They’re Alive!

“They’re alive! They’re ALIVE!” I screamed with demented scientist glee. “Now I know what it feels like to be God!”

Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

When I left for NYC earlier in the week, I was certain my little farmer-in-the-dell exercise of growing vegetables and herbs from seeds would be for naught. I expected to find dry plugs of dirt in the pots I’d planted, with perhaps a few withered sprouts that had reached out their little arms to the sun, like an infant for its mother, only to be cut down in their youth from parental neglect.

Instead I returned to Connecticut three days later to find most of my seedling table a lovely and startling shade of spring green. It was when looking upon all that chlorophyll battling it out in the name of survival of the fittest that the dialogue from Frankenstein, uttered by Colin Clive, just burst from my mouth.

That was the herb pots. Sadly, I wasn’t as lucky with my mini hothouses, in which I planted more than 100 seeds along with a heapin’ lot of hope. Actually, there is some life—if six whisker-thin, crooked filaments count as life—exhibiting itself over in the onion section. But that’s about it. The worst is the devastation in my summer beans. When I leaned in close to search for signs of intelligent life in those 15 fertilized sod pods, I detected a sweet stench, the olfactory love child of caramel and moldy apples. I leaned in closer. Yep, the beans had rotted. In my hubris to bring about life where previously there had been none, I’d drowned the seeds.

Mushy bean seedlings on a wood surface.

On the other hand, it could have been my sowing skills. The directions on the back of the seed packet said to plant the beans individually. Certain that those instructions were intended for the Common Man or uninitiated gardener (after all, I did work on a farm as a kid), I arranged for group sex among my seeds, shoving three and four into each sod pod. After all, what are seeds except dessicated reproductive organs, right? I figured all they needed was a little H2O and perhaps a little Barry White and within two weeks ought to have a veritable vegetal orgy. Instead, well, you can witness the destruction I’ve wrought in the photo above. Clearly I could never be a pimp—and my future as a farmer is most assuredly hanging in the balance. At least I have more grist for my new tumbler composter. (Another story for another day.)

Four pots of herb seedlings.

Fetid pots or not, I am undeterred. This morning I replanted the beans and the peas (I rotted them, too) and took the plastic tops off the trays. From here on, my plants are going commando. No instructions, no plastic cover, no overheated nurseries. I will bring life to this house, dammit. Even if it kills me.

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. I always look forward to reading your posts, David! I, too, decided to try growing plants from seeds this year…although I took the easy route and didn’t even BUY the seeds (they came free in the mail from one of the charities I support.) Miracle of miracles, they’ve actually sprouted. My mother says the next step will be to weed out the weaker seedlings. I feel like I’m starring in Sophie’s Choice…

    1. Joana, me too! How can I kill my darlings? I want to know, why can’t they all just get along? I would have a crapload of veggies if they all took. I’m thinking of dividing the sod pods into halves or thirds–I’m hoping it will solve the murder issue. Oh, and thanks for the kind words.

  2. I can understand your excitement, I would have been excited, too. I always feel that way when the first sprouts appear after planting. Imagine my surprise at finding we already have radishes! Geez…we just planted them barely 6 weeks ago. Here in the SF Bay area, it’s been a mild winter with little rain and the ground was warm enough to start planting in early March. My tomato plants are getting so big already and have lots of blooms. I’ll feel that excitement again when I see the first tomatoes forming on those vines. Not so much when the zucchini start ballooning overnight! And yet I keep planting them…go figure.

    1. Don’t forget to remove the suckers from the tomato plants. Very important. It’s tempting to leave them on, especially when they start blooming.

  3. Congratulations on your herbs! Concentrate on the positive! And replant those beans.

    The only things growing in my garden right now are the garlic transplants from my dad’s garden. I planted seeds for four varieties of lettuce, sugar snap peas, spinach and two kinds of beets directly in the garden. One sprout. Lesson to self – buy new seeds every year.

    We have had such a crazy spring here in Missouri that even new seeds would have been challenged. I am now skipping over spring crops and moving on to tomato and bail transplants. I can’t wait to make pesto and tomato sauce!

    1. Sarah, the new peas and beans are coming to life. It’s amazing what happens when you follow instructions. I’m really glad we decided to grow seedlings inside. We either had (or will have tonight) a frost. It would’ve completely wiped out my babies.

      Are you propagating some of your herbs directly in water or the earth? We’ve bought one basil plant and now have six starting to grow. Very exciting!

      1. Congratulations on the peas and beans! And on the basil!

        I have the good fortune to have a dad who loves to garden. He starts seeds for me every year and then gives me the transplants, ready to go into the garden. He starts them in peat cells and then moves them to larger flats of square cells, like what you see in gardening supply stores.

        I just planted my basil seedlings today, along with the tomatoes. We had a light frost last night, which is extremely late for us. We usually have our last frost in mid-April. I am glad I had procrastinated on the planting! To give you an idea of our lovely, unpredictable St. Louis weather, we are expecting high 80s tomorrow. Average temps are mid 70s for highs. I do love gardening, even with all of its ups and downs!

        1. I hear you. We’re having temps in the mid-70s tomorrow, after tonight’s frost. I should build a greenhouse!