Thursday, July 1, 2021

What is my seed starting mix?


Living in a small Midwestern city like I do, I'm grateful that our community has a locally owned greenhouse and nursery. I don't just try to support it, I pilgrimage there as soon as they open their doors (usually late January-early February) for the season. I breathe in the smells of dirt and liquid fertilizer, which in late winter in Iowa is basically the smell of Hope with a capital H, for those of us that struggle with dark winter days. 

I am a particular fan of their seed starting mix, a special blend that is light, fluffy, moist, and just right for germinating all the things I like to grow in my garden-- annual flowers like zinnia, marigold, calendula, sunflowers, and amaranth; and vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, zucchini and cucumbers.

This year I wasn't as successful starting seed as I usually am, though I'm not blaming my local nursery's bags of soil-- they are only one factor in the complex and tiny miracle of unfolding new plant life. So many things I did wrong this year-- I tried to use up older packages of seed that wouldn't germinate; I started some seeds too late, and others too early. I tried to grow some seeds that I have yet to conquer successfully (Bells of Ireland, Nigella) when I was too distracted by work stress; I failed to grow some stupidly easy plants because of the same distractions; I discovered too far into the game that my lighting timer wasn't working properly, denying them the light my veggies and flowers needed to truly thrive. 

It's weird to be writing about seed starting right now, as we are well past the seed starting stage, well past spring and into high summer. But this year has been weird. We've had March days in the 90s (Fahrenheit) and June frosts. The plants and I have had multiple trips out to the patio, back into the screen porch. We've had weeks of nothing but rain, but are now verging on drought in Iowa. Up and down. Back and forth. Forward and backward. Start and stop and give up for this week, try again next week. Even now, that hot weather seems here to stay for awhile, the garden is upside down. The chrysanthemums are too early. The cucumbers, running late. 

It's been that way emerging from the pandemic, as well. Vaccines have been very much progress. My strong reaction to them (hives) was not. I have been eager to get out, see people, do things. I often come home from these first-in-a-long-time activities a sweet and sour pickle of attitude-- delighted to be out of the house, full of vinegar about the how exhausting humans (including myself) can be sometimes. I thought I had missed them. I return from their company not so sure.

So I put the mask back on and flew to Georgia to see my sister. We hiked the Appalachian Trail to Preacher's Rock on Big Cedar Mountain. It was beautiful but I was out of shape and clumsy, skinning my knee falling on the steeper switchbacks. It was embarrassing and yet how could it be any other way, after more than a year of eating and drinking my feelings, and trying to get a grip on a new managerial position from the sofa? 

We ate lunch out and had midday margaritas. We went for walks. We shopped for anything and nothing. We talked. We talked a lot. The topics weren't necessarily important-- we talked about kitchen cupboards and plants and running shoes and dogs. But the talking is the medicine. It is a way to be with our ancestors. It is a way to straighten our girl crowns. It is a part of my seed-starting mix. 

Since coming back from that trip I've been able to distinguish a few maddeningly conflicting truths about seed-starting. I know that the same seeds that failed to grow carefully planted in the shelter of my house in March are springing up in random places in June from seeds that were accidentally strewn last fall while cleaning up the garden. While my carrot seeds were too old this year, I know scientists have resurrected a date palm seed from Biblical times, and I myself have grown hollyhock seeds that were at least a decade old. While March is long gone and it is too late to start peas and spinach, there is still time for planting sunflower seeds and another crop of basil or dill. We are always simultaneously out of time, just in time, too early, too late. We grow amazing things with planning and care and also by marvelous accident and benign neglect. It's how the beautiful weeds wind their way through through our carefully planted rows, both pushing stem and leaf upwards toward the sunlight. 

Things I have been doing: 

Binge-watching Home Town. I fell back in love with the fantasy of reviving an old house in an hour. 

Making whoopie pies. They are good straight from the fridge with a glass of milk. 

Planning to carve out a small craft room in our basement. Lighting and waterproofing come first!

Cleaning the bathroom supply closet

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