Sunday, February 23, 2014


Yhe Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/17/2014)


          A hail storm last summer assaulted my garden while meine Überfrau and I were in Phoenix where she had another operation on her eyes for a retinal detachment.  I asked my friend and student, Tam Nguyen, to check on my tomatoes, hoping that the hail didn’t hit them.  She replied, “My heart is sad.  I cry for your tomatoes.”  The chances of something bad happening with tomatoes are discouragingly high, not probable but possible, not necessary but nearly inevitable.


          Why bother?  The taste, that’s all, the taste.  Store-bought, corporate, industrial, capitalistic tomatoes don’t cut the mustard.  They’re tasteless and too firm like cardboard, leaving only the taste of flavorless acid.


          Actually, they’re easy to grow.  It’s the hazards, diseases, insects, and weather that are the problems, but they’re all manageable, save for the weather.  “For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands” (Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471.)  Grief is a natural component of growing tomatoes.


          First of all, containers are useful for growing tomatoes.  It’s easier to control the water and fertilizer and to prevent infestations, diseases, and insects by placing the containers farther apart.  As parents know, afflictions spread like wildfires in kindergartens.  I would recommend the tomato containers and cages sold by Gardeners Supply or other such similar containers found in local nurseries; however, five gallon black containers do a dandy job and are a lot cheaper.  It depends on the degree of one’s fanaticism.  Another advantage to a cage is that with sufficient warning the containers can be covered to protect the tomatoes from adverse weather.


          Seeds are the best way to start for several reasons.  As with hospitals and kindergartens, nurseries are more likely to have infestations and diseases than packets of seeds.  Although it’s a lot easier to buy a tomato plant than a pack of seeds, it’s slightly more problematic.  The trick is to inspect the plant in the nursery as though one were searching for leaks at the NSA, even to the point of using a magnifying glass.  New gardeners and non-gardening philistines may scoff at such vigilance, but pay them no mind.  Also, seeds offer an opportunity for tomato varieties more congenial to the high country, as in our short growing season.


          Seeds are easy.  Nurseries sell small packets in which to start the seeds.  All they need is a sunny window sill.  After the plants develop their second leaves, transplant them into a pint container.  When they develop into sturdy plants, they can be transplanted outside.  Since the last frost statistically occurs in Flagstaff about June 15, the transplants can be protected by Walls ’o Water until the danger of frost is past.


          The soils should be friable with lots of compost and organic material.  While a high nitrogen fertilizer is helpful at first to get the plant established, the fertilizer during the growing season, whether organic or artificial, should be high in phosphorus (K) and potassium (P).  Too much nitrogen (N) will give the gardener an outstandingly beautiful plant with few tomatoes.


          Now, comes the grief.  Failure generally appears sometime after the plant has developed and nascent tomatoes appear, a time of high hope and anticipation.  White flies, often coming in on a plant from a nursery, 

will cloud the plant.  The only remedy is sudden death at the hands of Environmental Services lest the white flies spread. 


          Other maladies such as blossom-end rot, various wilts, blights, and unwelcome viruses are a part of the grief panel, and for the most part they can be dealt with.  An excellent source of information online is


          Now, the best all around tomato plant for Flagstaff is the Stupice from what was once Czechoslovakia.  The tastiest is the Siberian yellow grape Galina, the earliest, the problematic, Canadian Beaver Lodge Slicer, and the two dependables, the Montanan Prairie Fire and the Siberian Sasha’s Altai.  This year I’m going to experiment with a San Marzano at the suggestion of Gretchen, a foodie.


          Thank God and Drs. Graff and Johnson, she’s doing well.  Ravaged tomato vines are a small price to pay for eyesight.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D.


          After thirty-nine days without rain or snow, it’s time to think about a winter watering triage in our gardens.  When trees and plants go dormant for the winter, it doesn’t mean that they can go without water. Their root systems are still growing.  When human beings go dormant with sleep for the night, they still need water.  Indeed, some even set a glass of water next to their bed.  Usually, a winter’s snowpack does the same thing for the garden, but not this year.


          Even though we may get a few snow showers in the next week or so, we are still in a drought, and this means that gardeners have to supply dormant plants and trees, especially the evergreen trees, with water.  If we don’t, they will stress, and, as if with human beings, stress can kill and certainly will make the plants and trees more susceptible to diseases.     


          The signs of stress in human beings are rising blood pressure, heavy breathing, disruptive digestion, increased heart rate, compromised immune system, tensing muscles, and loss of sleep.  The signs of stress in trees are leaves wilting, curling at the edges, and yellowing.  Deciduous trees will show signs of scorching, a browning between the veins of the leaves.  Evergreen needles may turn brown. 


To stay healthy, both human beings and plants and trees need water and rest.  Human beings need to sleep seven to nine hours out of the twenty-four, and many plants and trees need to go dormant during the winter.  So without a snowpack to provide that dormant time water, gardeners have to supply water with dripping hoses.


          In a watering triage, the big trees, especially our evergreens and pines, need to go first because they are the hardest to replace.  A thirty year old ponderosa doesn’t grow over night, nor does that twelve year old blaze maple.  It may take a day or two to get around to all the plants and trees in the yard, but that’s a small price to pay for saving the garden.  For the big ones, it’s best to let it drip in concentric circles around the tree to just beyond the drip line, soaking to a depth of a foot or more.

And if no big snow arrives soon, it’ll be smart to do it again.


          After the big ones have been watered, the next ones that need attention are the most vulnerable, that is the plants and trees that don’t have well-developed root systems, such as the ones that have been planted in the last year or so.  Of course, there are always the fragile favorites that need special attention.


          Some long time gardeners tend to think of their plants and trees the same way they do about their pets.  Both are dependent and well-loved and need protection and care.  Gardeners who water their yards in the middle of winter in the midst of snow shower may appear a little looney, but a little ridicule never hurt anyone when they’re doing the right thing.  As W. Somerset Maughm wrote in The Summing Up “the philistines have replaced the rack with the wisecrack.”


          Stress in human beings weakens the immune system making the people more likely to get sick.  Some people with compromised immune systems never seem to get well.  Drought adversely affects the system by which trees feed themselves by taking energy from the sun.  In a way, it’s a form of slow starvation adversely affecting the trees ability to fight off infestation.  The bark beetle’s destruction is an example.  For both trees and human beings good health enables them to fight infection, and good health requires rest, dormancy, and water.


          Since we live in a drought prone region, we have to pay attention to our trees and bushes all year long, especially their needs for water.  It is a sorrowful thing to see human beings, animals, and plants and trees mistreated, but there is poignancy with trees and plants because they have no voice.  Their suffering is silent if we don’t attend to their needs.  So get out the drip hoses.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith (2014)


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at
















Monday, February 03, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/1/2014)

          I like to lie down, especially with dogs, snout to snout, muzzle to muzzle, cheek by jowl.  When our late lab, Roxie, became immobile in her old age, I often lay down with her in front of the fireplace, my hand in her ruff.


          About ten months after she died, our mourning had assuaged enough to get another dog, perhaps two.  Mourning never really goes away.  “Closure” is a nonsense word generally perpetrated by people who want to avoid the pain of grief. 


          We were given an opportunity to adopt two labs, a black three year old named Petite, and a yellow seven year old named Katrina.  Petite had been physically and verbally abused and still cowers, but less and less as time goes by.  Katrina had been returned to the kennel with the claim that she couldn’t adjust to her new home because she missed her mother.  "Unadoptable" was the word.  Some people even use that dismal psychotherapeutic term “separation-anxiety”, a term which like “closure” allows people to objectify the painfully subjective and thereby immunize themselves from their humanity.


Katrina showed signs of grief when we brought her home, especially at night when the dogs were bedding down for the night.  Dogs have emotions like human beings and grieve like the rest of us.  She became agitated and walked aimlessly around the room.  After six decades as a minister and psychotherapist with people in grief, I knew that agitation and distraction were some of the signs of grief.  Loss is loss, and there is no way around it with platitudes, such as, “You should be grateful since had her for such a long time.”  I remember my mother saying to someone after my father died, “God did not need him in heaven more than we needed him on earth.”


          As a young seventeen year old recruit in the army, I was one homesick puppy sitting on my foot locker missing home.  An old career regular army Sergeant/ Major, ramrod straight and tough as old shoe leather, came by and tapped my shoulder with his swagger stick and said, “What’s the matter, soldier?”  I said that I was homesick and wondered why the rest of my platoon wasn’t.  He replied, “They don’t have no homes to miss.  You outta to thank God that you’ve got one.”


          For a few nights I lay down beside Katrina, placing my hand in her ruff.  Her agitation gradually subsided.  Gretchen cradled her head in her lap.  We sometimes still see her staring off into the distance in one of those thousand yard stares, but less and less.


          Katrina is beautiful with black eyeliners, a coat of curly waves of caramel, back-sided with yellow and a nose resembling a big piece of milk chocolate.  Petite is gorgeous, sleek and black and elegant with a nose like a big, fat black olive, and I wonder why anyone would strike her and curse her.  Impotent people strike and curse smaller and weaker creatures because they’re compromised human beings, not fully evolved.  Their impotence is so disabling that their only experience of power is to strike at those who can’t strike back.  The abused are often afraid and terrified of their abusers, but, the fact is that abusers are actually the cowardly weak ones.


          Gretchen reassures Petite, enfolding her in her arms, and as I watch, I see the tensions in Petite’s body lessen and relax, enough so that she feels at ease with me.  A drunken male abused her.  It’s disheartening to see a creature cower, but rewarding to see them flower.  Each day as Petite leaves Gretchen’s arms, she comes still closer to me, diffident and hesitant, but still inching closer, sniffing the tips of my fingers.  Katrina and Petite follow Gretchen around like ducklings.


As we all know, life is often a series of losses with relocations, deaths, and disputes so it’s always important to attend to our gains.  We’ve gained with Katrina and Petite.  They bring joy and life and love into our lives even though we still step in something now and then.


P.S.  Be sure to water the yard during this dry spell, especially the trees.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at