Issue 29: Plants
Published February 2017
Plants are a lot like people. They can be like mo'opuna, or grandchildren, as one Hawaiian healer in this issue describes them, or a sacred spirit fortifying cultural practice, as designer Sig Zane puts it. Plants, too, can teach you a lot about life.
Editor’s Letter: About six months ago, I started a garden. It began with a few potted herbs that I used regularly when cooking—basil, mint, parsley, chives. A couple days later, I added a tomato plant. Within a week, all were flourishing. Tiny flowers bloomed on the tomato plants, and bees buzzed around the basil flower buds, which I promptly pinched off to keep the plant bushy and growing tall.
My garden continued to expand. Eggplants hung heavy from black cloth grow bags, spinach and arugula danced in the wind. Cucumber tendrils crawled up a gate, while store-bought green onions, whose rooty white tips I thrust into the ground after snipping off the hollow tops, gained a second life. I launched into composting, burying food scraps in a big blue bin. I recoiled from what looked like black maggots wriggling in this bin, and then rejoiced after learning, through a quick Google search, they were black soldier fly larvae—beneficial creatures that quicken the breakdown of food waste. I began planting tomatoes from seed, and within a week, tiny sprouts emerged from the dirt. I saved the seeds from a farmers market papaya, carefully squeezing each black granule from the jelly sac that contained it, and sowed them in plastic sour cream containers. I was a gardener, gosh darnit.
But as the cool autumnal breeze gave way to the torrents of winter, I began to see a change in my young seedlings. Leaves that were once spritely and glowing green became sickly and yellow, sighing under the weight of depressive growing conditions. After one flash flood-level downpour, my cucumbers prickled and morphed, growing bulbous in some areas and skinny in others. Aphids, teeny like grains of sand, swarmed my green onions and chives, suckling their garlicky lifeblood until they were a wilted mess. More than a month had passed since planting those papaya seeds, and the dirt’s surface remained unscathed.
Plants, I have come to realize, are a lot like people. They can be like mo‘opuna, or grandchildren, as one Hawaiian healer in this issue describes them, or a sacred spirit fortifying cultural practice, as designer Sig Zane puts it. Plants, too, can teach you a lot about life. Patience, for instance, is a constant virtue. Overcoming disappointment is another lesson. Raising them is laborious: To see one tomato ripen on the vine is cause for exultation; waiting for the next crop is vexing. Sometimes, plants just need to be left alone. After a trip to Los Angeles took me away for nearly two weeks, I returned home to find my papaya seeds had finally sprouted, their silky shoots breaking the surface.