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The Humble Gardener

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Seeds of Spring

As I stood in the middle of the deck, watching animals run hither and yon, I wondered, not for the first time, why we start our own seeds every year. After all, perfectly good nurseries that provide plants for the home gardeners exist. I blame Mother Nature for the whole debacle.

If you live in western Illinois, you will no doubt remember the unseasonal weather we had over Presidents' Day weekend. Sun, low wind, and temps in the '70's. The debacle began with Chip's decision to put our seedlings out on the deck instead of leaving them inside on the plant stand. This stand consists of four shelves with grow lights and heat pads designed to provide optimal conditions for starting seeds. It is impervious to cats. This is important to the story.

We had started seeds in late January, expecting the tiny plants to be transferred into larger pots where they would thrive happily until time to set them out, sometime in April, depending on the whims of Mother Nature. But the unexpected, idyllic February conditions were ideal for the tiny seedlings to have a bit of deck time, and unbeknownst to me, Chip set them out. He and the dogs then departed for the workshop to do manly man things.

I let the cat out because she was convinced winter was over and spring was here. She was insistent; only someone who lives with a cat understands the futility of obstructing a cat determined to have her way. I knew she couldn't get on the plant stand. We had learned our lesson the hard way a few years ago-2011, in case anybody is keeping track-before Chip built the current plant stand. Just as we were entering the last few days of caring for dozens of plants-herbs, flowers, and vegetables-that we had planted from seed and nurtured for weeks, the cat got into the sunroom and destroyed the plants. Every single plant. Eaten, flattened, wrecked. The only thing that saved her from a fate worse than death was my bodily intervention between the cat and Chip.

In hindsight, I may have made the wrong decision to intervene in 2011. Because, as the cat pranced by the plant stand, enroute to the deck, I dimly realized that the lights were out on the stand and the trays of seedlings were gone. I realized where the seedlings had to be just as the cat reached the deck. As I ran to intervene, the neighborhood Lothario ran into our yard, saw the cat, and barked. He spooked the cat, who turned and raced back through the door just as I reached it. Fortunately, the cat is small and I am not too swift of foot so she scooted in while I tripped out. Wrapping myself in the tattered shreds of my dignity, I closed and locked the door to the deck and set off to find the cat.

Cat disposed of (not literally), I went back to check the seedlings. Every summer, as we pack the gardening tools away and clean up the gardens, I think about my friends, Eloise and Dusty of Spurgeons' Veggies, who have a wonderful business growing gorgeous vegetables. I think about buying a share from their Community Supported Agriculture. I think about letting Eloise and Dusty deal with all the trials and tribulations of growing vegetables: the vagaries of weather; the unrelenting onslaught of animals; the exhausting, never ending physical work of maintaining a garden. I think how nice it would be to go and pick up beautiful, fresh vegetables that Eloise and Dusty grew from seed, watered, weeded, planted, picked…and then fall turns to winter and the seed catalogs arrive and I am smitten, again, by the new items and the old familiar friends illustrated in the catalogs. While snow lies on the ground and outside activity is relegated to a mad dash to the mailbox or a quick visit outside with the dogs, I place an order and unpack the seed starter and get ready to plant.

We like being able to decide exactly what we will have in the garden. We love the Napoli carrots that are sweet and crunchy and overwinter beautifully, seeds that we can't find locally. We have had excellent results with Imperial broccoli so we have to grow them. And as long as we are growing these from seed, we start planting tomatoes and peppers and that new herb we've never grown before and think it would be fun to grow and we definitely need that Thai basil for the pesto…and before we know it, we have the plant stand up, lighted, and filled with little cups of seedlings.

And the ever optimistic cat has a gleam in her eye as she plots new routes.


Master Gardener

Sandra DePalma-Odell

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