Being a first-time plant mom

plantmomI love being a plant mom! I didn’t expect to be smitten so hard the day I saw my first green seed sprouts reaching up out of the soil. I also didn’t expect plants to be so cute, but they are super cute! Even when an older seedling starts growing a new tiny leaf, it gets me right in the feels.

Why I decided to become a plant mom
My first motivation was to save money by growing my own food , because I don’t make a lot of money but I would like to eat safe and nutrient-rich food. I would absolutely love to forage wild food, but it’s not practical where I live; plus, growing my own food means I know exactly what conditions the plants have experienced, whereas I can’t tell if a wild plant has been sprayed with insecticides or is drawing up water from a contaminated creek nearby.

Second, just knowing how to grow your own food – let alone doing it – is one important way to empower yourself and disengage from the agribusiness industrial complex. It gets you in touch with the source of your nourishment and connects you to the cycles of life. And in the case of a natural disaster, the odds are in your favor the more self-sufficient you are.

Third, I was (and still am!) playing Stardew Valley and figured I should try growing real plants to see if I liked it. My previous gardening experience was mostly weeding – removing things, not growing or nurturing things.

Why I chose heirloom plants
I had read an article in Discover a long time ago about popcorn made from heirloom corn and it always stuck with me. The author of the article said that most plants, especially corn and potatoes, have been bred to be tasteless vehicles for salt and butter into our mouths. How sad is that?

An heirloom plant – also called heirloom variety, heritage fruit, or heirloom vegetable – is the result of selectively planting seeds over decades or even centuries for taste, color, texture, shape, and/or size. A variety grown before 1946 is generally a good bet, as this is when people started cross-pollinating plants to create hybrids on a large scale.

The plants you (United States dwellers) buy for food in virtually all stores belong to one of a handful of varieties, which have been bred and/or genetically modified for ease of planting, growing, pesticide application, harvesting, and shipping long distances. Not only does this make for boring and nutrient-deficient food, it’s dangerous.

Heirloom food plants are essential to human survival and happiness because:

  • They provide genetic variation. It’s easy for a disease to wipe out an entire crop when each plant is identical. This very situation originated the Irish Potato Famine – the Great Hunger. (A situation made infinitely worse by the horrifying British government response.)
  • Growing them is not always friendly to mechanization – which is good. Agribusiness is killing our planet and our ability to feed ourselves food that has actual nutrients in it. Alternate/traditional ways of growing food don’t strip the land of all its nutrients or pollute it with pesticides.
  • We are seriously missing out on a mind-blowing array of tastes, colors, and shapes for our food. Just look at Glass Gem Corn. LOOK AT THIS:

Glass Gem Corn; photo by Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.

I headed straight to Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co to buy my seeds because I had seen their catalog – the cover of which had Glass Gem Corn on it! – in my local organic grocery store. To be honest, I really liked their photography, but since then I’ve read about all their efforts to preserve and share heirloom seeds and it’s really important work. They even encourage you to share seeds from extra-rare crops so those varieties survive.

Things I’ll do differently next time (technical stuff)
Nothing beat seeing my first little seedlings come up – I planted the seeds in dirt (in containers) and waited to see what happened.

Since I’ve already experienced that delight, though, I will germinate my next seeds in water to see if they are even viable. The strawberry seeds I planted had a very low germination rate: my first batch (killed by larvae) had only three sprouts out of about fifteen, and my second batch have sprouted two out of eight.

I will plant seeds close to when I receive them in the mail. My low germination rate was probably due to the fact that the seeds sat around for several months before I planted them.

I planted my seeds too deep and I didn’t water them enough – the soil needs to feel like a damp sponge all the time. I should have covered the containers before the first shoots came up to keep them warm – and they weren’t very warm due to the dreary spring here, so I should have put them under lights.

If I can afford it, I’d love to buy a professional camera and macro lens so I can take pictures from the first day of sprouting – it’s been my #1 regret that my phone camera can’t zoom in far enough to get good shots.

In conclusion
Being a plant mom is delightful, sometimes tragic, and lots of fun! I’ll post more photos as my babies grow. For now, here are some photos from the past two months: