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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

A Planter?

March 28, 2011

Purple Parrot Café gardener, Micah Pogue, just placed 96 Roma tomato plants in the ground.

Several weeks ago we planted potatoes, onions, carrots, and cucumbers. Pretty soon we’ll plant sweet corn, watermelon, okra, peppers, zucchini, and lots of other fresh vegetables and herbs for our restaurants.

Last year was our first year to grow a full-scale organic garden. We learned a lot.

A decade ago, the only thing I learned about planting a garden, is— if one plants four 100-foot rows of squash, he will soon run out of vegetable-storage space and spend many sleepless nights creating recipes such as squash mousse, squash soufflé, and squash ice cream while— in his dreams— visions of squash blossoms dance in his head.

I retired after my initial foray into gardening. Yet, like Brett Favre and Michael Jordan (though with a much, much smaller bank account), I came out of retirement. Well, actually I hired someone much smarter than me to do the real gardening. I might be considered a “planter” these days— which, in my case, is a fancy term for: One who gets all of the credit, but does none of the actual work.

I am still learning. There are varying schools of thought as to when to drop your initial seeds and plants in the ground. I had always heard that, in this area, you’ve got to have your garden planted by Good Friday. This year Good Friday and Easter are one day away from being as late as they can possibly be, so I wonder if the date changes when the calendar date is late?

Last year at the garden center, an elderly woman pulled me aside and said, “If you plant when the azaleas are in full bloom, you’ll have the best success in your garden.”

Another old-timer told me, “When you see the pecan trees just starting to sprout leaves, that is the best time to plant your garden. Pecan trees never get fooled by frost.”

Others say, “Thunder in February, frost in April on the same day(s). “This year we had thunder on the 1st and 24th of February. Since we already have plants in the ground, I’m keeping my fingers crossed. All I know is that my friend, Perry Arnold, who runs the farm and garden store where we purchase all of our seeds, plants, and supplies says, “It’s time to plant.”

Ultimately, I it’s all about ground temperature, not the temperature of the air. The walking almanac of gardening, Felder Rushing, says, “If the fisher women are still sitting on their bait buckets, it’s too early to plant.”

Anyone reading that statement north of the Tennessee state line has no clue as to what it means, but those of us lucky enough to call this little section of the planet home, and who have fished with a cane pole while sitting on the bank of a creek, know that it makes perfect sense. Northerners will either have to catch up or keep guessing.

In addition to the fresh vegetable garden, fruit trees, and beehives, we are about to get into the pig-raising business, too, more on that next week.


Roasted Garlic New Potatoes

2 1 /2 lbs New red potatoes, small
3 quarts Chicken broth
1 stick Butter
1/4 cup Roasted Garlic Puree
1/3 cup Parsley, freshly chopped
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper, fresh ground

Wash the potatoes thoroughly. Using a pairing knife, cut a strip around the outside of the potato. Place potatoes in a large stockpot. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a low simmer for 20-30 minutes, until potatoes are fork tender. Drain potatoes. Place hot potatoes in a large skillet with all of the ingredients except the parsley. Simmer over medium heat stirring gently. Cook 10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve.

Note- New potatoes should be smaller than a golf ball. If you are working with larger potatoes, use a pairing knife to cut potatoes into uniform sizes.

Yield: eight servings

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