Raising Richmond: Seeds plus dirt plus water

Share my wisdom with your children and grandchildren, little one.

When I started gardening years ago I leaned on my mom a lot for help. She’d spend a day or more with me cleaning out my yard and helping me get the ground ready to plant. She still brings me potatoes and onion starters and shares her seeds. I know most of what I know about gardening from her, and a lot of her knowledge comes from her own experience (her yard is beautiful year-round) and what she remembers from her mom and Mamaw. The first thing she was in charge of planting as a small child in West Virginia was lettuce and onions.

I don’t absorb everything my mom tells me (she’ll gladly remind me again when it’s time to start planting), but I remember the basics. I sow directly outside on the first weekend of May–after the danger of frost. After following instructions on the seed packets, I plant three seeds in every hole: one for the cutworm, one for the crow, and one to grow. It sounds like a line from Game of Thrones, but it’s just handed-down wisdom from her side of the family.

I’ve come a long way since our first Spring’ working on my yard. When my mom first showed me a grub that could destroy plants, she popped it dead with her (gloved) fingers like it was nothing, and I got freaked out and hid in the bathroom for three hours (or something like that). Now, when I see those ugly bugs, I squish them right away. In addition to my increased comfort with pesticide, I garden with some confidence, and every year I do better because I continue to learn what works for my yard and how much I can commit to it.

This year I worked on my garden without my mom, but I had my daughter to help out. While my mom has taught me almost everything I know about gardening, so far I’ve taught my daughter that “worm poop makes flowers grow.” Share my wisdom with your children and grandchildren, little one.

My daughter has been flower-crazy lately. She picks every wildflower she can get to and is starting to learn the names of different flowers. She tells us every night that she is going to dream about flowers, and in the morning confirms that she dreamed about flowers. She has informed us that when she is old enough to get a tattoo it will be–you guessed it–onions. Just kidding. A flower. Planting flowers with her this Spring has been a fun start to our gardening season (which I refer to as the “garden starty”).

If you want to work with a small child at any endeavor, the best advice that I can give is to not take it seriously. I am not emotionally invested in my yard anymore because I know that a lot of what I plant won’t sprout. And if it does, it still has to make it through birds, squirrels, weather, my negligence, and–in the case of a tiny watermelon–my dog. So my child is certainly not going to mess anything up anymore than nature or I will.

This year especially has been perfect to have her help out more because she’s interested. And she has a little gardening outfit: child’s gardening gloves my mom got for her, an old hat, and rain boots. My mom was babysitting this March and brought the potatoes and onion starters, and she and my daughter planted some onions in flower pots. I left the box of onion starters on the front porch and while she was outside by herself for a few minutes, my daughter planted about a dozen more onions in planters. We have all the onions, in case anyone else in Richmond needs some.

My big planting weekend was earlier this month. I spruced up my raised bed (which you can read more about here) and had a lot of seed packs to use. I planted beans, corn, and squash (the Three Sisters, potatoes, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, sunflowers, tomatoes, marigolds, and petunias (which my kid picked out). I did my best to guide her on placing the seeds in the holes I made for them, but since she insisted on opening and holding all the seed envelopes, I’m not entirely sure what she did with the cucumbers and sunflowers seeds. Those packets were almost empty by the time we got to planting them. That’ll be a fun surprise this summer.

Then, mostly inspired by how carefree she is with planting, I saved some beans for later in the year but then dumped everything else nearish to the garden bed just to see what happens. Dirt plus seed plus water plus sun equals plants, right?

Gardening is a hobby of mine, and I’m glad it’s something that, unlike sitting in front of a screen while I work, can involve her. I like having her outside with me. She takes pride in plants that we picked out and planted together, and loves to water them.1 As for the actual produce, she did try a sprig of mint, but I don’t expect she’ll try anything from the yard other than the strawberries (which predate her) and mulberries from the tree.

In previous years she’s enjoyed digging up potatoes and hunting for beans and berries she can pick herself. She likes to hold earthworms (just for a second–I don’t keep them out of the ground for long) and find other bugs. She likes to water, and she likes it when I “accidentally” spray her with the hose. Tending to the garden is a good evening activity, and I prefer that she wants to hang out outside with me when we have garden chores than to go back inside and watch Netflix before dinner. Another good thing about planting is that there are results within a week. She can tell that her onions are growing taller. The potato plants are already poking out, and we have dozens of seedlings in the raised bed.

We had visitors after we did all the planting, and my daughter didn’t talk to them until we went outside where she showed off her garden (our friend reports that she pointed out a flower and also where we planted “food”).

The output never matches the input for me in terms of produce, but I enjoy the gardening experience, even more now that I can share it with both my mom and my daughter. And if the gardening fails, I have a Victory Farms produce stand in my neighborhood on the weekends. It’s just as good as if I grew it myself, and my daughter and I can walk there together, so that’s still a bonding thing.

  1. She also likes for me to narrate what the flowers are saying. They’re usually saying “I’m so thirsty” and then “THAT’S TOO MUCH WATER!” 
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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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