Thursday, January 22, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/22/09)

While visiting my children in California for Thanksgiving, we visited the Temecula Olive Oil Company. I casually asked, "How's business?" The reply was quick, "Just great, ever since the recession hit. People are cooking more at home now."

Also, people are growing more of their own food which presents as many challenges to novice gardeners as home-cooking does to novice cooks tackling their first cheese soufflé. While the recession is bad, growing fresh vegetables is good. They taste better than "store-boughten." They're more nutritious and good for the soul and as well as the body. Some people claim they don't have souls, but even though they don't know they have any, it's still good for their souls.

The first issue is soil which has to be prepared, as in turning
organic matter into the dirt with a spade. Our dirt in Flagstaff lacks
organic material which is crucial to fertility. Most veteran gardeners have found that raised beds are efficient for both watering and soil preparation. For fertilizers, "a wide spectrum" fertilizer is useful. If the vegetables are leafy, it's best to use a fertilizer high in nitrogen, and if they're fruits, a fertilizer high in potassium and phosphorus.

Since this is Gardening 101, it's easy-to-grow vegetables. Tomatoes which require lots of attention probably belong in a 501 graduate seminar.

Kale is easy to grow, nutritious, and culinarily adaptable. As a cool season vegetable, it's suited to Flagstaff's climate. There are several types of kale, Russian, Italian, and Scottish. Foodies favor the Italian. Scottish is pleated and attractive, like a kilt. Russian has broad leaves. The Italian is the touchiest to grow. Kale seeds can be sown a few weeks before the last frost and throughout the growing months. Kale plants last well-beyond the first snow fall and are oddly sweetened by a freeze.

The next easy-to-grow vegetable is the prolific zucchini which has many varieties. Unlike kale, it wilts with the first tinge of frost. However, while it grows, it produces a host of succulent fruits which have a wide variety of uses in the kitchen. The easiest way to prepare zucchini is slice it in disks and sauteé it in olive oil, salt, and oregano. Its flowers can even be eaten. (Cf. Hattie Braun's recipe on It's best to seed it just before the last frost June 15.

Surprisingly, onions, as a cool season vegetable, are easy to grow. Since they need plenty of water, it's best to plant them in trenches. The easiest way to grow them is in sets which are really small onion plants. They can be planted in Flagstaff as early as March 19. A couple of favorites for sweet onions are the Hybrid Candy and Hybrid Superstar. Although onions look like a fruit, they're actually a ball of leaves and need nitrogen fertilizer.

Another vegetable that's easy to grow are snap beans also called string or green beans. Rather than mess around with lattices, poles, etc, growing bush beans is easier. Again, the varieties are many. A few old favorites are Kentucky Wonder, Beurre de Rocquencourt, and Blue Lake. There is a new heirloom from France, Triomphe de Farcy, which produces long, thin pods. After blanching, they can be frozen.

Next in line are beets which are easy to grow, wonderfully nutritious, taste good, and are easy to cook when roasted. They come in white, red, pink, and yellow. Also, their leaves can be used in salads, especially the leaves of the Bull's Blood. They store well and can be frozen after being cooked.

Finally, a word for lettuce. It's a cool season vegetable and is easy to grow in Flagstaff, and its varieties are seemingly endless. The easiest lettuces are the loose leaf varieties because they can be harvested gradually as they develop. Three favorites are the chartreuse Black-seeded Simpson, the red-fringed Lolla Rossa, and the speckled Forellenschuss.

Veteran gardeners, like military veterans, often boast about their hardships in the field. That's too bad, because gardening is a happy experience and not all that hard if the gardener uses a little gardening moxie and is touched with patience. Bon jardinage and Good Eats!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/14/09)

Reinhold Niebuhr, the great American theologian, in his lectures on homiletics said, "If your sermons don't anger ten percent of your congregation at any given time, you've not been preaching the gospel. Just make sure it's the right ten percent, and that they're angry at you for the right reasons. Remember, your chief function in the pulpit is to afflict the comfortable and to comfort the afflicted." In terms of the earth, it's time to afflict the comfortable.

In his Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic, he wrote that the disillusionment from which idealists often suffer is only useful when it comes full circle from disillusionment with others to disillusionment with themselves. Sadly, many "true believers" are seldom disillusioned with themselves. It might be added that the politically-correct, the neo-Puritans of today, are also seldom disillusioned with themselves.

A possible consequence of disillusionment, other than cynicism, is looking at things in a new way, such as an awareness of where one is in the scheme of things, an awareness that the earth is a gift given by God in trust, not as an object of exploitation, and that we're the trustees of that gift.

One of the first acts of thanksgiving is cherishing the gift. The earth isn't a throwaway, disposable toy, as if we were "legacy children" whose only purpose is to consume what has been given us. The earth is all we have. There aren't any spare earths, as Terri Swearigen said, which we can inhabit if we ruin this one. Rather than exploiting the land as does much of modern industrial agriculture and corporate America, gardening begins by cherishing the land.

Cherishing the earth is sustainability which is, sadly, a lame word burdened with connotations of minimalism, just getting by. Renewing or enriching are better words because they imply increasing the value of the gift as in plowing the profits back into the business. An effective trustee increases the value of the trust, and gardening is one of the best places to increase the earth's value.

The prevailing attitude toward the earth by our culture of consumption has best been epitomized by mining and drilling, that is, the exploitation of the earth's finite resources rather than a renewal of those resources. It has been, in fact, a kind of functional atheism in which we vainly kiss off the presence of the divine, behaving as though we have taken possession of the earth to do with as we please. If the earth is a finite system of resources, it cannot sustain an indefinite exploitation without collapse.

Aldous Huxley, the early twentieth century novelist and critic and author of Brave New World, wrote "Modern man no longer regards Nature as in any sense divine and feels perfectly free to behave toward her as an overweening conqueror and tyrant."

It takes no wit to see the future of the earth if we keep on conquering it as an overweening tyrant. A good place to start is tailings from mines. I remember as a boy the mountains of rock and sand left from the gold rush miners on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada: beautifully fruitful land forever turned into a wasteland. Those images are child's play compared to the scrofulous lethal uranium contamination of modern tailings in Arizona.

In The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot wrote:
What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water.

Gardeners are the front line in reversing this trend towards oblivion because they work directly with the earth. First, they bring the beauty of flowers and grasses and then the taste of fresh vegetables, all of which flourish in a rich soil. Gardening begins enriching the soil by that unromantic but necessary activity called composting. It's the first act of thanksgiving, cherishing the earth, enriching it by plowing the profits of the land back into the land.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009