Les Vulnérables

In 1862, Victor Hugo penned a one hundred and twelve-word preface to Les Misérables. There the narrator states that as long as society as a civilization continues to diminish its men through poverty, women through hunger, and children through abuse, there will always be the need for books such as his. One hundred and fifty-nine years later, our society still experiences hunger, poverty, and abuse of both genders and children. Unfortunately, because there is darkness in society, many forget to seek light and celebrate or join the good. Here at Up From The Earth, we celebrate the light, and we applaud the hero, the underdog, the one who steps up and surfaces through their own restrictions of vulnerability. We often see this journey as the story of the seed. 

According to Dr. Brené Brown, in her book Daring Greatly, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.” This is a perfect narrative for a gardener. Every winter, we go wild. We pull out the seed catalogs and start choosing our favorite old reliable and some new “experimental vegetables.” You know the kind; tomatoes we haven’t grown before, a new type of bean, or even onion sets that might end up smelly! This loosening of control is a bit out of our comfort zone and sets up for, as Brown says, “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” These variables are difficult, especially since we think we have mastered the old tried and true. 

However, annually, gardeners around the world and in Siouxland take the risk. They plant the seeds. Some wait and plant their seeds directly in the ground and see what will happen. Others open their hearts to the frailty of the seed and the seedling as early as February to see the struggle up close and personal with seed trays and domes.

For some, the young seedlings vulnerability can be considered a microcosm of our existing social structure. The seedlings encapsulate in general our society’s characteristics in miniature. Often, they are susceptible to many negative factors beyond the gardener’s immediate control and imagination, but not beyond the realm of possibility. For example, some gardener’s gardens are foraged by “pesky wabbits.” Who knew that rabbit-proof fence so diligently constructed would be breached by a simple snuffling of a snout?

For the seedling, the basic needs are many to reach their full potential. Like people, they require light (sun), warmth, water, and nutrition. They need protection from adverse winds and temperatures and protection from pests and trauma, especially when trying to harden them off. Many gardeners remember the day they were accidentally trampled by exuberant grandchildren. Likewise, the planned summer vacation that left the garden unattended. In all situations, there were variables that altered the growth of the seedlings. Ultimately, the plants either adapted or were vulnerable to their environment.

We, as humans, are also susceptible to many negative factors. Of Maslow’s three first-level necessities for existence, food, clothing, and shelter, food often becomes the most critical common denominator. 

The vulnerability of those facing food insecurity, defined as not knowing regularly where your next meal is coming from, and therefore their susceptibility to increased difficulties, endangerments, and threats must be met with understanding, compassion, and vision not unlike the young seedlings, to meet their full potential and expectations.

This is why we at Up From The Earth strive to encourage new and knowledgeable gardeners alike to take that risk into the uncomfortable growth zone and Plant, Grow, Share this 2021 growing season. Maybe your positive venture is a squash arch. Maybe, it is starting seeds indoors. Maybe, it is just stopping by our website or a collection site for the first time. The seed has been planted; the next step is yours. Vive les legumes!

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Or the UFTE Website: https://upfromtheearth.wixsite.com/siouxland

Hardening Off is the process by which transplants are toughened up so they can withstand nature’s stresses as they grow. 

9 Things You Can Do to Help Harden Off Your Plants for Outdoor Planting

  1. Read your seed packets.
  2. Think about temperature. Wait until it is at least 45-50, depending on the seedlings, to move plants outdoors to a shady, protected spot.
  3. Start with seedlings in a shaded, sheltered location for two to three hours. 
  4. Shelter from the wind, kids, and pets too! 
  5. Increase the amount of sunlight gradually that the plants receive over two weeks. The end goal is the last two days the plants can spend the whole day and night outside. (This too is common sense – judge the size of your plant and nurture.)
  6. Back off on your watering, but do not allow the plants to wilt. This helps trigger rapid root development in the plant.
  7. Use common sense. Avoid putting your seedlings at risk outside.
  8. Seek appropriately structured shelter. If you do not have a cold frame, there are nice shelter places that can be sought out on a porch for protection.
  9. Be prepared. Like any good scout, if the forecast looks iffy, bring in your seedlings before heading out. Know your Siouxland weather. 

Happy Gardening!

Randy Burnight, an avid gardener for more than 40 years, is the founder of Up from The Earth and an ISU Extension Master Gardener.

Lisa Cox, also an ISU Extension Master Gardener, loves to combine her passions of gardening and education through Up From The Earth.

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