It began with wanting another seed starter kit, because the first seed starter kit had re-enacted the dawn of creation, and after it was full, my wife asked if I could please also plant dill.
A seed starter kit consists of two black plastic trays and a clear plastic dome. The first tray is like a big black ice cube tray with spaces for 50 cubes of growing medium, a spongy combination of fine-ground sphagnum moss, compost and soil. Push bigger seeds into a pencil-tip sized hole. Leave tiny seeds on the surface. Place the first tray into the second tray. Add water. Cover with dome. Marvel at the origins of life.
Condensation will soon occur. The dome has two vents at the top, so you can manage the level of humidity. You create your own weather, like a classroom teacher, according to the inevitable quote in any professional development about classroom management — except that in a seed starter kit, the weather is always good. Seedlings soon sprout and you see them in their very first springing. The first emergence of root, the first upthrusting of stem, the first unfurling of leaf. It is good.
Many people use their seed starter kits to cultivate marijuana, but I prefer not to. In my first kit I started amaranth, cucumber, feverfew, Vulcan lettuce, jalapeño and Italian Marconi Golden pepper, primrose, acorn squash, and green zebra tomato. I bought that kit online but could not wait to get the second one, because when my wife asked me to plant dill to go with the cucumber, I wanted to accommodate her immediately.
It occurred to me that there is a hydroponics warehouse two blocks away from our house, which is in a West LA neighborhood that used to be fields of lima beans. Surely they would have a seed starter kit. Indeed they did, and so much more: vast plumbing infrastructures, giant fans as well as giant fan silencers, so many grow lamps, and a bazaar of bottled fertilizers. The fertilizers especially appealed to my teacherly yearning to cultivate transformational growth. Seed starter kit number one had come with its own dainty little fertilizer, the size of a hotel room shampoo bottle. The fertilizers at the hydroponics store promised such superior fecundity, I needed to get one and experiment.
The clerk inquired as to what I would be growing, in blatant contradiction of a big sign by the cash register proclaiming, “Grow whatever you want, but don’t tell us or we’ll be required by law to ask you to leave.” Surrounded by so much industrial weed growing equipment, I felt guilty by association, but managed to stammer that I’d be growing peppers, cucumbers and various garden herbs.
“Various garden herbs,” he confirmed, and escorted me back to the fertilizer aisle. The entire store was immaculate. It made silicon chip manufacturing plants look like the shaggiest of Telegraph Avenue second-hand clothing stores. My clerk, who wore his septum piercing with aplomb, proceeded to compare and contrast the offerings with the assurance of a veteran stockbroker recommending a prudent yet aggressive portfolio.
Since as much as I love my seedlings, I will not be sending any of them to college, I asked him to recommend the one fertilizer he most highly recommended. He considered this gravely, then forthrightly held out this thick soft plastic bottle which now stands before me. It does not visibly throb, nor does it bubble one big bubble every minute on the minute, as if containing a small drakken, punctually biding its time.
The bottle is motionless. I am the one quivering with foreboding of the effects that one and half teaspoons of its sepia murk will have on the carrots and all other life forms in my backyard. RootRock — for that is the name of this plant elixir — is supposedly distilled from sugar beets, according to the scant information available online, yet it smells distinctly like the fermented undergarments of a globally renowned diva (I will not be divulging that name — it would be ungentlemanly).
I do not recall the precise moment when it dawned on me that I could use RootRock in the garden just as readily as a supplement for the second seed starter kit. Who was going to stop me? This is a question that often comes up in adulthood, and when the answer is “no one,” as it so often is, then you’re on your own.
I poured the stuff out surreptitiously in one of my wife’s kitchen measuring spoon — yes, I admit to that. I admit to it all . I mixed it with tap water in a 2-liter Coke bottle of much thinner plastic than the nuclear reactor grade plastic containing the RootRock. Oh, how that Coke bottle darkened, as though what amounted to no more than several big drops of RootRock had turned day to night, yang to yin, and one further example, the third and most dreadful, of something light becoming dark.
Yet even as I beheld the concoction, I knew that I would not hesitate to carry out my plan to fertilize the carrots, or rather, not hesitate any further, even though it would have been nice to think of a third example. Let it be, I told myself. The third example will come in time. And so I ventured out of the kitchen into the backyard.
I had pre-watered the carrots because everybody knows you have to water your vegetables before you fertilize or you will chemical-burn the roots. That would be bad! I had noticed when soaking the carrots that one plant actually was carroting up very nicely. It was crowning. I was really glad to see this because all of my previous carrot ventures have been flops. It hurts to write this, but it’s true, and apparently it’s true what they say about the truth setting you free, because already the shame is transforming into strength. I can feel it.
The truth is, I fertilized the carrots even though they didn’t need fertilizing. They were doing fine as natural carrots, but I wanted to see what would happen, and I still do. I want to see if RootRock turns natural carrot into John the Conqueror root, or perhaps an entirely different kind of root that’s never been pulled from the ground and cannot in fact be pulled out by anyone but me. I am not afraid anymore. Just the opposite.
I am the third example.
Wow. That stuff really is strong.