Talk Dirt to Me

Raising Boarders

Raising boarders

My onion seeds germinated quickly and uniformly. But they suffered from ass over tea-kettle syndrome. Onion seeds send up an enormous shoot before their roots really get a chance to sink at all. Perhaps “enormous” gives you an unreasonable image – but the shoot is several times larger than the root at first. Frequently this causes the plant to tip out of the ground, sending the shoot parallel to the flat while the roots stick straight up.

Luckily they’re robust little plants and can be reoriented easily and with low mortality. So I spent an evening hunkered over a flat of tiny onion plants. I curled a plant’s shoot onto the point of a pencil then drilled a hole with another pencil to sink the little guy/gal. Over a hundred onions took a bit less than an hour, but was pretty gratifying, despite my aching back. That’s better than I can say for most of life’s pursuits; especially the ones that leave me with an aching back.

Barely a week later they’d outgrown their first soil blocks and I moved them up to the next size. At this point I culled poor performers. I didn’t have room for all of the plants under lights and it’s far too early to put them outside, so they went into the compost.

The enterprise reminded me of raising the indigent boarders. As with my onions, small choices can have major repercussions. What I say in my stupidest moments of anger and frustration will be remembered and worked out in therapy (or not) twenty years hence.

Decades ago my family had flown to visit my grandparents after having been away for a few years. The previous visit I had been a child and I had grown quite a bit; I could help bring the baggage in to the house. So I grabbed a few suitcases and staggered, red-faced, towards the house. My grandmother, with both hands free, appraised my efforts haughtily: “that’s a lazy man’s load Caleb.” Presumably she meant something like “many hands make light work, let me give you a hand with that” (at least let’s give her the benefit of the doubt). But what I heard was “you’re not big enough for that little boy, take something smaller.” Undoubtedly she meant for me to get a life lesson.

She was big on those. Another was “all great men are messy writers, but all messy writers aren’t great men.” This, I think, was supposed to get me to write neatly. Again, that’s not what I heard. Her trivial remarks are an ever present refrain in my life. When I suggested the boss that she might be carrying a lazy man’s load, she replied: “do I look like a man to you.” That settled that: a lazy man’s load is an easy job for mom, and you can just shut right up.

So coaching the boarders to adulthood is like growing plants. If tomato plants don’t get enough water, calcium and boron early on, they’re likely to get blossom end rot. Before you even see a flower, you may have sealed their fate. Certainly a withered or leggy transplant will continue to struggle.

But in a more important way, it’s entirely different. You can’t start over. Your moments of anger and impatience will stunt growth just as surely as droughty soil, but you can always pitch a tomato plant and plant another, or head to the store. You can also plant grass and tell the garden to go to hell.

With the boarders I just have to try to be the adult, apologize when I snarl at them for acting like children, and hope that like pepper plants, a little adversity will make them spicier.

© 2014 The Valley Advocate