Flash in the Pan 

The garden cheerleader

There are many reasons to dump your garden right now. It’s dried up, stunted, worm-eaten, lost in weeds, or already forgotten. I’m very aware of these possibilities because they are all manifest in my own extra-humble garden.

As usual, my garden was ambitiously conceived. As usual, the follow-through was mañana in spirit, and “cut and run” in practice. Weeds flourish in the many edges and pockets of my garden. Many of my sorry plants had troubled upbringings in my ghetto greenhouse, followed by late plantings.

My garden is probably uglier than yours, and less productive than hundreds of gardens around the valley tended by people who don’t bite off more than they can chew, and can finish the many little jobs that together constitute gardening. To those real gardeners, who turn their yards into oases of edible diversity, hats off.

My garden is more like the cluttered lab of a mad scientist. It’s a toy garden, where I pretend to take my stand and live off the land. And while I may eat from that garden every day of the year, one could argue that my garden is a waste of time, space, money and water.

No, it’s true. In economic terms I’d be better off using all that garden-time to earn more money and then go shopping wisely, buying big in season when prices are low, taking advantage of U-pick produce opportunities, bartering with farmers, and then stashing away the food in freezers, bags and jars. I’d get more food for my money than I do from my seeds, starts, potting soil, pots, water, greenhouse supplies, hoses, sprinklers, drip lines, half-baked experiment supplies, etc. And I’d have a lot more time on my hands. Weeks more, maybe months. I could watch a more prudent, shady, water-wise garden all summer from the vantage of my hammock. Mornings and evenings I’d listen to the radio while processing the expertly and locally grown food I’d acquired.

You earthy bargain shoppers, who choose this sensible food acquisition strategy, I congratulate you. You’re leading a good life that’s also good for your local economy.

I also salute those pragmatists who eschew the manicured wasted space of a lawn, who want their land to be as productive as possible, and work it efficiently, growing durable, saleable crops like fruit. I could be in this category if I wasn’t doing so much research. If I only planted garlic, for example, which I grow really well, my land would be in production. I could eat free garlic all year—which I already do—and have excess to sell. Then I could shop like a madman at the farmer’s markets. Or I could barter with those who have a surplus crop of something I need, like fruit, or basil, or potatoes.

I could go big with garlic a lot more efficiently than the current situation, where I’m trying to get melons to climb corn plants, make herbs grow in my strawberry patch, and turn raspberries into fences. I’m a half-baked garden researcher and a full-time garden cheerleader.

And then there’s that curious breed of gardener, the snob, who grows a garden because he simply must have this or that ingredient that isn’t sold locally. Maybe it’s a plant from the old country, like shiso, or epazote. Maybe it’s a specific kind of hot pepper that you can’t get at the farmer’s markets, like a bhut jolokia. Some snobs require fresh herbs and tomatoes grown within 100 feet of their cutting board.

Thank you snobs, for sharpening the edge of local cuisine.

I suppose I have a bit of the snob, the earthy bargain shopper, the pragmatist—and the heart of a real gardener—somewhere inside of me. And so do you. Which means we have a few things to discuss.

Surely you have some plants that have bolted, or gone to seed. Usually when plants bolt, the flavor changes for the worse, and you can’t stop it.

There are two notable exceptions to this advice: bok choy, for some reason, continues to taste good after it bolts. Just pick the leaves off the bolted stalk. And if your cilantro bolts, it will soon produce the seeds known as coriander. So I let my cilantro do its thing.

Meanwhile, plant more! Cilantro grows so fast, you can easily squeeze in another crop this fall. Same goes for spinach, lettuce, salad mix, radishes and kohlrabi, to name a few. Plant seeds in all those empty spaces vacated by bolting broccoli and weeds.

And if that cilantro is making a floral dash as we speak, consider picking a final big harvest and trying the following recipe for cilantro chutney:

Combine 1/2 cup raisins (minced), 3/4 cup cilantro (minced), 3 tablespoons fresh grated coconut, the juice of half a lime, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/8 teaspoon each of turmeric and ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon each of ground cardamom and cumin.

Let stand at least an hour, ideally overnight. Eat with nearly anything.

Then get out there and plant more, like a real gardener!

Ask Chef Boy Ari: Be berry, berry good to me

Q: Dear Chef Boy Ari,

My raspberry patch is too small! I must make raspberry jam, raspberry ice cream, all sorts of raspberry stuff, but my small patch will not come close to fulfilling these ambitions. Where’s the best bulk deal on local, organic raspberries?

—Small Patch

A: Dear Small Patch,

I sympathize, but I don’t empathize. Wait, maybe it’s the other way around. I don’t remember. I understand your pain, but I don’t feel such pain myself. I only feel this particular pain because you feel it.

Not because I have a particularly big patch myself—with ripe berries practically rotting on the vine. I don’t know why I even have as big a patch as I do, because unlike you, I don’t need a lot of raspberries to be happy.

Don’t get me wrong—when they’re ripe, I eat them all the time, in smoothies, on breakfast, straight-up, you name it. But I don’t feel the need—like I do with, say, strawberries, or even broccoli—to stash away as much as I possibly can. I won’t fret, as it seems you will, if I don’t freeze a single raspberry this summer.

But lucky for you, even though I’m lukewarm on raspberries, I do happen to know exactly where dey at. That would be Common Ground Farm in Arlee, where they have raspberry U-pick every day into August. In other words, you show up with your boxes, water and sun hat, pick your own berries, and pay $2 per pound. And if that’s not enough of a deal for you, on Sunday, Aug. 22, the public is invited to Common Ground’s 1st annual Raspberry Jam, with bluegrass music and all-you-can-pick raspberries, all for $8 ($4 for kids). Call 726-2900 or see the Calendar for details.

Send your food and garden queries to flash@flashinthepan.net.
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