I stumbled across The Market Gardener while searching for ways to (organically) maximize the yield I could get from my tiny back yard vegetable garden. Even though I knew the book was geared toward someone planning to sell their produce as opposed to a home gardener like myself, I decided to buy the book based on reviews and what I saw in the book via Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. (I bought it from a different store only because I had a gift card that needed to be used.) This book does not disappoint.
Keep in mind- this isn’t a guide on how to do permaculture or sustainable agriculture. It’s about maximizing revenue and profit on an organic micro-farm. So he may not provide information on everything you would expect from an organic grower. For example, I was surprised to read that they buy their compost instead of making it themselves, the way every other organic/sustainable gardener seems to do (or at least claim they do). The impression I get from other books and articles is that you can totally sustain your garden forever and ever off the compost you make yourself, and that may be true, but Jean-Martin states that the time and space they would need to create and maintain compost piles is better utilized by growing more produce- plus the organic compost they buy is predictable in terms of quality and composition, which are both important. It made sense to me when I read it. However, he never suggests that it cannot or should not be done on your own- just that it makes more sense for their farm, all things considered, to buy compost instead of make it.
Jean-Martin’s writing style is also refreshing compared to many organic growers. Too often they come across as if their way is the only right way, no matter the circumstances, but I found no such attitude in The Market Gardener. Jean-Martin discusses the various topics in a matter-of-fact way, explaining not only how they do things on their farm but why. He will explain various things they have tried, why they may or may not have worked on the farm, and give the pros and cons to each method, including the method they use, and the impression I was left with was “Here is what works best for us and why. Your situation may be different, so I will give you all the information I have and the reasoning I use, and trust you to choose what you think will work best for your situation.”
The practical advice throughout the book is stellar. There are no photographs, but honestly the book doesn’t need them. The Market Gardener is about substance, not fluff. The pages are packed with useful charts, tables, and relevant drawings. Whether they’re about crop rotation, crop planning, planting, insect management, financial aspects or anything else, the tables and charts are easy to read, practical, useful, AND (for me, anyway), easily adaptable. I spent a lot of time before I bought the book building spreadsheets that would provide me with a good “at a glance” for things I wanted to know, so I was happy to see information presented in a similar fashion.
This book contains, hands down, THE MOST useful information on crop rotation (and how to implement it) than any other resource I have found to date. Before buying this book I had spent literally weeks on the web, trying to figure out the best way (or at least a practical way) to implement crop rotation and not finding anything beyond very generalized advice to “rotate by crop families” or “follow heavy feeders with light feeders” or “don’t plant the same things in the same beds every year”. Trying to find out if plants needed a two, three, four, or more year rotation was difficult and there was a lot of conflicting information on what plants were heavy vs. light feeders (or in between), how long rotations should be, and so on. I also couldn’t find any information on how far move plants for the next season in order to avoid diseases that may be present in the soil. One foot? Five? Ten? A whole field? I never could find that info. This book presented me with a wealth of actual, practical, applicable information on crop rotation, the whys, and how they do it.
With all the information on how to run a successful small market-garden, I honestly did not expect a section of the book to be devoted to different vegetables and how to grow them, but the first appendix is devoted to just that. It isn’t as comprehensive as some vegetable-growing books and guides, and the varieties he prefers are (obviously) more cold-tolerant than the kinds I would choose for the heat of Texas, but the information he DOES provide is great. He gives the common name, the plant family and fertilization needs (good to know for crop rotation), intensive spacing requirements, days in the garden (which may or may not be days to maturity depending on if he direct seeds that plant or not, but it’s easy to tell which are which) and some other various bits of information and notes on the plant in question. The rest of the appendices are also jewels and contain, in a condensed format, information that was otherwise scattered throughout the book, such as the different tools they use and how to source them, or other books to reference.
All in all, I can’t recommend the book highly enough.