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dirt therapy: sowing seeds to plant roots

Yes, that is a camping shovel. Don’t judge me.

I just filled out Vivi’s summer camp paperwork. I can hardly stand it, I am so excited for her. To be honest, I’ve been mentally making plans for her to attend camp ever since I got pregnant. I remember thinking, “How old can she be when she starts camp?,” and when I discovered I had to wait a whole four years, I was crestfallen. But now the wait is over! The time is upon us…

…and so, apparently, is spring! I had planned a cooking day yesterday; I made minestrone and applesauce to freeze. I brought up a bunch of boxes of toys from the basement that had been out of the rotation for a while, both because I knew it would keep the girls occupied and because in March, I officially begin my spring cleaning bonanza. In the midst of chopping vegetables, I stepped out on the porch to dump a cutting board full of odds and ends into the compost bucket. I braced myself for the usual biting cold, but it was surprisingly comfortable. I immediately ran back inside, turned off my burners, and grabbed the kids to play in the yard. You learn quickly not to dally inside on a warm Boston winter day.

Any chance you might want to play baseball with me, Mommy?  The kid is GOOD.
Check out Charlie’s muddy pants. A sure sign of spring ’round this here part of the world.

Yesterday’s warmth provided the perfect opportunity to discuss the names and features of the four seasons. Vivi said spring was when the leaves came back and the animals came out of “bibernation,” but she couldn’t remember what that other season was called that came between spring and fall. What did we do then?, she wanted to to know. I delighted in explaining the vacation we have planned to Georgia to visit family and that I had enrolled her in summer camp. I wish I could accurately describe the look of pure joy on her face when she heard all of the things she would do at camp, like care for animals and hike the woods. “I will be covered in MUD? I can’t wait!!”

I believe getting dirty in the summer is a fundamental childhood right of passage. “Dirt therapy,” as I’ll call it, is not limited to jumping in camp mud pits, although I admit that might be the single best way to experience it. Digging in the dirt in your own backyard can also be therapeutic. One of my first memories is when I lived in Texas with my parents, and my mom found a garden snake outside and let me hold it. I remember being awed by the close interaction with nature and that my mom wasn’t afraid of it. I also remember feeling perfectly at peace while making mud pies…and then riding my Big Wheel to deliver them to neighbors.

This year we’ll start our own first family garden. We are renting our home, so it seems like raised beds will be the way to go. I am keeping an eye on Freecycle to see if anyone has wood I can reclaim for the job; or, I could always use pallets. Have you noticed how many people are upcycling pallets lately?

Having never grown plants from seed, I was a little unsure of where to begin, so I emailed my mom (an avid gardener and professional landscaper) back in January, and she wrote:

Here’s an idea to start your garden early and inexpensively. Plant seeds indoors in peat pots or plastic trays. Your basement will do nicely if you can find a table or board or ironing board to set them on. They won’t need light immediately but will eventually. Get yourself ready by gradually finding the seeds (Whole Foods has organic seeds, I’m told), the planting soil (use potting soil w/those little white flecks in it), and the peat pots or plastic trays. Wait until February to start. Check the seed packet for germination tables. If you are willing to move them to a well lit area, you can keep them in the house as the plants grow. If you use ice cube trays (w/holes), you can move the plant “up” to a larger container as the roots grow.

I didn’t want to use my ice cube trays, which I use to freeze sauces, stock, and…well…ice cubes, so I opted to troll Freecycle and Pinterest in hopes of free stuff and creative sowing ideas. I found both! Of the ideas on Pinterest, I think the easiest and most frugal are the ones who sow seeds in toilet paper rolls, which I seem to have on a daily basis now that Vivi has joined the ranks of the toilet-trained. 
Once I began gathering and assembling my toilet paper rolls, I got a great haul of lots of gardening equipment (and a rain barrel!) from a Freecycler; the loot came with two big seed trays. Then I spent a lot of time browsing seeds before finally settling on sweet peppers and cherry tomatoes, which I knew could be grown in pots if that’s what we decided on.

Look closely and you will see remnants of cat mischief on a leaf. She left hairs behind as evidence.

After about a month of germinating, our little seedings are sprouting! They provide a good opportunity for me to educate Vivi on some basic science facts about photosynthesis and an opportunity for her to grow her patience muscle. Vivi and I occasionally wander over to the  “incubator” in the office (i.e. front-and-center position on the buffet in front of the big bay window) to water them and talk to them. We tell them how cute they are and how we can’t wait to eat their veggie babies.image

Ever since Emily guest-posted about preparing her spring garden, I’ve been watching the calendar for when we can start ours; Texas and Massachusetts have slightly different weather patterns, so it appears we have a while to go before planting outdoors. For now, we’ll continue to nurse our newborn sprouts.

imageUltimately, I think my desire to start a garden has as much to do with becoming a part of the Arlington community as it does with playing in the dirt. When I go to the farmer’s markets this spring, I can chat with purveyors of seedlings about what their favorite garden plants are and learn some tricks of the trade. I can buy worm castings and even trade my own compost secrets. Our first year in Massachusetts was all about nesting and building a routine, and now that we are certain we’ll be staying a while, I can begin really planting roots and calling this place home.

Do you garden with your kids? What’s your favorite dirt therapy?

Editor’s note: This post is part of Tuesday Greens, The Seed-Starting ChallengeLink & Learn, the Friday Kid’s Co-Op, Green and Natural Mamas, Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green ResourceFarmGirl Friday, Show-and-Share SaturdaySeasonal Celebration SundaySunday Schoolthe Homestead Barn Hop, Made by You Monday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways