Nick surveys the plot of freshly turned ground on the outskirts of the Capital Sime Center property with ~~ satisfaction ~~. He reaches out with his hoe and re-levels one area that fluffed more than the others.
Nettel leans on her shovel and wipes a streak of dirt across her forehead.
Nick is dressed in ragged old denim pants and a shirt that has faded to a peculiar shade of much-stained pink.
Nick: That's going to grow a fine mess of vegetables this summer. What should we plant first?
Nettel looks through the stack of seed packets.
Nettel: Hmm... peas, beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil... how about if we start with the carrots?
Nick: Carrots. They'll be very tasty. Let's put them in that sandier patch over there.
Nettel likes carrots, not only for themselves, but because they grow under the dirt. Playing with dirt is a forbidden luxury in her family.
Nettel grabs the seed packet and a trowel, then squints at the instructions on the back of the package.
Nick: We want to scatter them over the space, then press them into the soil so they're just barely covered.
Nettel: It says, "scatter thinly". Um, how thinly?
Nettel is very new at this sort of thing, even though she's already eleven.
Nick: Well, we want the plants to have some space to grow, but we want to make sure there's enough for the bugs to eat some without leaving bare patches.
Nettel carefully rips the top off the packet and looks inside.
Nick: They're tiny seeds, aren't they?
Nettel: They're really tiny. Each of these grows into a full sized carrot?
Nick: No. Some of them won't sprout. Others will get eaten by bugs. But all the carrots we grow will each come from one of those seeds.
Nettel reaches into the package and picks up a few seeds between thumb and forefinger.
Nick: So, first we spread the dirt very smooth, like this.
Nettel drops the seeds back into the packet and hastily begins imitating Nick.
Nick kneels down by the prospective carrot patch and smoothes the dirt with his hands.
Nettel: This is fun.
Nick: That's right. Now, we take a few of the seeds, like this...
Nick pours a few into his palm.
Nick: And we take a pinch and scatter them, like this.
Nick: Very evenly.
Nettel copies the Donor carefully.
Nettel: Now what?
Nick: Now we press them into the soil, like this.
Nick pats and stirs.
Nettel copies the movements, with extreme care and precision.
Nettel: Now what?
Nettel sets aside the empty seed packet and looks up.
Nettel: Can we do the peas next? I really like peas.
Nettel shakes the little cardboard box, then opens it and looks inside.
Nettel: Wow, these are a lot bigger. I'll bet the rules for these are different.
Nettel reads the instructions on the box, then at Nick's gesture moves to a fresh patch of ground and begins poking the peas into the soil one at a time.
Nettel: You know, Sosu Nick, I just don't understand my mother. She wants me to do well in school, and she's happy when I take biology class and learn about roots and stems and leaves. And photosynthesis and everything. But she doesn't want me to do something like this, where it gets to be the real thing.
Nettel wipes another streak of dirt across her forehead and pours another handful of peas from the box.
Nick: Well, some people just don't like dirt. I don't understand why, myself.
Nick picks up a handful of dirt, then drops it back and wipes his hands on his denims.
Nettel: She talks about "proper educated folk" and "appropriate activities". But I know Grandpa was a farmer, so I don't get what's inappropriate.
Nick: Your grandfather was a farmer? Was he a successful one, or did they have hard times?
Nettel: I don't know. By the time I was born, the whole family was in the city.
Nick: If your grandfather's farm failed, your mother may have decided that being a farmer wasn't a good life. It is harder than doing some other kinds of work.
Nettel: But it's fun. And if it's okay for you, and I know you're a top Donor, then it's got to be "respectable", right?
Nick: Well... to be honest, there are some people who would argue that I'm not respectable enough. Mostly, I ignore them.
Nettel: But... but you're a First! And you're ambrov Sat'htine. I mean, it doesn't get much more respectable than that.
Nick: I like to think so.
Nettel: Then what's the problem? I don't get it.
Nick: Before I was ambrov Sat'htine, I lived in Gen Territory for a long time, earning my keep by working on farms.
Nettel: That just proves it, then. If you did farming, then it's got to be respectable.
Nick: Well, I'll tell that to the next person who looks at me strangely because I'm not dressed in brand new Sat'htine livery.
Nettel: What you're wearing makes more sense for this than what I'm wearing right now.
Nettel looks down at her crisp white shirt, streaked now with dirt.
Nick: It's comfortable, too.
Nettel: This isn't. It's tight at the neck. And it's stiff.
Nick: Clothes are a lot more comfortable when they're old and ragged. You don't have to worry about keeping them clean, either. Now, how about some sunflowers along the fence?
Nick: There they are. They'll grow up over the top of the fence. When the flowers ripen, the jays will come to eat them, hanging upside down.
Nettel goes to look for the sunflower packet, then spots a crumpled bag and looks inside.
Nettel: What's this? Ooh, look, they're all wrinkled and spoiled.
Nettel holds out the bag of potatoes to Nick.
Nettel: These can't be seeds, can they?
Nick: They're seed potatoes. We'll plant them in the side of those mounds. Those sprouts will become the new plants.
Nettel: Oh. Okay. Wow, I didn't learn any of this in biology class.
Nettel puts down the bag of potatoes and finds the sunflower packet.
Nick: Yes, you did. Potatoes are tubers. Remember learning about tubers?
Nettel frowns in thought.
Nick: It's an underground stem used by a plant to store food. Starch, in this case.
Nettel: Oh, yeah. I guess we did. I didn't know they'd be like this, though. These are the kind of potatoes Mom throws out.
Nick: Does you mother cut the eyes out when she peels potatoes to eat?
Nettel: Yeah. And throws out the skin, unless she's baking them. We just eat the plain white part.
Nick: The white part is mostly starch. The potato plant stored it up for the next season, which is why it's such a good food for us, as well. The peel is the stem's skin, and it protects that store of food from insects and other things that might eat it. It doesn't work on people, though. And the eyes are buds, just like the buds on a rosebush. We looked at those last week, remember?
Nettel: Yeah. So, each of these is going to open into a... potato flower?
Nick: When we plant the seed potatoes, those buds will sprout and become new potato plants.
Nettel: Oh, okay. I was having trouble imagining potato flowers underground.
Nick: The flowers will be aboveground, but the new potatoes will be under the mounds.
Nettel: And... if we didn't dig them up, they'd just stay there and all sprout new plants again next year, right?
Nick: Yes. But that would be a waste of some very tasty potatoes.
Nettel puts down the potato bag and finds the sunflower seed pack.
Nettel: So, you said sunflowers along the fence?
Nick: Yes. They'll look very pretty there, don't you think?
Nettel: Yeah. And they'll taste good, too.
Nettel loves snacking on sunflower seeds.
Nick: The birds think so.
Nettel: Well, they're right.
Nettel hasn't yet connected Nick's statement with her chances of actually getting any sunflower seeds out of this exercise.
Nick shows Nettel how to plant the sunflowers.
Nettel: copies Nick. This isn't too different from the peas, except that the depth is different.
Nick: There. Now, make sure the dirt is patted down firmly. We don't want it to wash away when we water it.
Nettel goes along the row, pressing down with both hands.
Nettel: Like this?
Nick: Yes, like that.
Nettel finishes up the row.
Nettel: Now can you show me the potatoes?
Nick takes the bag of seed potatoes over to the mounds.
Nettel follows eagerly.
Nick: We want the potatoes to be in the sides of the mounds, like this. So that they can grow up, and the new potatoes will be close enough to the surface for us to dig easily.
Nettel watches as Nick demonstrates.
Nettel: Okay, I think I get it. Let me do the next one, and you can watch and tell me if I've got it right.
Nettel tackles the next mound, burying the potatoes a little too shallowly.
Nick: A little deeper there, Nettel.
Nettel: Oh, sorry. Um, more like this?
Nick: Yes, that's it.
Nettel repositions her first three potatoes.
Nick: Good job.
Nettel moves on to the next mound, with more confidence. Soon the potatoes are all planted.
Nettel: We've still got five empty mounds left. Now what?
Nick: We'll put corn in them.
Nick hands her the corn seeds.
Nick: Space them out like this.
Nettel carefully copies Nick.
Nick: We'll put a squash seed around them.
Nettel: In the same mound?
Nick: Yes. The corn will shade the squash just a little on hot days when it's little, and the squash when it gets bigger will grow out of that shade.
Nettel: Oh, all right. That kinda makes sense, I guess.
Nettel continues planting corn, then turns to watch as Nick follows behind her with the squash seeds.
Nick: There. Now, we have to water the seeds in.
Nettel goes to fetch one of the two full watering cans. She requires both hands to lift it.
Nettel: This is heavy.
Nick: Well, it takes a lot of water to take care of so many thirsty plants.
Nettel is eleven natal, but small for her age, and not conditioned to outdoor work like this.
Nettel: Can you maybe do it till the can is half empty, and then I'll be able to lift it for the rest?
Nick starts watering, then hands off the half full can in exchange for the full one.
Nettel: If I did this on my own, I'd have to only fill the cans half way. And make twice as many trips.
Nick: You keep down that row. I'll get the mounds.
Nettel lifts the half empty can with much less of a struggle and begins watering. Some of the water spills onto her shoes, which are no longer the impeccably polished things they were a couple of hours ago.
Nick: Good. That does it.
Nettel: I've watered my shoes, too. Somehow, I don't think they're going to sprout, though.
Nick: That should do it. Hajene Kat is expecting me before long, so I'm going to have to go. Can you water the carrots before you go?
Nettel: Sure, Sosu Nick. I can put the tools away too, if you like.
Nick: Thanks. I'll see you tomorrow after school, okay?
Nick dusts the worst of the mud from his hands, then heads across the grounds for a quick wash and a change of clothes before he meets Kat.
Nettel finishes up and heads for home, bracing herself to face her mother's wrath.