Get Growing with Mickey Rathbun: The after-meal gardener


My expensive close friend Cercie Miller not long ago asked me what I could possibly write about gardening when there is snow on the ground and the temperature is in the one digits. I admitted that I had now very much exhausted all the useless-of-wintertime subject areas in the 5 or so years I’ve been creating this column.

50 % joking, she prompt that I compose about “after-supper gardening,” which consists of increasing vegetation from avocado pits, pineapple tops, lychee nuts and other tropical delicacies.

Cercie and I lived with each other for a pair of several years in Cambridge back in the 1970s. She crammed our apartment with the usual dwelling crops every person experienced again then — spider vegetation and Swedish ivy and Boston ferns. But Cercie also had an avocado tree that experienced been propagated from a pit. Again in the disco decade (when she was finding out the jazz saxophone she’s now recognised for), she was the queen of the soon after-meal backyard.

I bear in mind really very well Cercie’s enthusiastic but hardly ever prosperous attempts at sprouting all sorts of seeds and pits. When she told me that she was developing a mango in the bathtub I was horrified, imagining her filling the tub with potting soil. It turned out she was only soaking it in water.

Cercie got her inspiration from a reserve referred to as “The Right after-Meal Gardener” by Richard W. Langer, the pen title of a younger shorter-tale writer who lived in a New York Town apartment with his spouse, Susan. (I’m curious to know who this was, but Google gives no clues. He went on to create a quantity of cookbooks, so probably food items bought the improved of his fiction vocation.)

“The After-Dinner Gardener” was revealed in 1969. (Langer was scooped in component by Hazel Perper, who posted “The Avocado Pit Grower’s Indoor How-to Book” in 1965.) My mom experienced a copy, which sat on the bookshelf along with the “I Despise to Cook dinner Book” by Peg Bracken, a 1960s bestseller. “The Right after-Meal Gardener’s” chapters are charming essays on fruits and vegetables that can, at least theoretically, be grown from the seeds, pits and other plant sections that conclusion up in the kitchen trash. These incorporate these not likely property plants as pomegranates, dates and sugar cane.

Langer’s gardening resources consisted of kitchen area cutlery — forks for tilling the soil, spoons for digging, chopsticks for poking seed holes — and all kinds of discarded foodstuff containers, some of which are now obsolete. For instance, to partially block the drainage holes he poked in the bottoms of coffee cans, he made use of the metal tops from frozen orange juice cans (keep in mind those people?), marginally bent. To keep more substantial plants, he used pretzel cans, which these times look to be only readily available on-line as novelty merchandise.

With self-deprecating humor, Langer recounted his several failures and occasional successes. But in addition to thorough guidelines for procuring, preparing and expanding the plants, the e book also describes the background of each individual foodstuff, together with its botanical genesis, early propagation approaches and cultural provenance.

Langer put in a good deal of time at the library of the New York Botanical Yard poring about such esoteric volumes as “A Dictionary of Plant-Names,” revealed in the Netherlands in 1916, the 1926 Proceedings of the West Virginia Academy of Science, and a bulletin from the Commonwealth Prickly Pear Board of Sydney, Australia. He even consulted with the correctly named Dr. Ivan W. Buddenhagen at the Faculty of Tropical Agriculture at the University of Hawaii. The success of his considerably-flung research are interesting.

Contemplate the banana, for instance. Most of us really do not imagine past the Chiquitas we come across in the supermarket. In accordance to Langer, the banana originated in southern Asia and was a person of the earliest foods cultivated by humans, not only for its fruit but for the soft inner aspect of the tree, which is even now a foodstuff in Ethopia. There are a lot of edible bananas cultivated in other pieces of the environment with intriguing names these types of as the Plumed banana, the Eyeless banana and the Go-sai-heong, a Chinese identify meaning “perfume that descends from the mountains.”

In comparison to these more exotic fruits, he wrote, our grocery retail store bananas flavor like paper pulp.

Langer tried out hard, without results, to cull the seeds from bananas. (You can consider how extremely hard it is to pick these little black spots out of the heart of the fruit.) At some point he resorted to getting banana seeds from 1 of only two corporations that offered them again in the 1960s. Now they are out there from Amazon and many other on the net resources.

Yet another chapter of “The Soon after-Dinner Gardener” is devoted to the a lot of-seeded papaya. Who understood that papain, the enzyme that seeps out of papaya leaves, is dried and bought as a powder? It has dozens of commercial purposes, culinary and otherwise. It’s found in meat tenderizer, chewing gum and beer. It is utilised as a tooth-whitener in toothpaste, a freckle remover in skin lotions and to reduce gastric distress. Leather-based employees use papain for tanning hides. It is even utilised as a place remover.

Langer figured out that to start out the papaya propagation approach, the seeds should be dried. Appropriately, he distribute hundreds of seeds on newspaper “in semi-lasting residence” in the little kitchen. Exasperated by the disarray, his spouse recommended that they string the seeds as necklaces for evening meal-occasion friends. “They could get them house and dress in them all around even though they are germinating,” she explained. “You could phone it ‘the residing necklace.’”

As the ebook helps make clear, Langer’s eagerness was usually outstripped by his ignorance. His first endeavor at growing a coconut concerned soaking quite a few retailer-acquired coconuts in his bathtub, crammed with salt drinking water. His long-struggling spouse inevitably objected to this (“bathtubs are for individuals!” she reported) and the experiment was aborted. But he was identified to thrive. Analysis discovered that the only way to sprout a coconut is to begin with a large, mature coconut even now in its husk. His father kindly introduced him 1 from Florida and he was off and jogging.

Langer cheerfully admitted that the coconut palm, like most of the other vegetation he grew, will hardly ever flower, permit alone produce fruit. But which is not the position. The guide is about the joy of turning the detritus of one’s meals into dwelling environmentally friendly crops — in a New York condominium, no significantly less.

Mickey Rathbun, an Amherst-based mostly lawyer turned journalist, has created the “Get Growing” column because 2016.





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