When my third-grade class planted tomato seeds in January, I was filled with overconfidence. We have a little greenhouse at the school, the kind I always dreamed of having in my own backyard.
I imagined the temperatures would mimic the richest of Mexican growing regions. The seedlings would grow so fast, so tremendously strong, we would soon need to transfer them to 1-gallon containers.
Just so you know, it’s not that easy. The nights were cold and our little sprouts are still only an inch or two tall. The garden gurus shared a good tip: Don’t use water from the hose when the temperature outside is just barely above freezing.
The kind garden tenders had my full attention when they brought in some seedlings grown in the warmth of a sunny kitchen. Look children, these seeds were planted weeks after the chilled greenhouse darlings, and they’re just as tall.
Yet, as plants often do, our greenhouse plants kept growing despite my hapless torture.
I knew that becoming a third-grade teacher was a lot of responsibility. Yet, when it was time to volunteer to unzip and zip up the greenhouse, I thought this would be as mindless as erasing the chalkboard. It’s spring break. I don’t have much planned. I’m such a geek, I knew I would check on the seedlings on a regular basis.
My instructions were fairly thorough: Unzip the plastic before the heat of the day, and zip it up before the day began to grow cool.
Then I decided to take a “quick trip” to see my family in Redding.
You can see where this is going. After a night filled with pizza and jumping on the trampoline with my nephews, Mom and I stayed up late watching movies on her ginormous TV.
It was so nice to sleep in, I languished in her sound-proof house. Then she offered to give me some of her perfectly good, comfortable sandals, and soon it was near the heat of the day.
No problem; Redding is only a little more than an hour from Chico.
The car had already warmed up when I started the engine. I got nervous when I had to turn on the air conditioning.
The greenhouse! Our seedlings!
I drove straight to school and faced a blast of moist, hot air when I unzipped the once-coveted plastic enclosure.
Our plants were OK, but I’m glad I didn’t stop at the wildlife refuge on the way home.
Now I realize why those fancy gardening catalogs sell temperature-controlled venting systems and cooling fans.
One difference between growing plants on a windowsill and growing dozens and dozens of plants in a greenhouse is that a small mistake can mean a massive loss of good intentions.
We think that tomatoes are the easiest thing in the world to grow. However, many of us buy our tomato plants when they are 6, 12 or 24 inches tall. That means someone else pampered the plants during the high and low temperatures.
If all goes well, my third-graders will soon be transferring our plants to empty chocolate milk containers. They never need to know that our plants were within hours of looking like boiled cabbage.
Springing to life
Meanwhile, I learned more lessons about what does grow in endless combinations of varying temperatures – common groundsel, puncture vine and wild vetch.
As always, I planted poppies in the cracks of the pavement that run along my alley. A really cool man moved into the nearly-empty lot next door and upset the seed universe. He rolled over his land with a Bobcat and dragged in truckloads of gravel. I’m guessing that’s how a bazillion weed seeds ended up in the cracks in the alley.
Now I know that Velcro weed can grow in a paper-thin layer of decomposed leaf mold and that Vetch flowers by St. Patrick’s Day.