Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Atlanta May Not Have Water, But It's Got the Varsity

“It’s hard to imagine civilization without onions,” said Julia Childs. Spaghetti Sauce, pot roast, enchiladas, potato salad, cornbread dressing, the list goes on for miles. Onions are a staple in our diet, no doubt about it.
Allium cepa, the common garden onion, is consumed at a rate of approximately 21 pounds per year per person in the United States, and a half cup of chopped, raw onion contains one gram of fiber and 5 milligrams of vitamin C. What more delicious way to ingest those necessary nutrients than in an order of that great comfort food - fresh, hot Varsity Onion Rings?
Having made the three hundred mile round trip to Atlanta three times in the past three weeks (one funeral, one wedding, and a reunion) Hank and I felt that a trip to the Varsity was the least we could do for ourselves.
The Varsity, we are sure, is as much a part of our shared family tradition as Thanksgiving dinner or church on Sunday. My parents went to the Varsity on dates, when chili dogs were two for a nickel, long before it became necessary to negotiate the harrowing, ever evolving, mass of interstate highway that surrounds downtown Atlanta.
My daddy would take us there when we were kids, and we’d eat in the car, since only old men and Tech students ate indoors. He was very particular about the condition of his cars. “This car will smell like a weenie joint for a week,” he’d complain. But it was worth it, even to him. As a teen-ager I made more than one spin around the parking lot in a souped-up Chevrolet, and Hank and I went there on a few dates ourselves.
So, we went on Friday, and enjoyed once again together the unmatched flavor and perfect texture of a Varsity Chili Dog and side of Rings. It was just as good as we remembered.
Since I moved away from Atlanta, I’ve noticed that there are certain topics that seem to be on everyone’s mind at any given time. For years that topic was the fearsome, eternal traffic. Traffic that was getting bad when I lived there forty years ago, is now nearly intolerable.
There’s a new worry on everybody’s mind these days. That is the problem of water. “We were supposed to get four inches,” my Uncle Jeff said, when we stopped by for a visit. The sky was already growing lighter on a day that was to have been filled with thunderstorms. “Instead we only got a half inch, if that. It’s the worst drought since 1931.”
There are water restrictions so intense that neighbors turn each other in, and if you dare appear to be extravagant, you risk having your water turned off with a thousand dollar fine to have in turned on again.
Aunt Faye, a dedicated gardener, has maintained the small garden of their condo with efficiency, having saved the latest advice from Georgia’s garden guru Walter Reeves, and having come up with some ideas of her own. She passed the paper along to me.
“Make better dirt when you plant and dig deep,” says Reeves. The soil’s moisture is more constant the deeper you dig, and you should amend the soil around your new planting with plant matter.
Spread a double thick blanket of mulch. “Stay away from hockey puck sized nuggets,” he said, “and stick to mulch that’s more finely textured.”
And, speaking of mulch, here’s a hint from the Terminix man I talked to a few weeks ago. Cockroaches, or as we South Carolinians say, “Palmetto Bugs” are attracted to many kinds of mulch that we use near our homes, taking a thick blanket of pine straw or pine bark as a welcome mat to come on inside, BUT they don’t like cedar mulch. So he advises, if you’re planting near your foundation, use cedar.
Aunt Faye plans to work some type of “water grabbers” into the soil around her pansies when she plants them. I’ve had good luck with these in potted plants. I expect they’d work the same in the ground, though it might get expensive if you have a lot of plants.
I’ve also heard many people talk of using dishwater or shower water, if you have a way to capture it, to water plants. It seems a good idea, and I can’t find any advice against it. One thing I read said that dishwashing liquid won’t affect the pH, but that detergents from the clothes washer might and that it might be illegal to water with what’s called “gray water” anyway.
I expect be the time we make that trip over I-20 again, the leaves will finally have changed and fallen off, and North Georgia will, I hope, have come up with some long term solution to its water shortage. Georgia’s problems should be an object lesson for us. We are fortunate here in Aiken to have a good source of water, but it is not endless. As gardeners, we must consider more sustainable, adaptable garden practices. As citizens we need to be sure that our state’s and city’s growth is planned around the resources available to us.