Tuesday, May 26, 2009
THE SLOTHFUL GARDENER: TARDY GARDENING
The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/26/09)
While waving a wooden spoon at me, my great aunt Marie Aslaakson often said, "Never put off to tomorrow what you can do today." As a boy, I thought "Auntie" was slightly amiss, believing, as I did, that mañana offered more opportunities than today while freeing today from irksome entanglements. Tomorrow opens new possibilities that weren't imaginable yesterday. Sloth is a vice with rewards.
Sadly, with procrastination tomorrows snowball as postponed tasks accumulate even though some are winnowed by time into insignificance.
Procrastination in gardening isn't wise because gardening requires lock-step obedience to a euphemism, "the rhythms of nature," especially in the restricted climatic confines of the Colorado Plateau. With no "Long, Hot Summer" in which to dally, Flagstaff doesn't even have the "dog days of summer." As with dusk's short twilights, there aren't any lingering days of summer. Slam, bang. The hymn reads, "Fast falls the eventide." So does the growing season.
What to do for the lethargic, slothful gardener who hasn't gotten
around to timely planting?
Surprisingly, there are several fall-back, plan B, opportunities. Pansies and violas do well in the early spring when the temperatures are cool but fade away when everything else does well in the warmth of summer. However, they can be planted later in the summer when the weather is cooler, lasting into through the cold snaps of fall. When the slothful gardener rouses from his "dogmatic slumbers," feeling refreshed by his hibernation, it may be pansy and viola planting time. Also, if they aren't buried under six foot snow banks, pansies and violas may survive the winter and greet the slothful gardener with their cheery faces come spring. Procrastination has its rewards.
Next are onions. As with pansies and violas, onions are planted early in the spring with onions sets planted in the middle of March. In short, they're cold-weather plants, meaning they may survive the winter's cold and snow. Whether seeded or in sets, onions can be planted later in the summer when there is still time for them to establish themselves.
When winter sets in, they hang on until spring. Long before most anything else shows any sign of life, onions are growing in the lingering cold of spring. Given to sloth myself, I failed to pluck all of my 407 onions from the earth by last fall, and in May I discovered that I had mature onions where I had abandoned them to winter's cold fury the autumn before. Now and then, sloth pays.
Snow peas, those wonderfully crunchy pods that are delicious eaten off the vine or in salads, are another cold weather vegetable that defy Flagstaff's straitjacketed 90 day growing season, extending it by another two months. This means that snow peas can be sown in midsummer for a fall crop.
And so is a less appealing but nutritious vegetable. Kale is a vegetable whose culinary use is not immediately apparent, but since it is so nutritious, virtuously minded cooks devise creative ways to use it, sneaking it into soups and other gustatory subterfuges. Even Martha Stewart has an odd recipe for kale, combining it with pearled barley. The nice thing about kale is that it continues to grow after the first frost and even tastes sweeter for having been nipped. Kale is a chance for the slothful gardener to go virtuous and redeem himself from public opprobrium.
Although beets have been banned from the White House's vegetable garden, they're nutritious, even called by the New York Times "the new spinach." Coming in many colors, their roots and leaves are easily used in the kitchen. As a cool weather vegetable, they can be planted later for a fall crop. Also, they can survive the first frosts of autumn. With beautiful foliage, they're also useful for decorative planting before being plucked for eating.
Some say that nature is not forgiving. Not so, it provides times of mercy and grace for the slothful to redeem themselves, even in the stern climate of the High Country. The moral: although sloth is a vice with several rewards, slothful gardeners miss the joys and bounties of full season gardening.
Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2009