The generosity of a single zucchini seed

I think the first seed catalog appeared in my mailbox right after Thanksgiving. It seemed as though I had just finished putting away the carrots, freezing the last of the late ripening tomatoes, and hauling the squash to the root cellar. I really wasn’t in the mood to think about seeds.

Now that spring is here and the root cellar is looking bare, seed catalogs and bedding plants hold a new fascination. As I browse the colorful pages of Cooks Garden, Seeds of Change, Seed Savers Exchange, Park Seed, and perhaps a dozen other catalogs, I can almost taste the fresh lettuce, squash, cabbages and tomatoes.

My garden seed wish list can get really long. If I were to actually plant all the vegetables, fruits and flowers on it, I would need to start tilling up substantial acres of cropland to accommodate them. I would need to hire a crew of ten and I’d better be planning a stand at the local farmers’ market since the two of us could never eat that much food.

Just when I get the seed list under control, the garden centers open up and tempt me with the promise of fruit trees, bulbs, and pots of already started cucumbers, tomatoes, geraniums and marigolds.

In the spring it is easy to get carried away with planning and planting a garden. Several dozen tomato seedlings don’t seem like a big deal. A half dozen zucchini plants look harmless enough. One row of potatoes is so easy to plant, why not plant two? How quickly we forget about sneaking into friends’ unlocked cars while they are in church and anonymously leaving submarine-sized summer squashes in the driver’s seat. Gone are the memories of flats and flats of green tomatoes ripening in the basement. We have banished the thought of the resulting fruit fly invasions, the pails of carrots and the back-breaking hours spent picking beans that seem to grow back as fast as we pull them off.

It is just as easy to use cloudy thinking when choosing which ewes or cows to cull and which to breed. The sheep which spend most of the summer on the outside of the fence seem to be much less a problem when we are sorting the ones who will stay from the ones who must leave. It is an especially difficult choice if they have exceptionally fine wool or wean big strong lambs. The pets, good wool or not, usually get to stay past their productive best. Just a couple more heifers than needed are kept because they just look too good to ship or butcher. It is easy to overestimate the hay and underestimate hungry appetites.

To plant a garden, to seed a field, and to tend new calves and lambs is to experience the real meaning of generosity.  One wheat seed produces multiples stalks and each stalk carries a head full of seeds. A single tomato seed can produce many tomatoes and thousands of new seeds. Every year a cow replaces herself with a new calf. Sheep and goats often give us two offspring. Pigs are even more generous.

The gardener and farmer does have to add water, fertile soil, feed and labor to harvest the abundance of the field, flock or garden. All of those efforts, however, have no value at all without the abundant gifts of the seeds and the animals we care for.

Our challenge is to care for and use these gifts wisely, share them generously, and to understand that one zucchini plant is enough no matter how many seeds are left in the packet.