Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Urban Herbing

(Author's note: Not my garden.)

A couple weeks ago, I got a crazy hair up my butt and decided gardening would be a gratifying and practical use of my free time. I had scant idea how to garden, or even what supplies were necessary, but I had an image in my head that I could not shake. It was of me waltzing out onto my porch and plucking fresh basil and parsley and whipping up some fantastical dish to the delight of my crowd of guests. Learning how to be a better cook or to figuring out how I to entertain more than 2 people in my kitchen was irrelevant. The herbs come first, and everything else will fall into place. I believe it was James Earl Jones who said "if you grow it, they will come", but don't quote me on that.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, I poked around my neighborhood flower shop and came home with a long plastic planter, a 16-quart bag of soil, and an 'Easy to Grow Seed Collection'. Inside this seed collection were five herbs that some Renee chick seems to think are 'kitchen essentials'. They have also been 'specially chosen' to grow well in containers and pots, which sounds like utter bullshit and will make the situation that much more tragic when they shrivel and die. These herbs were Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Dill, and Parsley. Of course, these names alone could never suffice, so Renee waxed poetically on the back of each packed about why this 'Perfuma di Genova' basil makes your grandmothers basil look like a limp weed. I bought the variety pack partly because I didn't want to put all my seeds in one basket if it failed, partly because it was cheaper  to buy the variety pack than a couple packets separately, and mostly because I got a little carried away. I placed the seeds on my bookcase and the planter and soil on my deck, and there they sat for two weeks.

Fast forward to last Tuesday. I finally got up the gumption to plant, and plant I did. I read the instructions, but frankly, they were kind of silly: plant Basil approximately 2-3" apart, in Early June to the depth of 1/4". Listen Renee, I'm not trying to step on your toes here, but who goes around digging little 1/4 inch holes for Basil in the wild? No one does, so that's not going to happen in my garden. I can take it from here. Most of the herbs had the same basic instructions anyway. Space them a couple inches apart, about half an inch deep sometime in early Summer. I decided to give each herb half a row of my planter, and squeeze the last herb in between somewhere. Here is a picture of the soil just before I cut the ribbon and went to work.

Pristine, bathed in golden sunlight. I felt a bit like Columbus discovering America. So as I was saying, I had the presence of mind to give each herb a distinct area, but in retrospect, I made a few critical errors in the process. First, I have no idea which herb is in which quadrant. I suppose I will find out by seeing what sprouts (or doesn't), but still, it feels a little amateurish. Also, I was a little too stingy with the seeds at first. And by stingy, I mean, one seed per hole. I had rationalized this completely in my head, as I didn't want to overcrowd the little guys. It wasn't until later that the 'sperm' analogy hit me and I realized I should be stuffing 10 seeds in each dimple. Whatever herb I put in that first quadrant, I apologize. I hope it was dill, because I don't intend to 'pickle' anything this summer. Here is a picture of the seeds in my hand. So much potential, so much dirt.

Here is a picture of the soil after seeding. If you can squint, you might be able to see the seed shaped nodules. I pushed those down shortly after.

Finally, just one more picture of the seeds. These were good looking seeds.

 So after seeding, I had to decide where to place this planter. There are a lot of trees in my backyard, so sunlight isn't necessarily guaranteed, and if these seeds are going to die, I'll be damned if it'll be due to lack of sunlight. I decided on the railing, as it gets a lot of sun, and I thought the planter was heavy enough to weather any errant wind gusts or curious birds. I also didn't water it at first, because the soil felt pretty moist and I didn't want to overwhelm the seeds on their first day.

I realized quickly that I didn't have anything that could be used to 'water' the seeds in the traditional sense, and even I knew that pouring water out of a cup would be disastrous. So I dug around in the basement and found a watering can. It's a little leaky, but it does the job. I also found some pelletized plant food that I sprinkled on top of the soil for good measure. Plants can't be overfed.

The next few days went something like this.

1. Go outside.
2. Stick finger in soil.
3. Estimate soil hydration.
4. Water (or not)
5. Reposition planter in sunlight

In my estimation, I've watered the seeds 3 times in 8 days, not counting rainstorms or other erroneous moisture. During these 8 days, I've tried to bring up gardening in casual conversation to try and pick up some pointers. Needless to say, it's hard to steer conversations towards gardening, but the more I learned, the more my expectations dwindled. It turns out that the reason they sell those dinky herb plants is because growing herbs from scratch is not as easy as one would think, and require more attention than I am interested in giving. Still, I continued to water diligently and gaze lovingly at the barren soil with positive vibes. The seed packets implied that the first signs of life appear after 10-21 days, at which point you need to start playing 'herb triage'.  Well today has marks 8 days, and look what I found this afternoon:

Well I'll be darned. Looks like someone has a green thumb after all. If that isn't the cutest sprout (chives?) you ever did see. And that's not all. Look at this handsome devil:

Now I'm no horticulturalist, but that looks like the makings of a tall and handsome basil plant. I'd say enough for a 3 grams of pesto. The rest of the herbs are lagging behind, but I gave them a good water today, and laid on the sarcasm real thick in the hopes that I can shame them into germinating. I'll update this when I have more to report.

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