Gardening -- Growth Industry or a Pile of Manure?
I'm convinced that inside each of us there's a farmer struggling to get out. And as embarrassing as it may be, he's wearing bib overalls, a Red Man baseball hat (brim forward as God intended it to be worn) and sucking on a piece of straw. No, this isn't the Glamour "don't" we all have nightmares about, waiting to emerge from its fashion faux pas slumber to have us ostracized by our peer group, it's that little bit of Farmer Brown we each have locked up inside that causes us to grow mass quantities of vegetables that we can buy more easily and cheaply at the supermarket.It's a genetic thing. Yes, even I do it, though I must say it's on a rather small scale. Not having two square inches of natural ground to work with, I have flower pots on the window sill: two filled with basil, one with chives, one parsley and one mint. My inner farmer's easy to keep happy.Most people would never be content with that. They succumb to the uncontrollable urge to dig up a perfectly good weed garden so they can plant enough tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and eggplant to feed your average Third World country. Which is great if that country is heavy into Ratatouille.I suspect gardening fulfills some gaping God complex inside us. That's why we take a tiny little seed, stick it in some dirt, water it, feed it, nurture it and ..."Look Igor! After all these years of being laughed at, finally, we have created life!""But Doctor Frankenstein, you hate cucumbers.""So? I'll give them to everyone at the office. They''ll eat anything if it's free."The point isn't what you grow, but simply that you can grow it. Much like Choi Jong-yul of South Korea -- who recently spent seven months completing a 4,588-mile hike across the Sahara because, "There was a desert in Africa so I wanted to cross it." -- the fun is in the doing. But thanks to our mothers, who spent so many years drumming the idea into our heads that anything worth doing is worth doing extravagantly, we feel compelled to garden using such supremely 90's things as gourmet compost.While most of us would consider pecan studded filet of free-range salmon cheek with black bean and corn salsa, garlic yucca sauce and comfit of coffee grounds to be gourmet compost, the truth is the garden variety is made from better ingredients than the dog food you're buying, if you can believe that. Among other things, Coast of Maine's Penobscot Blend gourmet compost is made of (hold onto your Red Man hat) Atlantic salmon, Maine mussels and blueberries. This is true. At $10 for a 40-pound bag (compared to $1.59 for the plebeian cow-manure crap), your tomatoes had better grow to be ready made salsa.Somehow I don't think they use Penebscot Blend at London's Kew Gardens, where they grow what's billed as the World's Stinkiest Flower. The 10-foot tall titan arum is a plant that comes from the rainforests of Sumatra and has a six foot bloom that smells like "a mixture of rotting flesh and burning sugar with ammonia over the top" according to a staff botanist who may have been mistaking it for the New Jersey Turnpike in August.Although the titan arum, or "Perfume Counter at Bloomingdales" plant, blooms every two or three years in the wild, this is the first time in 33 years it's happened in Kew Gardens. This may be because they don't use Coast of Maine's radicchio and orange vinaigrette gourmet compost, but is more likely because there aren't enough bees left.Here in the United States officials are worrying that there weren't enough bees this year to pollinate the crops. It seems the cold winter, wet spring and two parasites -- Urkel and John Tesh -- have caused beekeepers to lose 40 to 90 percent of their swarms. If this is true it will ruin our reputation as the Land of Milk and Honey. But that's not all. Kellogg's will have to change the name of their cereal from Nut & Honey Crunch to Nothin', Not Even Honey and young children may soon have to learn about the birds without the bees, causing perhaps the largest sexual identity crisis of the 20th century. Not including Richard Simmons, of course.While this probably won't be a big problem for you, the home gardener -- since you'll still have enough green peppers, string beans and spaghetti squash to feed all the homeless in New York City (or two average teenagers, your choice) -- you should consider growing something more useful next year. Like a baobab tree. Baobab trees, for those of you who don't have insomnia and don't watch the Discovery Channel at 4:00 am, are huge trees best known for producing monkey bread and drunk South Africans. At least this is true at Dougie van Heerden's tree in Duiwelskloof, South Africa, which at 154 feet around is hollow inside and contains a bar, wooden benches, five stools, running water, electricity and beer on tap. Incredibly, this was all accomplished without using Coast of Maine's Penobscot Blend gourmet compost.Try and do that with your twenty Big Boy tomato plants.