Monday, February 22, 2016

Necessity Is the Mother of All Skills

Sacchi Green

Skills? What skills? I’ve been going around muttering to myself, wondering what skills I can claim. Arts and crafts fascinate me, but I’m not coordinated enough to be skilled at any of them. Although, well, many years ago I joined and helped to run The People’s Craft Co-op in Amherst, and made candles in my basement to sell. It didn’t take much dexterity beyond not spilling too much hot wax—at least not too often—and through trial and error I developed some pretty good designs: chunky cubes with moon and star shapes imbedded in them, revealed by melting the surface with a propane torch; cylinders and cones and bowl shapes with multicolored streaks made by letting little bits of concentrated color melt and run down inside the molds; mushroom shapes with the tops made interesting in an earthy-crunchy way by being molded in damp sand which was then partially torched off. And I made macramé holders for the bowl shapes, and eventually made macramé jewelry with fine nylon string I dyed myself. Good times! I’d almost forgotten all that, even though I still have about 150 pounds of high quality wax down in my basement.

But that was another time, another world. I doubt that I’ll ever do any of that again.

So what can I claim as a skill now? Hmm. Mutter…mutter…and as I’m muttering, I’m filling square plastic containers, the ones grocery store mushrooms come in, with fine potting soil, wetting it, carefully spacing tiny seeds on top of the soil, spraying them to make sure the tops are damp, covering them with plastic wrap, and setting them on an electrified heating mat made for that purpose (a decided improvement on my old method of grouping them between jugs of hot water that needed periodic replenishment, but it did work pretty well for many years.)

Then I look up—and see the light! Not just the light from the sets of four-foot fluorescent bulbs above each of the three shelves installed at the end of my kitchen, where the seedlings go to grow after they’ve germinated, and keep on growing in trays of individual pots until the weather is warm enough to set them outside. Not just those lights, but The Light! A skill, of sorts! My passion for growing flower and vegetable plants isn’t really a skill, just dumb perseverance, with setbacks and frustrations, but it’s something, and the best part is that I have pictures to illustrate the results! I can go graphic! Here are some views of a seedling shelf and the decks and yard and porch my flowers inhabit. Many of them also go to the decks and porches of a friend and of my sister-in law, and for years I've supplied most of the flowers for several family cemeteries, even more meaningful in the last three years, now that it's the only way I can take my flowers to my mother.

I do seem to have concentrated on the flowers, and neglected to immortalize the vegetables.  I guarantee that besides the petunias and impatiens and coleus and browallia and lobelia and dahlias and cosmos and marigolds and tithonia I grow from seed, I raise eggplants, and so many tomato plants I have to scrabble to find homes for the extras. And I plant beans and snap peas and squash outside when the time is right. Some inner instinct tries to tell me that raising vegetables is a survival skill, even though I know that we couldn’t live long at all with just the food I raise. The only things I preserve for the winter are frozen ratatouille and stewed tomatoes, and frozen blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries (mostly in jam form) from my bushes. Sometimes, though, I ponder whether we could live on wild turkey jerky or turkey pemmican if technology collapsed and we really had to scrounge for food. (This flock are half-grown youngsters, but they do grow to an impressive size.)

Don’t worry. The turkeys are safe for now. Although, if they keep eating all the blackberries on the lower branches as they did last summer, all bets are off. Plucking and cleaning turkeys is not a skill I currently possess, but I’m not too old to learn. Necessity is the mother of all skills.  


  1. Looks like you have your gardening chops together. That's no mean feat, especially if you have real seasons where it freezes for any length of time. Momma and I have had gardens any time we lived out of the city. Momma does the flowers and I do veggies and combustibles. Wheeeee!

    1. Ah, the combustibles! The only time I planted such things. A wallet was left in my store, with nothing in it but some likely-looking seeds. I planted them as an experiment, and are enough, those leaves were unmistakeable. I transplanted a duple of dozen into the rows of corn in my garden, figuring they'd be somewhat camouflaged, which they were, by both weeds and cornstalks. But I forgot about them when I pressed my 9-year-old kid, who had no interest in gardens in general but did like corn, into weeding the corn rows. By the time I remembered what I'd planted there, the weeds (of all kinds) had been long disposed of. I'm not sure I ever told him about it, but I may someday tell his daughter, who has just turned ten. Or maybe I won't.

  2. Ha. I've been told that combustibles are easy to grow, even here in mid-Canada, where we have drastically-defined seasons, and surprisingly (to those who don't live here) hot, sunny summers. In the 1980s, I dated a woman in another town who made fairly serious pin-money (prob. not enough to live on) growing these in her garden & selling the stuff to friends. Sacchi, your gardening looks impressive. Even if you couldn't live completely on what you grow, it can probably reduce your grocery bill, not to mention providing you with stuff to eat that can be trusted not to include unknown, unwanted ingredients.

  3. "Plucking and cleaning turkeys is not a skill I currently possess, but I’m not too old to learn. Necessity is the mother of all skills."

    Lol. I totally believe you would add this one to your repertoire, should it ever become necessary. :)

  4. I beg to differ with you, Sacchi. The ability to nurture plants is most definitely a skill--one which I have never possessed. I even managed to kill off the few basil plants I hung off our porch, wishfully thinking that I could use them in my cooking.

    I have a poem from my college years called "To Save My Dying Diffenbacia"...


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