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 http://oldfartskitchen.blogspot.com.) 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