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Flash in the Pan

Ahoy, matey: Get gardening in yonder yard


Assuming you had all the time in the world to cross the ocean, would you drift, row, motor, or sail? Your answer has everything to do with how you garden.

Drifters would just as soon take a walk in the first fine days of springtime, as if wading through that special mix of melted dog shit and mud is any more fun than taking a walk around the back-forty, where the song birds are singing themselves a welcome tune, the sun is stronger, and the valley starts to purr.

Rowers, on the other hand, consistently choose the hard way, no matter what. They’ll pick the stairs instead of the elevator, for fun, exercise, endorphin rushes, endorphin addiction, guilt, shame, whatever. They’ll take a shovel over a rototiller, for the joy of digging. Digging is cheap, easy on the global fever, and with a shovel you can do anything, eventually.

Motors, meanwhile, tend not to mind burning fossil fuels in order to save time and labor, and they get off, understandably, on the power that internal combustion can provide. The rototiller has a spinning row of steel tines that turns your soil to fluffy mush. And if you’re prepared to sweat a little, dig sideways into the corners, pull the tiller backwards, and lean it forward, you can dig pretty deep. But please be careful. Those steel tines can do major damage to feet.

And if throwing your back out with shoveling or choking on two-stroke exhaust isn’t quite what you had in mind when you gave up your springtime walk up dog-melt gulch, you can unfurl a tarp, shake it out in the spring wind, let it flutter like the American flag, then lay it upon the ground like the tarp it is, and let nature take its course. The weed seeds, many of which have already germinated, are in for a surprise when they bust out of the dirt and hit a wall of plastic, which heats up by day and fries those weed-children in a dry heat. And the weeds from last year might have plans to expand their root systems and send up more shoots, only to be thwarted by your tarp.

In fact, the tougher the project, the more powerful is the sailor’s tarp. Take, for example, a well-established lawn. Say you wanted to turn that lawn into a tomato or pepper patch, which would be a fine idea. Well, if you lay down your tarp, with rocks, bricks, logs (or whatever) around the edges to hold it down, and you do this for any four-to-six week period between now and next fall, the worms and bacteria will have a field day with your lawn, roots and all. When you think it’s time, peek under the tarp to confirm that your sorry sod, denied of sun and water and baked dry, crumbles effortlessly into puffy worm shit.

Of course, spring is already here for some garden plants, like carrots, spinach, radishes, flowers, and much more, all of which can be planted by seed right now. If you put your garden to bed with any love last fall—cleaning it up and tucking it in with a thick layer of mulch, like hardwood leaves, straw or compost—then those beds will be raring to go like a maple in April, turning over with a wink.

But if you were a bad sailor and didn’t put your garden to bed, you’ll have to roll up those white sleeves and grab your shovel—because it’s too late for mulch and tarps. While you’re at it, why not make the most of your digging by tossing each shovelful onto a screen, strategically set upon your wheelbarrow? (The rectangular screen has a frame made from two-by-fours, to which half-inch-square wire mesh is stapled). It’s more work at the front end, like building a sailboat, but after the work is done you’ll have smooth gardening for years to come in the rich, plant-able organic pudding.

Ideally you want to plant spinach in a spot where it will get full sun now, but shade in June when it’s itching to bolt (I like the slow-bolting Tyee variety, but any spring-planted spinach will eventually bolt). One clever solution is to plant spinach in your pea patch, weeks ahead of when you plant your peas. The peas grow up and start shading the spinach right when you want them to.

Going one step further, you can also plant a handful of peas now, and when they finally come up you’ll know it’s time to soak and plant the rest. You can use the pea greens in salad or stir-fry, or let them keep growing. After you plant your peas, put up the trellis. And keep everything well watered, hopefully with the help of the good spring rain.

Whether you row, motor, drift, or sail your way into summer, your time in the garden should be fun and rewarding unto itself. But the smoother you sail into spring, the more you have it made in the summer.

Ask Ari: Everybody should love a good yolk

Q: Dear Flash,

My sister eats egg whites and throws away the yolks. She says it’s the low-fat, low-cholesterol way to go. Personally, I’m astounded at this, as the yolk seems, to me, the only thing in the egg worth eating. Is my sister crazy, or is she onto something?

Also, sometimes when I eat eggs I get the sulfur burps. What’s up with that? And, what’s your advice on the best way to hard boil an egg?

—Yolk Friendly

A: I agree with you, YF, your sister’s egg white habit is odd, although she’s hardly alone. I used to work with a weightlifter guy who peeled eggs on coffee break and ate the whites. When I asked for his yolks he looked at me funny.

But as you point out, all of the flavor is in the yolk. The whites have interesting culinary properties—you can beat them stiff, for example. But beyond adding body, the whites don’t have much more to offer other than sulfur burps (see below). Those decadently satisfying yolks, on the other hand, are why we like eggs. If you don’t want to eat yolk, then leave the egg intact and eat something else.

Meanwhile, according to the web page of the Exploratorium, a really cool science museum in San Francisco, “When eggs are subjected to excessive heat, the sulfur and hydrogen in the egg white combine to form hydrogen-sulfide gas. When the gas reacts with iron present in the egg yolk, a gray-green film forms where the white and the yolk contact each other.”

As for boiling eggs, I’ve had the best luck by putting them in cold water in a pot, bringing the pot to a boil, and turning off the heat. You can either let them sit until the water has cooled, or wait 20 minutes and then plunge the eggs in cold water, which will make them easier to peel.

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