Picking Plants

Each boy gets to select what vegetables he wants to grow. I love growing herbs – dill and basil – and tomatoes and cucumbers. I dry the dill and make vegetable dip with it all year long. I freeze the basil and add it to soups in the winter. I simply love watching tomatoes and cucumbers grow. Tomatoes have those delicate white flowers, and I get so excited when I see the small, green ball grow from within. The cucumbers hide under their leaves; one day they are a few inches long, and two days later, they are full grown and ready to pick. Both are a summer treat to eat.

Before we bought our plants, I sat with the boys at the computer, and helped them plan what they wanted to grow. I needed a shopping list, and I wanted to make sure we got the right amount of plants and seeds to fill all the garden beds. I created a simple table, separated into 16 sections, that they filled in the squares using a Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide (atlantishydroponics.com). This visual guide showed them what they could grow, and how many of each vegetable could be planted in each square foot. For example, you can plant one tomato plant in one square, four green bean plants in another square, and sixteen carrots in another, and so on.

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The boys made great selections:

REX: Rex, the oldest, is curious by nature. His garden consists of his favorites – chives and carrots – but also some experimental plants he knows nothing about, like bok choy and sage. At age four, Rex would pick chives from our garden and chew on them while playing: a little boy with stinky onion breath. Here’s a list of what he planned for his garden (the numbers note the number of squares dedicated to each plant) : Chives (2), cilantro (1), dill (1), bok choy (1), peas (1), basil (1), potatoes (1), tomatoes (1), green pepper (1), jalapeno (1), chili red pepper (1), carrots (1), onions (1), cucumber (1), lettuce (2).

JUDE: Jude is the most enthusiastic about this little project. If he could, he would plant everything on the list. He is also enthusiastic about potatoes, so five of his squares include tubers. He also wanted cucumbers (2), carrots (1), sage (1), dill (1), cilantro (1), corn (1), egg plant (1), beans (1), tomato (1), and lettuce (1).

“To-ma-toes,” Jude sounds out as he fills in his garden grid. Then he pauses and looks at me seriously, “How do you spell toes?”

MORRIS: Morris knows what he likes, at age 4, and he told me, “I want cabbage, spinach, and carrots…and that’s it.” Okay. So, I helped him fill out his Garden Sheet with plenty of those vegetables, but I added some others I knew he would like to watch grow: carrots (2), cabbage (2), spinach (2), green beans (4), peas (4), tomato (1).

Here’s a little conversation I had with Mo about planting:

“I want apples,” Morris declared as we’re planning his garden.

“Apples grow on trees, so we can’t plant them,” I responded.

He’s not giving up. “No, you still can. Put a seed in it,” He nodded with finality.

It’s as simple as that to him.

I remember selecting plants the first summer I grew a garden. Could I really plant green peppers, tomatoes, and yellow squash in my own back yard? And they would grow and I could eat them?! It amazed me that there was an alternative to the grocery store, as if I didn’t really believe they came from the land…even though I’m a native Iowan.

And then I fell in love with watching a garden grow. If you look carefully, you can truly see a difference in your plants every day. Maybe one squash loses its creamy-orange flower. Maybe one strand of dill shoots taller. Maybe one tomato gets a little redder. The changes are so rewarding to notice.

Could I say the same about watching my boys grow? Well, they seem to grow a little slower, but all of the sudden I’ll notice that their pants are too short, and their big toe is all the way to the tip of their shoes. When did that happen?! It’s as if there was no incremental change, but it happened in a burst. And yet, I know better. They’re growing all the time, and I’m both delighted and melancholy about it. Of course, growing means they’re healthy, but it also means they’re getting older, and I want to hold on to them as long as I can.

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