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Thursday, September 19, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Ammi Midstokke: The garden optimist emerges from hibernation

Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
Ammi Midstokke is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review writing about living off the grid. (The Spokesman-Review / SR)
By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I wasn’t always a good gardener. Based on my seed-to-actual-plant ratio, I likely never will be.

Gardening is much like childbirth in that one forgets all the pain and misery, and when the next one comes around, naively charges forward with the same kind of maternal love and optimism.

“Have you been collecting seeds for years?” asks my person, staring at a spread of crop potential that could end world hunger in a single season.

“Uh, no, I just ordered these.”

Ordering seeds when my garden is still under 2 feet of snow adds to my ambition. I have visions of the snow melting and this rich, weedless soil being exposed, waiting to tenderly accept tiny plants. In reality, it is a maze of gopher tunnels and overgrown tansy remains.

Because my kill ratio is so high (seeds to plants, not gophers to gardens), I must purchase approximately 18,000 heirloom, organic, hand-picked, prize-winning seeds. My greenhouse spread of bright packets of Cosmic Purple Carrots and various exotic strains of tomatoes would be the envy of even the gardening store.

I also like to collect climate-defying seeds, as if I would be the first person to successfully grow a northern okra crop or a cashew tree. Visitors assume I am running the 4-H gardening club or competing nationally at state fairs. I’d claim success if I could just make my own jar of salsa come September.

Still, these first weeks of seedlings are some of the best and most rewarding, mostly because everything is still alive. My greenhouse fills with little trays of moist soil and I happily label each container. This is necessary because I cannot tell the difference between a squash plant and a kale plant and I read in “Carrots Love Tomatoes” that gardening is kind of like planning a wedding: There are some people you don’t seat at the same table.

As the seedlings begin to sprout, I hover over them like a helicopter mom, spraying them with my little squirt bottle and chirping about how proud I am of their resilience and determination. I also read that plants have feelings and so I try to nurture their emotional well-being. If they face challenges as adults, like low levels of nitrogen in the soil or rabbit bullies, I want them to have the tools to overcome those and thrive in their plant society.

I also grow a few things that could survive a nuclear war, like radishes, because it coddles my gardener ego. It’s no matter that most of the season, the family is force-fed variations of radish salads they eat mostly out of pity for my efforts.

Inspired by my spread of starts the other day, I got carried away and wondered out loud if I could just be a homesteader and grow our food. I could get chickens and goats and maybe a falcon or something that eats ground squirrels. How much food would I have to grow to make this a financially viable solution for us?

I turned to see my person paling. I don’t know if it was the fear of starvation, an undisclosed dislike for radishes, or the fact that I had invested a small fortune in gardening but still spend the equivalent of college tuition at the farmer’s market. In fact, I think he’d be less concerned if I just stopped working but took up a cheaper hobby, like knitting.

But then I’d need to get sheep for the wool. Cashmere sheep, of course.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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