For me, this year is different. Jill showed me the discipline of growing vegetable seedlings on a commercial scale. Rob created a plant nursery; a hot house for sowed seeds, a hardening area covered in shade cloth and protected under bird netting. Part way through our setting up a local farmer asked me to grow seedlings of capsicums, eggplants and three types of tomatoes. The order was for 500 seedlings of each. What good fortune I have.
For two weeks in August, when it was still cold, I watched as I watered the seedling trays but there was no sign of life. Would they sprout? Had I followed what Jill told me? Then magically two leaves came up exhausting the storehouse of each tiny seed. After a few more days two more leaves and then two more, all on their own fragile single stems. When they looked strong enough I pricked them out and planted them in individual tubes with fresh nutritious soil for them to grow bigger and stronger. After another week or two in the hot house, I moved them out to harden – out in the open but still under the protective cover of the netting. Each morning I took my cup of tea down to check on the seedlings and gently but thoroughly sprayed them with fresh rainwater from a watering can that had to have just the right amount of fineness in the holes so that the little stems were not pushed over and had to use too much energy to stand up again.
After six weeks I delivered 500 of each type to the farmer. There were still many left – more than 100 of each kind. I gave some to friends, sold some at the local organic shop but I still had some left over. At this point the decision was whether to plant them all or plant just a few and discard the rest in a compost bin. The answer was a no brainer. I grew them from seed, nursed them to their childhood. Of course they had to go in the ground.
Most of my garden is on a tennis court to keep out rabbits and kangaroos and deer and we plant our food in big apple crates. An apple crate is 4’ x 4’ and holds nearly one cubic meter of soil. First I planted capsicums, nine to a crate and I had enough seedlings for three crates. The eggplants followed. I only had twenty seedlings left so in they went into two crates. This left thirteen crates for tomatoes of nine plants each. I still had some left over and found room elsewhere in the garden for them. In total the tomato population was 150!
In six weeks these single stem plants, fifteen centimeters tall (six inches) grew taller than a meter (more than four feet) and sprouted rambling branches. Without fail, I spend every morning in my garden checking out every plant, admiring each flower, witnessing when they turn into fruit: the life force in growing food.
Next week we will visit the life of tomatoes from fruit to the table and beyond.