“What have we done?” I said in a whisper, tears stinging my red, cold cheeks. I was distraught. “We should have waited.”
“Honey, you had no idea it was going to start snowing, the forecast didn’t call for it, they will be fine.” I was not convinced from my husband’s testimony.
I sat silent in from the window, watching the snow heavily falling now, covering the road in its entirety as we drove away from the community garden in which we were attempting to learn grow produce; I could mark radishes off the list of the harvest. I felt defeated.
My family’s not-for-profit, the Helping Ninjas, whose initiative is to bring attention to the importance of teaching our youth to help the planet, each other and themselves, was awarded a grant award with my two oldest children’s school café manager, Mrs. Susan. Upon our first meeting, Susan shared with me her dreams and aspirations of a school café garden on school property and how she would like to provide fresh, homegrown, organic produce in the café year-round. I decided then and there that the Helping Ninjas would become highly skilled at planting.
My eldest son had been at the school for a couple of years, and this was the first time I had heard of the community garden, so I asked her what she had been successful at growing. A small amount of basil and tomatoes (seeds grown by the first graders at the school) and Susan had used the food in the café, just not to the extent of what she would like. And, she had yet to attempt to grow winter crops.
I thought, well a full farm-to -table café must have crops from all seasons, right? And others would probably be excited to know about this community garden where children are helping to grow organic produce; I felt an innate desire to see her dreams expand triumphantly into a sustainable program, so, enthusiastically, we decided to help. What a great learning experience for my children and their Helping Ninja friends—learning to grow organic produce while bringing awareness to the growing need for organic gardening and eating garden fresh foods! But, one small problem. I had never grown anything.
I began to do what anyone does when looking to learn how to do something— we googled it! It was like a DIY gardening 101 at our home, and wowser! Was there a lot of information and instructions and opinions! I was overwhelmed at the plethora of gardening “how tos” available on the Internet. From our research we decided on one winter crop. Supposedly, one of the easiest low maintenance to grow in Indiana –– radishes.
We purchased seeds, compostable seedling trays, organic soil and partnered with Susan’s Green Team students (in which I was a parent representative). We invited twenty elementary aged students to help us plant them in the seed pods. We planted 15 trays full of organic cilantro, organic basil, organic cherry tomatoes, organic beefsteak tomatoes, and organic radishes. We took the seeds home and the Helping Ninjas continued the care.
Each day we sprayed them with water, religiously turned them each morning towards the window, rotating so all angles would receive sunlight and we even simulated wind by waving our hands over the seeds. We also sprinkled our homemade compost soil periodically. I had ten Helping Ninjas, four of which were my own, helping to care for the seedlings. It was a full-time job. I had begun to ask myself what I had gotten myself into, and even questioned my sanity. I already was a mom of four, now I felt like a mom of 150! These little seedlings were not easy. They required our attention. Daily. Sometimes, three to four times a day. Making sure the soil was not too damp nor too dry. Making sure the room they were growing was not cold, turning on our space heater, remembering to turn it off, assuring that they received adequate light and remembering to fertilize them once a week. Remembering to make the compost tea or banana peel tea for the organic fertilizer that we would spritz on their teeny leaves. Sometimes, at night, I would be in bed, and think, “Oh my! I forgot to spritz the seedlings!” I would drag myself down the stairs, dedicated to showing my little ninjas that we can grow plants! This was officially the first time in 38-years I had ever attempted to grow a vegetable. I was a mom on a mission. I wanted to prove to myself, and my children, that you can achieve whatever you want and set out to do, as long as you try and work hard. And never, give up.
It paid off—the indoor growing was a success! We had plants! The radishes were growing so rapidly, their roots were growing out from underneath the compostable pot; we had planted the seeds in early February and now, come late-March, it was time to put them in the ground. Typically, (according to what we had read) this is an adequate time to plant radishes in Indiana. However, the day we decided to do so, it started to snow. Literally–– the snow was falling as we were putting the compostable seed pods in the garden.
The temperature kept dropping— 20 degrees, 18 degrees, then 16. What started out as a good idea, slowly began to unfold as maybe, not so much, and suddenly turned into what I thought was soon to be a lost cause. We were cold, and I was starting to wonder what in the world I was doing? Why? We could be at home, on the couch in front of a fire, and under a blanket, cozy, sipping hot cocoa – not out here in a garden in the snow! After caring for the tiny radishes, here we were all together, attempting to plant them in the freezing cold.
My three-year old’s nose was purple, but his smile remained, “Mommy this is fun!”
My four-year old, crying, “Can we go yet?”
My oldest, eight, and his friend, ten, were excited at first, but too were disheartened when asked if the radishes would be okay in the snow.
My hands felt frostbit, but I knew we had to get them in the ground. Radishes are root vegetable, and do best when are planted directly into the earth. I assured them they would, and that I knew they were cold, but we needed their help. We had nearly 40 compostable pots with plants that needed to be planted. We needed help now more than ever, we needed to rake the soil and dig holes and to get these precious seedlings—that we had cared for day and night for four weeks straight, into the ground! I attempted to motivate them and myself, with a reminder of what a huge help they were, and how proud I was of them for growing these radishes to this point thus far, and that must keep digging, we are were doing this to help others. It registered. They kept digging.
“Just keep digging, keep digging, keep digging,” I sang to help distract everyone from the brute of the blizzard in the garden, I looked around, and prayed. I realized one thing, that I had no idea what I was doing!
Then my six-year old had to go to bathroom but refused to use the port-a-potty–– so, mid-planting, the kiddos and I left my husband there in the snowy garden to finish the planting while we headed to the nearest gas station to brave the public restroom with 5 children. When we returned my husband had turned into a man who looked as though he just stepped off the set of the Wild Discovery Channel. His normally perfect hair was a mess, his strawberry blonde locks were unruly, and his eyes looked tired and bloodshot. Even the freckles dotted across his nose appeared frozen. It was snowing so hard the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up—and the temperature on the vehicle thermostat read 15 degrees! It took us two hours, but all 25 radish seedlings were planted.
As we left and dethawed, I started crying. I felt as if I had abandoned something. These seedlings were my children. It was insane I know, crying over seedlings. But, I had raised them. I had nurtured them through the night. I helped them to live, to sprout, to grow – and now, it was snowing! And they were out there all alone in these near Arctic temperatures, I thought, surely they wouldn’t survive. What kind of mother would do this to her children?
My husband thought it was sweet, reaching over and placing his hand over mine. Just kidding…. that did not happen. I think my husband actually told me to get a grip; that they were in fact – just plants. Well, they may have been just plants, but they were ours.
I was still silently crying that night as we went to sleep. I couldn’t quit thinking about their beautiful green teeny tiny leaves –and intricate roots that were now in the ground ––possibly, freezing to death. What had I done? All of that hard work, all of the perseverance and time—wasted. I had left these radishes out to die in the cold, and I would have nothing to prove to my children and their friends—that we can grow plants! I felt as if I had failed as a mother.
The next day it continued to snow. So much so that I couldn’t safely leave the house with my children. And the day after that, and the day after that, and the temps dropped. Below zero. And two weeks after we had planted our baby radish plants, we had non-stop snow and nearing below zero temps –– almost daily. Radishes can endure cold weather, but this was extreme. Why? Why did I think we could do this? All of that time wasted. A pit formed in my stomach when I was told by a local master gardener, “due to this extreme weather, the radish seedlings will not survive.”
But, guess what?
We had radishes last summer! It was amazing! We defeated the odds! I think it was a combination of the compost soil and the compost containers we planted them in. I believe they protected the roots from the temperature of the soil —and maybe— a higher power. Never the less, my little ninjas were pulling radishes from the ground early summer. And, the radishes, they were delicious!
My heart overflowed, I was filled with joy. A proud mom moment all the way around.