In this book, Robert Kourik compiles all of the current information about plant roots and delivers it in a discernible way. He covers the roots from all sorts of plants like lawns, shrubs, vegetables, fruittrees, and native and ornamental trees. Not only does he provide gardeners with a wealth of easy to understand information, but the illustrations in this book provide a beautiful, detailed anatomy of these roots that aid in the understanding of their uses and benefits.
Roots Demystified is an interesting and unusual book. I don't think I've ever seen a title about roots before. A lot of it is information-dense, useful and somewhat technical information about what is going on between the roots and the soil. It is not so technical that the average college graduate or self-taught gardener couldn't understand it, so it is accessible. It does cover many types of plants, from fruit trees and ornamental trees to shrubs and vegetables. There are even sections about vegetables that could fit in any regular gardening book. There is also a lot of useful information about buying and planting trees, based on research and on the author's own experience. It even covers the interaction of mycorrhizal fungi with the roots of plants. At 162 pages, it is not a particularly long book, but it is packed with information and useful charts and pictures. I found it highly useful and interesting and I would give it an 8/10 acorns.
Robert Kourik has been a mind-opening resource. I must admit I waited a while before buying his books, not sure about there value, there weren't many reviews around, and not many speak of them here on permies.com. Yes I do value the discussions in the book forum when deciding to buy books! Of course when it's older books it's easier, with the new ones you have to search the web or know the author.
Ok lets get back to the book. I have always been very curious about roots and have always found it strange that we may have big discussions on food forests, discussing every smallest aspect but hardly anything is written about roots. I think we lack the right attention to root systems and their role in plant growth, soil fertility, and eocsytem stability.
I started looking around and found little on roots, a lot of tecnichal stuff or researchs compiled in volumes of 800 pages, I needed something that gave me the key to understand, help me start thinking or show me the path for intuitions, and all in a permaculture perspective. When searching for specific resources on things like roots or nitrogen-fixation, etc., we usually encounter articles or works that are focused on aspects that are very technical and we may not be interested in, even industrial agriculture based research (that we should anyway read, knowing your enemy is always a good thing, and they finance some serious research for other reasons than ours of course but they have money and use it, so read even the enemies works!).
Luckily I came across Robert's book. He has filled a gap I think we should all be aware of.
The book is well organised. It starts with a more technical chapter on how roots grow. Probably if the reader feels confident about his knowledge on the biology of roots and root hairs he can skip it, but I suggest you read it. Robert's way of writing is so intriguing and full of facts, or personal experiences, you'll have fun even reading a chapter that may seem to technical.
The we start getting down to where roots live and thrive, so we are taken in a journey with the roots friends: humus and mulch. We start to see how much the world under is "The World" and we live on the boring side. The book is well organised and from the second chapter we start finding practical tips for gardeners, loved these sections!
Kourik then passes to specific roots systems: lawns (most if US suburbia is made of lawns), shrubs, vegetables, fruit trees and ornamental or native trees.
In these chapters we find a mass of information, they are fact-filled. The most intseresting aspect I liked of the book is the fact Kourik shares very clearly the result of his researchs and introduces the reader to some exceptional data, that just makes delve even more in the topic. Kourik introduces us to the works of Professor Weaver or Kolesnikov, and a world opens.
The vegetable chapter I found very interesting, small sections on the roots of specific vegetables is great, do we knonw how deep a carrot grows? or how the tomatoe root system grows? and how vegetable root systems can interact?
Then there is a chapter on surface cultivation and no-till gardening. He cites the work of John Jeavons, and other techniques, maybe many readers will find there is nothing new in this section but I like to go through some known notions once in a while reading of new perspectives and experiences. One thing Kourik does share are his personal experiences, and for a person that has studied landscapes and roots ofr decades its a lot of stuff.
Two chapters intrigued me: The good fungus among us, and Trees water their neighbors and themselves. On fungi we have a lot research and published work as opposed to roots, but the short introductory chapter is a good starter and relates the fungi topic specifically to root systems, we'll add it to our knowledge on fungi; the second one is about the "hydraulic lift" and "hydraulic redistribution" and the relation that builds up between trees and water and moisture exchange that occurs from some trees to others. Interesting aspect that I want to dive in.
The last chapters are on how to choose trees we have to transplant, of course there are always interesting tips and practices that are shared.
The book ends with Appendixs on specific trees, shrubs, and their root systems in relation to where they can grow, and drip irrigation, but Kourik has a book on drip irrigation which will be for sure more specific.
There is one phrase that stuck in my head while reading the book: "I'm always being reminded that nature doesn't always follow the"rules" or read my books", this is true always. We never have to think that any author hands down a pure and pristine truth but every author shares his ideas and intuitions, and readers take what they need, the book food web is like the soil food web it generates fertility.
This may not be the ultimate work on roots, we still need research and Kourik has just published an all new work on roots: understanding roots, that I will start very soon, but for sure it is an interesting starting point that can only get more people to collect data especially in the permaculture world. Robert Kourik has set the path, its up to us to continue the journey.
I give this book 9 of 10 acorns. I have had this book for several years now and I find it to be fascinating. I have kind of a standing rule that if I learn one new thing from a book, it was worthwhile. This book far exceeded my expectations. Let's face it, a book about roots better be good to hold your interest This one is. I learned so much from this book, I highly recommend it.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
I have this book the thing that got me was seeing that the most microbe activity is in the top 4 inches of the soil. This made so much sense as when you plant a tree too deep it does not do well, as the microbes are not present to give the nutrients back to the roots.
Life on a farm is a school of patience; you can't hurry the crops or make an ox in two days.
With the physical book being close to $40 used, this is a great deal. Be aware, too, that he has published a more recent book, available for around $25, titled Understanding Roots: Discover How to Make Your Garden Flourish described as such:
This book contains at least eighty percent more new information, more results of the latest in-depth and up-to-date explorations, and even more helpful guidelines on roots than the author’s previous book (Roots Demystified: Change Your Garden Habits to Help Roots Thrive).
If I'd had more time, I would have written a shorter letter. -T.S. Eliot such a short, tiny ad: