Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (1/23/07)

Gardening requires many hats. Perhaps, the most important is the mystic’s cowl because gardening is ultimately a spiritual experience. William Blake said it best, “To see a world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wild flower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour.” Gardeners begin with awe.

The nurse’s cap fits the gardener who patiently brings sickly plants back to health, nursing, caring, and tending. Of course, gardeners always wear a Crime Scene Investigator’s hat as they prowl through their gardens, poking here and there, peeking into the underside of things, on the look-out for the latest infestation of bugs, noxious weeds, or sociopathic mychorrizae.

A soldier’s helmet best fits the gardener facing a grasshopper infestation. Negotiating with grasshoppers is a fool’s errand; however, a war on grasshoppers cannot be pre-emptive, striking at the enemy before it attacks because grasshoppers may fly in from a neighbor’s yard. Attacking a third of the world is risky at best and foolhardy at worst. The only war possible is a defensive war in which no mercy is shown the invading host. The French say it best, “ne pas faire de quartier.”

Strategically, a two-fold defense is best, ground and airborne. The ground strategy is to lure the grasshoppers with attractions more toothsome than their usual fare and then zap them, closing in on them in a pincers movement. Unlike the French fixed Maginot Line, which failed to stop the Germans in World War II, the ground strategy has to be mobile, placing the traps where the grasshoppers are the most likely to see the deadly meal as in barren spots where foliage does not hide the trap.

Tactically, two attractive traps are easily available. The pesticide, carbaryl, comes with a warning, not to ingest it, inhale it, or let it contact the skin. While not lethal, it can cause great discomfort, but it is deadly for grasshoppers and bees which means to avoid laying carbaryl traps near plants attractive to bees. As with all soldiers, gardeners must always respect their weapons and treat them carefully.

When mixed with a host material, usually wheat bran which attracts the grasshoppers, it can be spread on the ground, but not the plants. Gardening soldiers don’t poison themselves, just the grasshoppers. As with all good mobile defenses, the traps are laid out before the grasshoppers arrive, early in the spring. After they arrive, it may be too late because carbaryl works best when the grasshoppers are young in their nymph stage.

Unlike carbaryl which looses its punch after a time and after rain, the biological protozoan Nosema locustae, while a slow starter, lasts longer even after it has knocked off the nymph grasshoppers. Grasshoppers are cannibals so that when a live grasshopper eats a grasshopper killed with Nosema locustae, it is eating the poison that killed the grasshopper on which it is feasting. As in the principle of martial arts, it uses the adversary’s energy. Nosema locustae are gifts that keep on giving.

These tactics used throughout the spring, summer, and fall will significantly reduce the invading host which means the airborne forces are used to finish off the remaining grasshoppers. Birds are one half of the air forces, especially the black ravens and purple Stellar’s jays which means a good soldier in the gardening army will feed these birds all during the winter to keep them around for the rest of the year. A well-protected garden is bird friendly.

After securing an adequate air force of birds, the next armament is the praying mantis or, correctly, the praying mantid. Resembling a skinny skyhook helicopter, the praying mantid is a veritable grasshopper gunship. Praying mantid eggs are readily available. As soon as the praying mantid emerges, it starts eating with a voracious appetite.

Ultimately, it’s boots on the ground that win wars. A gardening soldier, such as Lally McGhie, the attractive, well-coiffured and clad local Realtor, is a model soldier as she mops up the remaining stragglers. As Lally walks through a garden, her left arm reaches out like a Bofors anti-aircraft gun, pow-pow-pow, grabbing grasshoppers in her hand and crushing them.

We need soldiers so that we can wander our gardens in wonder, else we’ll live in a wasteland, so, gardeners, like Elijah of old, gird up your loins and join the battle.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (January 3, 2007)

Aside from refreshing composters, winter gardening begins with seed catalogues which are akin to horticultural travel brochures, something like an imaginary gustatory world tour. Beginning with one of the sources of our civilization, the Thessaloniki tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum) appears smack dab in the middle of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ( The ancient Greeks didn’t have tomatoes because they came from the Incas of Peru by way of the Spanish Conquistadores. The Thessaloniki tomato, a favorite of Tickaboo Ranch’s Diane Scantlebury, is a fit for the High Country, being an early producer. A good companion for the Thessaloniki tomato is Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare.) They bring out the best in each other. By the way, Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, an excellent retelling of the story of the ancient Greeks, is an delightful accompaniment to the Thessaloniki tomato.

Other tomatoes in a world-tour would certainly include that czar of all Siberians, the Galina tomato (Lycopersicon lycopersicum), a golden cherry of subtle and complex taste. It, too, is an early riser and an abundant producer. Happily, one doesn’t have to take the Trans- Siberian Railway at $2,000.00 a head or spend time in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago to enjoy the many Siberian tomatoes that are good fits for the High Country. The seeds are available down in Cornville at Bill McDorman’s

After some time in Siberia, it would be pleasant to visit sunny Tuscany and fetch some seeds of Cavalo Nero or Tuscan kale (Brassica
oleracea.) De-stemmed, chopped, blanched, and pressed dry, it is great in soups and as a side dish sauteed in olive oil with raisins and roasted pine nuts, Tuscan kale seeds can be found at Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance. When dining on Cavalo Nero, one is also dining with Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Dante. When preparing to dine on Tuscan kale with the Mona Lisa, a good read is Sigmund Freud’s fascinating analyisis in his book Da Vinci.

Not to be outdone, Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch brings to mind Adam Smith, John Knox, Rob Roy, David Hume, and, of course, Rabbie Burns, as the Scots call him, with his poems “To a Mouse,” “To a Louse”, “A Red, Red Rose,” and “Auld Lang Syne.” Not a bad set of dining companions if they weren’t eating haggis, the national dish of Scotland. Oatmeal mixed with sheep entrails and suet and boiled in a sheep’s stomach, haggis can only be eaten when washed down with vast draughts Scotch.

Giant Walking Stick Kale, a Portuguese favorite, also from, is a treat for children because it grows tall and walking sticks can be fashioned from the stalk. Strolling through the countryside, sporting a Portuguese kale walking stick, would be a treat alongside Prince Henry the Navigator, Vasco da Gama, and the Duke of Albuquerque. At least, one wouldn’t get lost with Prince Henry the Navigator as a guide.

Any return trip to Italy is well-worthwhile, especially a trip to Genoa and Genovese basil which actually comes from Asia, Africa, and India. The Genovese were great mariners, such as Christoforo Colombo and Andrea Doria, which means that they brought back herbs to Genoa from all over the world and along with tomatoes from the Incas. Johnny’s Selected Seeds ( offers a wide variety of basil in addition to Genovese basil. The Red Rubin basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a rich, dark purple and highly prized by Diane Scantlebury.

Any travelogue isn’t complete without a visit to Merrie Olde England and the Bull’s Blood beet (Beta vulgaris.) A British heirloom, seeds can be obtained from Seed Savers Exchange ( Bull’s Blood does double gastronomic duty with its dark purple leaves and sweet, dark roots. It is a beet lover’s beet and would be fit for dinner with either Winston Churchill or William Shakespeare.

Bon voyage et bon camarade.