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Put W-O-R-D to work and create a marvelous garden.  Author Edward C. Smith is the brains behind this concept practiced throughout the chapters in The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible, 2nd Edtion.  W-O-R-D is an acronym for the WORD System:

W -Wide

O – Organic

R – Raised

D – Deep Soil

The current edition of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible shares what the author and his wife have learned over 30 years of living close to the earth growing their own vegetables.  Their life choices are tied closely to nurturing and harvesting from their own garden or from nearby resources.  Their home is built from lumber sourced from nearby forests, they heat and cool their home with electricity produced from solar power, and grow most of their own produce. 

Their first garden was about 120sq. feet, but today it’s around 1,500 sq. feet. They were able to expand their garden even as their family grew larger and they had more responsibilities because they created an efficient garden.  These gardeners avoid dependence on fossil fueled implements and also prefer to maintain soil fertility using natural methods.

Smith’s philosophy for gardening is that the garden is a source of food, but also a place for spiritual renewal by connecting with life’s basic processes of regeneration: from seed to pollination to fruit and finally to harvest.

The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible offers sections on preparation, composting, fertilizer, and pest control. In the back of the book you’ll discover tips for growing specific vegetables and comparisons between different varieties. He’s also included a helpful section on herb gardening. Herbs require different methods for planting and watering than do vegetables, so if your plan is to incorporate herbs into the harvest, be sure to review this section.

The Premise

Smith tends a garden of over 1,500 square feet filled with nearly 100 varieties of vegetables, including some heirlooms, in his home state of Vermont. Even though vegetables are the focus, he also raises raspberries, blueberries, flowers, and herbs successfully.

He attributes the bounty of his small garden in northern Vermont to his W-O-R-D system. Since he successfully raises fruits and vegetables in this extreme northern climate, even with a very short growing season, there is no reason you can’t do the same.

Smith’s garden is designed according to the W-O-R-D system.  In the past, gardeners planted narrow rows separated by wide pathways.  They did this so that the plowing mechanism, a tractor, horse or gas-powered tiller, could easily pass through the rows.  However, plants produce better when grown in wide, raised rows allowing for a deeper root system. Planting a garden using raised beds in a smaller area requires less manpower for maintenance and also supports a larger harvest.

Raised beds are easier to weed, fertilize and water. Walkways are narrower because they are used by the gardener to access the plants in the raised beds. The rows aren’t used for tilling.  More plants are planted in a wide space as opposed to narrow rows.

Smith illustrates this with a drawing comparing beets planted in one area with two rows of plants and wide pathways on each side of each row. There are about 15 plants in each row for a total of 60 plants.

In contrast, the wide-bed area is a single row supporting 70 plants.  The access path circles the exterior of the plant bed.  Less space is devoted to the pathway.  The raised wide-bed supports more plants.

Book Organization

The The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is divided into 3 main parts:

Part 1: From Seed to Harvest – Higher Yields With Less Work

Part 2: The Healthy Garden – Aboveground, Belowground

Part 3:  The Plant Directory – Index of Vegetables and Herbs

Smith starts off with how he came to learn about wide row gardening and raised beds. It really all makes sense as you read through the chapters.  So why did gardeners not use this method to begin with?  A lot has to do with how we learn about anything. If your parents did something one way, you tend to follow their lead.

European agriculture has a long history using 4-legged creatures to till the soil. As people moved to the New Land, they packed along these same methods.  Had our ancestors paid a bit more attention to the agricultural tribes in North America, they might have noticed a different way of producing more while using less space and water.

Native American Indians used mounds and raised beds for raising corn, beans and other crops. They didn’t have access to domesticated animals. In fact, it was the Europeans who brought horses and bovine to the New World.

So that’s the short history of why farmers in North America grew crops in long narrow rows tilled by oxen, mules or horses.

Another benefit of using smaller “garden patches” is that you can put unused space to work. Sunny areas may be a premium where you live.  If you have a small, sunny spot you can turn it into a space dedicated to peppers or other sun-loving crop.

Are you familiar with the “Magic Triangle?”  The ancient Egyptians used it to map out the pyramids and you can use it for planning your gardening. Teach this simple formula to your kids and they’ll be superstar in math class.  Plus, they’ll find it fun to put into practice helping you with the garden!

Part 2 is dedicated to the soil. In gardening, the term “Black Gold” is used to reference compost.  This is partially decomposed material made from plant or animal waste. As it decomposes, it releases nutrients into the soil.

This is the “stuff” that turns hard-to-work soil into something which is easy to dig and plant.  Composted material feeds your plants and the beneficial organisms in the soil.  Compost is Mother Nature’s own recycling engine.

You do need to be mindful of what you use to compost and Smith provides you with a list of organic material which is good for composting.

Part 3 is about pest control.  Smith believes in using natural methods whenever possible.  The core “natural” method is to give your garden the most opportunity to be healthy.  Using compost and keeping the soil at proper pH also promotes a healthy garden.

Rotating crops means you grow a different plant every other year or two. When you do this, any pests lying dormant in the soil waiting for last year’s favorite crop are disappointed.  You can also augment the nutrients in the soil by planting crops such as soybeans, red clover or alfalfa and then till the plant back into the soil.  These plants add nitrogen back into the earth.

Of course, keeping a proper level of moisture in the soil is critical.  Keeping a top layer of mulch and compost helps maintain good levels of moisture.  Healthy soil equals healthy plants.

Who Benefits

The book is ideal for beginners, but seasoned gardeners will also benefit especially if they seek ways to garner more produce from the same (or even smaller) area.  The author does write from experience based upon northern climates, but much of the information is dedicated to “best practices.” These are concepts applicable to climates throughout the United States. However, people living in southern states, USDA hardiness zones 7-11, may want to add another gardening guide for plants specific to southern states.  One option is The Southern Living Garden Book.

The invaluable resource for home food gardeners! Ed Smith’s W-O-R-D system has helped countless gardeners grow an abundance of vegetables and herbs. And those tomatoes and zucchini and basil and cucumbers have nourished countless families, neighbors, and friends with delicious, fresh produce. The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is essential reading for locavores in every corner of North America!

Everything you loved about the first edition of The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible is still here: friendly, accessible language; full-color photography; comprehensive vegetable specific information in the A-to-Z section; ahead-of-its-time commitment to organic methods; and much more.

Now, Ed Smith is back with a 10th Anniversary Edition for the next generation of vegetable gardeners. New to this edition is coverage of 15 additional vegetables, including an expanded section on salad greens and more European and Asian vegetables. Readers will also find growing information on more fruits and herbs, new cultivar photographs in many vegetable entries, and a much-requested section on extending the season into the winter months. No matter how cold the climate, growers can bring herbs indoors and keep hardy greens alive in cold frames or hoop houses.

The impulse to grow vegetables is even stronger in 2009 than it was in 2000, when Storey published The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible. The financial and environmental costs of fossil fuels raise urgent questions: How far should we be shipping food? What are the health costs of petroleum-based pesticides and herbicides? Do we have to rely on megafarms that use gasoline-powered machinery to grow and harvest crops? With every difficult question, more people think, “Maybe I should grow a few vegetables of my own.” This book will continue to answer all their vegetable gardening questions.

Praise for the First Edition:

“In every small town, there is a vegetable garden that people go out of the way to walk past. Smith is the guy who grew that garden.” — Verlyn Klinkenborg, The New York Times Book Review

“An abundance of photographs . . . visually bolster the techniques described, while frequent subheads, sidebars, and information-packed photo captions make the layout user-friendly . . . [Smith’s] book is thorough and infused with practical wisdom and a dry Vermont humor that should endear him to readers.” — Publisher’s Weekly

“Smith . . . clearly explains everything novice and experienced gardeners need to know to grow vegetables and herbs. . . . ” — Library Journal

“this book will answer all your questions as well as put you on the path to an abundant harvest. As a bonus, anecdotes and stories make this informative book fun to read.” – New York Newsday