Monday, April 23, 2007

Animals Who Eat Vegetables

“It happening to be a very rainy night, I made some common-place observations on the relaxation of nerves and depression of spirits which such weather occasioned; adding, however, that it was good for the vegetable creation. Johnson, who, as we have already seen, denied that the temperature of the air had any influence on the human frame, answered, with a smile of ridicule. 'Why yes, Sir, it is good for vegetables, and for the animals who eat those vegetables, and for the animals who eat those animals.' - Boswell's Life of Johnson by James Boswell,

Rain has been sparse this year. But it rained Friday and again overnight Sunday. The white blur at Dopey's feet is the splash of rain from the roof. By Monday morning, the rain had stopped, but the grateful plants looked clean and green even in the overcast chill. It may be too little, and too late for Southern California. MSNBC/Reuters reported on 4/17/07 “The water content in the Sierra Nevada mountains snowpack was at only 33 percent of normal Monday, down from 46 percent in March and the lowest level since 1988. The last big statewide drought in California was 1987-1992.”

The history of rainfall in San Diego is that our normal annual rainfall, measured in the year beginning 7/1 is only 9.90 inches. So far this year, we have received barely 4 inches.

We are probably at the beginning of another drought; which means drier vegetation; which means another dangerous fire season. A local expert explains in the April San Diego Earth Times what this means: “With one ignition and extreme Santa Ana winds, 380,000 acres of shrub lands and forests were burned in San Diego County in the Cedar, Otay, and Paradise Fires in 2003 – almost one-sixth of the entire county.”

Gardeners pay attention to these matters. Everyone should, particularly those who fall into Johnson’s category of animals who eat vegetables.

Before the rain, I managed to make one final backyard harvest of my cool-season vegetables. I scored a last khol rabi, some stunted turnips, a lovely green onion. and a small red beet. To that I added some nasturtiums and fresh thyme. Once shredded in the food processor and baked into a crust-less quiche with eggs and cheese, the final color was a mouth-watering pink. Anyone who has not nurtured their own vegetables from seed to food might be forgiven for not appreciating what this means.

The taste alone is amazing when compared to store- bought vegetables. Studies are beginning to show that the nutritional value of home-grown produce is superior to mass-produced items bred primarily to look pretty and survive shipping - sometimes from as far away as a different hemisphere. This time of year, all the berries I can buy locally are from Chile. We are just starting to see local strawberries. I know this not only because that’s what I see in the stores, but also because I see that local wildlife harvests my own small crop of strawberries - usually before I get to taste them.

These two surprises awaited me on my return from vacation recently. My succulents too, are taking steps to survive the coming drought. I have never before seen my black aeonium create flowers.

The striking contrast between the dark brown foliage and the lime green growth I assume to be flowers makes a beautiful design statement. Another bold combination is the fuchsia bloom of the calindrina, against the backdrop of the variegated bamboo.

Whatever the hot dry summer has in store for us, my backyard garden has much to offer today.

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