Extreme Frugality: Make Way for Seedlings

In this day and age of specialization, W. Hodding Carter is an unashamed generalist. The man is curious about everything, and his books have taken him around the world. He’s followed in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark, retraced Leif Ericsson’s journey to the New World in an authentic replica of a Viking merchant ship, and has written about the ecology of the Everglades, the history of plumbing, his quest for Olympic gold, and even how to build your own mackerel smoker with the same single-minded determination. These days, he’s finding adventure of a different kind—living within his means.

Tired of having to stare at their spindly little bodies day after day and listen to their incessant whining for more, more, more, I’d finally had enough and did something about it. A bit of quick research on the Web, and soon enough an ancient custom of live burial was revealed as the one and only solution. And now, having followed a few simple steps, I’ve restored order to their world.

I’ve buried them up to their necks in moist, heavy soil—with absolutely no chance of escape—and I feel awesome. And what about them, you ask? What ever happened to free will and choice? Well, suck it up, buttercup, this ain’t a democracy. They had their chance. We nurtured and cared for them since birth. Did all the right things. They didn’t have to grow out of control and, at the same time, get so weak. If you ask me, they had it coming to them.

Even now, though, behind all the hubris and bravado, I’m wondering if I’ve done the right thing. And what will the kids think when they come home from school?

Oh, wait. You thought I was talking about burying the kids, didn’t you? What gave you that idea? No, no. I was talking about our tomato seedlings. I buried them so that only their top two leaves are exposed. Apparently, everybody in the world knows you’re supposed to do this two or three times before transplanting them to the outdoors—everybody except me and maybe a couple of you as well. I knew you could bury them pretty deep when transplanting them to the garden, having learned this from our former neighbor Helen Bonzi, but the seedlings? I found out it allows the little guys to absorb more nutrients, have sturdier and larger rootstocks, and grow stout bodies, all without a greenhouse or fancy grow lights.

Yes, those cheap, white fluorescent lights standing in the corner of your basement are good for something, after all. While older, flowering, and/or fruit-bearing plants need full-spectrum light, seedlings can thrive under the blue spectrum released by fluorescents. In other words, even those of us living in Frugaland* can do the right thing: I’ve been using the white tubes all along, thinking that I was only making do, so it’s nice to know that our young plants aren’t deprived.

This was much-needed happy news, given that I had blown most of our entire month’s budget ($550) on Monday, when I gave in to a nagging sense of concern and bought two new brake pads for the minivan ($499). A loud grinding noise that had been making the dog whine every time we pulled up to a stop sign, coupled with an inability to actually stop, was the tipping point. In any event, the tires needed rotating, the regular service was way past due, and the windshield was cracked. And, in truth, I was escaping the house because I couldn’t bear to look at those weak, leggy tomato seedlings another minute. I’d been obsessing over them—moving them next to the woodstove on cloudy days, overfeeding them with a soup I’d concocted using chicken poop (it’s like giving kids chicken soup, right?), and ferrying them from the fluorescent lighting to windowsills—and needed the break. Because the car repairs took a little longer than expected, I had a chance to read Bob Wildfong’s “Tomato Seedlings without a Greenhouse” and learned to embrace burying things up to their necks.

And, yes, I am wondering if it’ll work with 13-year-old twins.

*Catchy, huh? I’m copyrighting it immediately.

Frugal Tip of the Week

Don’t start your seeds in those expensive little peat cups, start them in … you thought I was going to suggest egg cartons or maybe Dixie Cups, right? Wrong. Use a plastic snow sled or, if that’s too big, then just a large Tupperware tray. Fill it a little less than halfway the first time around. That way, you don’t have to disturb the seedlings for the first reburial. Just add soil up to the first two leaves.

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