June 15, 2021

Landrace Gardening: Book Review and Giveaway

by Joseph Lofthouse

Last week, I mentioned reading a book that has completely inspired me. Here is the book review I promised, along with how to win a copy.

Landrace gardening will probably be a foreign concept to most gardeners, even those of us who have adopted organic and permaculture gardening techniques. Landrace gardening is a new paradigm in food production. Joseph Lofthouse does an excellent job of explaining this paradigm, and has the experience to back it up. The reader quickly understands that this isn't just theory, this is reality. 

The first chapter, "Survival of the Fittest," is an introduction to what landrace gardening is, how landrace seeds differ from commercially produced seed, and why it yields better results. 

Chapter 2, "Freelance vs. Industry," details the history and politics of food production and the shifting balance between small-scale versus centralized trends. The author beautifully illustrates the dichotomy we now find ourselves in as a result of these opposing philosophies.

Chapter 3 is titled "Continuous Improvement." This is where the author makes his case for genetic diversity through landracing: reliability, productivity, better tasting food, less stress—for both the garden and the gardener! The information in this chapter is framed in personal experience, and gives the reader an understanding of how doable landracing a garden is.

The next chapter, "Heirlooms, Hybrids, and Landraces," explores the meanings of these terms, and for me, challenged a number of assumptions I've had about heirlooms and especially hybrids. In this chapter Joseph explains the problems with heirlooms and how to use hybrids to increase genetic diversity, as well as what to watch out for. 

Chapter 5, "Creating Landraces," starts getting to the nitty-gritty of the book. The previous chapters equipped the reader with "why," now we start learning "how." We learn what kinds of seeds to use to get started, how to find them, and how to plant for desirable crossing. This chapter also explains which hybrids are useful for landracing and which are not.

The goal of landrace plant breeding is to create crops that thrive in our own gardens. Chapter 8, "New Methods and Crops," explores some of the techniques and possibilities of landracing garden seeds. It's filled with many, many examples, which further equip the reader for success.

Chapter 7 is titled "Promiscuous Pollination." Initially, I thought this was just a cutesy title, but promiscuous pollination is a real thing! Discusses the aspects of pollination, outcrossing, and mostly-selfing. Lots of examples clarify these subjects to the reader's advantage. 

Chapter 8 discusses food security. It stresses the importance of community, inbreeding vs. diversity, crop cloning, full season growing, multi-species diversity, and foraging. Again, the many examples from the author's observations and experience are treasured added value. 

Chapter 9, "Landrace Maintenance," explains how to maintain a large genetic base for healthy landrace crops. Discusses adding new genetics, keeping older genetics, the value of larger populations, selection, and crossing. 

Chapter 10 deals with "Pests and Diseases." If landrace varieties are more productive, then are they more resistant to pests and diseases? In this chapter, Joseph discusses how he deals with pests and diseases, and how he encourages and selects for resistance.

Chapter 11, "Saving Seeds." The goal here is to breed plants that become localized to the growing conditions in any particular garden. Saving seeds as a landrace gardener alleviates the isolation issues that are difficult for people who are trying to maintain purity in highly inbred cultivars. Discusses dry and wet harvesting, seed viability, and best storage conditions.

Chapters 12 through 16 take a detailed look at five common farm and garden crops: tomatoes, corn, legumes, squash, and grains. Each discusses advantages and problems of growing, breeding, and selecting seed for the many varieties existing within each group. Also contains tips on cooking and storing. The author's talent for plainly explaining technical information really shines in these chapters.

Chapter 17, "Landrace Everything," begins to extend the landrace concept beyond grain and vegetables: chickens, honeybees, mushrooms, and trees. Once again, this chapter contains good information and tips for extending a landrace program.

The appendix contains a quick, easy-reference summary of the book, and a very handy chart entitled "Ease of Developing Landrace Crops." It guides the reader as to the ease or difficulty of landracing various crops including which F1 hybrids to avoid. 

In his preface, the author says, "The take-away message from this book is a message of hope." And it absolutely is. So, if you are a discouraged gardener, frustrated with germination failure and poor performance, then this book is for you. If you are interested in food security and diversity, then this book is for you. If you are looking for a practical way to "do something" to address the world's many problems, then this book is for you. 

Joseph's book is available at Amazon.com, but between now and Friday, Permies.com is hosting a giveaway for 4 paperback copies of this book! This link will take you to more information about the giveaway and specifics for entering. 


Nancy In Boise said...

Thanks for the heads up! I'd love a copy so thanks for the link!

Leigh said...

You're welcome Nancy. I hope you win a copy!

Mark said...

Thanks, Leigh! I'm going to see if our local library has or can get a copy I can look over. Bookshelf space has gotten to really be a premium, so I'm trying to be more selective than I have in the past about what I borrow, what I buy in paper, and what I try to find electronically.

Leigh said...

Mark, that's a good idea to ask your library to get a copy. A great way to share the information with others!

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Thank you for the review Leigh (and the link). This sounds like a very sensible and useful book.

Leigh said...

TB, my review copy is a PDF, but this is one for which I'm definitely going to get a paperback copy.

Rain said...

Sounds like a good book, great review Leigh! :)

Leigh said...

Rain, I think it will be a lifesaver for anyone having trouble with their seeds. Or for folks who just like to putter around in the garden!