Esther germinated seeds indoors. Using egg cartons filled with rich potting soil and a transparent layer of Saran Wrap for a greenhouse effect, she dropped one tiny seed into each Styrofoam pore.
Like a mother hen tending to unhatched chicks, she carefully planned how many varieties of Napa grape, sweet tangerine and Bob’s Big Boy tomatoes should be hatched. Pepper seeds, guaranteeing varying levels of sweet and spiciness in summer gardens were incubated under Esther’s warm thumb in January as well, including Golden Giant and Gypsy varieties.
Well water drawn from the kitchen sink was sprinkled upon the soil of the egg carton terrariums that she assembled on her kitchen table, next to an electric cider press. Esther dipped her dirty, freckled fingers with painted nails into a cup of water and carefully trickled non-chlorinated droplets over her nails and across the seed beds like Mother Nature ushering in Spring with April showers.
Warmer days were only weeks away and soon she would retire from a part-time job at a factory to work the farm and apple orchard day and night. She sealed each dozen of seed with a layer of plastic wrap, securing the edges of the containers with large rubber bands. There was no need to label what was inside each carton because Esther could easily distinguish the varieties once germination began.
The cartons were placed on her front porch, behind a rota-tiller, tin kerosine cans and Charlie’s unicycle in a sunny window facing South. The seeds sprouted in less than two weeks. By mid-February, finger-length plants were placed in soil-filled paper cups. She lined the two-by-fours of her transparent, plastic porch frame with hundreds of seedlings.
In the cold of late February, just as the seeds were producing their first leaves and had shed the hard shells of their seed cocoons, Esther lit the fluorescent lights of her porch at night. She sipped hard cider from the orchard, ate slices of apple butter bread, smoked marijuana and talked to her plants and Charlie.
Like a bear leaving its den during a brief thaw of winter, Esther planted more seeds than she would ever need for her garden by filling the belly of her trailer with an array of vegetation. Friends who worked with Esther at a sewing factory in Smithfield would appreciate the extra seedlings, come June. Factory workers who grew up on farms were still efficient with growing and preserving food, although very few still owned large farms like Esther. She encouraged them to keep gardens in town and not to forget their roots. They bought eggs from Esther all year long and red tomatoes in June, never understanding how she was the first to have ripened fruit. Her cider was a favorite to the ladies who sewed in October and she gave away pot to anyone panned by the flow of moving needles and thread.
By the time winter’s layers of ice and snow had melted from atop Esther’s pink trailer and whipple whiles starting singing the first melodies of Spring, her plants were ready to go into the ground, in full- blossom. .
With a little help from Charlie, Esther shoveled and scraped nearly two inches of matted straw and droppings from the wooden floors of a henhouse before placing the plants in the ground.
They used just a little of the nitrogen-rich, organic fertilizer on the garden, placing what was left at the far end of the trailer where Esther slept, in witch-like, ceremonial piles that were assured to omens at bay . Grandmother and grandson spread the pungent chicken crap into the very depths of the garden with the rota-tiller that Charlie insisted could be rode easier than a one-wheeled bike.
The machine sounded like a lawnmower. Esther maneuvered the rota-tiller like a mule and Charlie walked in her bosom, placing his hands on the powerful machine too. When they hit a rock, Charlie knew to step aside and pick it up after she passed along.
Once a week in summer, weeds were pulled and the soil between rows was loosened with the motor-mule. After a full moon appeared in the violet mountain sky at night, potent man-made fertilizers were spread about.
Esther gathered rain water in a barrel placed under a rain spout near the South end of her trailer where marijuana grew. When dry days of summer arrived, when Esther was outside smoking, remembering the names she gave to each plant in January, she carefully carried coffee cans filled with water to each carefully staked vine.
Charlie was small enough to bend down and carefully empty the water upon each root, making contact with mother earth like a true farmer with the middle name of George.
Esther never tired of the cycles of the growing season, especially when the rest of the world was busy in factories and buying what she grew for the sake of something to do when stoned by the curse of being a farmer and a maker of Apple Jack.