Geometry and Lettuce

“Don’t you teach math?” Ashley asked.  “Yes – but that’s just book smarts.  Completely useless in real life,” I said, frustrated at how difficult I was finding it to plant lettuce in a straight line.  “It’s Geometry – they do lines in Geometry,” Ashley offered.  “Yeah, but my students don’t even have to draw straight line – they have graph paper,” I said.

But honestly, I did have what looked like graph paper in front of me.  Farmer Dave had built some sort of tractor attachment that lays a grid on the soil.  In front of me were three long vertical lines cut every foot by a horizontal line.  My landmarks were the places the verticals and horizontals met.  I had to plant there as well as halfway between. Sounds simple enough, no?  That’s what I thought.

After he initially showed us how to do it, Ashley and I paired up.  She would pop the plants out of a tray and toss them onto the ground in about the spot where I was to plant them.  I straddled the middle row of transplants.  I stuck my fingers two inches into the soil, inserted the lettuce plant, and then covered over the peat moss with dirt.  I then did the one on my right and on my left.  I inched forward, planting the one in the middle, the one on my right, the one of my left.

I thought I was doing fine until Farmer Dave showed me that my rows of plants were not quite straight.  “If the plants are off by too much when we run the cultivator down the sides of them to weed, we’ll tear up the plant instead of the weeds.”  That’s all I needed to hear.  All I could picture was the farming apprentices attempting to weed these beds next week and tearing up lettuce instead, cursing the volunteer who planted them.  Or worse, the whole row would get torn up and there’d be no lettuce for the farm’s CSA members to pick up in their weekly share – and it’d be all my fault!

Ridiculous as these thoughts were, it’s what was going through my head.  So what did I do?  Switched jobs, of course.  Ashley got down on her hands and knees and had no problems.  I’m going to credit her youth (she’s only 21) and the fact that she actually wants to be a farmer.

My new job was “throwing” the transplants.  I’d pop them out of the tray in which they’d been grown and toss them onto the ground aiming for them to drop in just the right spot on the grid.  Then Ashley would come along and plant them.  But I’m not so great at sports – especially ones that involve throwing anything.  So after a few tosses that were way off the mark, I instead crouched down and started gently placing my transplants in the right place.

After a while, my partner in crime asked if we might switch jobs again.  I agreed – ready to face this thing.  Sarah, another volunteer, reminded me that I’m not expected to know how to do it perfectly the first time.  Good point.  After all, I’d never in my life done anything like this.  So I once again straddled the middle line and started planting.  Every few minutes I looked back to see if my lines appeared straight.  Not trusting my own eyes, I’d call on Ashley to check my lines too.  “Looks good to me,” she said, as if she fully expected that I would be perfect at this.  It got to the point that she would look and tell me how great I was doing without my even asking.  Isn’t that sweet?

It seemed to take forever, but between me and the other three volunteers we planted over 2500 lettuce and broccoli transplants in a couple hours.  When we finished, it was only 9:30 AM.  I’ve accomplished more before 10AM this week than I ever have in my life.

There are many things out there that I want to try just once, and then will probably never do again.  Such was the case with skydiving.  And riding my bike across Iowa.  We’ll add planting lettuce to that list:)