I’ve never had much luck with starting seeds indoors. Every year I look at the cost of a packet of seeds in comparison to started plants at the nursery and decide to try again. And every year I think that in future I should save the money and frustration and just plan to buy the started plants at the nursery in future.
That whole damping off thing is a killer. Of plants, of gardening enthusiasm, of all my vague dreams of harvesting my own seeds in the fall to start the following spring.
This year was going to be different. This year I started with heirloom varieties, partially because of that vague dream of saving my own seeds, and partially just because I like the stories behind them. It’s like planting a little piece of agricultural history as you read that the corn you are planting was the first yellow corn found acceptable for human consumption.
This year I planted them with much more soil and did away with the flimsy plastic greenhouse cover in favor of monitoring the moisture daily with my finger.
This year I had nowhere to go during those most critical days of a newly sprouted seedling. In years past, it was often a weekend away that resulted in too much or too little moisture for wee little sprouts who barely poked their heads out of the soil before returning to it.
This year my seedlings grew. Thrived, even.
If it weren’t for Abby, the herbicidal cat, and Pepper, the pepper killer, I’d likely have had more tomatoes and peppers than I knew what to do with. As it was, I had seven tomato plants and twelve pepper plants sitting in their containers. Outgrowing their containers. Begging me to move them to the garden.
My husband and I sat down with some old fencing we found in the barn and made cages for the tomatoes. I wanted them to get just a little bigger, just a little more resistant to goose nibbles and rabbit munches. I wanted them to live.
I found a strange pleasure in buying tomatoes and peppers at the store. Every time I looked over the pinkish tomatoes, not quite finished with their ripening after being picked green in California or Chile or somewhere else warmer than Nebraska, I thought of vine ripened sweetness from my own garden. Every time I winced at the price of green peppers and thought of breaking down and buying them frozen, I thought of fresh abundance in my harvest basket.
Then planting day came.
Then a storm came.
I carefully plucked the tomato leaves out of the muck and propped them against the bottom wire of their cage so they could dry out. The peppers seemed to savor the rain. I thought all was well.
Then a real storm came.
A storm with wind that shook the house. A storm that forced rain under a section of the roof which proceeded to pour down the bathroom wall and into the basement. A storm with hail. Quarter sized hail that flattened the corn, drove the tomatoes back into the muck and broke the spirit of the pepper plants that seemed so joyful the day before. By afternoon, it was clear the tomatoes and peppers were dead. The corn I’m still not sure about, but it persists in looking healthy, even if it is growing at a 45 degree angle.
Today, I took no pleasure in buying two tomatoes and a green pepper.
Buying started plants was like an admission of defeat.
Who knew a simple vegetable garden could be such an emotional roller coaster?