Saturday, May 17, 2008


Back in April I planted seeds: Two varieties of heirloom tomatoes, mini sweet peppers, and jalapeƱos. Given that I haven't grown anything from seeds since Mr. Stumpf's grade 3 class and internet research that suggested I was starting a few weeks late, I didn't know if the seeds would even sprout.

But they did.

I went away for a weekend a couple of weeks after I planted them. Before I left I moved the tray of peat pucks that housed the tiny green sprouts into a sunny window. At the airport I bought a Martha Stewart Living that advised I should ease the seedlings into direct sunlight, maybe for an hour or two a day to start. Oops. I half-expected to find them brown and withered when I got home, but they were fine.

I was really excited about these seedlings. I called them my "little dudes" and sometimes in the morning I asked them if they needed water. (And sometimes Ken answered on their behalf, in falsetto, "Yes, we do. But don't give the peppers too much; they have no self-control." Hee.) At one point I mentioned to a friend that I'd planted seeds, and he thought I meant figuratively. I laughed, but when I thought about it, the idea didn't seem so ridiculous. I've moved three times in the past year and lived with roommates - strangers, really - for six months. As a result I had a lot of pent-up nesting to do. I liked that planting seeds - literally - could be symbolic of putting down roots and growing into my life for a little while.

I'd planned to plant the sprouts outside when they were a few inches tall, then did some more research and found out I should wait until they were a little bigger. I kept them in their tray in the sunlight and as a few started to develop their first set of "true" tomato leaves, I planted them in small pots. The rest stayed in their incubating peat pucks on the sunny windowsill, growing.

This week it looked like more of the seedlings were ready to be planted, so on Wednesday morning I got up early and carried the tray of earnest young plants out to the backyard to move them into their new homes: Plastic flowerpots filled with fresh potting soil.

Then, on the way outside, I dropped the tray.

Most of the peat pucks fell out of the tray, and many of the tiny plants were decapitated, leaving them no leaves with which to photosynthesize. My careful labeling of the tray with stickers was ruined.

I surveyed the damage - dirt on the floor, of course, littered with tiny stalks no bigger than blades of grass but that seconds before had held the potential to become tomatoes and peppers and, more importantly, the potential to become proof that I could do this thing, that I could plant seeds and put down roots and cultivate whatever grew from them.

In that moment I felt overwhelmingly like I'd failed. As I picked up the pieces part of me wanted to just sweep everything out the door and start over some other time. Instead, I halfheartedly rescued a few survivors, probably about half the plants I'd started with, and moved them into the waiting flowerpots.

Yesterday afternoon I called my friend Lee to wish him Happy Birthday. I don't think he's ever been home when I've called on his birthday - I always sing to his voicemail. Despite about ten years of this tradition, I missed last year, and this year I was a day late. After I finished my enthusiastic, off-key serenade (to his voicemail, of course), I apologized for my general lack of communication in the past 18 or so months. "It was kind of a busy year," I explained. "I got divorced, moved, and changed jobs." I paused. "And I'm really happy now."

It turns out I planted a few other seeds along the way, some without even knowing it. And they're doing splendidly.


TNT Jim said...

I'd say some of seedlings are doing very well.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this. I actually exclaimed "Oh no!" out loud in the middle, and was prepared to be sad. But there was a happy ending - yay seeds of friendship and community and other happy things!

Anonymous said...

I have no doubt you're an excellent plant caregiver. Compare yourself to me who has killed even a cactus. I also really like the first picture. Come show me how to use my digital slr.

Candace said...

What a beautiful post.

My seedlings never make it, I always start them with high hopes and then I put them outside too quickly and they die. I have better luck just waiting a month and then planting the seeds directly outside.

montague said...

that was such a bitter sweet but beautiful post. your new seedlings (both in real life and in plant life) will grow - despite the occasional drop!

Elizabeth said...

Lovely post. I think we're going to see some beautiful things from all those seeds!

I have had some mixed success with my (very limited) planting this summer too, just reading your post I'm realizing some things I might have done wrong. Oops! Help me Martha Stewart!