Sarah Avery (dr_pretentious) wrote,
Sarah Avery

The Okra Of Optimism

My coven celebrated the Spring Equinox early this year. Technically, Ostara is next weekend, but getting a dozen people's schedules to free up a whole day, on the same day, is really complicated. So here we all were yesterday, filling our peat pots and trading seed packets over my dining table.

Mostly, we planted new seeds, but I tried a technique for germinating old ones on a bunch of expired packets that had been cluttering up my hall bookcase for as long as we've owned our house. I figured that meant the seeds couldn't have been more than eight years old, but it turns out I've been figuring I'd do something with them since 1997.

That means that, when we moved here in 2000, I brought a bunch of three-year-old seed packets with us from the old apartment. What could I have been thinking?

The nice thing about trying to germinate seeds that are twelve years old is that nothing you do to them can make their prospects worse. Tremendously freeing, you see? It was in that spirit that I cobbled together the following procedure from an assortment of gardening blogs and forum threads that Google turned up for me:

1) Scuff the seeds with a nail file if they're big enough to hold individually. Scuff them between two sheets of sandpaper if they're tiny.

2) Soak the scuffed seeds in 3% hydrogen peroxide (standard drugstore solution) for about half an hour.

3) Rinse the peroxide off the seeds with warm water, then cover them with more warm water.

4) Keep in a warm, dark place. Expect maybe 1 in 10 of them to swell up and float.

5) Plant the ones that swell up and float. Expect that not all of them will reach maturity.

I had pretty low expectations, considering that these seeds were old enough to agitate for tickets to a Hannah Montana concert, and the people I cobbled together instructions from were talking about seeds that were two years old, five at the most. Also, I'm actually not a very good gardener. I like gardening, as long as it doesn't get in the way of my greater obsessions. Any serious gardener would be able to predict the low yields and general vegetative disorder that result from my priorities.

Nonetheless, yesterday morning, almost all the okra seeds had swollen up nicely and were floating. By afternoon, several of them were putting out visible roots. Some of the other seeds--cucumbers, sunflowers, and shade flowers--were also swelling and floating, but not doing anything as spectacular as rooting. I ended up planting all the okra seeds, so now if even half of them live past the last frost date when it's time for outdoor transplanting, I'll have a dozen okra bushes.

I like okra, a lot. I know how to cook it so it doesn't develop that sticky texture. For someone who wasn't raised to cook Indian food, I make a pretty decent bindi masala. Even given all that, there are only three people in my household, and one of them's barely over two feet tall. We cannot possibly eat a dozen bushes' worth of okra.

Here's the thing: at Ostara, we're not just planting seeds; we're planting wishes. It's good old-fashioned sympathetic magic, though rather backwards for a fertility cult. Our forebears would have been doing something other than planting seeds, hoping by symbolic means to ensure a good harvest. Postmodern suburbanites that we are, we plant seeds, hoping by symbolic means to accomplish completely non-agricultural goals. Anyhow, I figured, new seeds for new wishes, and old seeds for old wishes. Old wishes so dessicated, so nearly abandoned, that nothing you do to them can make their prospects for fulfillment any worse. I have this trunk manuscript...

You may have a dessicated wish lying around on your hall bookcase, too. A wish that, with a little sandpaper scuffing and hydrogen peroxide, you might get to germinate. If you're local, and you have a sunny spot to transplant some okra into after the last frost date (memorably, April 15), let me know if you'd like a seedling.
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