Monday, March 03, 2008
DR. JAMES MAST
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/5/08)
Dr. James Mast likes dirt, just as did his father and his grandfather before him, hailing from a long line of Ohio gardeners. However, his love of gardening is not merely a matter of his fondness for dirt. He relaxes gardening as well he might. He’s a dentist.
Dentistry is zero tolerance, like microns. In addition, he doesn’t practice his zero tolerance theoretically in a physics lab, but on a moving target, a person’s gaping, salivating maw with all its jerks, gagging, squiggles, and squirms, a real bacterial pit. In addition to practicing dentistry in his office, he also practices at the County Jail gratis once a week on Friday mornings.
Now, some dentists work on fine jewelry and clocks as a way of relaxing and honing their fine motor skills. Not Jim Mast, he goes for the dirt. It’s simple psychologically. Sensory experiences, such as petting a dog, tying into a cheeseburger and fries, smelling a rose, hugging a loved one, and caressing dirt are relaxing.
Good gardeners like dirt, the feel of dirt flowing through their fingers, clods disintegrating in their hands, and especially the smell of dirt. And there is something else, they like having a hand in growing things. They love the natural process. Philosophically, their reality is becoming rather than being, process rather than product. As Jim said, “I really like watching things grow more than harvesting.”
And grow they do. As much as Jim likes and grows flowers, his heart is in vegetables, and as a Middle Westerner, particularly in corn and tomatoes. His corn is not “those little designer ears of corn, but the real ones about a foot long.” As any red-blooded American knows, you can’t beat a dinner of sliced, fresh garden tomatoes sprinkled with sugar and freshly picked corn, briefly boiled and slathered with butter. It’s enough to strike up the band, make a person stand and salute the flag.
Recognizing the hazards and pitfalls of gardening Flagstaff, he grows from seed, and his favorite seeds for corn are a variety called “Incredible.” As he says, “It grows well in Flagstaff.” Enough said.
However, his heart and mind are in tomatoes. His favorites for Flagstaff are the old reliables, Early Girl, Roma, Celebrity, Yellow Pear, plum, and currant. He starts them inside from seed, then transplants the small seedlings, still inside, into pint-sized pots, and finally into quarter-sized pots which he gradually introduces to the outside. This all begins the latter part of March so that he can plant the seedlings outside early in May.
When he takes them outside permanently, he plants them in five gallon black containers in walls of water next to the house in a sunny, yet protected location. He uses planting soil and puts the seedlings in the bottom of the container with only a few inches of the seedling showing above the soil. This way they will develop a more extensive root system and become more productive. He uses new potting soil each season to cut down on earth borne diseases, using last season’s potting soil elsewhere in the garden.
He says that there are four things to remember about growing tomatoes in Flagstaff. First, they need extra heat, thus those ugly black containers. Rocks, particularly malapais, old milk containers and gallon wine jugs full of water, and even heat producing old-fashioned Christmas tree lights will help to keep the plants warm at night. If the tomatoes are in cages as they should be, a sheet or blanket can be thrown over them.
The second is protection from the wind. They don’t need to be enclosed, but rather protected from Flagstaff’s aeronautical winds.
Third, they need fertilizer and moisture. Jim fertilizes his tomatoes weekly with a small scoop of Miracle Gro for tomatoes and waters them daily during the dry season.
Fourth, he emphasizes variety. “There’s no point in having just one variety because there are so many tastes and uses for tomatoes.”
Doubters, skeptics, non-believers, agnostics, and outsiders often ask, “What’s all the fuss about home-grown tomatoes?” “Ah!” Jim replies, “The taste.” If people have ever savored the taste, they would never ask the question.