Gardening at Night
An ode to the growing season
Pictoscribe-Home Again (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Most gardeners are just coming out of their deep planning phase, wrapping up dark months of poring through seed catalogs like plant porn.
I’d hate to admit it, but it looks like my yard has it’s own Rule 43.
April, as T.S. Eliot so smartly put it, is the cruelest month. If he were a New Mexico gardener, Eliot might include February, March and the early part of May as well. They’re all cruel for the same reasons: A warm day or two makes gardeners start to change their normal routes to ones nearer to Osuna Nursery (like H.I. McDunnough in Raising Arizona stalking convenience stores). And, invariably, everyone with dirt under their fingernails experiences fear and pangs of regret at mistiming their plantings—as the last freeze of the year splinters those snap peas, turns tomato seedlings to trash and withers even the weeds. Even the spirit of Ben Franklin working with Dr. George Fischbeck couldn't accurately predict the last freeze.
And, like fumbling teenagers in the backseat of a car, we are all too quick to plant.
Seed catalogs are lovely. My kids cut them up and make the best découpage, and they multiply like tumbleweeds in a windy corner. Like PBS or NPR, these companies sell your name to everyone they possibly can. This year, mine was given up to several, including Good Vibrations (a sex-positive shop) and the pinnacle of pulpy weird gift catalogs from the liberal version of Skymall, Signals. I suppose that is a relevant sell-through, if you imagine I’ll give up a spot in my garden for a statue of two cats sitting on a bench, fishing in an imaginary pond made of dirt.
The real action comes from trips to (or orders from) places like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds in Petaluma, Calif., a storehouse of heirloom varieties of vegetables like a seed bank, housed in an actual bank, and trips to Seeds of Change—including hopping the fence to scope their research farm—in order to get my heirloom Italian kale (Cavalo nero), Russian and Polish quick-grow tomatoes, Italian parsley, purple and French carrots (Nantes). I fervently believe the dark-bluish leaves of the Cavalo make for a more lovely Colcannon (recipe below).
This year, I’ll get a late start—cursing how I don’t start with seeds in the first place—and turn to seedlings, only to blow more cash than I should. The problem with seedlings is that you end up with shit like zucchini, which nobody likes. Fer crissakes, grow something interesting.
It’s wonderful—gardening—but it’s dirty and sometimes smells like shit. And I love how people you would never guess have all of the info. (Hint, it’s not always at the store.) It’s not Mr. Green Jeans and the oldsters trying to save their stupid roses; these people are like the folks in the furniture store you’d never want in your house, thus making it impossible to evaluate that couch, rug or dinette set you’ve been eyeing.
I’m down for growing high-value crops that are too delicious when fresh or too impractical or expensive on a commercial scale. ... even for the Co-op. The people who are into this fall into several sad little camps: DIY post-punks (me), hippies (ew), people who are preppers (no thanks) and turn of not-last-century-but-the-century-before folks interested in saving endangered skills (the 100-years-ago-original beard farmers).
Every passion and interest is invariably going to put you in the company of folks you’d never choose, and into places you might never otherwise go—like, the Albuquerque Mennonite Church at 1300 Girard, where Albuquerque Old School holds a variety of classes on creating your own makeup from everyday kitchen staples, canning basics, keeping chickens, what weeds you can eat and cheese-making.
Most of these classes have delicious intersection points between my long-standing epicurean interest, my cheapskatery and my pigheaded insistence that I can learn anything.
Mostly it’s cheapskatery.
Things grow, and they don’t need much: water, time, elements and a little know-how. Things in New Mexico, however, need significant organic amendment, and that means you had better start a compost. Do yourself a favor: Find a spot in the garden and dig a little hole. As you start your garden, begin to separate your coffee grounds and vegetable matter from the trash. Wrap it in this here copy of the Alibi, cover it with dirt and, next year, voilà, compost. Anything more detailed—such as how to raise rabbits for pets or meat, how to do the gray-water gardening and how to have urban goats, pigs or chickens— I’ll leave that to Novella Carpenter and her well thought-out books.
4 russet potatoes (2 to 2 1/2 lbs.), peeled and cut into large chunks
5-6 Tbsp. unsalted butter (with more butter for serving)
3 lightly packed cups of chopped kale, cabbage, chard, or other leafy green
3 green onions (including the green onion greens), minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup milk or cream
1. Put the potatoes in a medium pot and cover with cold water by at least an inch. Add 2 tablespoons of salt, and bring to a boil. Boil until the potatoes are fork tender (15 to 20 minutes). Drain in a colander.2. Return the pot to the stove and set over medium-high heat. Melt the butter in the pot and once it's hot, add the greens. Cook the greens for 3-4 minutes, or until they are wilted and have given off some of their water. Add the green onions and cook one minute more.3. Pour in the milk or cream, mix well and add the potatoes. Reduce the heat to medium. Use a fork or potato masher and mash the potatoes, mixing them up with the greens. Add salt to taste and serve hot, with a knob of butter in the center.Yield: Serves 4 as a side dish.