Each spring, I plant seeds under grow lights in my basement as a sign of hope and a sign of memory – I keep trying to get the children into it, and I want them to know where they come from: both their grandfathers grew up on farms. And it’s finally working this year because the children are old enough to help/enjoy it/not get in the way.
I come from a long line of Virginia farmers. By age 6, my father was driving a tractor to help work the family farm in Spotsylvania County. Then when I was a kid, my mother would plant seeds in styrofoam cups and potting soil every spring under grow lights Dad would rig up. When the seedlings were ready, we transplanted them into the garden. Exciting? Hardly. I remember how eternally dull it was to have to help make holes, drop seeds in and pat them closed. After five minutes, I was usually dismissed.
The garden shrank as the battle against deer and other critters intensified, and yet I somehow grew up to grow things in pots on fire escapes in New York City. (The squirrels of Brooklyn loved it the year I grew corn on a roof deck.) When we moved to Baltimore six years ago – and got a tiny backyard with an 8-by-8-foot patch with good sun – I was ready to try gardening for real.
Using an extra seed table my mom had, I tried to share the fun of gardening with Eddie as a 3-year-old while his infant sister took a nap. He alternated between bored, falling off a chair to reach the table and spilling seeds and dirt everywhere. Another year, I rented a 20-by-20-foot plot in a community garden, a 10-minute walk from our house. I figured Carla, at 18 months, could ride in the wagon while Eddie, 4-1/2, carried a tool or two. I hoped for beets and tomatoes but ended battling man-high weeds that laughed at me as they pushed aside bricks that held down my weed-control fabric. What on earth was I thinking?
It started to get better one year when I set up all the seed-planting paraphernalia like items lined up for a cooking show. Eddie would appear, stick seeds in dirt and call it a day. I learned to scale back and plant maybe two or three things with the kids and do the rest by myself at night. Apparently, something took. When I announced at breakfast today that I might start some lettuce and spinach seeds, he said, “Hey, I wanna plant some, too!” (Sorry, junior, you’ll be at school.)
Carla seemed to get into it this time. While I collected cups and potting soil, she pulled out and shook every one of my 40 old seed packets. She wanted to plant the ones with Bob and Larry, the VeggieTales cartoon characters. She mashed the lumps of dirt while I poured water in to moisten the potting soil. Then she carefully scooped dirt into the cups. I let her wipe dirt on herself (I put one of my old t-shirts overtop of her dress).
She liked how seeds for peas actually look like peas, while spinach seeds look like pieces of grit and lettuce seeds look like miniature burnt rice. I poked the holes, and she dropped the seeds in.
“We’ll check on our seeds EVERY DAY!” she told me with a big smile.
One year maybe she and Eddie will think of me when they plant seeds with their kids, too.