Elementary Gardening

This February and March I set up shop in our greenhouse. I bought seeding mix. I gathered our variety of seedling containers, flats and trays. And brought out the four boxes of seeds that I had ordered the previous fall and divided into root, fruit, flower and leaf. I had put them in alphabetical order in their respectively labeled boxes, and now it was time to plant. Following as closely as I could the biodynamic planting schedule, I took my multitude of seed packets and began to put them into their growing medium. I wasn’t even stymied when I read on the  packets that some of the seeds needed to be stratified. I took baggies, filled them with a mix of vermiculite and dirt, moistened the mixture, and added the various seeds, not least, my luffa. I labeled the baggies, and put them into the refrigerator. The dark and cold helps the seeds to germinate. 

I then forgot about them until, a couple of weeks later, I wondered whatever happened to my luffa. Ah! I removed the packets and noted all the little germinated seeds. It being a flower day, I planted the flower seeds into their pods. And on the next day, planted my luffa, it being a fruit day.

All this to say, I not only shoved the seeds into healthy seeding soil but I went so far as to make labels so that I would know which was which and what was what. And some of these seeds even had the decadent pleasure to be inside the house with an LED heat lamp. It was a wet, cold and foggy spring. Daily, Carl and I would debate if we should turn the lamp on. Daily, Carl would be firm: the seedlings need all the help they can get.

They sprouted! From kale to luffa, artichokes to tomatoes and peppers and eggplants. We were in success mode! I watered. I hovered. I felt so proud of myself, in no small part because I knew what was growing. I could point to a seedling and say, that’s a poblano because I have a sign saying so. And that’s a shishito pepper. See the sign? 

Two weeks ago, Carl and I began the process of moving my little, tiny seedlings—they were only half an inch tall. Still. They’d sprouted but somehow growing wasn’t high on their agenda. But it was nearly summer thus time to fledge those seedlings. And so, on a root day, while Carl put the potatoes into the ground where the tomatoes and kale and lettuces had been last year, I set about planting the very spindly leeks and onions. On a fruit day, Carl and I planted out the six varieties of tomatoes and the eight varieties of peppers and the eggplant and yes! the luffa. The pumpkins and melons. The squash. We then mulched it all with straw. The straw lightened up the ground. It was a eureka moment for me: instead of naked, dark brown dirt attracting the sun, heating up the earth, the straw seemed to reflect the sun back. That’s what we were supposed to be doing: healing and helping the earth to stay cool. If there’s no ice in the arctic to reflect back the sun, we had straw in our garden to do some of that reflecting.

Tick, tock. It was humbling to see those seedlings. The weeds in the garden looked rather more robust. And all that straw we had spread as mulch in the garden had sprouted. Straw is not supposed to sprout. There aren’t supposed to be any seeds in straw. That’s the definition of straw. It is the leftover stalks of grains after the grains a.k.a. seeds have been removed. But there it was sprouting. Vigorously. And the seedlings we’d planted? They had ossified, doing nothing that resembled growth. Fortunately, we had a very busy week to keep us distracted, and hope springs eternal. Until this past weekend, when I showed a couple of real gardener-friends around our gardens. 

Jo and Abbie have a lot of experience with gardens and farming. They have grown vegetables from seed, successfully, for years. They know the ins and outs of gardening and that that includes watering and weeding. They noted that I might want to weed our potted lemon and banana plants. I noted that the kale I’d planted were nowhere to be found. I asked what that waist high plant was. Abbie and Jo exchanged looks and Jo informed me it was a weed and it was about to flower. I pulled at it. It didn’t budge. Jo suggested a shovel might come in handy and we headed to the annual garden area, I feeling more and more self-conscious. Once I got our sentinel Schtude out of the way so Abbie’s bare legs weren’t under threat, we entered the garden and looked about us. Jo and Abbie both looked concerned. They noted the straw-lawn forming.

“You need to get rid of that stuff,” Jo said, her voice raised slightly in alarm. “That’s hay.”

“Nope,” I said. “It’s straw. We bought straw.”

“Well, you need to get rid of it. It’s taking over.”

We continued our tour. Abbie and Jo gamely joined me in my search for seedlings as we walked through the rest of the garden. I found one luffa. 

“You might want to start over again, Tory,” Abbie suggested. Jo agreed. 

Yesterday, I joined Carl in the garden. He was playing the part of Prometheus, weeding the quote straw unquote. On my knees, too, I weeded. Trying not to jar the seedlings. If I could find them. The ones I did find appeared identical to what they had been two or three weeks before. Carl and I got progressively, more and more rapidly, brutal with our weeding until I finally looked at Carl.

“Let’s give this area to the girls.”

He didn’t argue. We tussled a bit when moving the fencing, in no small part because I was trying to save one or two of those scores of seedlings. Miracles do happen. They might still grow. The girls marched in and began to scrape and peck and turn the soil. Our girls are hard workers. Next week, we will move them over to where I planted the leeks and onions. The melons and squash. And my luffa.

Some day, I really am going to grow a sponge. And create a meal that sprang from seeds I put into soil. Some day, these gardens are going to resemble my dreams and the bounty will feed not just us, but many others. Because some day, I will overcome my habit of relying on Mark Shepard’s STUN technique and instead of sheer, total, utter neglect, I will nurture, on a daily basis, each seedling. Yes, I will even be bold and callous enough to rip out the weak by their roots and toss them onto the compost heap, thereby allowing the more robust plants to flourish. I know this will happen because change happens. Example: I actually took the time to put those seeds into containers, and I labeled them. I stratified and scarified seeds so that they germinated. I will even go so far as to say that the vast majority of the seeds I planted and labeled sprouted. And so I am ready to begin again. Yes, this summer’s garden will come from started plants we will buy at Rosalie’s and Walker Farm. But soon, I am going to seed kale and lettuces that will be our fall crop. And in August, I will seed lettuces that will be lush and vital in November, December and January. And then? I will seed again tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Leeks and onions. Melons, pumpkins, squash and luffa. And isn’t that the most fabulous and beautiful part of  Mother Nature? Against all odds, not least my tender loving care, seeds sprout.