definitely for people who want to spend the extra time necessary to grow a lot of food in a little space.
The New Organic Grower. This is more for market growers, but has lots of good information, especially on greenhouses and winter gardening. I've learned something from all of Eliot's books. If you're interested in extending your harvest into the winter, his books are for you. I now harvest fresh herbs and greens even during Christmas each year. I also like his focus on health management instead of disease management.
Wild Fermentation. Not really an organic vegetable gardening book, but a book on what to do with many of your veggies when you harvest them. For thousands of years humans have enjoyed the taste and nutrition of fermented foods and drinks. He has experimented with many forms of fermentation and has developed and collected a wide range of techniques and recipes from around the world. I have had success with many methods in this book.
General Organic Gardening Books
I put these gardening books in a "general" section because I didn't want to classify them as being about one topic only. They're largely about organic soil management, as that is ultimately the most important part of organic gardening, but they're about more than that, so here they are.
Working With Nature - Shifting Paradigms. This organic gardening book was the first written by one of my gardening mentors, Heide Hermary, founder of Gaia College. It describes ecologically sound organic soil and water management practices and introduces the concept of landscape health management. It summarizes some of the most important information from other books listed on this page, and more importantly, it makes connections between seemingly disparate topics.
The Essence Of Organic Gardening. This is Heide's second book. It's much shorter, more of an introduction to the relationships and natural processes within nature, the interconnectedness of life. Organic gardening is much easier and much more interesting when we work to support the health of the whole garden, and that's what this book is all about. Great book for beginners or as a gift to new gardeners, but her other book is the most important one for serious gardeners. You get a free copy of the ebook when you sign up for my online gardening course.
The Organic Method Primer. I managed to get my hands on an abbreviated version of this organic gardening book directly from the author before she passed away a year later. The full version is one of the most comprehensive books ever compiled on organic growing methods. It cover organic soil, fertilizing, composting, cover crops, weeds, mulch, planting, seeds, diseases, harvesting and storage, equipment, even marketing! A cornerstone of any serious agricultural library, but not worth the price for most home organic gardeners, in my opinion.
The One-Straw Revolution. Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto comes from over three decades of work perfecting his “do-nothing” technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and wasteful effort. You will learn a few organic gardening tips reading this book, but mostly you may just be inspired to think and do things differently. This book inspired me to let some of my fruit trees grow naturally to their intended size rather than pruning the heck out of them.
Biological Transmutations. This is one of the classic organic gardening books, not for the faint of heart, and definitely not the most important book for new organic gardeners. Kervran explains many phenomena seen in organic farming for which conventional science has no answers. He proposes that living things can transmute elements into other elements, such as silicon and carbon into calcium. The potential implications are huge.
Microorganisms are another area that is becoming more and more important to know about in the organic home garden. Composting has been going on for a long time, and the main benefit of that is the microorganisms it generates, but there are other ways to bring them in and there is much fascinating, relevant information to know about them.
Teaming with Microbes. Healthy organic soil is teeming with life - not just earthworms and insects, but a staggering multitude of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. These guys make the benefits of cultivating the soil food web available to a wide audience, from us organic gardening and farming addicts to weekend gardeners who simply want to grow healthy, vigorous plants without resorting to chemicals. I highly recommend this as one of the organic gardening books for you.
The Compost Tea Brewing Manual. Dr. Ingham's comprehensive manual on making, applying, and assessing compost tea is a must for any user of compost tea. The latest edition includes up-to-date organic gardening tips on methods, research and practical examples. Whereas Teaming With Microbes is more of a general introduction to the microbes, this manual gets into specifics on brewing compost tea.
The Soil Biology Primer. This short organic gardening book is an incredible introduction to organic soil biology. In just a spoonful of organic garden soil, there are more microorganisms than the number of people on earth. The primer includes information on the soil food web - the community of organisms living in soil - and how the web relates to soil health. Chapter topics include bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and earthworms.
Mycelium Running. This book is written by mushroom expert Paul Stamets who discovered that enzymes and acids in fungi can actually break down pollutants and recycle carbon, nitrogen and other essential elements back into the soil. In addition to a manual for healing the earth, the book offers instruction on the art of mushroom cultivation and organic gardening tips for choosing fungi for various purposes. Stamets inspired me to start growing my own edible mushrooms.
Botany / Plants Books
These are my favorite plant books, particularly the first. I also have another plant section directly below this one.
Reaching for the Sun: How Plants Work. The first addition was wonderful, so the second should be just as good. Written with the non-specialist in mind, it looks at how plants function, from how they gain energy and nutrition to how they grow, develop and ultimately die. I know that despite the challenges posed by growing environmental perils, plants will definitely continue to dominate our planet. They have nothing to worry about.
Sunset Western Garden Book. This is the "bible of Western gardening", basically a plant id book with lots of pretty pictures. Definitely get it if you want to learn more about which plants to choose for your garden. It's not necessarily an organic gardening book, although all these kind of books are heading that way. I don't know why someone doesn't publish an Eastern version?
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners I used to buy all of my seeds every year and not bother saving them, but I've come to believe that saving your own seeds is one of the most important steps to attaining nutrient density in your fruit and vegetable garden. This book is where I learned how to save seed and I still refer to it.
Communicating With Plants
All 3 of these organic gardening books are great for those who want to develop more of a communication with plants or at least learn more about plants than just the standard physiology and plant id stuff.
The Secret Life of Plants. The authors of Secrets Of The Soil put out amazing organic gardening books and this classic is a look at the world of plants and their relationship to us. It goes into how plants can think, how they respond to music, and how they respond to being loved/being threatened, yet sprinkled throughout are many lessons we can actually use in the garden. Anyone who believes plants are sentient beings will love this book. A must read.
The Secret Teachings of Plants. This one is not for the faint of heart, but it is for those who feel a certain bond with nature. All ancient and indigenous peoples insisted their knowledge of plant medicines came from the plants themselves and not through trial-and-error experimentation. Less well known is that many Western peoples made this same assertion. Buhner provides readers with the tools necessary to gather information directly from the heart of nature and to directly learn the medicinal uses of plants.
The Lost Language of Plants. This second organic gardening book by Buhner offers extensive documentation of how plants communicate their healing qualities to humans and other animals. Western culture has obliterated most people's capacity to perceive these messages, but this book also contains valuable information on how we can restore our faculties of perception. The book is essential reading for anyone concerned about the state of the environment, the state of health care, and our cultural sanity.
There are quite a few organic composting books. To be honest, it's not rocket science, so many of them would probably do, but this is one that I enjoyed.
The Rodale Book of Composting. Composting is one of those topics on which we really don't need any new information. The 1979 edition may have even sufficed, although the new edition has been updated. I've read many organic gardening books on composting, and this one covers composting from start to finish, with a focus on composting for the home and garden. It looks at compostable materials and their properties and includes plans to build several types of composters. Lots of great information in here.
The Humanure Handbook: A Guide to Composting Human Manure. This third edition is a good read for anyone who is ready to entertain the possibility of more fully integrating themselves into the ecosystem. It explains why the people of the Western world do not compost their manure, why we should, and how it can be done safely, without chemicals, high technology, or pollution.
I'm not a designer, but here are 2 books that I've enjoyed. For even more design books, see the permaculture section above.
Ann Lovejoy's Organic Garden Design School. Ann Lovejoy has gained a significant following, and deservedly so. She has a renowned school, and this book is pretty good, too. It's not a step-by-step "how to design a garden" book, but more like a series of stories of how she has designed her gardens. There are many great organic gardening tips in there, but you still have to pull them out and figure things out for yourself. Still, I recommend it.
Forest Ecosystems. This is probably the most comprehensive book available in the field of forest ecology, although it is a bit pricey. It is really for advanced students of forest science, ecology, and environmental studies, but I put it here in the design section because it is the best gardening book for landscape designers who want to learn to work with nature and mimic natural systems. The authors provide a survey of boreal, temperate, and tropical forests, with useful concepts for the organic home garden.
Energy In The Garden
Our understanding of how to use energy when organic home gardening is ever evolving and this will be one of the most important areas of study in organic gardening this century, although it will be a long time before academia or mainstream gardening embraces it. The information in these books may one day prove to be more important than any of the other gardening books on this page.
Paramagnetism: Rediscovering Nature's Secret Force of Growth. This is one of my favorite organic gardening books on energy. It is the culmination of all of Callahan’s previous works, his most important work ever for organic gardeners. He lays out a lifetime of research into forces in nature and his discoveries regarding the force of paramagnetism and the amazing effects it has upon soils, plants and people.
A Biodynamic Farm. The inventory of knowledge that is generally warehoused under the classification of biodynamic is rich and timeless, and yet very few organic gardeners have even a nodding acquaintance with the subject. This is a practical, how-to guide to making all of the biodynamic preparations. The book will provide what you need to put these proven techniques to work in your garden. This is perhaps the best gardening book of the many biodynamic titles currently available.
The Anatomy of Life and Energy in Agriculture. Unfortunately, this is out of print. The energies in fertilizers and in the cosmos do not often move needles, but they preside over crop production. As this organic gardening book makes clear, through learning to tap and use “life-force energy” it is possible to develop food production practices that are both high quality and nondestructive. Since high sugar and mineral levels confer immunity to bacterial, insect and fungal attack, a complete Brix chart on crops is included.
Perelandra Garden Workbook. This is too far out for most people, but it is very interesting. It's a hands-on manual for the organic home gardener who wishes to work in conscious partnership with nature. Learn to listen and let nature tell you what to do in your garden. Warning, you will read about fairies.
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
This isn't the most important topic to read for practical organic gardening advice, but it is important to know about this stuff in general.
Seeds of Deception. My favorite organic gardening book on gmos, a bit depressing, but important. There isn't much practical organic gardening advice. The book reveals how industry manipulation and political collusion allow dangerous genetically engineered food into your daily diet. Scientists are offered bribes or threatened; evidence is stolen; data withheld or distorted. Government scientists who complain are fired. And so on. You will find out a bit about how you can protect yourself and your family.
Genetic Roulette. I read this one, too, but you mostly don't need to read more than one book on gmos. Sixty-five health risks of the foods that Americans eat every day are presented in easy-to-read two-page spreads. I liked how the left page is designed for the quick scanning reader: it includes bullets, illustrations and quotes. The right side offers fully referenced text, describing both research studies and theoretical risks.
Best Gardening Book For Lawns
The Organic Lawn Care Manual. Caring for an organic lawn is not that much different than caring for a garden, but it there are differences. There is better organic soil information elsewhere, but this organic gardening book for lawns does have good info on how to plant the appropriate grass for your climate, irrigate, use organic lawn fertilizer and keep pests away and the author is a great activist for the organic cause.
Organic Fertilizer Books
There are no good organic gardening books covering everything there is to know about organic fertilizer. Perhaps I'll have to write one, since I started and ran a business in the field for two years and then passed it on to a friend to run. Some of the organic soil books do give some good information, but they're not complete. These gardening books here are interesting forays into just a small part of the organic fertilizer spectrum.
Fertility from the Ocean Deep. Walters examines the amazing successes that growers have experienced with using ocean water and ocean solids as an organic fertilizer. Using hard data obtained in the field, Walters demonstrates that sea-solids fertilizers produce stress-resistant plants and food with naturally extended shelf life and vastly increased nutrient levels.
Sea Energy Agriculture. I prefer the organic gardening book above, but this is the original work. Dr. Murray used sea solids - mineral salts remaining after water is evaporated from ocean water - as organic garden fertilizer on a variety of vegetables, fruits and grains. His extensive experiments demonstrated repeatedly and conclusively that plants fertilized with sea solids and animals fed sea-solid-fertilized feeds grow stronger and more resistant to disease.
Bread from Stones. This is definitely not the most important book to read, but it was one of the first to question Von Liebig’s salt fertilizer thesis over 100 years ago and it is still just as valid. Translated from the German writings of Julius Hensel, the book was designed to introduce the people of the U.S. to the idea that plants require healthy food in order to flourish, just as a human being does. It describes a new system for organic fertilization which has become science today - fertilizing with stone dust.
Organic Pest Control Books
All of the most popular organic gardening books for pest control mainly focus on short term solutions, like how to make homemade pesticides. There is a bit of information on prevention, but it is not specific enough. The first 2 books in this section are really amazing. They will change the way you look at pests, although they do not give the full answer as to how to get rid of them. The second book is more about short term control. Really, for long term control, the books in the organic soil section oveab give the best information.
Healthy Crops. This is one of the best gardening books that really changed my thinking. The book was a difficult read for me the first time, but for some reason it clicked the second time. The main thing I learned is that pests only attack plants that are nutritionally imbalanced, generally because of an excess of soluble nitrogen (which can be caused by different problems). You won't learn a lot of practical organic gardening advice, but it will absolutely change your viewpoint on "pests."
Tuning in to Nature. Learn how plants and insects communicate through emissions in the infrared frequency range and why poisonous pesticides do not solve the real problems facing agriculture. Callahan uncovers why certain insects are attracted only to certain plants, and how plants under stress literally signal insects to come devour them. A bit technical, but fascinating. Another paradigm changer.
Natural Pest and Disease Control. The book has some information on creating health in order to prevent pests, but mainly focuses on identifying and getting rid of pests you already have, using organic gardening methods, but not focusing on balancing the soil. The guide features symptoms and solutions for 200 popular plants, including flowers, vegetables, trees, shrubs, and fruits. There is decent coverage of organic pest control techniques and organic gardening products.
These are both fascinating organic gardening books. There is also a lot of good information on organic soil management in these books and I could easily have put them in the organic soil section.
Weeds: Control Without Poisons. "Low biological activity is inherent in each weed problem ... Each weed is keyed to a specific environment slotted for its proliferation." This is one of the best gardening books on weeds. It shows how balancing out a few key soil nutrients is likely to roll back more weeds than all the available herbicides on the market. It has specifics on a hundred weeds, why they grow, what soil conditions spur them on or stop them, what they say about your soil, and how to control them without poisons.
Weeds And What They Tell. It's not a big organic gardening book, but it's full of great insights and you can get it for only 10 bucks from Acres USA. Pfeiffer was a pioneer in the field of sustainable agriculture who worked with Rudolf Steiner and gained a vast knowledge of plant and animal biology. This important book was written in the 1950s, yet no other book contains the overview that Dr. Pfeiffer presents here, and the message contained is as important now as it was over 50 years ago.
So that's my list of the best organic gardening books. Do you have anything to add? Let me know below.