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The Ecological Farm : A Minimalist No-Till, No-Spray, Selective-Weeding, Grow-Your-Own-Fertilizer System for Organic Agriculture - Helen Atthowe

The Ecological Farm

A Minimalist No-Till, No-Spray, Selective-Weeding, Grow-Your-Own-Fertilizer System for Organic Agriculture

By: Helen Atthowe, Paul Muller (Foreword by)

Paperback | 17 August 2023

At a Glance



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The breakthrough resource for fruit and vegetable growers at every scale who want to go 'beyond organic' and build higher soil quality and fertility using fewer inputs through a unique ecosystem-balancing approach

"Atthowe's book takes ecological farming to the next level. It is packed with useful, field-tested, innovative techniques for farming more gently without sacrificing productivity. . . This is the future of farming. I highly recommend this book."--Ben Hartman, author of The Lean Farm

The Ecological Farm is the go-to guide for ecological growing, with a unique focus on reduced tillage, minimizing farm and garden inputs, and pest control.

Reflecting the wisdom that farmer, consultant, and educator Helen Atthowe and her late husband, Carl Rosato, gained during decades of farming experience, this book guides readers on how to reduce or eliminate the use of outside inputs of fertilizer or pesticides--even those that are commonly used on certified organic orchards and market gardens. In clear language and with color photographs, charts, and graphs throughout, the book emphasizes the importance of managing the details of an entire growing system over the full life of the enterprise.

Based on advances in scientific research in ecological food production, farmers, homesteaders, permaculturists, and gardeners alike will learn methods to:

  • design a farm system that maintains a growing root in the soil year-round to feed the microbial community instead of just crops.
  • strengthen the "immune system" of a farm or garden
  • supply crop needs using only on-farm inputs such as cover crops and living mulch
  • maximize the presence of beneficial insects and microbes that support healthy crop development
  • minimize ecological impact in dealing with insect pest and disease problems

The Ecological Farm also features a crop-by-crop guide to growing more than 25 of the most popular and profitable vegetables and fruits, including specific management advice for dealing with pests and diseases.

The Ecological Farm makes complex, sometimes messy, ecological concepts and practices understandable to all growers, and makes healthy farming--in which nature is invited to participate--possible.

" This book] will guide all of us as we learn to farm in harmony with an ecosystem and to become obedient to the whole rather than being distracted by the urge to tinker with the parts."

--Wes Jackson, cofounder and president emeritus, The Land Institute

About the Author

Helen Atthowe has worked for 35 years to connect farming, food systems, land stewardship, and conservation. She farmed and conducted research at Woodleaf Farm in eastern Oregon until spring 2023, when she moved to western Montana. She is helping the new owners of the Oregon farm learn her ecological management system as she simultaneously begins a new Woodleaf Farm in Montana, where she has already planted a no-till orchard of thirty fruit trees. Helen and her late husband, Carl Rosato, co-owned and operated a certified organic orchard in California where they pioneered methods for raising apples, peaches, and other tree fruits without the use of any type of pesticides. Her on-farm research includes ecological weed and insect management, organic minimum soil disturbance systems for vegetable and orchard crops, and managing living mulches for soil and habitat building. She is a contributing writer to The Organic Gardener's Handbook of Natural Pest and Disease Control and other books. She has served as a board member for the Organic Farming Research Foundation and advisor for the Wild Farm Alliance. Atthowe has a master's degree in horticulture from Rutgers University and has worked in education and research at the University of Arkansas, Rutgers University, and Oregon State University, and served as a horticulture extension agent in Montana, where she annually taught an organic master gardener course.
Industry Reviews

"For forty years, Helen Atthowe has followed a relentless calling to combine her deep understanding of ecological systems with her love of farming. Now, she shares the best of her insights and methods in The Ecological Farm. This classic volume will guide all of us as we learn to farm in harmony with an ecosystem and to become obedient to the whole rather than being distracted by the urge to tinker with the parts."

-Wes Jackson, cofounder and president emeritus, The Land Institute

"Helen Atthowe's book takes ecological farming to the next level. It is packed with useful, field-tested, innovative techniques for farming more gently without sacrificing productivity. Atthowe effectively makes the case that, with a nature-based and minimalist approach, farmers can achieve more by doing-and spending-less. This is the future of farming. I highly recommend this book."

-Ben Hartman, author of The Lean Farm and The Lean Farm Guide to Growing Vegetables

"Helen Atthowe has a rare gift: She knows how to listen to scientists, but she speaks 'farmer.' Her knowledge comes from observation and practice as if decades matter, not just seasons. Helen applies her intuitive ideas to complex whole-systems organic agriculture, with a special focus on growing the fertility of the soil. Most importantly Helen engages in her work with a sense of joy and celebration. She's a born teacher who retains her sense of wonder that there is so much more to learn. Oh, and I think Helen must never sleep. The depth of the material she presents in The Ecological Farm and the citations she offers in support of her work is beyond my own comprehension!"

-Bob Scowcroft, cofounder, Organic Farming Research Foundation; board member, Nell Newman Foundation

"In The Ecological Farm, Helen Atthowe shares the practical knowledge she acquired over many years through experimentation on her own low-input, high-output ecological farm. Her book makes an exceptional and timely contribution to addressing interconnected global crises for which hands-on solutions are badly needed. Helen's work will also be invaluable to smallholder producers who wish to transition to ecologically based, sustainable, and profitable organic production systems, also known as organic Conservation Agriculture."

-Dr. Amir Kassam, visiting professor, School of Agriculture Policy and Development, University of Reading, UK; former senior technical officer, United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization; editor, Advances in Conservation Agriculture, volumes 1-3

"The story of Helen Atthowe's farming journey has stuck with me for many years, and now being able to hold it, savor it, and dive into the many nerdy details is an absolute gift. The combination of decades of experience and loads of data make her book incomparable: It is well researched, well written, and endlessly idea provoking. There are a thousand 'Ah-Ha!' moments, with each section offering a new applicable insight or concept for improving or understanding soil health. The Ecological Farm will teach you how to rebuild soil, minimize tillage, grow your own garden fertility, improve ecology, and much more. Quite frankly, Helen's book belongs on the shelf of every serious grower."

-Jesse Frost, author of The Living Soil Handbook

"Helen Atthowe employs her high skill set and shares the full depth and length of her experience in The Ecological Farm. The ecology she describes is beautiful to look at and a powerful tool for maintaining balance on the farm or in a garden. Helen guides readers through many methods, backed up by decades of results."

-Charles Dowding, author of Charles Dowding's No Dig Gardening

"Helen Atthowe is a rare, knowledgeable grower of both vegetable and fruit crops, one who also knows insects, plant diseases, and soil science. She is one of those people who never stop searching for better, Earth-friendly ways of growing food. In The Ecological Farm, Helen takes us on her journey into deep organics. Read this book, then keep it on your essential reference shelf next to Eliot Coleman, Michael Phillips, JM Fortier, Ruth Stout, and Louis Bromfield. Refer to it often. Use it to launch your own deep ecology journey."

-Brian Caldwell, organic farmer; National Organic Standards Board member; former field manager and researcher, Cornell Organic Cropping Systems Project

"The Ecological Farm beautifully articulates the principles of holistic growing. Drawing on her wealth of practical experience, research, and years of observation, Helen Atthowe has distilled the infinite biological complexity of a farming system into some relatively simple principles. There's plenty of soil and plant science in there for us geeks but also a wealth of technical detail and cultivation tips for soil health and individual crops. This book is essential reading for anyone starting a new growing enterprise, but even the most experienced farmers and gardeners will find something new."

-Ben Raskin, head of horticulture and agroforestry, The Soil Association; author of The Woodchip Handbook and Zero-Waste Gardening

"I think about my farm's fertility program nearly every day, and the tenets that Helen Atthowe lays out in The Ecological Farm are spot on. We can grow our own nitrogen and build the carbon resources of our soil without resorting to energy-intensive and expensive off-farm inputs. Farm ecosystems should be net producers of energy and nutrients, and Helen spells out pragmatic ways that a farm can simultaneously sponsor its own fertility, be productive, and build ecosystem health."

-Steve Ela, owner, Ela Family Farms; former chair, National Organic Standards Board

"For farmers and gardeners wanting to go beyond the basic standards of certified organic farming and the superficial platitudes of 'sustainable methods,' Helen Atthowe's book is a breath of fresh air. Over decades of experimenting with crop systems, she and her late husband Carl Rosato have pioneered new ways of thinking about crops, weeds, pests, and soils that challenge many of our assumptions regarding carbon/nitrogen ratios and the use of compost, animal manures, and imported soil amendments in general.

"I have grown skeptical of academic experts with their analytical, reductionist approach to food and soil issues. Atthowe has an advanced degree and has worked as an extension agent, but despite that, she has an impressively holistic view of things organic. While not strictly no-till, she has devised strategies to greatly minimize disturbance of the soil community and encourage helpful pollinators and predators. She has lots of answers, yet I'm reassured that she frequently comments: 'I'm still working on that.'"

-Will Bonsall, author, Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical Self-Reliant Gardening

"The Ecological Farm offers much for beginning and experienced farmers as well as gardeners. Helen eloquently summarizes her deep ecological farming experience and knowledge as well as insights gained from her partnership with Carl Rosato, providing practical examples of how farmers can work with nature to support diverse ecologies both below and above ground. She explains the evolution of her understanding of the relationships among plants, microbes, the soil, and insects, and how to manage them ecologically in an agricultural system. It's both a great read and excellent reference book!"

-Rex Dufour, senior fellow, National Center for Appropriate Technology

"Drawing on decades of experience as a farmer and researcher, Helen Atthowe has developed an agroecological approach to growing organic food that is science-based, practical, and adaptable to site-specific conditions. Moving beyond input substitution, she offers a roadmap to minimum-input, soil- and Earth-friendly organic production that gardeners, homesteaders, and USDA-certified organic farmers can easily implement and adapt to their locale. This volume belongs on the bookshelf of all who seek to make a living in mutualistic partnership with the land."

-Mark Schonbeck, research associate, Organic Farming Research Foundation

"With the concepts she lays out in The Ecological Farm, Helen Atthowe gifts us with a practical and scalable approach to cultivation that produces nutrient-dense food with an absolute minimum of external inputs. Full of stories and wisdom gathered from 40 years of hands-on growing, this book is a rare synthesis of careful scientific research, long-term observation, and deep intuition developed through decades of listening to the land."

-Alan Booker, executive director, Institute of Integrated Regenerative Design

"In The Ecological Farm, Helen Atthowe shares decades of hard-learned lessons and keen observations. She is an inveterate tinkerer, experimenter, and researcher and has refined her organic production through the years. Atthowe has an immense respect for the role of biodiversity in the soil system. A fungi advocate, she guides the reader to reduce soil disturbance and feed the soil carbon. She writes as both a teacher and learner-as she tells readers, 'I am still learning.' Luckily she has taken a break from learning to share her accumulated knowledge and tips. While 'more is better' is often the strategy in our agriculture, Atthowe provides evidence and inspiration for selective and judicious management strategies to enhance your ecological farm."

-Dr. Douglas Collins, extension specialist and soil scientist, Washington State University

"This inspiring book from Helen Atthowe demystifies some of nature's critical interactions, helping farmers and others work with and support our natural world."

-Jo Ann Baumgartner, executive director, Wild Farm Alliance

"Thoroughly 'user friendly' in organization and presentation, The Ecological Farm is unreservedly recommended as a core addition to personal, professional, community, and agricultural college Organic/Ecological Farming collections."

-Midwest Book Review

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