Wednesday, September 29, 2010

9/28: Digging

Now that I’ve already spent a day “leading” the seed-saving group, it seems a bit late for me to be confessing that I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. Plus, it’s too hot to argue, or really to even ask questions. So off we trudge again, different kids this time, clippers in hand, small bowls and mesh frames and Ziploc bags all piled into the large metal bowls we’ll use to collect the dried blooms of the plants we’ve been assigned to, which is “all the stuff around the community room.” With each other’s help, the kids and I can recognize three plants which seem to be ready to give up some seeds: columbine, calendula, and yarrow. We clip and clip and clip blossoms into three large bowls, which we without much forethought leave on the ground in the sun as we clip. Wild Child keeps “gathering seeds” into her mouth from the cherry tomatoes growing nearby, which is the kind of thing I usually not only tolerate but encourage, but I keep trying to pull her back on task so we can get out of the scorching sun. Of course, once we have denuded the plants of spent flowers, our metal bowls are too hot to touch, and we have to use our shirts to hold them to run to the shade where we put them down & wait for them to cool off.

While we are standing around in the shade, mopping our brows and waiting for our bowls to cool, T and her group are digging holes and planting lettuce & chard starts in the sun-drenched beds over by the third grade classroom, sweating away in the sun without any hope for retreating to the shady garden to clean and package their seeds. For this hour of sweat they will be rewarded with a long spray of water, but not before T calls their attention to how hot they are, and how long they worked, and how much hotter and longer-working must be the day laborers we see in the fields all around our town. Food is work, she points out gently, then cools them all off with the hose. They romp in the rainbow spray, proud of their lush green garden bed.

In the meantime, we are shaking the small seeds through the mesh frames to remove the extra non-seed items, blowing on the bowls to remove the light bits of detritus (this, we discover, only works with the heavier seeds), and packaging them up—labeling them clearly as instructed with the plant, the date, and the grade who gathered them. Wild Child is having a hard time not tossing the bags around in a way that will definitely result in the loss of all the seeds if I can’t refocus his energy, so I lead the group down to check out the bed from which the cooking group has removed a snack’s worth of knobby fingerling potatoes, which places us within range of the hose. And no, they haven’t earned a cool-down like the diggers, but it’s so hot--why not?--I let them run back and forth a bit through the cool water. Wild Child double-times the others, somehow getting fully soaked while they seem lightly sprinkled.

Hmmm. So, we’ve gathered, cleaned (as best we could, given my total ignorance of seed cleaning, having to be taught to blowing trick by one of the kids), packaged and labeled our seeds, and it still isn’t time for the cooking group to give us our snack, but it’s too hot to head back out into the sun to look for more seeds. I mean, it’s not really too hot, but I’ll have a small rebellion on my hands if I suggest it, so I have them go get their garden journals instead. This seems like a good way to not only keep them occupied but to save them from a lifetime of embarrassing ignorance (like mine) about the plants around them. They now have paper and colored pencils, so I have them get to work drawing the seeds they gathered as well as the plants the seeds come from and will produce. They each choose one plant, and I encourage them to look closely at the plant, to really notice the shape and color of the leaves, the details of the flower. I make sure they each have a leaf and flower right there on the table next to them, so they can dig down beyond their impression of the plant to its individual features and gifts. And as they get deeper into the drawings, I watch them transform from generic leaf/blossom/seed shapes into carefully chosen colors, spidery or thick leaves, measured stalks, and attempts at scale for the seeds.

By the time we are done, the cooking group is calling us over for today’s feast: the fingerlings they planted last spring, fried up yummy, and in recognition of the heat, plates of cool cucumbers sprinkled with sea salt.

Vanishing cucumbers:

Have the kids slice up as many cucumbers as you want. Lay slices out on plates and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Marvel at the way the kids keep passing them back and forth, eating more and more and more.

Fried fingerlings:

Plant a fat variety of fingerling potatoes in the spring just before school lets out. In fall, dig them up, have the kids wash and slice them, then throw them into a big cast iron pan with some olive oil, sea salt, and some of the garlic still hanging around from the harvest a few weeks ago. Cook until, well, cooked. (If you were really ambitious, you could chop up and add some kale, but probably the kids have enough to do getting the cucumbers ready.)

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