by Sharon Schnupp Kuepfer
"Mommy, can we have a garden?" asked my nine-year-old daughter, Kayla, as spokeswoman for her and her six-year-old sister, Clarissa. Having recently moved from southern Ontario fruitful farmlands to northern Ontario bush country, neither my husband nor I were interested in gardening. But going by the interest of my homeschooled daughters, I decided it was a worthwhile project. So I dutifully helped them buy tomato and pepper seeds, which they started indoors.
Day after day the girls faithfully watered and watched. And then came the moment when they excitedly came running with the news, "The seeds are growing!" Sure enough, the tomatoes were starting to show their dirty heads as they pushed their way through the well-watered soil. A week later, the peppers were popping up, too.
The girls wanted more seeds, so another trip to town yielded twenty more kinds. As we stood in the line, the check-out clerk smiled at my daughters and said, "You'll be busy!" In their excitement, however, they did not see the work that lay ahead of them.
After plenty of research, they decided which of these new seeds needed to be started indoors -- onions, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. These industrious workers then hauled out some empty pots and bags of soil. The back deck was dirty by the time they had completed the task, but they were pleased as they moved these newly-seeded pots to join the tomatoes and peppers in my already-crowded laundry room.
Not long after, a house-cleaning neighbor gave the girls her "seed box" which held a great variety of flower, herb and vegetable seeds. "Which ones do we plant indoors?" Kayla asked as I imagined the greenhouse on my laundry shelf overflowing to the top of the dryer. Immediately they set to work once again with seeds, soil and an odd assortment of containers. Afterward the seed packages stuck upwards showing ownership to each kind and ripped tops of seed packs lay scattered on the ground.
A donated box of books yielded three that Kayla found fascinating: The Vegetable Expert, Vegetable Gardening and The Herb Book. She could be seen poring over these treasures, at one point calling, "Mommy, where do I find 'parsley'?" After I helped her find the index, she muttered, "Under 'p'." Later, I counted 26 mismatched but colorful "paper scraps turned bookmarks" sticking out of these books identifying various plants she wanted to grow. Also stored in one of these books was her handwritten "spelling" list with a check beside each one, indicating garden possibilities: "beans, brokly, cabige, carit, cawiflower, cucumber, lettice, parsnip, radish, rubarb, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnip, parsly, beets, kohlrabi, onions, peas, peppers, scwash, and pumcens."
A retired-schoolteacher friend has inspired the girls more than anything else with her interest in gardening. One time after a visit with her, they informed me, "We need a little squirter with holes to water our plants." Later, our "cinnamon container turned watering can" was used to squirt water day after day. Also imitating our gardener friend, Kayla said, "You need to tilt the pots so the water drains out," as she lined two winter scarves underneath the front edges of the containers.
After diligently waiting for some of the more recently planted seeds to sprout, Kayla said, "I don't think the stuff in the laundry room is going to grow unless we move it to where there is more sun, but I know daddy won't want any on his desk." Earlier they had needed more room, so they followed my suggestion to use Clarissa's desk by the window for plants.
But since now they needed even more sunny space and as their father's desk was out of the question, the girls took up my challenge of making an outdoor greenhouse. I helped Kayla haul an old window from the back shed to set it against our outdoor furnace. Kayla and Clarissa then hauled some of the crowded-out indoor plants into this make-shift shelter, where a thermometer was also tucked, indicating a safe temperature. On cold nights they bedded down the outdoor greenhouse with old blankets, sheltering their beloved plants.
I was getting used to delighted shouts, with Kayla yelling, "Clarissa, the broccoli is coming up! We just planted it a few days ago!" and later, "Mommy, our onions are growing!" Another time it was Clarissa's turn to holler, " Mom, the cauliflower is coming up!"
At the beginning, the work involved in this project was mostly fun. "Clarissa," Kayla called. "Do you want to water your plants or should I?" Clarissa pranced downstairs wanting to keep up her end of the deal. But as the weeks passed and the excitement began to wane, Kayla could be heard to holler, "Mom, Clarissa won't help to water the plants!"
A more exciting aspect of this occupation was the categorizing of the remaining seeds into small plastic bags -- assorted packs of peas in one, muskmelon in another, and various flower seeds in yet another. Once I noticed Kayla racing through her chores and saying, "I want to get back to my seeds." "What are you doing with them?" I asked. "Oh, just organizing them some more." Nothing seemed to please her better than working out the details of her new career. Not only did the girls want organized seeds but an orderly garden spot in which to sow them.
One time when I saw both girls poring over some paper work, I asked, "What are you doing?" Kayla answered, "Making a map so we know where to put things in our garden."
My husband was needed to till the soil, but this posed a problem, because my darling, who is never sure where his wife and daughters will lead him next, had questions about this gardening project. Hoping to inspire him, I enthused, "I remember in school when I had one bean seed in one pot and I was so excited, but look how much more our girls are learning!" He seemed to think, however, that one bean plant might have been a more realistic idea. "Do they know how to do it?" he questioned. Nevertheless, a few weeks later I heard the tiller start up and head down the hill to the garden plot. My good-natured, farm-raised husband asked, "How big?" and I answered, "As big as you can," knowing that there were enough seeds sown indoors to keep a few families going.
This was their project as was revealed in a letter to a cousin, where Kayla wrote, "We are having a garden and Clarissa and I have to do all the work but it should be fun." The day finally arrived when Kayla was on her hands and knees transplanting from pot to garden her onions, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower. Not too long after, the categorized seeds were finally ready to be sown.
I gave my daughters a bit of guidance, then they were on their own for the rest of the afternoon, finishing up their garden. Afterwards, an odd assortment of sticks on which various seed packs haphazardly rested was the only indication the girls had been there.
Kayla's agricultural-entrepreneurial interest showed up in a list I found lying around, Ways to Earn Money this Summer, with point number two listing:
"Sell Plants." At their garage sale my little career women were successful -- they sold most of their self-grown seedlings. Another business venture was also itemized on a similar list that I had discovered, sounding even more idealistic: "Sell vechdables." Time will tell how energetic and prosperous they will be by harvest time.
This interest in seeds and soil is a good thing, as it has taught my children what it means to earn a living by sweat and toil. They water and watch and wait, and they might someday eat fresh carrots and cucumbers and corn. I hope my girls will feel kin to their grandparents and great-grandparents who worked the soil for survival.
Gardening has been a life lesson for my children. They have learned about ups and downs and taking disappointments in stride. There has been brokenhearted crying: "Mommy, the twins tramped in the garden and wrecked everything!!" and "All of our plants are ruined!!" after half of the "transferred to the garden seedlings" had succumbed to frost. But this is all part of them understanding that life is a struggle and in order to continue pursuing their interests, they need to take heart and go on.
Most of all, hopefully they will realize that when they are doing what they enjoy, the journey is as fun as the arrival. They might even discover that when their hobby is also their occupation, in life they will be one step ahead.
Borscht uses a medley of garden vegetables. As a child I would be met by the aroma of my mother's Russian Mennonite soup as I would walk in the door after school.
THE SMELL was a combination of vegetables (potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, and cabbage) and spices (bay leaf and pepper kernels). My sisters and I would grab a bowl and dip some steaming soup from the kettle on the cook stove. Nothing ever tasted better.
Now, my two oldest girls have helped to make this soup, and they especially like to eat it. I am pleased that they seem glad to continue the tradition.
Place in kettle and bring to a boil:
2 lb. beef with soup bone enough water to cover meat
Let simmer until almost tender, adding water, if necessary, to keep meat covered.
One hour before serving, add:
Potatoes may be cooked separately and added just before serving. Remove from heat, and serve.
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