Monday, February 1, 2010

Simply Seeds

This past summer, I spent a few weeks at my father's house for the first time since I was fourteen. It was late August and we were struggling to keep up with the harvest of tomatoes and peppers. My whole childhood, I enjoyed the bounty of our backyard. Being the sixth generation of my family to live on the street meant that our backyard was a paradise of fruits and vegetables. We had rhubarb for pies. Gooseberries and currants were for making jelly. Our pears were really canning pears, but as children, we ate them off the tree and enjoyed their crisp texture and tartness. Red and black raspberries never made it to the kitchen before our pudgy hands would stuff them into our stained mouths. There were plum trees in our yard while next door there was an apple tree that we were welcome to pick from. We also enjoyed our neighbor's blueberry bushes and occasionally picked the June berries from near the road. While all of these plants gave us their delicious fruit year after year, we had little understanding, nor interest, in our father's gardening. Who cares about tomatoes when you have raspberries?

But in 2009, as something of an adult, I had much more respect for the two gardens my father had been keeping. It was difficult not to feel a sense of awe when looking at them. The tomato garden was overflowing--and certainly not just with beefsteaks! "Did you see the yellow plum tomatoes?" my father would greet me as he came in from the backyard. The day that we found what appeared to be a purple heirloom was a day of wonder and delight. I had chopped so many tomatoes and peppers (and not just bell peppers either--"I think this is an orange Scotch Bonnet!") for salsa, roasted tomatoes, and my own bean chili. I felt like we would never keep up. The fruit drawer in the fridge became the tomato drawer, while our windowsill was covered with vegetables awaiting the chopping block. As we looked at the purple heirloom, we debated what to do with it. "I think I'll save it for seeds," my father said. I began to notice the little yellow seed envelopes on the counter--most unlabeled. Of course! This garden, while magical, didn't just appear one day! My father was saving seeds and planting them year after year. The tomatoes and peppers that we eat provide more than just delicious sustenance--they also provide for the future. They are full of possibility! Inside of each one is dozens of possible plants for the future. Our garden was full of surprises not because these things just appeared but because my father has no interest in labeling envelopes. But this is part of the magic of our garden!

My father's crown jewel this summer was the watermelon plant that managed to make its way into the pepper garden. Had a watermelon seed somehow gotten mixed in with the pepper seeds? Had someone at a barbecue spit a seed in the direction of the garden and it managed to germinate there? The watermelon was gorgeous and huge, though I didn't eat it so I'm not sure how it tasted.

I've been thinking a lot lately about how I can bring the magic of our backyard to my school. I'm planning out a garden in my head, which is a completely foreign concept for me. I decided to buy a book from my favorite press (Hawthorn) called Gardening with Small Children. I hope it comes soon! I desperately need some guidance on this subject. But at snack today, I was cutting up apples and noticed the seeds. I put them aside and after snack showed them to the children. We put them in one section of an egg carton and labeled it "green apple." I doubt that we'll have any sort of orchard in our small backyard, but if just one of these seeds becomes a tree sometime in the future, imagine having snack time from our own tree in our own backyard! I marveled at the simply beauty of seeds in an egg carton, hoping my students felt my sense of wonder at the magic of the world. These little brown things, that we spit out with a "p-tooey" of annoyance, have the possibility to become trees which will produce more apples for us to eat and more seeds for more trees with branches to climb and leaves to collect! And what more beautiful sorting and storage container than a recycled egg carton? Look how much the earth has provided us with and how it continues to provide!

So, this afternoon, I went to the fruit shop and, using my little and bad Czech, got a few peppers. I cut them open and again felt joy in seeing the magic of nature. All of those seeds, which usually stick to my knife and drive me crazy while I cook, were the start of this summer's vegetable garden. Unlike my father, I carefully kept and sorted them.

I cannot wait to plant them this spring and to enjoy my own pepper harvest this August. Working with children is like observing the evolution of humanity. They make new discoveries every day which our species took thousands of years to come to. So far, my children have been living in the hunter-gatherer stage of human evolution. Agricultural revolution, here we come!

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