The Living Soil Handbook: A Book for No-Till Growers

"The Living Soil Handbook" by Jesse Frost provides a detailed introduction to no-till vegetable farming, from the benefits to your land to the science at work.

by Robin Hackett
PHOTO: Jonathan Kemper/Unsplash

Title: The Living Soil Handbook: The No-Till Grower’s Guide to Ecological Market-Gardening

Author: Jesse Frost

Cover Price: $29.95

Publication Date:  July 13, 2021

Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green

If you’re into no-till market gardening, you’re most likely familiar with Jesse Frost (better known as Farmer Jesse). And you should be. Among other things, Jesse is a farmer, writer (sometimes for Hobby Farms) and host of the “No-Till Market Garden Podcast.” 

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He’s now also the author of The Living Soil Handbook, his forthcoming, highly-anticipated book on no-till farming. And, after reading it, I can say that all of the anticipation was justified.  Perhaps even inadequate. 

The book promises to be indispensable for new and experienced no-till growers, or even those who are just no-till curious.

Read more: Can no-till and organic co-exist? Yes! Click to learn more.

Why No Till?

So, why read a book about no-till farming at all? Jesse has some answers. 

As he explains, no-till farming is fundamentally about improving your farm’s ecological health, starting with the soil itself. The more we understand soil science (which we’re really only beginning to), the more it becomes clear that traumatic soil disturbance disrupts the biology at work underground.

This, in turn, impacts the health of your crops and your farm.   

A Collaborative Project

Part of what makes no-till market gardening so exciting today is its collaborative spirit.  Although indigenous people practiced many of the tenets of no-till farming for thousands of years, modern agriculture has largely overlooked these principles. 

Today, no-till market gardeners are in constant process of trial and error to create new growing methods for their farms.

The Living Soil Handbook fully embodies this collaborative feeling.  Throughout the book Jesse draws on the experiences of other no-till farmers, many of whom he’s interviewed on his podcast. 

Beyond that, he’s also not shy about detailing his own failures (and successes) trialing various no-till strategies. All of this adds up to create a book that introduces you to no-till market gardening as it really is: fluid, experimental and collaborative.

Read more: Here’s how you can switch to a no-till garden today.

A Scientific Grounding

Another thing that makes The Living Soil Handbook unique is the amount of science it draws on. But not the dry kind of science that makes you want to skip the rest of the chapter. 

Rather, Jesse is adept at mentioning the scientific literature without being heavy-handed. This kind of scientific grounding feels fitting for a book on no-till growing. 

The case for no-till principles is, after all, a scientific one: that minimal soil disturbance is better for soil health than more disruptive practices.

Altogether, the scientific background that Jesse provides throughout the book feels like its building to an important (but subtle) point: Knowing and caring about the why and how of farming is actually extremely important. 

And it is, in fact, part of what separates the good growers from the mediocre ones.

Detailed Roadmap 

There are many things to like about the book. The illustrations by Hannah Crabtree (Jesse’s wife) are, for instance, near the top of the list. 

But, perhaps the book’s largest offering is the amount of detail it provides on specific no-till practices. Reading this book will, in short, provide you with an incredibly detailed map to no-till growing.  

As Jesse acknowledges, though, not everything that he’s worked out in the book will apply directly to your farm. In fact, it probably won’t. 

Soil types vary, as do climatic conditions, market-demand and just about everything else on a farm.  But what the Living Soil Handbook will do is provide you with a place to begin and a well-informed understanding of where you might go from there.

Buy the book. Your farm (or garden) will thank you.


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