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Books for presents

SIMON WEBSTER suggests some reading matter to stimulate the grey matter (and the plant matter, for that matter).

There are only I-don’t-know-how-many shopping days left until Christmas. If you think a loved one might like a book, here are five of the best I have reviewed in recent months:


The Thrifty Gardener

Millie Ross

ABC Books, 2012

Paperback, 262 pages, $35

Lively, likeable and not afraid to think outside the terracotta pot, Ross offers advice on the planning, designing, building, planting and growing of a productive garden. The emphasis is on DIY, with illustrated “how-tos” from building a self-watering pot to making a solar shower. There are heaps of great ideas, the writing is engaging, and the layout crisp and clean.




The Gourmet Farmer Deli Book

Matthew Evans, Nick Haddow and Ross O’Meara

Murdoch Books, 2012

Hardback, 262 pages, $49.99

“This book is an ode to the old ways,” say the Tassie trio in their introduction. Sure enough, the idea of making your own butter, cheese, sausages and pickled onions might not appeal to everyone, but for the growing number of us who are excited about the old ways, self-sufficiency and real food, this is a godsend. The timid can start with making yoghurt and marscapone. Nitrate-free bacon, chorizo and smoked eel may not be far away.




What a plant knows

Daniel Chamowitz

Scribe, 2012

Paperback, 288 pages, $18.99

Venus fly traps will be triggered by a fly but not a drop of water. Dodder vines will grow towards the scent of a tomato, their favourite climbing frame. And if you chop the tip off a canary grass seedling, it will become “blind” and no longer grow towards the light. So can plants feel, smell, see, hear, and remember in the ways we can? Distancing himself from the 1973 book The Secret Life of Plants, which tackled a similar topic from an allegedly pseudoscientific viewpoint, the author, a plant scientist, applies scientific rigour to these questions and comes up with some astonishing answers. But if you’re someone who likes to play classical music to your seedlings, you may to disappointed to find it’s falling on deaf ears.



Home Dairy

Ann Cliff

Manna Press, 2011

Paperback, 150 pages, $24.95

Producing milk and other dairy products from a house cow, goat or sheep is the focus of this no-nonsense guide from a Victoria-based dairy expert. From helping you work out what kind of animal suits you and your property, to the practicalities of breeding, feeding and fencing the assorted ungulates, Cliff goes on to describe how to make everything from camembert to the interesting-sounding goat’s milk ice-cream.






Sustainable Food

Michael Mobbs

Choice Books, 2012

Paperback, 248 pages, $45

Mobbs, whose sustainable house in inner Sydney has been leading the way in water, waste and energy use since before most people had even heard of greenhouse gases, has turned his attention to food. The result is this remarkable, thought-provoking book about some big problems and how we can take responsibility for the solutions. “Growing food is the single most valuable thing we can do to sustain our resources,” says Mobbs, who has grave fears for Australia’s food security. He concentrates on why we should grow our own food and how we can do so sustainably, particularly in cities. Much of the focus is on establishing communal verge plantings, with water collected from roofs and the all-important co-operation of authorities. Every street should have a copy.