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Seedy Dreams

(post, DawnHeather Simmons)

I am an aging hippie.  There.  I’ve said it, and I sure am not going to apologize for it.  It is as much a fact of my life as having red hair.  Like many people in my demographic, the appeal of the ‘60’s back-to-the-land movement is just as strong now as it was back in the 60’s, notwithstanding the fact that my immediate family were never farmers, we pretty much always lived in cities and suburbs, and the closest my brother and I ever got to a plot of farmland when we were kids was a roughly 5’ x 5’ patch of barely-producing adobe clay that we managed to grow a few carrots and radishes in one year.  It didn’t help any that I grew up (and still have some issues with being) almost obsessively terrified of having dirty hands, and that I’m not noted for my patience.  On the other hand, there was my brother’s kindergarten project of growing chives in half an eggshell.  My father worked in aerospace, which was akin to being a white-collar itinerant worker.  We moved at least 35 times when we were growing up, and every time we moved, the chives got dug up from the yard at the old house and replanted at the new one – and they always thrived.  The chives weren’t allowed to make my parents’ final move to Hawai`i, but they were a family institution until then.  

Of course, in today’s economy, and given what we know now about the health and environmental benefits of eating locally-grown food, the idea of growing one’s own food isn’t just fashionable but makes good sense.  Will we see a return of something like the wartime Victory Gardens?  Certainly there are worse things.  And wouldn’t it set a great example if our new President dug up some of the White House lawn to plant a few vegetables for his family’s table?  

One of my grandfathers owned a triple lot.  Almost smack dab in the middle was the small house in which he and his wife lived.  The rest of the land was turned into gardens, and he spent his retirement growing flowers and vegetables there.  Whatever small amount I know about growing things was learned at his side.  What I remember most is the tomatoes that would “volunteer” all over the place – along with the massive quantities of (also volunteering) sweet peas that lent their heady aroma to that house on many summer evenings.  

One year, I lived in a place with a wall of windows getting plenty of sun for most of the day.  I planted a line of pots all along that side of my apartment.  I tried a variety of salad greens, green onions, cherry tomatoes, strawberries and corn.  It wasn’t one of my more successful ventures – but hand-pollinating did render a few cherry tomatoes, and the tiniest buds of what might have turned into corn.  The strawberries sent out runners that nearly took over my apartment and flowered, but never bore fruit.  The onions spread leggy greens across my table, but never really became onions.  I don’t recall that the salad greens ever even sprouted.  Apparently, full light through windows doesn’t have all the components that full sunlight outside has to fulfill the nutritional needs of your average garden plant.  That same year, I did a lot of sprouting – and then pretty much never ate sprouts again after that!  

These days, I live in an apartment with no land, and only a tiny balcony with less-than-ideal sun exposure.  I do have a few flower pots to grow things in, and the dream of growing my own still lodges itself in my heart with a longing that can scarcely be contained.  Each spring, I look forward to the coming of seed packets at my local stores and garden centers with wild anticipation and optimistic hope.  Yesterday, I spent almost $30 on seeds, most of which will go entirely to waste, although I nearly always wind up planting twice – once, too early, when the sprouts will die from a late-season cold spell; and then again when – if I’m lucky – I can harvest something before I go away on a trip and everything dies from lack of water in a critical period.  I also bought one of those “topsy-turvy” tomato planters, hoping to make another ambitious attempt.  

I know the benefits of fresh, ripe produce.  For most of that need, I happily shop farmer’s markets and belong to a CSA.  But the need to try to make things grow means that I do still experiment.  Last year, my balcony garden had several types of herbs, several varieties of mixed wildflowers – and a surprising quantity of grain from birdseed spilled out of the little feeder overhead.  My biggest success last year came from burying an overly “growy” old potato.  At the end of the season, I dug it up, expecting to find nothing.  Instead, I harvested three small, but beautiful, and absolutely perfect, red potatoes.  I’m sure my friends all thought I was acting like I’d invented fire or something, but I was so excited over those little potatoes!  So this year, I’m sorta looking forward to potatoes going bad under my kitchen sink so I can plant more. 

In the meantime, I’ve ordered some canning equipment to make better use of the bounty that comes from my CSA this year.  Maybe we didn’t farm, but back in the 50’s and 60’s, we did still bake our own bread and do a lot of canning, and I still remember how.  I look forward to spending more time doing these things again.  Now if I just had room for a few chickens and goats…