Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (November 5, 2006)

A couple of months after a killing frost, Gretchen and I were the guests of Diane Scantlebury and her husband, Todd, at their Tickaboo Ranch for a lunch of fresh salad greens, soup, and corn bread. The buttercrunch bibb and red oak leaf lettuces, chervil, nasturtium flowers, white cucumbers, and sweet gold, yellow pear, and Greek Thessalonika tomatoes all came from her hydroponic garden. The salad was topped with pecans from her neighbor’s Willowbrook farm. A deliciously rich and healthy soup was made of roasted butternut squash, sweet onions, and fresh sage. Along with the soup and salad she served slices of a delightfully-textured, freshly baked cornbread. True to farming culture we ate in her invitingly warm kitchen with window frames of punched tin and a large, wood-fired pot bellied stove set against a wall. It was a lunch to remember with all the varied and complimentary colors, textures, and tastes. The recipe for her soup can be found at http://oldfartskitchen.blogspot.com.

As we ate, I kept being reminded that I was in the process of shutting down my garden with the advent of winter, and that meant no more fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs. As a grandson of the soil, I remember my mystically-inclined grandfather telling me to cooperate with nature. He put it theologically. “Work with what God has given you. Don’t go off on some fool’s errand trying to improve the Lord’s work.” Now, oddly enough, a widower, he grew various herbs on his kitchen window sill which he cherished as gifts from God.

As Gretchen and Diane chatted merrily away, I was relieved from making thoughtful comments and was free to chum my mind for new ideas as my taste buds explored the lunch. It struck me that a hydroponic garden was simply a high-tech extension of a south-facing window sill. I had before suggested to Gretchen that we could use our dining room with its great south-facing sliding doors as a winter garden for some tomatoes, lettuces, and herbs. The suggestion wasn’t received well.

When the chatting died down after lunch, there was a brief conversational lacuna in which I could ask Diane about developing a home-made hydroponic garden. Like a true-believer she jumped at the chance to tell me how to go about it. Almost everyone is evangelical about those things in which they believe, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see Diane “Standin’ on the corner” in Winslow with the Eagles handing out hydroponic tracts. She made a believer out of me.

The equipment is simple and inexpensive, things like a Rubbermaid storage container, a pump for fish tanks, some hose, fluorescent lights, and so forth. It’s no biggie. Even klutzes can hack it. There are several web sites for amateurs on means and materials. Just write hydroponic on your browser. I’ve started collecting the material and hope to be up and running later in the winter. My mouth waters at the thought of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and herbs all winter long. You’ve got to keep your eye on the prize.

Of course, there are the usual problems which beset every gardener, such as blights, diseases, etc. However, the advantage is that the garden is enclosed and the remedies can be administered effectively.
As with all gardening, hydroponic gardening requires attention. As my grandfather was accustomed to say, “All God’s vineyards need tending. Just remember your garden is a trust from the Lord.” I never imagined as a boy the divine irony in which in my 80th year I’d be tending my garden in a garage. As William Cowper wrote long ago, “God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.”