Myths and fairy tales are often grounded in reality, so when I hear the story of Jack swapping the family cow for a couple of magic beans, it rings true. To me, that was a good deal, even without knowing about the golden eggs or the giant. Every year I trade around $2 for a packet of seeds in the hopes that I will get dozens of plants from them. Were that to be the case, it would be an excellent return on my investment. One full-grown plant is worth far more than $2. I would be crazy not to buy the seed packet.
Growing plants from seed is relatively cheap, pretty easy, and very fun—and that is the problem. The hardest thing is to not go overboard. At a time—late winter—when we gardeners are vulnerable to beginning projects, we are itching to put our energy into growing something. So we start seeds. Peat pots, lettuce containers, old yogurt cups, eggshell—anything that can hold dirt and drain water is commandeered to cradle an infant plant while it sizes up before it can be put into the garden. Soon that one Sunday afternoon you spent scooping soil and dropping in seeds has yielded a mini jungle of delicate stems reaching for the light. They stretch, flop, and tangle with each other. Water is a constant need, but they can’t stay wet. They need food, but not too much. This leads me to Steve’s Gardening Rule No. 62: Show me someone who starts seeds and I will show you someone who has way too many seedlings.
The smart gardener is one who is friends with a seed starter, because seed starters tend to off-load many of their seedlings onto someone who promises to take good care of them. Smarter gardeners make a habit of giving seed starters gifts of seed packets of obscure annuals they themselves want to grow but don’t want to start.
This, of course, makes me wonder if the man who gave Jack the magic beans wasn’t interested in the cow after all. He just wanted to be friends with someone who could give him a few extra golden eggs from time to time—and he wouldn’t even need to deal with a giant.
—Steve Aitken, editor
See some of our articles on starting seeds