Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Smell of Dirt

I smelled the dirt today.  I didn't hear the robin yet, but the smell of dirt was reassuring that winter's almost over. Well, it's almost April, let's get with it - the ferns need a little heat.  

When I was at college supposedly studying electrical engineering, I would take a bicycle out to the edge of Madison every chance I got, just to experience the smell of a feed and seed store in spring. I grew up in a small town with strong agricultural roots. Even the people in town would grow huge gardens, so the Rock River Coop and Globe Milling Company were places patronized by both farmers and town people alike. (why yes, there was Midwest Lawn and Garden as well, but this is my history, so let's keep it pleasant).

In the late winter and early spring, the dominant smell inside the seed center would be seed potatoes  and onion sets in burlap sacks. Although both potatoes and onions can be grown from seed, the preferred way in my upbringing was to get some seed potatoes and onion sets from the feed store.  
Seed potatoes are, essentially - just - - potatoes. You'd pick your variety from exotic names such as Katahdin, Kennebec, Yukon, Norland, and many others. You cut the potatoes up, each eye would form a plant,  and sturdy potato plants would grow from the eyes of the potato pieces.  Same with onion sets - they were tiny onions. Both sold by the pound, real cheap.

So, what is Dorm Boy doing out at the LL Olds Seed Company out on the edge of Madison on a Saturday morning? Getting back to his roots, or, tubers, to be perfectly correct. The smell of LL Olds building was a comforting anchor to something constant in a fast-changing world. Breathe deeply the darkness of the potatoes, the pungent onion sets, the smell of burlap and the dirt, and you are ready to get planting!

Planting proved a challenge for me, a college student has little arable land in his dorm room.  I had lots of grow lights, clay flower pots everywhere, and elaborate trough arrangements to handle watering. Building Maintenance would always shake their head when they saw my room. I grew geraniums, tomato plants, and a few cacti. 

The urban gardening experience would serve me well in later life - pausing after college before taking off in the wrong direction, I did a four-year sentence in Midwest Lawn and Garden in Watertown, Wisconsin, another story altogether. But I'd do it again!

Thanks for listening and contributing. I'd love to hear from you.

1 comment:

Leslie Hanna said...

One of the best smells of Spring! I staked out my garden today, and it will be tilled in a few weeks. I cannot wait to get my hands dirty!

We have a Robin that visits the back yard and tortures Bobra. He talks to it through the window every day.

Happy Spring!