Our District

Library pick of the month: 2016

By Rosemary McCarthy, Librarian


The good dirt: improving soil health for more successful gardening (2016) by Xanthe White

It could be tempting to just read the chapter about the soil type of a garden of interest. When read as a whole, the book expands our thinking deep below the roots of the plants and beyond the boundaries of the garden so that the passage of water, the long term development of the soil and the erosion processes of the wider environment complete the bigger picture of the garden. At the end of each chapter is an illustrated ingredients list and planting guide for the described soil type to summarize the best practice recommendations. White has drawn inspiration from modern designers and traditional techniques from around the globe to provide a wealth of inspiration and practical advice.

The permaculture transition manual: a comprehensive guide to resilient living (2016) by Ross Mars

Mars has organized the complexity of permaculture design into accessible acronyms, lists, tables and simple illustrations.  The fundamentals of design, soil care and plant choice (Coprosma repens is listed as a fodder plant with high digestibility protein content) comprise half the book. Managing water, energy and both rural and small spaces complete the overview. Mars, based in Western Australia,  draws from his own experience as a permaculture teacher, designer and consultant and also acknowledges related developments in holistic management (based on Allan Savory’s observations of herd animals), cell grazing (where  small areas are grazed  for a short period of time and then rested) , polyface farming (where animals graze in sequence), natural sequence farming (where the flow of water is slowed down to improve infiltration), pasture farming (where grazing is combined with cropping) and regenerative agriculture (which advocates for  the regeneration of community and biosphere). From the easy to use handbook beginners can pick out what is applicable to their situation while understanding the connections within the holistic approach of permaculture.

Extinction: a radical history (2016) by Ashley Dawson.

Dawson reviews the impact of thousands of years of human interaction on the biosphere. The pocket-sized book concludes that today’s extinction crisis is a social justice issue as well as an environmental issue.  Dawson proposes that the root cause of extinction is capitalism that expands ceaselessly in order to survive.  As people are not inherently destructive and capitalism is not permanent, Dawson sees the possibility of the human imagination to choose “a more just, more biologically diverse world.

The salt of the earth (DVD, 2014) directed by Wim Wenders and Juliano Salgado.

Sebastio Salgado starts his life on a farm near Aimores, Brazil. As a young adult economist he soon turns to photography to capture the essence of the human condition around the globe.

After 40 years of viewing many desperate scenes he returns to his homeland to recuperate from the horrors he has witnessed and sets about restoring the impoverished farm to rain forest. In 1998 he and his wife established Instituto Terra, a community non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to the sustainable development of the valley of the River Doce. Instead of recording the heartaches of humanity he begins to photograph the magnificence still residing on the planet.

By 2015 four million seedlings of the many species native to Brazil’s Atlantic forest had been raised in the institute’s nursery, planted nearby and grown into a young forest. With the return of the vegetation to the parched eroding landscape water now flows from the restored natural springs and Brazilian animal species at risk of extinction have again found a safe refuge.

Education was part of the vision of the institute from the start. The institute’s Centre for Environmental Education and Restoration that was formed in 2002 had supported 700 educational projects by 2012. The Centre of Studies in Ecosystem Restoration began in 2004 as a boarding school for professional, theoretical and practical training for agricultural, environmental and forestry specialists.

The Salgado family combine extraordinary energy, artistry and practical solutions in their inspiring insights into understanding our planet.

The hidden half of nature: the microbial roots of life and health (2016) by David R.Montgomery and Anne Bikle

A geologist and a biologist meld their collective insight and personal health and gardening experiences into an engaging, authoritative narrative. Comprehensive footnotes are listed in the back of the book so the reader can enjoy the storytelling that spans the ecology of microbes from the first stages of their evolution, through the human characters who investigated their role in animal, soil and plant health, to the most recent research of their role in human health. There are many lessons learnt in arriving at the view of microbes as crucial allies in the long-term maintenance of life on earth. 


Gardening with less water: low-tech, low-cost techniques, use up to 90% less water in your garden (2015) by David A. Bainbridge.

Bainbridge draws on 30 years of his own experience in developing super-efficient, low-cost irrigation systems in remote arid land. He was influenced by thousands of years of traditional methods used in crop production. Diagrams and photographs show the construction and application of clay pots, clay pipes, wicks, porous hoses, porous capsules and tree shelters in gardens and orchards. Tables indicate how to choose the best method for various growing situations. Other water conservation tips such has vertical mulching, grid gardens, soil pits and swales are options to consider in the garden plan.

In the final chapter Bainbridge encourages gardeners to advocate for efficient water use in their communities and businesses and through political systems to ensure it plays a major role in a more sustainable water future.


Vitamin N: the essential guide to a nature-rich life (2016) by Richard Louv.

With 500 practical creative suggestions Louv has covered a wide variety of activities, from a balloon radish garden for winter days inside, to a camp in the wilderness. Family, school or community groups can choose situations suited to their abilities. The baby starts with the home environment, explores further and further afield with extended family and community, then eventually the grown child is able to experience belonging to the bioregion of the surrounding area.

Louv advocates for time without electronic technology to develop the senses and accelerate learning, also time with technology to record the sights and sounds of nature to develop a hybrid brain that can process intellectual data.

Louv recognises the value of nurturing biodiversity in urban landscapes both for human well-being and the rest of nature. Together people can create a Worldwide Homegrown Park. He draws on the research and insights of many others who are moving forward to nature (rather than back to nature) in this creative compilation of strategies and resources for a nature-rich life. Although the focus is experience in North America the strategies could be applied anywhere on the globe. 

How to grow edibles in containers: good produce from small garden spaces (2015) by Fionna Hill.

Fionna draws from her experience with container gardening on an apartment balcony in Auckland. Her advice is still useful for Kāpiti conditions as she supplies plenty of tips on providing the optimum growing conditions for over 45 crops that are suitable for small spaces. Several less common varieties are included to add extra colours and flavours to cooked and fresh dishes.

There is a chapter each for growing microgreens, gardening with children and recipes. Photographs of colourful salads whet the appetite and spark motivation to follow her lead. 


A naturalist goes fishing: casting in fragile waters from the Gulf of Mexico to New Zealand’s South Island (2015) by James McClintock.

McClintock weaves nine different tales of fish catching techniques with intriguing details of the fish, notable features of their habitats and the repeated threats to diverse aquatic ecosystems around the globe. From tropical rainforests to freezing Antarctica, from shallow sea grass beds to the open ocean, the adverse impacts of overfishing, ocean acidification, sea temperature warming, siltation, ballast water discharges, oil and other pollution, are critically debilitating to fisheries.

In the final chapter, “Fishing for solutions” McClintock discusses examples of conservation remedies. Habitat preservation by the work of the Cahaba River Society; the federal Acid Rain Programme which set limits on major emissions in 1995; artificial marine reefs; sustainable fishery management through quota systems and hand-lining techniques; catch and release methods in sport fisheries and open ocean marine reserves are all helping ecosystems to recover.


the sea inside

The sea inside (2014) by Philip Hoare

Hoare deftly captures attention with a seemingly eclectic mix of personal observations of marine environments and their wildlife as he journeys from Southampton, Isle of Wight, London, Sri Lanka, Azores, Tasmania and New Zealand. He relates his observations and vivid experiences to those of past and present artists, writers and scientists to reveal the complexity of humankind’s relationships with wildlife and the interconnectedness of human cultures. The grim statistics of past exploitation are relieved by the joy of close encounters with whales and birds.


Atmosphere of hope: searching for solutions to the climate crisis (2015) by Tim Flannery

During the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Summit in Paris in November-December 2015 Flannery examined the extent of global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. He analysed the most promising technologies that could be used in strategies to limit global warming.

Several recent trends in innovation, business decisions and political will contribute to Flannery’s optimism. While greenhouse gas emissions in USA dropped the economy still grew and renewables successfully competed with fossil fuels. The cost of wind and solar generation declined and the projected drop in battery costs for electric vehicles was seen as enabling wind and solar taking a larger share of the electricity generation market by providing storage for these intermittent energy sources.

Flannery discusses the risks of current geoengineering climate change mitigation proposals that include fertilizing the oceans and injecting sulphur into the atmosphere but concludes that a number of other approaches he calls “the third way” is safer and more effective. The technologies of “the third way” aim to draw carbon out of the atmosphere and oceans as in large scale algae farming and conditioning soils with biochar. Exposed silicate rock surfaces that capture carbon dioxide from the air as they weather could be included in buildings and landscapes. Cement that actually absorbs and sequesters carbon over long periods could be manufactured.

Flannery’s book certainly delivers hope, certainly not complacency. Governmental and personal responsibility is still urgently needed to eliminate fossil fuel use, embrace renewable electricity generation and pursue "third way" innovation.


 The permaculture city: regenerative design for urban, suburban and town resilience (2015) by Toby Hemenway 631.58 HEM.

When permaculture first emerged in books and workshops the emphasis was on garden design. Hemenway believes permaculture design principles can be applied to a wide variety of disciplines as “Nature has tricks to teach everyone”. As well as looking at the small spaces available to city gardeners he also applies permaculture design to the invisible structures of businesses, currencies, economies, groups, law, justice and decision-making processes. He views the city as a complex adaptive system where the needs of its population must be met on personal, local and regional levels.

The chapters about gardens, water, energy and livelihood contain many practical examples within the overarching goal to instil whole system thinking.

Hemenway’s website provides online permaculture courses and other inspiring information resources.




Ecoman: from a garage in Northland to a pioneering global brand by Malcolm Rands (2013).

Rands began his business with a simple goal: to produce cleaners with “no nasty chemicals”.

“No nasty toxins” now heads the list of ingredients on the ecostore hand wash container. The simplicity of the black and white bottle belies the complexity of the effort that Rands, his family and his team continuously wield to ensure the minimal ecological footprint (e.g. sustainable palm oil, carbon capture packaging) and financial success of the ecostore brand. The simple black and white bottle is also a shrewd marketing ploy to be noticed among the riot of colour on supermarket shelves.

To the initial mission to make cleaners that are gentle on human skin Rands has also added making conscious consumerism fun and sound financial goals that allow a share of the profits to support not-for-profit work.

As an accomplished entrepreneur in all facets of his business Rand’s often humorous story is as much about how to be successful in business as it is about bringing a sustainable vision into fruition.

Appendices in the book give green tips for homes and businesses and facts about toxic chemicals. 

Loving this planet: leading thinkers talk about how to make a better world by Helen Caldicott, 2012.

Caldicott, tireless campaigner over many years for a safe healthy planet, draws on 25 interviews from her weekly radio shows to delve deeply into the global issues of water use, deforestation, sea level changes, political instability, carbon trading, energy resources, information access, war, mining and nuclear contamination. Passionate to find the truth she exposes the many cover-ups of the nuclear industry’s contamination effects and the insincerity of nuclear disarmament agreements. She celebrates the commitment of those who have stood their ground with truthful information and been effective leaders in developing sound policies and initiating practical changes.

This book is available to Kāpiti Coast residents by reserving through Smart Libraries.


Caring economics: conversations on altruism and compassion, between scientists, economists and the Dalai Lama edited by Tania Singer and Matthieu Ricard, 2015.

A group from the fields of psychology, economics, meditation, neuroscience, investment banking, management, ethics and education met with the Dalai Lama in 2010 to explore how an economic system could deliver both material prosperity and human well-being.

Each chapter of the book recounts a conference presentation and the subsequent discussion with the Dalai Lama.

Neuroscientists’ research revealed that individuals possess a great capacity for compassion, co-operation and altruism, debunking the usual premise that financial markets will always be driven by self-interest.

Researchers found that altruism is present in children and it can be learned and nurtured. Its rewards are profound for the individual and the public good.

Presenters gave numerous examples of profitable investment in companies that incorporate good governance and social and environmental responsibilities; in microfinance for people in poverty who wish to develop a business and in education for rural communities.

The final presentation describes the attributes of true leaders who serve others, bring people together around a sense of meaning and empower others to lead.

Together the research results, practical evidence and discussions engender optimism for the potential of a widespread caring economic system.



More sustainability themed resources at the Paraparaumu Library

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