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The tomatoes have nearly all been harvested, the unpicked peppers are fully mature, the daylight is waning noticeably sooner, and the nighttime air is getting significantly cooler. I can already see the tomato plant stems starting to lose their rigidness, and the mosquitoe bites are fewer and farther between when I am mending the plants’ supports. All of this points to the fact that we are nearing that time of year in which I will be preparing the garden for winter.
Each of the last four years I have meticulously journaled my gardening experience. The dates that I started seeds indoors, that I began hardening-off the tender seedlings, and that the last frost occurred are just a part of the memorialization. During this time I have planted onions, kale, various micro greens, and I have even attempted hybrid watermelon and cucumbers. Without fail, I always plant tomatoes and hot peppers. After three seasons of honing my skills, I had high hopes for this year’s harvest; however, this year’s crop is definitely the smallest yet.
With only a 188 day growing season, I am vigilant to have my seedlings in proper form for the ceremonious day of becoming one with the earth. In this regard, Spring 2019 was no exception. From the fourth week of April through the first week of May the seedlings each had their turn to be carefully transplanted into the cool spring earth, and by the end of the second week of May, not only had nearly all of the seedlings survived the challenging descent, but most of their tender young leaves had already opened their arms to embrace the warm rays of the radiant sun, a drastic improvement from our kitchen table lights!
Little did these honor roll students know that winter’s frost laced kiss would be the least of their concerns. To their detriment, for the last two weeks of May, although I was usually less than 30 feet away from them, my mind may have as well been 300 miles away. Upon the birth of our son, it was as if my subconscious sealed off the hatch to the green thumb compartment that I have been developing. As a result, it was not until nearly seven weeks later, during the first half of July, that I journeyed to the weed ridden wilderness that used to be my garden. My enthusiasm made quick work of wrenching out the unwelcome guests and mending the remains of the languishing and wilted survivors.
As a result of failing to receive consistent care, only 4 of the original 11 tomato plants had managed to survive. To my surprise, the hot peppers were not fully tattered, but for each of the cucumber plants, the only remains to be found were the stilted supports I had initially crafted for them. Thankfully, the meeting of our nutritious demands was not reliant upon this year’s bounty!
Fast forward a couple of months, and most of the plants which survived the cruel drought have recovered better than expected. Although the tomato and hot pepper harvest is less than 20% of 2018’s, the home grown fruits still taste delightful, and in reality, for fear of impressing any spiced oils into my son’s precious skin, I have intentionally limited my consumption of the Calabrian Hot Pepper and Chiltepin. The truth is that I will find just as much joy clipping up this year’s foliage and turning the leaves back into the earth (along with some egg shells and oats), as I received when I was giddily checking the prior night’s temperature back in the Spring.
In the coming weeks I will carefully select a few samples to properly dry and store seeds for next year, and before I know it, March will be here, the seedling peat pots will be filled in with top soil, and I will have already selected 2020’s varieties. I am hopeful that my seed preservation skills have reached the point that I shall be able to to keep some plant seeds from this year for when my son is old enough to become a gardening participant. I think that it would be special to teach him to garden with seeds that were grown the same year he was born! At only a couple years old he may not be able to appreciate my sentiment for using these seeds, but after seeing how quickly he has grown these first few months, I believe that these seeds could be, in there own way, a small time capsule back to his first few weeks home, when the garden no longer mattered to me at all.
At two years old, I imagine that my son will enjoy holding the soft peat pots, smelling the fresh topsoil in his hands, tenderly placing seeds into their designated rows, carefully smoothing over the tiny holes, and delicately watering our well prepared tray. I also imagine that he will love watching the first green shoots break through the dirt, be fascinated to see the water droplets form from the humidity underneath the tray lid, and thoroughly enjoy helping daddy turn over the cool spring earth with his hands in preparation for putting the peat pots into the ground. I hope that he looks forward to spraying his legs with bug spray each evening when I arrive home from work so that we can water the plants, mend the supports, pull out the weeds, and gently remove the Hornworms (which we will not kill, and instead will place in some far place on the community grounds!), and I can only imagine how his face will light up the first time he eats a tomato that he has plucked himself or how enthralled he will be by the smell of fresh mint as he rubs the leaves together in his own hands.
Perhaps I am overstating the joys that I find in the simple tasks associated with maintaining the small garden that I greatly appreciate having, but I think that a wide eyed boy, full of imagination and awe, who is currently enamored with looking at mirrors, blue and white patterns, and the orange lines on our living room curtains, will also find great enjoyment and satisfaction in tending to the natural things. Hopefully, by teaching him to care for meaningful things from such a young age and by teaching him to value and respect even the tiny insects that are determined to feast on our labors, not only will he be reluctant and disinclined to sit in front of a flashing screen that promulgates nonsense, but I expect that forming these habits will help guide him into a path that desires and pursues ceaseless learning and environmental responsibility, as well as one that fosters an intrigue for seemingly simple natural wonders that are commonly overlooked and taken for granted.
P.S. If you do not have much gardening experience, or if you would like a little help getting started, The Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook: Make the Most of Your Growing Season is exactly what you need! My first years of garden journaling are bound within the pages of my own copy.
P.P.S. My Calabrian Hot Pepper and Chiltepin seeds were originally sourced from their local environments, but some of my best seed to germination ratios for my other garden ventures have been with these seeds!