Monday, February 16, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/31/2015)


          “You know, you don’t have to have meat at every meal.  Sometimes, a delicious salad is good enough,” thus spake meine Überfrau.  Munching on a pile of bean sprouts felt as though I were grazing on Kentucky blue grass.  With a distinct taste of chlorophyll, I was prepared to photosynthesize, rather than digest my food.


          It’s like losing contact with one’s bicuspids, those pitiful remnants of fangs.  Looking into the mouths of our labs, Petite and Katrina, I see those beautiful white fangs, especially Petite’s because she’s black, and they’re so white.  The argument seems to be whether vegetables were meant to be the main dish or a side dish.  Actually, a lot of Asians mix the meat and vegetables together with the sauce being the pièce de résistance.  Human beings are omnivores, crossover eaters, which raises the issue of vegetable gardens since most gardeners don’t raise cattle, swine, or chickens in their backyards.


          The best vegetables to grow are the easiest ones to grow which

puts tomatoes way down the list.  They’re a pain in the ass to grow, and

he only reason to grow them is that home-growns taste is so good while

store-bought are insults to the tongue, as in acid with no taste. Tomatoes

are worth the effort.  Socially, most of us experience enough tasteless

acid every day without eating it.


          Green beans are the easiest to grow and the tastiest.  The best

green beans are the French haricots verts which is French for green

beans.  Haricots means beans and verts means green.  The etymological

origin of haricot is probably from the Aztec ayacotli indicating that beans,

at least most of the common beans, Phaseolus vulgaris, originated in

South America, in what is now Peru.  Incidentally, tomatoes come from

the same place.


As the refrain goes, “Everything sounds better in French,” so it’s

pronounced something like ah-ree-koh-VEHR, not HAIRY-cot-vert.  Going a step further, a lot of food tastes better in French.  Haricots verts are longer and thinner than most varieties.  They are also more tender and have a more complex flavor.


          Now to the nitty-gritty of growing French green beans.  One caveat, the seeds cost a more than the regular line-up of green beans, about a dollar a package.  Now, for our odyssey into the space of haricot vert.


          Starting them indoors is chancy because green beans don’t do well being transplanted.  They need temperatures between 50º to 85º to thrive so plant them after the danger of frost is past or else the seeds might rot in the soil.  In case of a surprising cold snap, cover them.  Bush beans are easier to grow than climbers, a real no-brainer.  Plant the seeds two inches apart and one inch deep.  Make sure the soil is fertile, friable, and well-drained.  Green beans generally mature between 55-60 days.  For a summer-long harvest, sow the beans every two weeks.  Harvest them every two or three days.


          Mulch the soil, and water regularly on sunny days.  Spare high nitrogen fertilizer to avoid lush plants with no beans.  Shallow cultivation doesn’t disturb the roots, and planting summer savory and oregano as companions will improve their taste as well as protecting them from aphids.


          Fin de Bagnols, as the name suggests, is a fine and delicate bean from southern France.  It’s at least one hundred years old. 


          Maxi is a delight to grow because it is a teepee plant meaning that the beans grow on the top of the bush.  A compact bush, its pods are long and thin.


          Maxibel beans are the classic haricots verts .  Dark green and thin at about seven or eight inches, their taste is elegant and luxurious.


          A genuine gustatory delight is the Beurre de Rocquencort (Butter of Rocquencort.)  A yellow wax bean, it has been grown for almost 200 years after arriving from Algeria.


          Perhaps, the best bean from France is the Comtesse de Chambord.  Its pods are thin and only four inches long.  It can be grown in pots.  It is tenderer, sweeter, and nuttier than other beans.  An heirloom, it proves that the best presents come in small packages.



Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015


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


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/17/2015))


Question.  Dear Answer Man, my name is Conrad Kittredge.  We, my wife Consuelo and I, have just moved here from New York City for our health.  We tried Scottsdale first, but there was too much pollution, heat, and crime.  We needed a dry, pollution free environment, and Flagstaff fit the bill.  However, I have a question.  Several of our neighbors are somewhat trendy and have gone organic.  I believe they’re techies.  When they approach their driveway, the whole place lights up like Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  However, they have compost piles on their property.  I would like to know why their compost stinks.  I don’t mean an unpleasant odor but a really foul stink.  When the wind is right, we’re back in a polluted environment.  It’s enough to make a grown man cry.


Answer.  Well, the answer is that compost doesn’t have to stink.  As a matter of fact, a well-functioning compost bin emits a warm, fairly pleasant earthy odor that’s somewhat sweet.  You must be talking about rot or purification.  From what you say, I suspect that your trendy neighbors are novices at composting.  Sometimes, techies are disconnected from the nitty-gritty of life.  They probably throw everything into the compost pile, and that may be one reason their compost stinks.  Meat, fat, bones, oil, any animal byproducts will make a compost pile putrid.

Generally, there are two types of stinking compost piles.  One has the smell of ammonia and the other the smell of rotting flesh.  The ammonicial pile probably is too wet and not aerated, like turned with a pitchfork.  Also, it may have too much nitrogen material.  A thriving compost pile needs oxygen for the decomposing process.  The smell of rotting flesh, one of the most unpleasant of odors, is because there is some rotting flesh or byproducts of flesh in the pile, such as meat and fish scraps and animal or fish oil.  Rot stinks.


Question:  That’s all well and good, but what do you suggest I do?


Answer:  Well, you can talk to them.  If that fails, you can have them cited as a public nuisance.  Trendy, organic people tend to be quite pleasant if a little self-righteous, holier-than-thou.  The techies are often a little contemptuous of all us mortals, but when they don’t know something, they’re likely to ask.  Sustainability is the new gospel, as it should be; however, sometimes, the sustainers are a little much.


Question:  Well, I did as you suggested.  I talked to them, and it turns out that they were as offended as was I by their compost piles and a little mystified about the odor.  I offered to help them, taking your suggestions about animal byproducts and aeration.  It turns out that they didn’t have a pitchfork and neither did I, so I bought one along with a shovel.

As the CFO of a large advertising firm in New York, I hadn’t had much of a relationship with nature, but I sure did when I worked on that compost pile.  Consuelo told me that shoveling stinky compost shouldn’t be new to me because I’d been shoveling it for years.

Well, we got rid of the rot, and now the pile seems to be coming along quite well.  It’s even generating some heat.  I think I might try a pile myself.


Answer:  It’s called “cookin.”  Decomposition generates heat.  Now, if you’re serious, you need both carbon and nitrogen for a good compost pile in a three to one ratio.  You might even try a bin.  They’re easier to manage.  Carbon material includes straw, leaves, horse bedding, spoiled hay, manure, and beer mash.  Nitrogen includes freshly mown grass, kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, and tea leaves.

Mix them in that three to one ratio, turn it with a pitchfork every week or so, keep it damp but not wet, and watch refuse turn to gold with a little alchemy in your backyard.  You might even try some flowers and vegetables so that you can put that compost to good use.  It’ll sure be good for your health.  Kale, green beans, and sunflowers are good starters.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

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