It was the normal fussy time of the day: the little kids were up from their naps and Aaron had arrived after school. The office gets pretty confining around then. The Playdoh is no longer amusing, the afternoon snacks have been consumed, but, bad news, there is still work to be done. Fortunately, while purchasing a giant trash can at Pamida just that afternoon, I had spied some cheap plastic kid's garden tools from last summer's inventory. Marked down! From $1.49 to 70 cents for four scoops/rakes/trowels. Like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat, I produced these tools with a flourish and declared, 'Let's go down to number 8!' The coats and hats were donned and more quickly than you would think, the kid's cavalcade was wending its way down the hill.
I just had menial chores to work on, but before I'd even begun, four little heads were bent over their work and four little bottoms and knees were plopped in the dust and gravel of the greenhouse floor. Some skirmishing took place as the eight tools were distributed, but otherwise, the atmosphere was as intense and busy as an anthill.
I don't know what they were playing. Lizzie filled her bucket with gravel because filling containers with stuff is what Lizzie does. Aaron was engineering: some dust here, some fresh potting mix spilled around the flat filler, a caldera forming on the plain. Gabe filled his burnt out excavator (the batteries shorted out from a bath in the massive puddles this summer) and moved earth. Abbie finally settled on the mud forming from the airconditioner's condensation.
As I was satisfying my urge to play in the dirt with peat moss and perlite and plug trays, the kids were acting upon their own primal instincts with their 14 cent tools. I got to thinking: maybe digging is the original work of man? Not everyone could throw a spear or chunk a rock at a moving target. But clearly all mankind from tots to grandmas can dig....and they do! Agriculture at its most basic involves contact between seed and soil; and planted seed will beat scattered seed every time. I don't know about your formative years, but eyeing a handful of carrot seed, or lettuce seed, made me long to fling it to the four corners of the earth. One can't hide the results of that sluggardly approach though, and instead I would painstakingly dribble two or three every couple of inches like a good girl.
Since Aaron was a small boy, he has loved the seeder in number 8. It runs on a little electric motor and a vacuum pump. As the plug tray advances, it triggers a release in the vacuum and the row of sixteen needles drop their burden into the cells of the plug tray. Ka-click...pause...ka-clunk...like a freight train over the tracks. The seeder is way older than this set of kids and probably nearly as old as Lee. It is highly satisfying to see the black trays with the little gold pelletized seeds nestled in the "dirt". Then, a shower with the water wand, and into the seed room where the temperature hovers near 75 and the fog hovers like the rain forest. Barring human error or clumsiness, in a week or less, tiny seedlings will be visible barely holding the remnants of their pellets up like Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.
Vegetables are not as tidy. Despite the appellation "defuzzed", tomatoes still carry a fair amount of hair on their seed coats. So they stick to each other and singulate only with effort. And pepper seeds are too heavy for my orange needles and stick too closely to the blue ones. So I am always spilling pepper seeds on the edges of the trays. When I sweep up the potting soil leavings from the plug trays, a motley assortment of the larger seeds are gathered up, a few to sprout in the moisture provided by condensation dripping from the greenhouse roof on any particularly cold day. Nonetheless, a healthy and mostly full plug tray of tomato seedlings emits the aura of summer when you ruffle their little leaves like a puppy.
There are just 40 plug trays in the seed room now. And we just planted the three trays of packs that will be the giant patio pot tomatoes of April.. You know, the ones that are two foot tall, ensconced in a cage and already bearing a green tomato and multiple blooms? Yep, tomato season here starts the first of February. But soon the plug trays will be marching down the benches and the greenhouse will resemble the crazy quilt of field patterns of an aerial view of the Midwest. So many greens!! It isn't difficult to distinguish each variety of petunia by its seedling foliage, believe it or not. And even peppers in infancy have varietal traits. But if your tomato tray loses it label, DOOM! A tomato looks like a tomato looks like a tomato....unless its a bush type. A mystery tomato is not a popular item.
I assume the dirt piles and garden tools in number eight will get boring as well and we'll have to find other locations and other entertainment for the hard working little people before winter gets much older. They would like to transplant, and tag, but that will have to wait a little longer. Until then, I won't be one to discourage digging or even watering, whatever the toll on fingernails and clothes. Its in our blood, our hearts, our genes. We were born in a garden!