Tuesday, March 17, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/14/2015)


          The problems with growing tomatoes aren’t the tomato plants themselves.  It’s everything else, such as hail, sleet, downpours, howling winds, drought, bugs, vermin, insects, bacteria, fungus, and viruses, to name a few.  The tomato plant is defined as tender which means it’s easily afflicted. 


          Years ago while I had my offices on Westwood Boulevard in Los Angeles, a well-known motion picture actress made an appointment to see me.  She was beautifully painted, powdered, and perfumed, but all that glitters is not gold.  She said. “Dr. Smith, I’ve heard many wonderful things about you, but I’d like to say something before we begin.”


          Softly touching the back of my hand, flawlessly manicured nails aglow, she said, “Now, I want you to be completely truthful with me, but you must understand that I’m easily hurt.”  As she spoke a barely perceptible twitchy smirk played across her lips.  I thought I saw deep in her eyes an untouchable lunacy, the kind of lunacy that takes pleasure in confusion and chaos.  Our encounter was brief and unsuccessful.  She always comes to mind when I think of planting tomatoes.  Sadly, my relationships with tomato plants have often been brief and unsuccessful, “now and then” misfortunes.  Last year, hail wiped out almost all of our tomato plants.


          Like the actress, tomatoes are beautiful, and as Cole Porter wrote in Jubilee, sometimes they are “just one of those things, a trip to the moon on gossamer wings, just one of those things.”  


          To make them more than “just one of those things,” the tomato grower has to think defensively, something like defensive driving in which the driver thinks everyone else on the road is a maniac.  Plant them far enough a part (3 feet) so that airborne diseases may not easily travel from plant to plant.  Also, it’s needful to control the soil so that soil borne diseases may not infect the plant.  This means sterile soil in containers.  The soil should be friable and moist, not water-logged.  A heavy feeder, they require a 5-10-5 fertilizer.  Since they are delicate and are prone to fall over, they are best grown in cages.  Also, the cages allow for rapid cover in case of hail, a “now and then” thing in Flagstaff.  An excellent compendium on growing tomatoes is online at http://ag.arizona.edu/pubs/garden/mg/vegetables/tomatoes.html.


          While the problem isn’t with the tomato plants themselves, the harsh climate in Flagstaff isn’t congenial to these tender and fragile vines.  Our growing season isn’t long enough for those luscious heirloom tomatoes grown in warmer climes, maybe the ones remembered as a child.  In short, growing tomatoes in Flagstaff and environs is against the tide.


          Grief is an inevitable experience with growing tomatoes.  Most of the afflictions that befall growing tomatoes do not happen in the early and middle stages in the development of the plants.  They occur during the monsoon that cusp of time when the color of the fruit on the vine is beginning to turn to ripe, gold, deep red.  Sometimes, the calamity strikes after the color has turned when the gardener is ready to pluck the fruit.  The hail storm almost always strikes when the plants are full of ripe and ripening fruit.


          However, all is not lost.  If the gardener manages to thread all of the hazards without calamity, the rewards are above any monetary value, almost transcending into spiritual ecstasy.  The experience of plucking a golden Siberian cherry Galina in the middle of the morning when the sun has warmed the garden is a delight without compare.  The taste is complex and exquisite and worth the work and heartache.


          The same can be said for another Siberian, Sasha’s Altai, and the Czechoslovakian Stupice.  Along with the Galina, they all come to maturity in 55-60 days, a necessity with our short growing season.


All that glitters is not gold, but the fact remains that gold glitters.  Tomatoes are the gold of gardening, and they worth all the fussing, anxiety, and grief.  Beyond compare is the taste of a home-grown tomato flushing out the debris lurking in our mouths and awakening again our taste buds to a resurrection of grace.     

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith’s email address is stpauls@npgcable.com and his blog is http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com.


Sunday, March 15, 2015



The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (3/11/2015)


          About fifty years ago, March 9, 1965, an army buddy of mine, James Reeb, was bludgeoned by a gang of thugs in Selma, Alabama.  While in the army, we lived cheek by jowl for over a year.  He died two days later in a Birmingham hospital.  In a police riot that same night, I was jailed, shackled, and beaten.  Neither Jim nor I knew that the other was going to Selma.  We had gone to march with Martin Luther King, Jr.  Neither of us marched.  Jim was killed, and I was escorted early the next morning by the sheriff’s deputy, who had beaten and kicked me, to the bus station, and told not to return.  We believed that all human beings deserve equality having been created in the image of God and graced by Jesus Christ. 


          The thugs were tried and acquitted.


I write this not to elicit sympathy and approval and certainly not ridicule.  I’ve long passed the point in my life where those things matter.  My point is simple: someplace, sometime, somewhere in our lives for our own spiritual welfare we must do the right thing.  I believed going to Selma was the right thing.  I still do. 


          W. Somerset Maughm in the “The Summing Up” wrote: “the philistines have replaced the rack with the wise crack.”  Ridicule is in.

If people can’t think well, they will frequently resort to ridicule which means that they have nothing to say.


          I still bear the marks of that night.  I often think about Selma and doing the right thing, especially nowadays.  When I do, gardening often comes to mind.  It’s doing the right thing, something intimately and directly connected with God’s intention for the earth.  It’s not exploiting the earth for private profit.  Exploitive industries claim that they have a right to plunder the earth as a means of turning a profit, a really profane and blasphemous claim.  Their rationale is sociopathic.


          Instead of exploiting the earth, gardeners are replenishing the earth.  The “in” word is sustainability, but the word sustainability has lost its power by becoming a catch word.  The earth is a gift from God for human welfare, not something to be used up and thrown away.


          There is a phrase in the Book of Common Order’s Funeral Service referring to the deceased which reads, “made the world richer for his (or her) presence.”   We all know terrible people who have made the world worse for their presence.  Gardeners make the world richer for their presence, beginning with beauty.


          Human beings leave so many ugly constructions in their wake, such as some of the buildings at the Sawmill, that a beautiful yard is a treasure.  Beauty enhances the human spirit, while ugliness corrodes it.

How many morning walks and evening strolls have been graced by beautiful yards!


          However, beyond beauty, there is the issue of the earth’s welfare, like air, water, and soil.  The trees and bushes planted by gardeners help purify our air.  We’re at a point in the earth’s destruction where we’ll be compelled to restrict the use of water for non-essential purposes so that we can continue to drink it and irrigate the plants we use for food.    


          Ironically, many of the commercial fertilizers used in industrial agriculture are depleting the earth’s nutritional values by turning fields into wastelands.  The composting movement which began with small farmers and gardeners seeks to enrich the earth rather than deplete it, making it richer because of their presence.  Even industrial agriculture is beginning to compost, finding it cheaper and more effective than artificial fertilizers.


          Our water, soil, and air are all imperiled by human greed, the belief that exploitation for the profit of a few is acceptable.  The gardeners are teaching us that enriching the earth is the right thing.  At my age, I’ll be 88 in a few weeks, I think about the significance of my own life, especially all of the ironies.  It is better to leave the legacy that instead of corroding and ravishing the world that we have enriched it by doing the right thing.   


Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015


Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardener.blogspot.com. 










Tuesday, March 03, 2015


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (2/28/2015)


          While a soldier in the U. S. Army, my unit, Special Troops, often patrolled Alaska’s bush hunting criminals and saboteurs. Such forays in the winter were more arduous than in the summer although the ground was firmer.  In the summer, it was marshy and mosquito infested.  As an 18 year old buck sergeant, I was in charge of a squad tracking a native soldier who had killed his wife with an ulu knife.  Happily, an Alaskan Scout was our guide.


          Without sunlight, without showers, with the Northern Lights, living on field rations for several days, we stunk.  We craved hot showers, warm beds, warm food, and fresh fruit and vegetables.  The cooks had prepared a special treat for us, cherry Jello.  Since they didn’t have any cherries, instead they used canned beets.


For reasons other than cherry Jello, beets have been out of fashion for several years, considered plebian along with turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips; however, beets and their allies are now becoming de rigueur.  Carrots have always remained standard fare, not quite fashionable and bourgeois.  However, root vegetables are now happily chic.


Root vegetables are naturals for Flagstaff and the Colorado Plateau.  Unlike tomatoes, they don’t wilt at the first sign of frost.  A hardy lot, they’re nutritious, attractive, and easy to grow. 


The Detroit Dark Red is an heirloom developed in 1892 by a Mr. Reeves in Port Hope, Ontario, Canada.  He began with an Early Blood Turnip which was also grown at Monticello by Thomas Jefferson whose gardens were undoubtedly tended by his slaves.  Aside from that, the Detroit Dark Red has a noble lineage.


An all around vegetable, almost all of it can be eaten.  The

young leaves can be used in salads, and before they are too old can be used as a

side dish or in soups and stir fry.


          However, the real triumph of the Detroit Dark Red is the root, a delightful globe, best plucked early while it is still tender and tasty.  To prevent the dark red from staining everything in sight, the globe is best boiled, baked, or roasted in its skin with the small base of leaves attached to the top and the small pig tail left on.  After cooking, the skin can easily be slipped off without red stain running all over.


          Not all beets are dark red globes.  The Italian heirloom, Chioggia, with its interior rings of bright pink and white offers a great contrast to the Detroit Dark Red.  With its sweet and peppery taste, it’s also an eye catcher when properly sliced.


          As the name suggests, the Golden Beet is golden in color and doesn’t bleed as do the red beets.  A fetching contrast to the red beets, it’s attractive, sweet, and nutritious.


          The Bulls Blood Beet is, also, an heirloom.  With an earthy yet sweet flavor, it’s darker and richer than the others with its leaves a deep maroon.  When picked young, its leaves are a striking contrast in salads.  It’s a beet connoisseur’s beet.


          The rules for growing beets are simple.  Sow the seeds a few weeks before the expected last frost and keep sowing on through to fall.  Plant an inch deep about 12 to 15 seeds per foot and thin to 2 to 3 inches.  Plant in well-composted soil and keep the watering even.  When harvesting, choose a dry day, cut off tops near the crown, don’t wash the root, and store in the crisper in a plastic bag with small holes.  They’ll last a long time.  They can be stored, boiled, pickled, roasted, baked, canned, and frozen. 


          As far as pests are concerned, aphids are a possible threat.  Dill, coriander, and bronze fennel draw the insects which feed on aphids.  Lady bugs are excellent predators on aphids.  Spray insecticidal soap and detergent on the leaves’ undersides where the aphids hide out.  Never use systemic poisoning.  Systemic suicide is a horticultural no-no.


Beets bring a delight to the eye, a pleasure to the palate, health to the body, and clarity to the mind.  As with tomatoes, beets are great when canned, but forget the cherry Jello.


Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2015

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at stpauls@npgcable.com and blogs at http://highcountrygardner,blogspot.com.