Episodes in “Seed-Sitting” -- A Version of Immersion Learning

UProoted Farm's seed-starting greenhouse in April 2019.
In early April the seed-starting greenhouse is packed with spinach, lettuce, tomatoes, beets, onions, and microgreens. Read on to see how I fared when Jon left me in charge.

It’s no secret that Jon is the primary farmer at UProoted Farm. While he’s got decades of experience growing gardens and harvesting his own food, I’ve got a proclivity for eating amazing produce but no experience growing it. I’m learning by immersion.

Poppy growing in Door County, Wisconsin.
This is one of the beauties I would have "weeded" if I hadn't let everything grow indiscriminately when I first purchased my home in Door County.

Before I met Jon, my green thumb extended to tending the overgrown and severely neglected perennial gardens at the house I purchased in Door County. And, by tend, I really mean watch things grow. The first year I owned my house, I had no clue what was intentional and what was a weed that’d taken up residence. Oftentimes, I let those weeds grow knee high before pulling them just to be really sure they weren’t in fact supposed to be there.

In addition to those overgrown gardens, about half of my yard was overrun with oregano. It had invaded long before I purchased the property, and I had no clue how to tame it. Every time I mowed my “lawn” I enjoyed the smell, but I also pondered how to get rid of it. My friend Kari, a Master Gardener and the instigator of The Seed Guild, encouraged me just to embrace it. Bless her sweet soul, I’m quite certain that had I stayed at that house she would have helped me transform that unruly yard into a little side business, harvesting dainty bouquets of the aromatic herb to bring to market.

Once Jon entered my life, the immersion into growing things began. While still dating long distance, we planted a garden here at the farm. We grew carrots, potatoes, beans, peas, onions, and a few other hardy crops that could survive on their own when Jon was off to work for 2-3 days at a time, and I was back in Door County.

Fast forward to our time living in Boyne City when Jon was wrapping up the last leg of his Coast Guard career, we knew we wouldn’t be there long enough into the season to harvest a garden, so Jon dabbled in a new hobby to satiate his desire to grow -- bonsai. After ordering thousands of seeds online in almost 30 varieties of trees, our house turned into a little propagation operation. As he headed into work, he’d remind me, “Take care of my seeds.”

Salanova lettuce seedlings
Tending trays of seeds like this Salanova lettuce that will make up the bulk of our salad mix isn't second nature to me. Maybe some day it will be!

I’ve carried those little bonsai lessons into full-on farming mode, but it feels different when Jon leaves me in charge. I feel more pressure when I’m “seed-sitting” now. It’s no longer a hobby that Jon will be disappointed if I forget to water them, or overwater them, it’s a business. Every plant is a potential profit or loss. That added pressure means I’m paying closer attention to Jon’s instructions and insights when I’m left in charge of all those tiny plants in the greenhouse. He’s good about providing me reminders before he leaves, like a parent does before leaving the kids with a babysitter for the night.

The first time I was left in charge of everything in the greenhouse was when Jon headed into Marquette for a meeting about the Marquette’s Farmers Market. While Jon participated in conversations with other farmers, artisans, and members of the DDA about how to get the market out of the red and back into the black, I took my few hours of responsibility seriously. On a sunny morning, I popped away from my desk every hour to make sure the greenhouse wasn’t overheating, and those precious plants weren’t wilting.

The most recent seed-sitting episode was earlier this week when Jon went to Stephenson, Michigan for an all-day workshop on food safety and the upcoming FDA regulations. In retrospect after hearing about his day, I’ll gladly take the newfound pressure of seed-sitting verse the minutiae of regulations. Plus, it was an overcast day, so all of the systems in the greenhouse performed optimally, and I had a pretty easy go of it. There was no need for hourly checks.

Despite my confidence growing bit-by-bit, I will admit that every time Jon pulls back in the driveway, I breathe a sigh of relief. The intensive immersion is over, and the responsibility is lifted. It’s similar to the relief I feel after traveling to a foreign country where I’m fumbling through communicating in a language that’s not my first. I’m really glad I went; the experiences were humbling and empowering; and it’s also really nice to get back to my native tongue.

Eventually, I’ll gain some fluency in farming, and I won’t feel so much like I’m left in charge of someone else's kids. But until then, I’ve got Jon to guide me through and hold my hand on this adventure.

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