A Plant IS What It Eats

An electron micrograph photo of a broccoli bud on the cover of Jeff Lowenfels’ book

I like to read fiction. It was amazing to me that a book on plant nutrition was a ‘page turner’ for me. True, there were many very scientific terms used, but Jeff Lowenfels, in his book, Teaming with Nutrients, gives a layman’s rendition of these terms, making them understandable. There are also processes that I needed to go back to read over again in order to understand, but I did so eagerly.  The unfolding explanations and the subsequent wonder of what actually is happening in the plant structure and around the plant roots was gripping material (no pun intended).

Scientific voyage

Jeff starts at the beginning and leads the reader through the plant, explaining the pathways for water and nutrients. The book is full of illustrations and diagrams of the microorganisms that are such an integral part of the plant’s life. (It is reminiscent of that 1966 Sci-Fi flick, Fantastic Voyage.) Thanks to the illustrations and diagrams, the route makes sense. They serve as a “road map” on the journey through the plant.

A picture speaks a thousand words

The electron micrograph photographs featured in the book are fascinating. After seeing what the seed, stem, leaf or root really look like, when you can see a photo of it magnified so many times, the plant in the yard takes on a whole new aspect.

The photo of a broccoli bud, in particular, struck me. It must have intrigued Jeff as well because he put it on the cover of the book. The minuscule growth that is naturally happening around us all the time, that we cannot see because it is too tiny, is yet another sub-layer of beautiful landscapes in our world.

Reliable information

I have been a reader of Jeff’s garden column for years and, with his sage advice on Alaskan gardening, was able to cultivate satisfyingly lush baskets of fuchsia on the north side of my house in Anchorage. His regular reminders of what needs to be done at certain times in the Alaskan garden were invaluable.

So I took this book on after reading the precursor, Teaming with Microbes (in which I learned fascinating information about Alaskan soils, but I digress…) I continue to read Jeff’s column online, now that I live deep in the boggy, lowland Interior, and his ideas and a lot of his information continue to be applicable to this distinct Alaskan climate in which I now find myself.

In the acknowledgments, Jeff mentions the year that he spent in the Portland library researching this book. He has an impressive appendix of resource links (many of them being universities) and encourages readers to seek out further information on YouTube. He assures the reader that there is a lot more information about the subjects that he has introduced to the reader. It is only a beginning but what an inspiring beginning.

I sampled one of the links and watched a fascinating video from Harvard, of activities inside a cell. THIS is a great learning tool for visual learners such as I.

It all comes down to soil testing

There is an impressive list of laboratories and their contact information at the end of the book to which one can send soil samples for testing. In the end, after learning how the nutrients are used by the plant and how the nutrients affect the functioning of each other in the growth and nourishment of the plant, it is all about knowing what to give to the plant. Trying to do that without knowing the makeup of the soil is like gardening while wearing a blindfold. I’m sold on soil testing.

Quick and easy reference

There were many new terms I learned while reading this book. They will come in handy whenever I want to review or want to explain this new-found knowledge to another interested gardener. Thank goodness Jeff  provided a comprehensive glossary of these new (to me) terms as a reference at the end of this book. The thorough index provided also, will guide the reader right back to where “that paragraph” was that explained yet one more marvelous phenomenon. This book will be a reference book to which I’ll be returning again and again.

A fine mix of humor and information

Jeff keeps what could be a heavy subject rolling along at a good clip. He intersperses it with his tongue-in-cheek humor so it all adds up to an illuminating and enjoyable reading experience. I highly recommend this book.

Because I read this book I have a new-found appreciation of each plant and the energy that has gone into it and the processes it has been through. One word of caution: it has made it more difficult for me to uproot weeds now. They are just as marvelous!

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