Miss Snippy Knows Beans

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Oh, my aching muscles...

By Wendy Tweten

Before introducing our main topic, Miss Snippy wishes to pose the question: are wind chimes the euphonious refrain of the choir celestial, or the soundtrack of hell?

Miss Snippy’s new neighbors have just moved in and, although they are a hundred yards away and invisible through a small woodland, Miss Snippy is being treated to the tintinnabulation that so musically wells from their wind chimes. Each chime keeps time in a sort of runic rhyme, and Miss Snippy feels—as she toils in her garden—that she is forever drifting into a dream sequence or, perhaps, a fugue state. Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle go the chimes. Twitch, twitch, twitch goes Miss Snippy’s eye. Wind chimes are the auditory version of the security lights on the house next door that nightly transform your bedroom into Wrigley Field.

But let us turn our thoughts to happier things: namely, vegetable gardens. Did you know that vegetable gardening is the hot “new” trend? One consumer survey anticipated spending on vegetable and fruit plants this spring would exceed all other garden purchases except those lawn-related. And why not? Pop in a few cabbages, an apple tree, a tomato plant or two, and soon you’ll be gamboling about the garden, gathering armfuls of picture-perfect produce while the gentle forest creatures look on.

Miss Snippy suggests you wake up and hear the wind chimes. Vegetable gardening is a tedious, exacting, and time-consuming occupation. Furthermore, don’t expect the produce to look as squeaky-clean as that purchased from the supermarket. Take Miss Snippy’s advice: if you’re going into vegetable gardening half-heartedly, don’t go into it at all. Join a CSA and pre-purchase shares of a local farmer’s harvest, or make weekly pilgrimages to a farmers’ market. Pay whatever they ask; it will be much less trouble—and almost certainly cheaper—in the long run.

There. Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, know that being the master of your own private potager does have its charms. If one gardens organically, and truly enjoys the process (bed preparation, planting, weeding, feeding, watering, fending off pests, harvesting, etc.), the reward is tasty, healthful food served up with a heaping helping of personal satisfaction. It also allows you, the gardener, to grow whichever varieties catch your fancy.

Year after year Miss Snippy sweats and swears in her own vegetable patch, eventually bearing her asparagus and carrots triumphantly kitchen-ward. Consequently, we are full of agricultural insight. First of all, we advise beginning with just one or two crops; for instance, many gardeners specialize in tomatoes (which Miss Snippy recommends growing in pots). Don’t bother with melons, okra, beefsteak tomatoes, eggplant, sweet potatoes, apricots, and similar crops unsuited to our climate unless you’re more interested in challenge than success.

For the very easiest of vegetable fare—direct seed, water, and harvest—try lettuce (which can be cut to two inches and allowed to re-crop), spinach, bush beans (green beans that need no staking), pumpkins and zucchini (though they appreciate a little fish fertilizer), garlic and shallots (plant bulbs in October, feed throughout spring, harvest in July), and Swiss chard (‘Bright Lights’ is fantastically ornamental with neon-bright stems). In addition, arugula, cilantro, and parsley are easy to grow in the maritime NW and will reseed themselves into infinity.

Vegetables require a minimum six hours of direct sun daily (lettuce and spinach being cautious exceptions). Many vegetables are handsome enough to include in your ornamental beds, and, conversely, flowers add panache to the kitchen garden. Here’s a secret weapon: floating row cover. Reemay and other brands of spun polyester fabric are excellent for protecting carrots from rust fly, corn seeds from birds, and broccoli and cabbage from an army of caterpillars. Used with or without support hoops, row cover also shades and warms seedlings.

The real dilemma may be finding time to do justice to your fresh and flavorful bounty once it arrives in the kitchen. That’s why Miss Snippy recommends every earnest tiller of the soil choose a partner with an equal affinity for the culinary arts. Imagine the bliss of dumping a basket of dirty potatoes and leeks into the sink and being greeted with a smile and the promise of porrusalda for dinner.

But vegetable gardening isn’t only about healthy eating; it’s also a healthy workout with moderate weight lifting, aerobic exercise, muscle toning, and stretching. It gets a body out in the elements to enjoy sunshine, birdsong, and the company of pets who view the strawberry plants as comfy cushions. Best of all, gardening is a superb stress reducer—unless, of course—your neighbor has wind chimes.



Miss Snippy’s Gardening Definitions:

Soil amendment, compost, tilth, mulch, humus

A soil amendment is anything mixed into the soil to improve its fertility or tilth. The most common soil amendment is compost, decomposed organic matter valued for creating favorable conditions for beneficial soil organisms and earthworms. This improves the soil’s tilth, or structure. A soil with good tilth is open and fluffy with large pore spaces that accommodate both air and water, fostering strong root growth. Tilling is actually harmful to soil tilth. Mulch is any material, from compost to grass clippings and newspaper to gravel, laid atop garden beds to control weeds and conserve water. Humus is rich, dark, fully decomposed compost.


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