catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 13, Num 10 :: 2014.05.16 — 2014.05.29


Beware of planting Barbie corn

We finally had our own place, our home in Africa, and I couldn’t have been more excited to plant our first garden.  It had been nearly two years since I had tucked those seed packets, promising a harvest of green beans, sweet corn, Big Boy tomatoes, carrots and English peas into a barrel, and now I was actually planting them into the warm sandy soil behind our house and near the well, so we could water them.

They say a watched pot never boils, and I can tell you from experience, a watched garden does not grow, at least the way you think it should.  Every evening I watered the rows marked with string and brave seed packets marking each vegetable, and finally tiny green leaves prompted a happy dance all around the garden.  A Chadian friend warned me that the sun might be too hot for the infant seedlings, so together we crafted a kind of an open straw roof, thick enough to for a sun guard, thin enough to allow the necessary warmth to filter through.

The green stems grew, some bearing leaves, some just growing up like a kind of green onion, and then everything stopped.  The tomatoes and the green beans and the peas and even the corn stalks suffered from some kind of arrested development between six and eight inches. Blossoms promised fruit, but not the kind I expected or wanted.  The corn tasseled out with tiny ears; we called them Barbie ears because they would have fit a Barbie or Ken dolls’ hands just right.  There were enough green beans to prove it had been a real packet of green bean seeds, but not enough for even one side dish.  The tomatoes, the Big Boys, bore a tomato or two per plant, and none the size of the cherry tomatoes that grew up by themselves in a field nearby.

And then it occurred to me, slow learner than I am, that these seeds were bred to bear fruit in northeast Pennsylvania where summer temps might hover between 60 and 80 with the occasional 85 or even 90.  Here, in rainy season Chad, the temperatures seldom dipped below 80, hovering more often near 100.  The soil was little more than sand, not the rich, rocky soil of our home state. The seeds just did not belong in a garden in Africa.

I’ve thought often of that, shall we say, “experiment,” especially when I garden now.  It reminds me that people are not much different from those seeds.  Some people are really effective and productive in the spotlight, teaching the rest of us.  Others do equally valuable, but different work planted behind the scenes.  Some of us bear the greatest fruit planted on a piano bench, or in front of a computer screen and some, out in a field, dropping seeds or seedlings into the right soil at the right time of the year and with the right kind of attention. 

We are too often tempted to judge our children’s success by how closely they conformed to the seeds we thought we were planting, that perhaps we wanted to plant. We did not allow for the soil of their own giftedness, passions, desires and dreams.  And if we are not careful, we end up with the stunted growth and the bitter flavors of my first garden in Africa.

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