How to Master Organic Gardening (An eBook)

We’re not quite to New Year’s Eve, and already I’m dreaming of my summer garden. If you, too, are digging your fingers into virtual soil and planting a garden in your head, then you might want to read How to Master Organic Gardening, an e-book by Katie Elzer-Peters and Chris Molnar.

Perhaps you’re an experienced gardener who is just now getting into organic methods. You’ll learn a lot from this book. Or maybe you’re a total beginner, essentially clueless about the meaning of such terms as compost, soil compaction, and brown rot. This book is also for you. If you’re already an expert organic gardener, you don’t need this book. But think about the people you know who could use a primer; this book is for them. — Julia Wasson, Publisher

How to Master Organic Gardening

When I downloaded a free review copy of How to Master Organic Gardening, I wondered whether this would be another fluffy e-book written by someone who had no particular skill in writing or in gardening. It didn’t take long to see that this author team not only knows what they’re talking about, they provide thorough information and a variety of important resources. They also write clearly and explain everything thoroughly without talking down to the reader.

The authors’ bios quickly show that these two know their stuff:

Katie Elzer-Peters is a professional horticulturalist and member of the Garden Writers Association of America. She has extensive experience operating public gardens, including serving as Curator of Landscape with the King’s Garden at Fort Ticonderoga and Assistant Director of Airlie Gardens in Wilmington, North Carolina. She has a bachelor’s degree from Purdue and a Master’s from the University of Delaware Longwood Graduate Program, both in Public Horticulture.

Chris Molnar is a web designer and writer, and is editor of Go Organic Gardening, a website devoted to organic gardening methods, composting, and alternatives to pesticides. Chris has practiced organic gardening for ten years, and volunteers for a variety of local urban park initiatives. Feel free to email him at

Elzer-Peters’ expertise is important in creating a useful compendium of information about organic gardening. Molnar’s 10-year foray into organic gardening is also a plus. He writes on his website that he was confused when he first started to garden organically. And that period of confusion and his eventually clarity have served him well. Between them, Elzer-Peters and Molnar know just what the rest of us need to learn — and in what order.

Organic Gardening Defined

Organic gardening yields nutritious foods without chemical residues. Photo: © MP -

So, what do the authors mean when they write about “organic gardening”? I’m a relatively experienced gardener (albeit many years ago), and though I gardened almost entirely without pesticides, I never thought of myself as an organic gardener. I knew that organic gardening is a method of raising plants without artificial chemicals, such as toxic pesticides and herbicides. But I didn’t know there was so much more to learn until I read this e-book.

Organic gardening can probably best be characterized by the use of fungus, bacteria, wood chippings, natural compost, chemical-free mulch, manures, and protein feeds. Organic gardening also places emphasis on acquiring inputs locally—that is, either in the contiguous property area or within the town or region (depending how on strictly the gardener in question adheres to the concept).

That might sound like the book would be a bit heavy and daunting for the beginner. But that’s far from the truth. I love the authors’ gentle, guiding approach to the subject: “Instead of getting hung up on minutiae, we recommend following as many practices in this book as possible, and you will achieve the spirit of organic gardening — growing plants in harmony with the environment around you.” Works for me.

A Refresher Course in Botany

As I began to read through the text, I thought I’d just skim over “All about Plants” (Chapter Two). After all, I had raised a large kitchen garden and canned the produce for most of 20 years. But as I looked through the chapter, I found I was learning a few things I didn’t know — or had perhaps forgotten.

If you’ve already got a thorough understanding of plant structures, you may only need to skim this chapter. But if your botany knowledge has holes in it, reading thoroughly will quickly plug them. The diagrams included are helpful and clearly labeled, and the level of detail provided gives a solid understanding of the subject matter.

The authors remind us, “Organic gardening is not about feeding the plants. It is about feeding the soil.” And why does feeding the soil matter? “When you care for your soil, you have fewer pest and disease problems, healthier plants, higher yields on vegetable crops and food plants, and your gardening work becomes gradually easier throughout the years,” they write.

Making It Easy

Organic gardening is easy, if you follow the authors' step-by-step advice. Photo: © Monkey Business -

One thing that stands out for me is the realistic, “You don’t have to know everything” approach. For example, in “Start with the Soil” (Chapter Three), the authors say, “It is not necessarily important to know exactly what your soil type is. It is more helpful to be able to identify whether your soil has a high concentration of one of the three types of particle sizes. Here is what to look for:…” And they proceed to describe the types of soil (sandy, silty, clay, and variations in between) in terms a layperson can easily identify and understand.

Though you don’t have to know everything, they provide plenty of background information in case you want to know more than you do. For example, there’s a complex grid that explains the various soil compositions. I can’t see myself caring about it, but I know people who would be thrilled to have that information at their fingertips.

Helpful Tips

The book is filled with bits of wisdom that I didn’t know. For example, we had volunteer pumpkins last summer, which were attacked by a fungus late in the season. Because we had already harvested the pumpkins, I didn’t worry about the leaves. Perhaps I should have.

The authors write, “No matter how severe, if your garden is attacked by a detrimental fungus or bacterial disease, it is important that you begin the clean-up process immediately. Prune and remove branches, flowers, and leaves that are covered in fungus. Do not compost any diseased plant material. Clean your tools with a disinfectant and wash your clothes to avoid spreading disease around your yard.”

Well, I flunked that one. I let the vines die and left them alone because frost was almost upon us. Looks like I should have cut them back and removed the diseased foliage.

Composting is a relatively easy way to add nutrients to your garden soil. Photo: © MichMac -

I also have to admit that I am not as diligent about weeds as I should be. But, in Chapter Nine, I found lots of great, natural tips for getting rid of weeds. These were techniques I’d never heard of, let alone tried. Now I have no excuse; my sidewalks and garden will be tidier next summer.

Composting is explained in detail, from what (and what not) to put in it to a description of various types of composting units. There’s also a useful chart for diagnosing and remedying problems such as a smelly compost pile, a matted layer of material, or a pile that isn’t working quickly enough.

E-Book Quality

With only one exception, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of this e-book. Throughout the book, the photos and illustrations make an excellent complement to the text. I was particularly impressed by the photographs, which are crisp, vivid, and in full color. As a result, the reader has no doubt what a particular fungus or blight looks like. In fact, I quickly recognized several problems we had in our garden last summer.

The line art that accompanies other parts of the text is clear and well labeled. Because illustration is time-consuming to produce and expensive to hire, some do-it-yourself publishers use clip art instead of top-quality, content-specific graphics. That’s not the case here, as the graphics are quite professional and perfectly suited to the subject matter.

The layout is clean and easy on the eye. The only thing I was not entirely pleased with was the double spacing used throughout the text. I read the book on my Mac laptop, which has a screen that’s only about 8 inches from top to bottom (straight up and down, not diagonally). Even viewing at 100% (and I usually enlarge beyond that), I can’t see a full page at a time. I found myself continually having to scroll down the page to keep up with my reading speed. If the graphic designer had used single spacing with more leading (the distance between one line and the next) between paragraphs, it would have been a more comfortable read, with less need to scroll down the page. But maybe that’s just me.

It’s a slim volume, and the double spacing makes it appear (to me) that the authors were trying to make the book seem longer than the content merits. They needn’t have worried. The book — whether 101 pages or 50 — is an excellent source of information for beginning and slightly seasoned gardeners. I just wish it was a hard-bound book that I could carry with me to my garden. Maybe that will come in time, as this is solid content, worthy of a traditional publisher’s notice.

Go Organic Gardening Website

After getting introduced to this book, I went to Molnar’s website, Go Organic Gardening. Let me interject that his website in itself is a helpful resource. He, Elzer-Peters, and at least one other writer contribute book reviews and gardening tips geared specifically to organic gardening.

Some of this book’s content seems to have been re-purposed into articles (or the other way around, perhaps). Yet, the fact that all the material is provided in a logical, sequential manner in a single place is a selling point for me. At only $9.97 (a “Christmas special” price, discounted from $29.97 — and who knows how long it will last), this is a great value — and a recommended read.

The Small Print

DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free copy of the How to Master Organic Gardening from the author.

Blue Planet Green Living’s policy is to only review those books we feel merit an overall positive review. If we do not like a book more than we dislike it, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any free copies and provide our honest opinions, both positive and negative.

Julia Wasson

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