Seeds of hope despite the odds

PHOTO: Mike Mozart, Flickr CC-BY

Well, it finally happened. I talked to the beans. 

Gardening does not come naturally to me. I was raised on my family’s junkyard where vegetation grew mostly out of spite, certainly without the aid of human hands. But in recent years I’ve taken over the role of household gardener from my wife after she classified herself a danger to plant life and retired from the field. 

At first this was because I wanted to keep the current plants alive. Like a baby in a basket, the situation demanded my intervention. But by the next spring I was shopping for new plants. A couple years later I was starting seeds in the available sunbeams. 

This is all despite the fact that I was never trained to garden, nor do I know all that much about plants. I took a botany class in college, but did not excel. I got a B+, mostly because I stayed late to listen to the octogenarian professor’s plant-related yarns. 

Broadly, I understand that plants need water. Not too much, though. And don’t water the leaves in full sun; I figured that one out the hard way.

I’ve read a few books on gardening. The authors go on and on about soil. I don’t know anything about soil. And yet, I try to recognize good soil. It’s moist and soft. In my mind, good soil smells like vegan farts, though that is highly speculative on my part. 

The books talk about compost, eggshells, coffee grounds and the appropriate amount of acidity for different crops. I see the rows of carefully calibrated fertilizers at the greenhouse. To be honest, all of this intimidates me. I’m not ready. Not yet.

Even so, the years tick by and my surviving plants produce beans and tomatoes. We eat the beans as they come in. We turn the tomatoes into pasta sauce to eat all year round. 

My little seedlings struggle sometimes. Fewer than half the seeds I plant indoors ever sprout. Sometimes I overwater them. Other times I suspect they just don’t get enough sunlight. But there are always a few volunteer spouts. They rise early, green shoots reaching for the sun. 

It always strikes me how a bean behaves as a completely inanimate object until it sprouts. Then this little green nubbin fights like hell to live, even when one good look at me should inspire the tiny plant to rebury itself.

This year I added some flowers into my mix, some sunflowers and marigolds that I think will contrast nicely with our light blue house. I built a new planter bed — Number 3 — and I’m going to try growing a pole bean arch.

Last weekend I spent an entire day hoisting the bricks and carefully aligning the boards for that planter bed. Afterward, my fingernails were dirty and my body was sore, but I felt like I did something. There are only so many columns about mining and economic diversification one can write. The world will not grieve the loss of one. Writing about politics these days seems bereft of hope. What actions can any one of us take that will truly make things better? 

Plant a bean. And then talk to it, like I just did. True, I didn’t want to be one of those guys who talks to plants to help them grow. That’s just a silly superstition, after all. But so is hope. Why bother planting seeds if most of them don’t grow? If bugs eat half the survivors? If drought kills half the rest?

Because, despite ourselves, something will grow out of this. With effort, there will be enough to can for winter. With grace, enough to share.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, May 22, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.



  1. Very clever! It is nice you admit to learning. The only reason talking to plants works is we breathe out carbon dioxide. It would take lots of talking to help much, though. Thank you so much for writing this and reminding me of up north gardens.

  2. Joe musich says

    As you are searching for your inner Audrey a friend shared that she germinates sends in a hydrogen peroxide mix. I have not tried it myself.

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