When my mother first found out that I’d had even the slightest interest in vegetable gardening, she started me off learning with a few simple tools. One of those tools was educating me on how plants grow under certain conditions. We embarked on what has now been a 45 year love affair with the vegetable garden and all that happens in it.
The very first step we took together was that which has happened in most family homes for many years…the Sweet Potato! Yes, she cut the top off of a sweet potato and forced some toothpicks into it so that it would sit in just enough water in an old mason jar filled to the top. I was instructed to watch for new roots and shoots that would start appearing soon.
To my great excitement, the day came when I walked into the kitchen counter and, behold, tiny little roots and shoots started to show themselves. I quickly hurried to mom’s bedroom and began to shake her awake, insisting that she hurry to see the new growth. She reluctantly wrapped herself up in her housecoat and came to the kitchen.
In my exuberance, we found three new sprouts from the top of the sweet potato and, too numerous to remember, lots of tiny new roots coming out of the bottom of the cut end of the potato. We had success! We watched that old cut piece of potato grow shoots, that had also grown adventitious roots out of them as well, and enough roots to support all of that growth.
As time went on, we snipped and gathered some of those sprouts that were now about one foot tall, and went out to a prepared garden area where we were to grow these little plants into edible tubers. I was so excited that I asked mom if there were other vegetables that we could do the same thing with.
Of course she said yes, and immediately went to the refrigerator and collected an almost used up stalk of celery. She made me diligently trim off a few stalks and keep just 3 or 4 of the tiniest stalks. We placed the bottom of that little crown of celery in a bowl of warm water and as I did with the sweet potato, watch it begin to grow. I changed the water daily. I then began to notice that the existing small stalks started to grow a little.
Then I noticed that the stalks started to expand out and away from the center. Something magical was happening and I couldn’t keep my eyes, or for that matter my mind off of that little crown of celery sitting in that bowl of water. A few more days went by and I began to see roots. I was surely becoming a gardener at eight years old.
I soon took that little experiment out to its own space reserved specifically for celery and planted it according to my mother’s explicit instructions. She then started showing me how to prepare soil by making and adding some compost. We discussed seeds and how to store, freeze if necessary, and eventually plant them at just the right time. She taught me the importance of doing things right the “first time” and everything else that I needed to do to get the best results.
I was becoming a very good gardener with lots of experience by the time I was eleven years old. Not many kids in my neighborhood could say that! I was always thrilled to run home from school and get any homework done before I could go out and learn something new in the vegetable garden. During a time when a famous brand of canned vegetables was running an extremely popular commercial to advertise its canned goods,and I was growing like a weed myself, I was known as the green giant on my street.
I planted everything from green beans, to broccoli, to cantaloupe and zucchini. I learned things that still have value to my life, even outside of the vegetable garden. I had quickly become popular with those that were also growing their own vegetables in the community. We all had “green thumbs” and enjoyed sharing information that would help each other produce the best yields for our efforts.
Now that I’m an old coot, I still find myself overjoyed to share what I’ve learned through the years. And to think, it all started with a little piece of sweet potato!