Garden Giggles

My Peppered Past

Actually, it’s my NO-peppered past.

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Mike McGrath trademark attribution

The grand (or not so grand; your choice) illusion of GreenPrints is that we grizzled veterans are asked to write a seasonally appropriate story every quarter, months before that season actually appears. So, full disclosure: I am two-fingeredly pounding out this attempt at a Summertime story on March 20, the first day of Spring.

How can I achieve this miracle? Precognition? Time Travel? The Magic 8-Ball? Nah—I just dive back into that tiny parcel of my brain that safeguards my memories! (Unfortunately, the bank guards are Laurel and Hardy and The Three Stooges, and the vault door has been left open since 1973.)

Last year, I decided to start my tomato and pepper seeds differently. Why? Well, after close to 40 years of seed-starting success, I wanted a change. (Cue up theme from Jaws in the background.)

It was starting to look like a pretty good idea!

I had grown tired of the four-tube fluorescent fixture that had faithfully served me for decades, AND I now had an adopted cat (“Goldy; the hopeful furball” living on my plant porch, where she would be sure to eat my sprouts, knock over the trays, and/or pee on them), so I purchased a pair of those ‘super bright’ ‘deformable’ LED ‘garage lights’ AS SEEN ON TV! (And yes, I ordered them from the TV commercial. Strike one.) “Just screw them into any regular-sized light bulb fixture, pull down the four LED flaps and your dark garage suddenly has the brilliance of a Major League stadium light!” (Or something like that; I was falling in and out of sleep).

The offer was theoretically for one light, “But wait! There’s more! We’ll send you another light absolutely FREE! And we’ll pay the shipping!” What could go wrong, I thought? And as soon as I thought that thought, I heard a mysterious voice mumble, “You should have got a Sham-Wow or Ginsu Knives instead.”

But with the new kitty at home, I didn’t have much of a choice. So I moved all my overwintering house plants from their side tables of the (insulated and heated) plant porch to the center table, which I used to use to start my seeds. The package containing the new lights arrived, and it was starting to look like a pretty good idea! (Theme from Jaws now grows louder in the background … )

My Peppered Past

Note: The house plants used to reside IN the house until I suddenly came into possession of four rescued cats:

PeaceSee (common name Catloaf, as she is clearly a cat imitating a meatloaf. If you sit down, The Loaf will jump onto your lap and increase her personal density until you can no longer get up. She also helps you read the daily newspaper.

Monkey Boy (because he is a tuxedo cat and tuxedoes were referred to as ‘Monkey Suits’ when I was growing up). He is our eternally confused cat. In The Three Stooges, he would be Larry.

Orbit, so named because he showed up on the patio one day and ‘orbited’ around me for weeks before letting himself into the house. He can open door latches and food cabinets and needs no nickname.

Twinkles Neutron, an all-grey runt of the litter, named as a tip of the hat to her brother Orbit, is tiny and precious and answers to Twinkles, Twinkie, Kitty, Kitten, Pretty Kitty, and Dinner.

And now back to our scheduled programming, already in progress.

I bought two ‘trouble lights’ (extension cords with a light socket on the business end), screwed some brackets into the back wall and hung the lights over the two tables where my baby plants would now grow and prosper. Well, one screwed at least. The other section of wall proved resistant to my every attempt at bracket insertion, so I hammered a Phillips head screwdriver into the space instead. When a friend was working with me on a house problem weeks later, he of course asked if I had a Phillips head. I gleefully said yes, and that (unlike every other tool I own) I knew exactly where it was!

… and could he possibly wait until June to use it?

“Trouble lights.” An omen if I ever heard one. How could I not have known at that point where this sad saga would end up? Why couldn’t I have chosen ‘contentment lights’ or ‘happy lights’ instead????

The bound-to-be-trouble lights were hung but not yet activated. First, I had to get the seeds sprouted. Got out the heating mat, filled my containers with seed-starting mix, saturated them fully, planted the seeds, and covered them with a bit more seedstarting soil. Misted the tops of the containers, pulled Saran Wrap over the tops, and waited.

After five to seven days the sprouts were up. Off comes the Saran Wrap (to be recycled at the supermarket plastic bag drop), but the heating mat stays on until all the sprouts appear that are likely to appear. The lights—hung (another key word I seem to have ignored) about two to three inches above the baby sprouts instead of the usual inch because they seemed to be giving off a fair amount of heat. (You’d think that me stripping down to a T-Shirt after five minutes in the room would be a hint; a clue! But Hintless I remained (apparently “Clueless” was already taken). Strike two.

Gee, the plants were sucking up more water than I remember: LOTS more. Better turn the heating mat off now; that should do it!

My new set-up didn’t involve a water reservoir for the containers. Why? To avoid damping off disease, of course … which had happened to me only on my first two tries at seed starting, back during the last Millennium. The real reason was that I couldn’t find the ‘indoor greenhouse’ toppers I had always used for this purpose. (Two years ago, the Fugitive was the eggshells I had saved for my tomato planting [found them in August!]. This year it was the suet cages I (usually) hang outdoors for the birds over winter. They are still at-large, and the public is requested to assist the authorities with their inquiries.

After five to seven days the sprouts were up. Off comes the Saran Wrap …

Suet cages. How far could they get on foot???

Back to my doomed peppers. I was increasingly aware that my ‘garage lights’ were kind of hot (“kind of” in the way a wise man once said “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!”). Yes, the loud man selling them on what used to be UHF TV (remember the funky round antenna, fellow AARPers?) never claimed that they were plant-starting lights (that was MY bright [get it? Bright? Boy, I’m hot—hot—tonight]) idea. But he DID talk (yell) about the ‘heat-dissipating’ holes on the top side of these flame throwers.

I held my hand underneath one of the panels. The smell of burning hair filled the room (to quote a song: “Yes; I’m a hairy guy … ”). I held my hand above the panel. Mildly warm. Was I using these things upside down? Was I upside down? Were my sprouts dead yet?

No. No. And soon to be.

No matter how hard I tried to keep them watered, they soon curled up and joined The Choir Invisible, dying on top of soil so dry a desert’d seem lush. You’re outta there!

“Well, you learn more from failure than you do from success,” said a Pennsylvania Dutch neighbor as I buried the remains in one of my compost piles.

“Yeah? What did I learn?”

“Not to do that again!”


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