Biological Agriculture Bibliography: Recommendations from Eliot Coleman

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Eliot Coleman's Maine farm produces abundantly, with no need for chemical fertilizers or sprays.
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An understanding of soil science leads to healthier plants, and larger harvests.
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It isn't necessary to use chemicals on your garden for successful farming.
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Biological agriculture leads to a healthier environment, free from toxic chemicals.

Eliot Coleman, his wife Sue, and their two daughters live
next door to Helen and Scott Nearing “way up in the state
of Maine”. Up where the short growing season and the poor
soil make it impossible to raise a good garden . . . let
alone pay for a homestead almost entirely with the produce
you grow. Right? Wrong! Because Eliot and Sue are not only
raising a showplace garden and buying their homestead with
the produce they sell . . . but they’re doing it all
without the chemicals and the gasoline-gulping
equipment which all of the agribiz magazines and newspapers
swear up and down that a farmer “needs” today.

The photos testify to the Coleman’s success. And the
bibliography of biological agriculture that Eliot has
assembled (and which is printed on the following pages) should give you a long leg up on the preparations
you must make to (we hope) eventually enjoy the same kind
of success for yourself. This just may be one of the most
important articles we’ve ever run!

The best place, always, to begin . . . is at the beginning.
And intelligent folks usually plunge into a field that’s
new to them by surveying the work of those who have gone

And now–for the first time ever, to our
knowledge–Eliot Coleman has made it
easy for you to survey most of the milestone work so far
accomplished in the field of biological agriculture.
Without fighting your way through a deck stacked in favor
of any particular sub-school of thought. Without listening
to your guide rave and rant against “the establishment”.
Without all the rather irrational emotion usually exhibited
by biological agriculture’s “true believers”.

Oh, Eliot’s a true believer all right. In results
. And it happens that he’s been realizing some
interesting-even spectacular–results with his
experiments in biological agriculture. If we’re lucky, he
might even share some of that work and those results with
us in forthcoming issues of THE MOTHER EARTH NEWS ® .
For now, however, we’re pleased to reprint the following
list of books and papers that Eliot has found to be a
useful introduction to the field of wholistic gardening and

Annotated Bibliography of Biological Agriculture

Eliot Coleman
A Publication of The
Small Farm Research
Harborside, Maine 04642

This is a pamphlet for the doubters . . . which, I hope,
includes everyone. There are too many unanswered questions
for anyone to be a true believer in biological

For the official doubters, such as the agricultural
spokesmen who state that it is impossible to farm
successfully without chemicals and poisons, this
bibliography contains books by farmers who claim to have
done the impossible. For the unofficial doubters, like
those who just think that it is all too complicated, this
bibliography contains books by gardeners who make it all
sound easy. And for everyone else it contains books which
should establish that biological agriculture is more than
just “we don’t use this” or “we don’t use that” statements
by which it is so often misrepresented.

It would not be fair to dismiss these books offhand for
their faults. Many were written over thirty years ago and
some are not too rigorously scientific. Books that are
otherwise reasonable but weak in factual presentation have
not been excluded. Nonetheless, the conscientious reader
should use all of these guides to gain a better
understanding of biological agriculture and the many ways
of practicing it.

It would be equally unfair to condemn the titles in this
bibliography as the work of unqualified amateurs. The
attainment of a Ph.D. is no guarantee of brains and
logically the lack of same does not establish incompetence.
On occasion certain observations of these amateurs are
incorrect. That is not surprising. But is should not
invalidate their many sustainable observations nor should
the value of practical observation itself be disregarded
because the requirements of modern statistical analysis are
not fulfilled. The truly unscientific man is the one who
denounces knowledge gained by observation and experience
simply because it does not agree with the established
dogma. The province of science is investigation, not

Much of the controversy between the chemical and the
biological methods of agriculture has centered around
attempts to prove one system superior to the other. Such
comparisons are non-productive. It is a little like
discussing whether dairy farming is better or worse than
raising blueberries. Both are equally viable systems and
both produce food by treating the soil in a particular way.
The chemical and biological systems of farming are also
equally viable but the difference is that the former has
been thoroughly researched and the latter has not. It would
be a great step forward if research could be conducted in
recognition of the potential of biological agriculture and
with the intention of improving techniques, refining
approaches, and developing scientific parameters for
further study.

This is a good place to clear up a major misunderstanding
about biological agriculture. The scientists contend that
the elements are identical whether applied in the form of
chemical fertilizer or in the form of compost. “Nitrogen is
nitrogen”, as they say. All well and good, biological
agriculture does not dispute the table of elements. But
that is beside the point. The principal object of
biological agriculture is not to supply “available plant
foods” whether through compost or any other way but rather
to create the optimal conditions of a balanced soil under
which natural processes can maintain a healthy soil-plant

This bibliography is not exhaustive. Many readers will wish
to add to it.. Every effort, however, has been made to
compile a reasonably complete list of those books which
merit attention. Most of these are out of print, especially
the older ones published in England. Notation is made in
this bibliography of those titles that have been recently
reprinted and which should be available. The rest may be
found in libraries.

There has been no attempt at mono-think. As might be
expected the authors do not always agree with each other.
Some are only involved on the periphery of biological
agriculture. Those authors are starred who present the most
reputable evidence for their case.

And finally, a suggestion for those who intend to pursue
the subject of biological agriculture through these books.
It is most important to read critically, check references,
compare, and see what the other side has to say in order
not to become, tike so many proselytizers of a new idea, “a
man of vast and varied misinformation”.


Soil Fertility and Animal Health Fred

An outstanding survey of the subject by the most respected
American exponent of intelligent farming. Albrecht begins
with an old quote, “All flesh is grass”, and proceeds to
demonstrate the importance of the quality of that grass to
animal health. Recommended.


L’ Agriculture Biologique LeCourrier du Livre

An able presentation of the case by a leading European
expert. In French. Recommended.


The Labouring Earth Heath Cranton 1940

A survey of agriculture from the bio-dynamic point of view.

We are not out to convince anyone of the truth of the
discoveries we have made of the way the soil transforms
itself in three years using our methods, for we are
confident ourselves that time will do that for us. We put
forward this method as an alternative to the orthodox
gardening techniques, which today involve growers in heavy
labor costs and outlay on stable and artificial manures,
things which bite so deeply into profits of intensive
cultivation of vegetables and plants. When we describe how
something should be done, we have done it that way and made
a profit out of it.

Dalziel O’Brien, Intensive


The Living SoilFaber

The important early work by a founder of the Soil
Association. Lady Eve documents the evidence for biological
agriculture. A fine book that should be in everyone’s
library. Recommended. Reprinted 1975.


Compost for Garden Plot or Thousand Acre Farm Faber

An early work giving thorough treatment to all aspects of
composting. Five specific methods are described in detail.
There is also a more recent edition revised and co-authored
by Ben Easey.


Concentrated Incomplete Fertilizers Crosby Lockwood

A discussion of the faults and consequent abuses of
chemical fertilizers.


Pleasant ValleyHarper

This is the first of Bromfield’s farming books. In it, he
relates how he returned to Ohio and became a farmer, and
discusses the details of the early farm plans, soil
conservation, and the Friends of the Land.

Malabar Farm Harper 1947

Continues the story begun by Pleasant Valley and
covers the year-round rhythm of activities at Malabar. Also
focuses on Bromfield’s other interests with chapters on
Grass the Great Healer, Malthus Was Right, and The
Organic-Chemical Fertilizer Feud.

Out of the EarthHarper

Stresses the need for knowledge of the many intricate,
interrelated sciences involved in agriculture as a
complement to the knowledge of the farm itself. Bromfield
condemns the idea that “anybody can farm”. Practical
intelligence and dedication are necessary for success.

From My Experience Harper 1955

The last of the farm books and the best of the lot.
Outstanding accounts of a roadside market, farming in
Brazil, building topsoils, living with the weather, and a
chapter titled “A Hymn to Hawgs” make enjoyable and
informative reading. Recommended.


From Vegetable Waste to Fertile Soil Arthur Pearson

Common-Sense Compost Making Faber 1967

Both books describe composting with the aid of herbal
extracts. The extracts supposedly activate the heap and
produce a superior finished product. The standard work.
Recently reprinted.

It would save much confusion if we all adopted the name
farming” rather than “organic farming” : We should then
keep the emphasis where it belongs, on the fostering of
life and on biological balance, and not on just one of the
techniques for achieving this, which, if narrowly
interpreted, may be effective only in a certain set of

Lady Eve Balfour, The Journal of the Soil
January 1954


Weeds, Guardians of the Soil Davin-Adair

Cocannouer is an enthusiastic advocate of the virtues of

Water and the Cycle of Life Devin-Adair

A searing indictment of the mistaken farming practices that
led to the dust bowl and their effect on the ecology of

Farming With Nature

A general work with some good information. Recently
reprinted under the title Organic Gardening and


Organic Farming Faber 1957

“But the reason for farming well is that it is right”.
Corley fills this book with useful interpretations of what
“farming well” is all about. Recommended. Reprinted in


Darwin on Humus and the Earthworm

A republication of Darwin’s fascinating work on the
influence of earthworms in the soil, with an introduction
by Sir Albert Howard.


Approach to Farming Faber 1941

This book states that the “health” of the soil, of the
livestock, and of the produce is the paramount
consideration on any farm.


Practical Organic Gardening Faber 1955

An outstanding work, almost a textbook. Very thorough and
documented. Contains a lot of material found nowhere else.

I remember the time when the stable would yield,
Whatsoever was needed to fatten afield,
But chemistry now into tillage we lugs
And we drenches the earth with a parcel of drugs.
All we poisons, I hope, is the slugs. Punch 1846, as quoted
Journal of the Soil Association,
April 1956


The Clifton Park System of Farming Faber

In its introduction, Sir George Stapledon calls this book
an “agricultural classic”. First published in 1898 under
the title Agricultural Changes, it was later the
work that inspired Sykes and Turner. Elliot writes of
grass, pasture, and especially of his extensive seed
mixtures, “calculated to fill the land with vegetable
matter”. Recommended.


Plowman’sFolly U. of Okla. Press

Louis Bromfield wrote that everyone including Hollywood
actresses asked him about this book. It ultimately sold
millions of copies. An effective condemnation of the
moldboard plow.

A Second Look U. of Okla. Press

In this book Faulkner attempts to restate his case more
clearly in view of the controversy stirred up by
Plowman’s Folly.

Soil Restoration U. of Okla. Press

Faulkner applied his techniques to bring a worn-out farm
back into production as a market garden. This is the story
of that experiment.


Soil and Sense Faber 1941

An unpretentious but informative book about grasses,
pastures, livestock, and their relationships to one

A “response” to fertilizers is not necessarily evidence
that the soil is deficient in nitrogen, phosphate, or
potash; there may in fact be ample reserves. What it does
suggest is that the soil is sub fertile and will yield a
full crop only when the natural processes of
plant-nutrition are short-circuited by a dose of soluble
chemical salts. Such dosing, there is some reason to think,
progressively reduces the biological efficiency of the
plant soil relationship, not so much by direct toxic action
as by creating a condition of imbalance in the soil
population and (possibly) in the physiology of the plant

Jorian Jenks in The Journal of the Soil Association,
October 1953


Gardening Without Digging 1948

A theory of gardening which advocates applying compost on
the surface of the land and never digging it in.


Agriculture: A New Approach Faber

A fairly reasoned and well-documented study of biological
agriculture by a successful market grower. Contains a lot
of new and stimulating material. Recommended.


The Farming Ladder Faber 1944

Farmer’s Progress Faber 1950

The Farming Manual Faber 1960

If you only read one author on farming, read Henderson. The
first two books cover his entry into farming with his
brother and their experience over the years. The third is a
detailed guide to farm work. Henderson infuses all these
books with his own love of farming and an invaluable sense
of craftsmanship and pride in a job done well. Recommended.


Down to Earth Fruit and Vegetable Growing Faber

With typical thoroughness Lawrence Hills, Director of the
Henry Doubleday Research Association, covers every aspect
of the garden with straightforward, practical, and detailed
instructions. Recommended.

Russian Comfrey Faber 1953

Comfrey is a perennial crop used for feed, mulching, and
compost. This book details many useful ways of employing
comfrey in the farm economy.


An Agricultural Testament Oxford1940

The most important seminal work of biological agriculture,
it inspired countless readers to try his ideas. The book
presents ways and means by which the fertility of the soil
can be restored, maintained, and improved by natural
methods. Recommended.

The Soil and Health Devin-Adair 1947

A continuation of the ideas of the Agricultural
presented in a more popular form. “I have
not hesitated to question the soundness of present-day
agricultural teaching and research . . . due to failure to
realize that the problems of the farm and garden are
biological rather than chemical.” Recommended. Reprinted


The Earth’s Green Carpet Faber 1947

A popular recounting of the ideas of Sir Albert Howard
through the eyes of his wife. Well done.

Sir Albert Howard in India Faber 1953

Traces the development of Howard’s thought during his years
as a researcher in India. A valuable record of his
scientific work.


Gardening Without Poisons Houghton-Mifflin

Undoubtedly the best documented and most thoroughly
researched work on the subject. Well organized with an
excellent index and bibliography. Recommended.


The Stuff Man’s Made Of Faber 1959

The origin, the philosophy, and the scientific evidence
behind biological agriculture. Jenks, for many years editor
of the Journal ofthe Soil Association,
has an encyclopedic grasp of the subject.


The Compost Gardener Faber 1943

This small book lays down the general principles of
cultivation for all the popular vegetables. Contains some
unique information.

Gardening With Compost Titus Wilson

Compost preparation and use, comments on chemical
fertilizers, and sections on weeds and earthworms.

The Weed Problem Faber 1951

King is doubly unorthodox. He defends the control rather
than elimination of weeds and he condemns turning over the

As always in my experience, the destructive activity of
insects came only when plants were in an abnormally weak

Formerly I believed that solely by virtue of the best
possible soil conditions one could banish both insects and
diseases. l have /earned better. Most diseases do seem to
disappear completely as the soil improves, but insects are
not so easily disposed of.

Edward Faulkner, Soil Restoration


Farmers of Forty Centuries Jonathan Cape

A granddaddy of them all, this classic was first published
in 1911. King’s trip through China, Korea, and Japan showed
him how soil fertility had been preserved by returning all
organic wastes to the land. Hundreds of photos and
fascinating information. Recommended. Recently reprinted.


Soil Organic Matter Pergamon 1961

A technical work well worth reading for a better
understanding of the processes involved in biological


Natural Gardening Faber 1958

A book of unconventional gardening techniques. Maunsell is
the most thorough of the no-diggers and his use of the
spading fork for “disturbing” the soil is worth noting.


Look to the Land Dent 1940

One of the early inspirational works. “Mixed farming is
economical farming, for only by its practice can the earth
be made to yield a genuine increase.”


Intensive Gardening Faber 1956

This book of original ideas describes a meticulously
efficient market garden. From the layout, to the
philosophy, the composting and fertilizing
procedures–even to a motion study of
transplanting–everything is covered. Veganic (without
animal manure) compost is used.

One hears a lot about the rules of good husbandry; there is
only one–leave the land Jar better than you found it.

George Henderson, The Farming Ladder


The Generous Earth Hodder & Stoughton

A classic. Tells the story of the timeless farm life in the
Dordogne Valley of France, “the land of all good things”.
It shows how the operation of sound farming practices will
sustain fertility indefinitely.

Sons of the Generous Earth Hodder & Stoughton

More on Oyler’s experience in France. A valuable story from
a man who values hard work, rural skills, wholesome food
and drink, and a simpler way of life.


Bio-Dynamic Farming and Gardening Anthroposophic
Press 1938

Presents the case for non-chemical farming in general, and
bio-dynamic farming in particular.

The Earth’s Face and Human Destiny Rodale

A discussion of landscape characteristics and their value
to the natural system.


Nutrition and the Soil Devin-Adair 1949

Mostly on nutrition but partly about the soil. One of the
earliest works on the subject and therefore of some
historical interest.


Problems in Tree Nutrition Faber

A report of the work done by Dr. Rayner at Wareham Heath.
The use of composts in forestry to encourage the growth of
seedlings in a sterile soil by stimulating the development
of mycorrhizal associations.


Stone Mulching in the Garden Rodale 1949

An almost forgotten work and one of Rodale’s best. Mulching
with stones, an old and effective practice, is clearly
explained in photos and text.

Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening

How to Grow Vegetables and Fruits by the Organic

Both the above are large (1,000-page) books covering all
phases of the art.

It is the same with almost everything; we studied,
compared, and observed before attempting it. Somewhere
there is always someone who is doing a job a little better
and there are many who are doing it a great deal worse;
from either a lot can be learned.

George Henderson, The Farming Ladder


The Mulching of Vegetables Commonwealth
Agricultural Bureau 1957

A valuable compilation of all the research on mulching up
to the date of publication. Recommended.


The World of the Soil Collins 1957

A thorough study of the soil by a director of the
Rothamsted Experimental Station in England. Reliable
background information for anyone.


Compost Faber 1952

An outstanding book on the hows and whys of producing and
using first-class compost.


The Complete Vegetable Grower Faber

The Complete Fruit Grower Faber

Encyclopedic coverage of both subjects in a readable
format. Excellent. Recommended.


Organic Surface Cultivation 1961

Another of the no-digging books. Deals with composts,
garden planning, plus an assortment of hints and ideas.


Journal of the Soil Association 1947-1972

A quarterly journal of invaluable reference information.


Seaweed in Agriculture and Horticulture Faber

Documents the use of seaweed–especially in liquefied
form–in farming, by examples of research from various
parts of the world. Those interested in the subject will
find some additional information in Seaweed
by Lily Newton (Sampson-Low, 1951) and
Seaweeds and Their Uses by V.J. Chapman (Methuen,


Humus and the Farmer Faber 1946

The transformation of unpromising land into one of the
showplace farms of England by methods described as humus
farming. Covers renovating old pastures, making new ones,
subsoiling, harvesting, and related topics. Recommended.

Food, Farming and the Future Faber

The further development of humus farming plus many
peripheral subjects.

Modern Humus Farming Faber 1959

Discusses the danger to the soil caused by worship of
“technical efficiency” and “getting more for less”. Sykes
puts forth his case that humus farming is as effective and
productive as any other system.
By 1919 I had learnt how to grow health, crops. Practical!,
free from diseases, without the slightest help from
mycologist entomologists, bacteriologists, agricultural
chemists, statisticians, clearing-houses of information,
artificial manures, spraying machines, insecticides,
fungicides, germicides, and all the other expensive
paraphernalia of the modern experiment station.

This preliminary exploration of the ground suggested that
the birthright of even, crop is health.

Sir Albert Howard, The Soil and Health


Fertility Farming Faber 1951

Turner is a practical farmer who learned conventional
agriculture in college but when he applied the teachings
the results were disastrous. He then “unlearned” all his
formal training and formulated his own system. Fascinating
reading. Recommended.

Herdsmanship Faber 1952

Dedicated “to the Jersey Cow which combines beauty with
efficiency”. Comprehensive treatment of dairy cow selection
and management from Turner’s point of view. Excellent
descriptions of all major dairy breeds plus sections on
herbal veterinary practices. Recommended.

Fertility Pastures Faber 1955

The value of the herbal ley (temporary pasture) is the
central theme of this book. The detailed information on the
character and properties of herbs and grasses for grazing
is extremely interesting. Turner determined the composition
of his pasture seed mixtures by “consulting the cow”.
Recommended. Reprinted 1974.


Grass Productivity Crosby Lockwood

Soil, Grass and Cancer Crosby Lockwood

Better Grassland Sward 1960

Rational Grazing Crosby Lockwood

Fertilizer Application–Soil, Plant, Animal
Crosby Lockwood 1965

Voisin, a leading French authority of grassland management
was deeply concerned with the biological quality of


Soil Microbiology John Wiley 1952

A valuable book. Waksman details the needs of soil
micro-organisms and their importance in the soil. His
information is consistent with the best practices of
biological agriculture.


Crop Production and Environment Faber

A book of plant ecology. It treats the effects on the plant
of what Whyte considers to be the primary factors of aerial
environment: temperature, light, and darkness:


Make Friends With Your Land Devin-Adair ‘

Wickenden was a professional chemist who became interested
in biological agriculture. In this book he attempts to cut
through some of the myths and to investigate the claims
from a scientific perspective. An interesting book for the
skeptical beginner.

Gardening With Nature Devin-Adair

One of the best for beginner and experienced gardener
alike. A practical, comprehensive and intelligent treatment
of all aspects of gardening.


Reconstruction By Way of the Soil Faber

A historical survey of soil mistreatment and its influence
on civilization from earliest times. Wrench views farming
as a creative art.


Fruit Trees and the Soil Faber

Soil management in the orchard as the key to better quality

NOTE: Publisher and date are give, where known, of the
earliest edition of each book listed in this bibliography.


Greenwood Farm Harborside, Maine 04642

The Small Farm Research Association is a privately funded,
non-profit, research organization centered at Greenwood

The Small Farm Research Association was begun in 1972 to
pursue basic research in agricultural techniques for the
small farmer.

Some of our aims are:

[1] to conceive, try out, and perfect techniques that will
enable the small farmer and home gardener to consistently
raise and preserve high-quality crops without reliance on
toxic chemicals.

[2] to determine if the vigorous, robust, and healthy plant
is truly more resistant to insects and disease and, if so,
to what extent different methods of fertilization, crop
rotation, cultural practices, and soil amendments can
contribute to the vigor and resistance of the plant.

[3] to concentrate on using locally available fertilizing

[4] to consult, share information, and learn from the many
other worldwide organizations doing research in biological

[5] to farm for the future by developing a viable
agricultural system that will be sustainable over the long

The Small Farm Research Association endeavors to be
positive and productive in its approach. Our aim is to
improve knowledge, not waste effort in controversy. We
pursue no pie-in-the-sky schemes. We produce knowledge and
hard fact for every penny spent.