The weather’s been bad this week over much of the U.S. from Fargo to Savannah, so I don’t have any right to complain. When did that ever stop me?
I’m a little plucked to see snow on my radishes. Of course, they don’t mind cold weather, which proves that radishes aren’t very bright. But still, I don’t like snow around my garden.
Just yesterday I was thrilled and delighted to find a row of little green leaves outside my back door, the radishes’ first sprouts. My attempt last year to sow radishes and scallions in that bed went for nought, and I didn’t know why; not enough sun, or old seeds? Now I know it was the seeds, not the location. The sprouts this year took awhile, so I’d brushed away the pine bark mulch in case it was too heavy for them; no signs of life on Friday, but by Saturday I had a little row of green. Sound the trumpets! The scallions are lollygagging, but who knows, maybe they’re right on time. If the snow doesn’t get ’em.
Mostly this is a lesson in gardener anxiety; there’s so much to learn in the first few years, so many things that can go wrong, it’s as bad as cooking. One little mistake and your masterpiece turns into an embarassment. It’s a good thing God made me Gay because I could never manage parenthood. Does Johnny have the colic, does he not like bananas or is he just mad at me? Do I call the doctor or jump off a bridge?
And forget it when people say there’s so much gardening advice on the internet. Most of it’s generic bullshit, not nearly specific enough.
But Johnny and radishes have a way of surviving our best attempts to screw them up, and Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. A little snow on the radishes is no big deal.
But gardening really is like parenting, except the scallions never talk back. You wait and wait and wait for the kids to grow up, you try and protect them from every predator you can think of; you build fences, you get them shots, you feed and water, but as soon as you turn your back here comes another thing to worry about.
This weekend I started bell peppers from seeds sent by my friend Peter in Amsterdam. If these things survive they’ll become red and yellow, purple and orange; no common green ones for the Dutch, no sir, not sophisticated enough for ’em. The Dutch think they’re highly advanced in all conceivable ways, which is why they invented wooden shoes and went manic over tulips awhile ago. As a Hoosier I’m highly skeptical of Dutchery; they send “farmers” over here to build animal concentration camps and ruin the environment, because they haven’t enough land over there to ruin their own. At any rate, I planted Peter’s pepper seeds in little plastic containers saved from last year. They’re now in a flat pan next to the kitchen window. This morning I lifted up the pan to show them the snow and told them they’d better be happy they’re indoors; peppers like warmth the way radishes like cold. Peppers are smarter than radishes.
But I planted the pepper seeds in potting soil because that’s all I had; not the right thing to do according to the online advicers. I should have used soilless dirt (?) made of Canadian peat moss and vermiculite and… if I bought a $10 bag of that stuff, how exactly do I save money growing my own peppers? What did gardeners do before there was an internet and university extension service?
I’ll tell ya, somehow they muddled through. So fuck my Dutch pepper seeds if they can’t take a joke.
The other thing I don’t get is planting seeds close to each other, then thinning them out once they sprout. Why not just plant them farther apart? I’m starting to think that gardening advice is one giant conspiracy to drive me crazy. (Or maybe I’m just inclined on my own.)
This I know: I love pulling up a radish, washing it off and slicing it into a salad. I don’t even like radishes that much (my Grandma grew these white icicles that would burn your tongue off), but when you grow your own, by God you love ’em.
I suspect it’s the same way with parents and kids. Forget the parenting instinct, there’s no such thing; kids are work, but after you’ve invested that much time, money and effort into ’em, you want ’em to grow big and strong, if only so they don’t make a fool out of you.
Now tomatoes, they’re a whole different story. Spare no expense with tomatoes; if they want soilless dirt, run to Wally World and buy it for ’em. Run speakers out to the garden so they can hear Mozart. Read ’em poetry, tell them they’re gorgeous; put off your vacation in case there’s a drought. Enroll them in Montessori school, buy them tutoring, save up for Harvard, it’ll all be worth it.
And once they’re finally ready to graduate, take your shirt off, get out the garden hose, grab a salt shaker and march straight for the garden with a gleam in your eye. Bite into that sucker till the juice runs off your chin.
Then you know you’ve been a good parent, your child has fulfilled its destiny. It’s food—and children exist for parents, not the other way around. Yumbo!++