For 16 summers I have tended some sort of garden.
My first garden was a stovetop-sized plot at a college rental. I peeled back a strip of sod and plopped in one melon and two cherry tomato plants I had purchased at the Boulder farmers market. The plants stretched away from the shady house, falling flat on the sunny lawn like religious seekers at the door of their temple. I harvested ten delicious cherry tomatoes before the frost came.
The following summer I graduated college and got a job working on the San Juan Forest. I’d take my lunch break in an aspen grove, fighting to stay awake amongst the nodding bluebells and twisty peavine, feeling like Dorothy in the poppy fields. Finishing my hummus and veggie sandwich, I’d fill my lunch bags with deer and elk poop, toting them back to my new garden at forest service housing.
The yields were small in those first few gardens. But I fell fast in love with the idea that a hard-shelled seed could be unlocked, transforming into bountiful, delicious food.
Col and Rose, at 6 and almost 4, are certifiably helpful these days. And the fact that they want to be helping in the garden, which is currently as flat and monotonous as a calm sea, makes my heart backflip ten times. My friend Sue says about her 2 daughters every few months, “they’re at such a fun age right now,” which is a wonderful lens to see your children through, it’s like having Buddha editing your thoughts as they burble out. But really, 6 and 4? Does it get better than this?
For the last decade, I’ve been tucking tomato seeds under soil, starting them indoors, around the first of March. I do this because it’s economical, to get a jump on the growing season that is blinkingly short here at 6512 feet, and also because planting seeds is the most hopeful act I can think of when the land is still a thawing canvas of browns.
Tomato-seed Planting Day, 2011:
After many years of experimenting with multitudes of lusciously-named tomato pin-ups from the seed catalog, I grow just 3 varieties (2 mainstays, 1 wild card). Romas are always on the garden menu because they’re prolific, quick growers, densely flavorful, and they make excellent roasted tomato sauce. We also grow sun gold cherry tomatoes, because they’re insanely sweet, long-producing and certain small people think they’re getting away with something when they spend an afternoon plucking juicy gems right from the plant.
This year our wild card is a scotia plum, seeds collected from Dan’s father’s garden thirteen years ago, three years before he died. If we can get them to germinate, I resolve to save this year’s scotia plum seeds in honor of Hal and so I can pass them down to Col and Rose someday, connecting them to the plant-loving spirit of their grandpa.
Some tips on starting plants from seed:
* Plant seeds in fine, light soil so the roots can push their way through.
* Keep seeds uniformly and consistently moist.
* The majority of seeds don’t need light to germinate. Keep them in the dark, where the soil surface won’t dry out quickly, then move them into the light at soon as they germinate.
* If you don’t have overhead light, turn your plants around daily (in a south-facing window) so they don’t get too leggy, and/or bring them outside for direct, overhead sun during the day.
What are your seed-starting tips (leave them in the comments). What are you starting from seed this year?