‘They got a wall in China/ It’s a thousand miles long/ To keep out the foreigners, they made it strong/ I got a wall around me that you can’t even see/ It took a little time to get next to me.’
- Paul Simon
Published: Feb 10, 2016
Category: Food and Wine
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“I am two with Nature,” Woody Allen quipped.
Me too. So I was spooked by the passage in Dominique Browning’s glorious Slow Love when she got down on her hands and knees in her garden, “peering into the heart of a flower.”
On the other hand, my Capricorn practicality responds to above-ground vegetable gardening. You don’t have to twist yourself into poses too tough for a yoga teacher. And when food prices are endlessly rising, the notion of virtually free vegetables has considerable appeal.
A reader reports, "Last summer, at 62, I decided to try gardening for the first time. I followed the Square Foot Gardening method, and the results were fantastic, painless and fun. We ate fresh vegetables all summer and fall from two 4×4 and one 4×6 box… 56 square feet of abundance.”
Baseball players will soon report for Spring training. I stood out in the cold the other day and felt the sun on my face and thought: Not here, perhaps, but it’s the season to order seeds, think about setting up your boxes and, months from now, sending me your boastful report.
Alice Waters got her wish.
There was a vegetable garden on the White House lawn during World War II.
In the mid-’90s, Waters — founder of Chez Panisse and a leader in the eat-local, eat-organic movement — suggested that Bill Clinton revive the garden. He didn’t, but Mrs. Clinton planted a tomato rooftop garden at the White House.
In Michelle Obama, Waters found a committed listener; now, at the White House, they not only eat their vegetables, they grow them.
If the Obamas can tear up a patch of the White House lawn for a vegetable garden, then you can probably have one too. And if you can, you should.
For health reasons: The organic food you grow is better for you than any you can buy.
For spiritual reasons: It’s good to reconnect with our ancestral roots.
For exercise: You will use muscles that don’t get worked out at the gym.
For economic reasons: It’s vastly cheaper to grow your food than buy it.
And for the simple satisfaction of seeing the upside of life — watching something small grow into something good.
The happy news: It’s never been easier to grow Alice Waters-worthy vegetables.
No more digging to China. No more long rows. Use only as many seeds as you hope will grow, so you don’t have to spend hours on your knees thinning your crop.
In a word: above-ground gardening — planting by the square foot in raised beds, contained with planks any fool could hammer together.
The king of this school of gardening is Mel Bartholomew, an engineer who retired in 1975 and took up gardening as a hobby. He had also been an efficiency expert, so he had lots of questions that others might not have dared to ask. Like: Why plant a zillion seeds, only to thin 95% of the young plants a few weeks later? Like: Why plant entire rows of a single crop if you don’t, for example, want 30 cabbages to ripen at the same time? Why leave a 3-foot aisle between rows? Why add compost at a rate that doesn’t give you great soil for seven years?
The answers he got were the same each time: “That’s the way we’ve always done it.”
To a smarty, them’s fightin’ words.
in “All New Square Foot Gardening” Bartholomew breaks gardens down to 12” squares — literally. With proper spacing, that means just four plants per square. Savings to you? Well, by his math, planting in 12” squares instead of long rows saves you 80% of the garden area. To put it bluntly (and he does): “You can grow 100% of the harvest in only 20% of the space.” [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
What does Bartholomew ask of you? Lay out a 4′ by 4′ area, frame it with planks nailed together (and, if you’re so inclined, painted a crisp white). Dig up the top six inches of soil. Mix in peat moss, vermiculite and compost. Now you have a 12” high growing area. Plant it.
Bartholomew shows you how to do everything. When to do it. How much to do it. What tools you’ll need (few). How much work lies ahead (not so much). Everything important gets a big, clear, color photograph. And from the testimonials it really looks as if a few minutes a day can yield a bountiful organic harvest.
“The Vegetable Garden’s Bible," by Edward C. Smith, is a first cousin to the square-foot method. Smith lives in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont; whenever you read this, it’s probably snowing there right now. Smith is a bigtime gardener — he grows 100 kinds of vegetables in 1,500 square feet — so it’s harder for him to think small. And he does require a bit more of you. (No readymade compost for him, and he likes to dig deep.) But he adopts the raised bed approach. He likes wide rows. He’s organic.
Smith, like Bartholomew, had revelations along the way. “Whenever a plant’s growing space gets wider or deeper or both, its growth improves.” He teaches you how to really read a seed catalogue. He shares useful tips, like planting mint and horseradish — in pots, so they don’t grow wild — to repel cabbage moths and bean beetles. And he takes you through every process, in step-by-step photographs. [To buy the paperback of "The Vegetable Garden’s Bible" from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]
Effortless gardening? Only in those TV commercials that show you how to roll out a carpet of ready-to-sprout flowers or grow tomatoes upside down on a porch.
Nearly effortless? These books show you how. Now you have no excuse not to grow your own.
At 36, Dr. Paul Kalanithi was finishing his residency as a neurosurgeon. At 37, he died of cancer. In the final year of his life, he wrote a book, “When Air Becomes Breath.” It’s dazzling and important, less about death than you’d expect and more about love — love of his work, his wife, their child, of life. As Janet Maslin wrote in the Times: “Finishing this book and then forgetting about it is simply not an option.” Read Paul Kalanithi on his last day as a surgeon. Read Lucy Kalanithi’s op-ed about a marriage that didn’t end when her husband died. And then… [To buy the book from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here. For the Audible audio book, click here.]
My friend Richard Sandhaus is endlessly inventive. This time he’s created Treadmill Trails, an app that should have special appeal to those of us who don’t like to watch TV or listen to audio books as we work out. And the coolest thing about these videos – you don’t have to listen to the pump-you-up music that’s standard issue in gyms, you can substitute your own soundtrack. The experts have taken notice: Treadmill Trails is the only indoor running/walking app to be included in Runner’s World’s “27 Apps Every Runner Should Know About.” Why are these videos so good? Because Richard, a veteran hiker and trail runner, hiked the trails start-to-finish, shooting with a Steadicam. Where can you be working out? The Appalachian Trail, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kauai’s spectacular Na’Pali coast, or 21 other locations, with two new locations added each month. Cost: 99 cents for each 30-minute video. Get Treadmill Trails at Google Play or the App Store.
I saw “45 Years” this week — for the second time. I needed to watch the final few minutes again, I needed to see how Charlotte Rampling feels the full force of what has happened to her and realizes that she needs to do something about it. If you are young and new to love or only in the first few decades of a long-playing romance, this might not be the movie for you. (Go see “Spotlight,” “The Big Short,” “Brooklyn.” Avoid “Carol.”) But if you have achieved a certain age, if you have learned that intimacy is everything in a marriage and that there can be a very high cost to keeping your secrets secret, “45 Years” could be the movie of your year. Slow? Yes, like an Ingmar Bergman film is slow. But 95 minutes of Charlotte Rampling, looking every bit her age, fighting for understanding and balance? My God, I could watch that for days.
The audio book of Married Sex: A Love Story is finally available. May Wuthrich produced and directed, Tavia Gilbert read the female characters, I read the description and the narrator’s dialogue. I hadn’t opened the book in months, and I’d blocked the simplest fact — it’s drenched with emotion — and I certainly had no idea that Tavia could take the wife’s pain into the Streeposphere and that my response to those scenes would be to read, through tears, in a voice that cracked, but we decided to keep all of that. If you’re looking for a story about a married couple, some harmless sex and an unexpected aftermath, here you go.
Obligatory Blog Roll
- Andrew Tobias
- Speakers in Code
- New York
- Manhattan User’s Guide
- Show Biz
- Roger Friedman
- New York Social Diary
- Jeffrey Rubin
- Designer Previews