Growing up in a Greenhouse

Kaisa Jarrell’s nieces playing inside the greenhouse. Jocelynn (4 yo) and Isabelle Jarrell (2.5 yo). 

There’s something so nice about getting your hands in the dirt. I think for many of us, this action brings us back to childhood when playing in the dirt was a rite of passage. Whether you were making mud pies, splashing in puddles, or playing in the sandbox, there was nothing better than being covered head to toe in dirt. As adult farmers and home gardeners, digging your hands in the dirt is a sign of what’s to come: the beloved harvest season.

As a kid I spent lots of time inside the greenhouse, alongside my older brother and our parents. My brother and I entertained ourselves playing beneath the plant benches. We had a stash of toys that lived there; there were lots of matchbox cars, and sandbox toys like buckets and a miniature dump truck. Inside the warmth of the greenhouse, we were sheltered from the rain and the erratic New England Spring temperatures. Our relatives would often visit, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Each day there is progress to witness, as nature does what it does best: grow and change. The greenhouse provided us with a perfect place to grow up, just like the plants that we shared space with. To this day, I feel so relaxed simply by the sounds of the oscillating fans and the earthy, fresh smells of soil and tomato pollen. More than thirty years later, I still come home with a healthy amount of soil in my shoes and on my clothes. My brother now has two little girls who love to visit the greenhouse. They run and play together just the same as we did.

What was once my playground, the greenhouse is now my office. My days are spent filling trays and pots with soil, carefully sowing seeds, watching seedlings pop up from the soil, and transplanting the little green babies to larger containers. This is a ritual I know very well, and yet watching nature unfold never ceases to amaze me. If I pause for a second, and try to rationalize how a tiny tomato seed grows into a towering tree producing pounds of fruit in a matter of months, it seems unfathomable. I think that’s why both farmers and home gardeners enjoy this process, the ritualistic methods of growing seeds into seedlings, and seedlings into food and flower producing beauties. Each seed we plant holds so much promise.

Growing your own food is a wonderful family tradition – it instills a sense of connection and responsibility to your own food supply. When I think back to April of 2020, many people in our community were taking to the garden as a place of refuge. For one, we were all trying to stay home as much as possible. Secondly, the grocery stores were getting totally wiped out of food. This created a new wave of “Victory gardens,” a term coined during the first World War when food scarcity was prevalent. Whatever the inspiration, panic or nostalgia, I think it’s a beautiful silver lining to see people returning to the garden.

Though it’s not quite time to plant outside, it’s also not too late to start seeds for your own garden. If you don’t have a greenhouse, that’s ok. There are other ways to give your seeds a jump start. A sun room or even just a sunny window, can be a great place to start your seeds. Equipment such as grow lights and heat mats can aid in the growing process by increasing light exposure and warmth. I’ve even seen someone set a tray of seedlings with a large humidity dome on the railing of their front porch on a warm day; in essence this acted as a miniature greenhouse. As long as you have a good amount of sunlight and warmth, containers with soil, and water, starting your seeds is possible.

Of course, there is a fair amount of trial and error that comes with tending a garden. Sometimes seeds don’t germinate well, or maybe a mouse made a meal of the sunflower seeds you planted. An unexpected frost can cause total devastation to both plants and your spirit. Accidents like dropping a container of seeds, or worse, a tray of newly transplanted seedlings will cause a great deal of frustration (and possibly letting some choice words fly). We can’t always win, and I think farming and gardening are both outlets to learn that lesson. On the flipside, when you do succeed it is incredibly satisfying. Is there anything better than picking that first tomato? How about preparing that first “I got everything from my garden” meal? Tasting the (literal) fruits and vegetables of your labor always taste the best.

No matter your experience level, I encourage everyone to start their own garden.