Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mel Bartholomew, Mother Wonderful and Me

About 25 years before William Alexander wrote The $64 Tomato, Myra Chanin wrote an essay called “The $147 Ratatouille,” which was published in a book of her collected writings called Mother Wonderful in 1981. I first became aquainted with Myra when I somehow got my hands on a copy of her hysterical book Mother Wonderful’s Chicken Soup which describes her Jewish mother’s guilt-inducing attempts to heal her daughter with all-strings-attached homemade chicken soup (aka Jewish penicillin).

Thanks to a mutual friend who connected us professionally (Myra and I have similar jobs), I was able to express my appreciation directly to Myra and lo and behold, my very own copy of Mother Wonderful appeared in my mailbox.

It’s been a blast reading about Myra’s attempts to hob nob with the Horticultural Society (“gentlemen with broken tibias and canes, who all grew African Violets”), her determination to catch garden invaders by sneaking outside in her robe at the crack of dawn (“intellectually I understood that he was part of the ecological system. That did not interfere with my hating him.”), and her erotic fascination with the XXX-rated motels of Florida (“even the sign that says Jacksonville City Limits inflames my libido.”)

So I’ve been mulling over Myra’s ratatouille and Mr. Alexander’s expensive tomato because I’m about to plunk down a fairly big sum on some wood for the raised vegetable beds I’m planning to build in the backyard. On the same day that this book appeared, my boss thoughtfully gave me a copy of Mel Bartholomew’s Square Foot Gardening, which was published around the same time as Mother Wonderful. This book is a vegetable gardening classic.

I’ve been hearing about square foot gardening for a few years now, ever since I started planting vegetables, but never got around to figuring out how it works. After reading about Mr. Bartholomew’s methods, I see no reason why I can’t practice them in my forthcoming raised beds. It does seem, though, that having these books arrive unsolicited on my desk at the exact same time means that fate is trying to tell me something. Maybe I’m spending too much on square foot gardening. Maybe I should spend more time cooking chicken soup and less time gardening. Or maybe I just need to listen to Mother Wonderful and be glad I haven’t buried myself yet.

This is for you, Myra. Hope you get to go to Jacksonville someday.


tut-tut said...

Seems like you wants and needs are in total balance!

Karen said...

Excited for you about the raised beds! Can't wait to see how they turn out. I'm sure they will be super-fab.

Gail said...

I was thinking about going the raised bed vegie route but dear Mr says the fence we will have to build around, over and under it will eat up our retirement savings! The only sunny spot is way back and thats where the rabbits roam!

Anyway...good luck with the raised beds!


our friend Ben said...

Clearly, a Higher Power is trying to tell you to raise some chickens!

Joanne said...

I'm a little gardening naive here, having only a small, but much loved, annual tomato patch. So I'm wondering, what is the purpose of raised beds? Is it just aesthetics, or is there a benefit to the harvest?

JGH said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Tut and Karen! I just can't get over the fear that I am spending too much $$$

Gail, thanks for visiting! If you have any sunny pockets around your house, why not try some lettuce? It can do well in part shade. But only if hidden from the bunnies ;-)

Ben, if you only knew how badly I want chickens! They are in my future somewhere, I'm sure.

Joanne, I believe the raised beds give you more control over the soil- you can build up and add the soil yourself (rather than ammend), plus drainage is better and it is a barrier against pests. Can also be easier on the back since plants are a little higher. I'm sure there are other benefits I haven't thought of.