Sunday, January 24, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/24/10)

As I was listening to Aaron Copland's "Appalachian Spring," I realized how much he used woodwinds and strings. It evoked memories of Appalachia, feeling again the gentle quality of springtime, especially the rains. Sara Teasdale said it well, "There will come soft rains, and the smell of the ground."

Living now in the Above the Rim, I suspect that if Mr. Copland were alive today to compose music about monsoons in the High Country, he would use trumpets, trombones, coronets, bugles, snare drums, cymbals, and timpani, to evoke the experience of Flagstaff's weather. Surely, no mellow French horns or saxophones, but instead, the introductory fanfare to Richard Strauss's tone poem "Also Sprach Zarathustra," made popular in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Weather in the Southwest is a bit brassy which befits the stark beauty of the landscape. The Grand Canyon and Monument Valley are neither gentle nor mellow but evoke rather a sense of grandeur and awe. Rudyard Kipling might well have written of the Colorado Plateau as he did of Mandalay's bay where "dawn comes up like thunder."

While kale doesn't "come up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay," it does very well in weather both stark and demanding. It's even usable after a shot of hail because even though it's perforated, it's still usable, holes and all, its nutritional efficacy not relying on its beauty.

Whole Foods claims that kale is the most efficient of vegetables in a calorie and nutrient ratio. In other words, with kale the gardener and the gourmet get more nutrients for the least amount of calories, more bang for the buck. Often the color of battleship grey, as the dreadnought of vegetables, kale even gets better when nipped with frost. Crambe contra mundum.

Kale is what the horticulturalists call a cool season vegetable,
which means that it's just great for Flagstaff, taking advantage of our cool climate. It can be planted early, may even limp through our summers, is refreshed by the cool of autumn, and marches like a soldier straight into the first snowfall.

What more could a gardener and a gourmet ask for than a vegetable jammed with nutrients, low in calories, which is easy to grow in Flagstaff? Edibility.

We are rescued by a low country native from New Orleans of Cajun heritage, the diva of Coconino County's Democratic Party, Harriet Young, who can make Brussels sprouts, palatable, even, tasty.

Her recipe is simple. Olive oil, two cloves of garlic mashed and chopped, ½ onion chopped, water, lemon, salt and pepper. Sauté onion in olive oil, add garlic and kale and continue to sauté, add water and steam until tender. Add zing with juice from ½ lemon. Salt and pepper.

Recipes from Republicans, Independents, and Libertarians, as well as fellow Anarchists are welcome for a database of kale recipes to be available ecumenically online at

Kale appears in three forms with variations, Russian, Italian, and Scots. Foodie snobs prefer the Italian or Tuscan kale. Scots kale is kilted with ruffles, and Russian is red with a broad leaf.

For what it's worth, which is not much, I prefer the Russian largely because it's easier to use with its broad leaf. The foodies claim that the Italian tastes better, but since my taste buds suffer from a wasted youth of fastfood salt abuse, beginning with Bob's Big Boy, I can't tell.

Like dill, kale grows almost like a weed. I've had volunteers all over my flower and vegetable beds from previous plantings. It can be seeded outdoors when the temperature of the soil is 45º F. or indoors six weeks before the last frost and transplanted when the danger of frost is past. Since outdoors is so easy, transplantation is a waste of energy.

A warning: aphids like kale. The best antidote is the garden hose's nozzle. Turn it down and blast away at ground level, the beasties savoring the underside of the leaves. It may take several applications. If that doesn't work, try insecticidal soap, but wash it off before eating.

As Euripides said, "Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad." Stay sane. Eat kale.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010

Saturday, January 09, 2010


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/8/10)

I would like to say a few words about the up-coming Master Gardener Class offered by Coconino Country Extension. It can be a life-changing experience because it is about more than insects, drought-tolerant plants, tomatoes, and compost. Under-girding it all is a profound change in the way gardeners, and everyone else for the matter, should look at things, a shift in what Emmanuel Kant called a Weltanshauung, a world-view.

I'm sure that Hattie Braun, the Grand Impresario of the Master Gardener Extravaganza, would eschew any claim to philosophical, much less theological, acumen. As a confirmed and knowledgeable horticulturalist, her focus is on the furrow, as well it should be, and not on the stars.

There it is. One cannot fight the natural process. As a boy in Sunday School, I often learned it and just as often forgot it. Thomas à Kempis said it simply, "Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit " (Man proposes, but God disposes.) God's will is not something to be commanded as the natural process illustrates and politicians and preachers often forget.

In gardening, the human tendency, filled with hubris, wants to take charge, and do with nature as it wills. Humans want to plant things they like, unaware that the real question is not what they like, but what works. The Master Gardener Class is about what works, pragmatic gardening.

In the High Country not everything that works elsewhere works here. As we have all heard over and over and ad ridiculum, the weather and the soil in Flagstaff aren't as congenial to gardening as they are in San Diego, Tulsa, or Annapolis. So what? Enough kvetching already.

The big message, which bears repeating, is that successful gardening requires cooperation with nature. No one anywhere ever got anyplace trying to command the will of God.

Easier said than done. Oddly, it takes knowledge to cooperate with nature. Just sticking plants in the ground doesn't work. Successful gardening requires knowledge of soil, plants, water, weather, and fertilizer. The knowledge has to be specific to locale and plants as well. The specificity of the locale doesn't mean just Flagstaff. It refers to micro-climates, specific zones, such as the shady side of a house or the bottom of a slope as distinct from the top.

Gardening begins with soil, and the soil around Flagstaff is great for ponderosa pine and native plants and grasses. If anyone wants to move beyond those, even with adaptable plants, the soil has to be amended. The Master Gardening Class devotes time in how to amend the soil to make it more congenial to plants other than natives.

The key element in the right kind of soil is compost. Compost can be store-bought or home made. As with most things, home made is best.
Part of the course deals with the recipes and cooking times for home made.

Which brings us to fertilizer. Not all fertilizer fertilizes the right way. Tomatoes don't want the same kind of fertilizer as lettuce, grasses, of onions.

Even though the soil may have been amended to make it plant- friendly, the right kinds of plants and seeds have to be chosen. For instance, while an heirloom Brandywine tomato may be grown here, its fruit will not mature fast enough here to produce edible tomatoes. Artichokes can be grown here, but don't expect a bumper crop although the colorful thistles are worth the effort.

There are lots of other topics: good and bad insects, fruit trees, vegetables, flowers, and bulbs. Water conservation is a big Yes, Yes.

The key element is, of course, the Grand Impresario, Hattie Braun. She knows her stuff. She relishes horticulture, and she brings in a collection of experienced gardeners and horticulturalists who know how to garden in the High Country. The class which meets once a week for 15 weeks is a pleasurable experience, and if one doesn't resist the inevitable, it can be a life-changing experience.

The up-coming series of classes begin Tuesday, February 2, from 1-4:30 p.m. at the East Flagstaff Public Library's Community Room. Hattie can be reached at (928) 774-1868, x17, or at

Bon jardinage!

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2010