Thursday, April 26, 2012

Responsible Vegetable Gardening - Brussels Sprouts

"You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of."

Vegetable gardeners who cultivate year-round vegetable gardens - as we can here in Zone 9 - must learn to embrace the mysteries; and by that I don’t mean mysteries like why someone would want to grow Brussels sprouts in the first place. I don’t judge. For the purpose of classifying the vegetables we cultivate at any given moment, I refer to the mysteries of seasonal transitions: when can I stop growing cool season veggies like cole crops (cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts); and when can I put the tender tomato starts in? Especially, when do I get to give up on the languishing Brussels sprouts and sew the watermelon seed?

Mother Nature doesn’t simply flip a switch at the spring equinox and declare that those languishing cabbages won’t ever get around to making heads, or that the world is now safe to grow eggplants. Around here, she tends to tease the gardener with a week or two of lovely warm weather and then circle back around and ambush us with a whack of winter weather. (And, what the hell do those anorexic, inappropriately dressed weather “gals” mean when they say well, we’re in for some unseasonable weather? Before weather can become unseasonable, you have to have discernable seasonal transitions, or at least discernable seasons, i.e. seasonable seasons. We don’t.)

Which gets me to my real subject here: those deadbeat losers of the vegetable kingdom - Brussels sprouts. We have only left the malingering Brussels sprouts in our vegetable garden for the upcoming Spring Garden Festival. It’s not just that we don’t want a patch of bare ground, or that we’re reluctant to expose tender vegetable to “unseasonable” weather. It’s certainly not that we expect to actually see a respectable ROI on our Brussels sprouts venture.

Speaking only for myself and not my fellow veggie gardeners, my reason for permitting the Brussels sprouts to remain in the garden is that they are a harsh lesson in responsible vegetable cultivation. If not damning evidence of their worthlessness, their unproductively is surely the harbinger of doom for our Brussels sprouts. These pretentious celebrities of the vegetable kingdom that spell their first name with a capital letter are as worthless as any Hollywood celebrity. 

When we were kids, we used to call them Mighty Mouse Cabbage, but that didn’t mean we liked eating them. I have met exactly one adult in my entire life that claims to like eating Brussels sprouts. Cooking the fruit of the Brussels sprouts makes your house smell like the unventilated hallway of a cheap boarding house at dinnertime, even down to the finishing notes of unwashed sweat socks lingering in the kitchen the next morning.

I conclude my case against Brussels sprouts by somewhat redundantly concluding that any annual vegetable that takes more than 90 days to ripen (or not to even bother to ripen) isn’t going to work in the microclimate of our garden. I should admit here that I have seen a vegetable garden about 5 miles away grow these plants taller than I, and so thickly productive that their stalks look like cylindrical cobblestone roads. In fairness to me, a professional master gardener who lavishly feeds them her homemade compost tends that garden. That said, I maintain that it is not a responsible use our sparse water and precious compost, not to mention my meager unpaid amateur gardening talents, for some stupid vegetable that ends up being an open invitation to several generations of short-lived white flies to enjoy themselves at leisure.

But wait until next week, after the Festival. Then, look out.

Imagine mama whitefly, who today gathers her fledgling babies around their whitefly hearth and tells them about the rich feeding grounds in plot #10. There, my darlings, you will find yummy, leggy Brussels sprouts, with lush leaves and anemic fruit that have nurtured generations of our ancestor flies, making us the mightiest whitefly kingdom on the block. Now imagine how, come next week, the kids will find a figurative scorched bare ground. Hah! It will be like global warming for our whitefly population; or 100-year drought, right? This leads me to admit that another reason to leave the sprouts in is to lull the whiteflies into complacency and indulge my vengeful fantasy. Surely, one of the perks of being a vegetable gardener is the totally godlike power to change the environment of pests. Apocalypse next Tuesday! Citizens of entire whitefly nations will rise up and turn upon their failed leaders as their world descends into the chaos, and as whitefly civilization breaks down, and as entire whitefly cultures are lost in nightmares of starvation and deprivation. (Disclaimer: I could be less than accurate about whitefly biology and ethnography here, but I’m probably not. I’m not a botanist or a fortuneteller. Based on this post, one might even say that I’m not much of a gardener either.) 

It is a challenge to garden responsibly, particularly as our seasonal circumstances are so mercurial. One of the changes we can control is what we plant and don’t plant. As god is my witness, I’ll never plant Brussels sprouts again.

1 comment:

Martha in Michigan said...

I've been away for a while (neither reading nor writing blog entries). This was a nice welcome back!

I appreciate the humorous imagery but must say something. My number-two offspring, who was never subjected to Brussels sprouts in her youth with me, has developed a taste for them. She does not boil them into insensibility but sautes lightly. They were not terrible, when she served them to me. But neither am I anxious to go out and get some myself. Old childhood trauma dies hard.