Ryan Trares on parenting: Digging in the dirt a source of joy

Cool, damp soil covered our hands as we pushed through it, digging deep in the ground.

The time had finally come.

Anthony and I had been anxiously waiting for the start of gardening season. As soon as little green shoots started appearing in the yard, we began making plans for what to grow this year.

I had never been much of a gardener until my wife and I bought our home 10 years ago. Container plants never really worked for me on our apartment balconies or windowsill gardens.

But armed with a wide open space in our new home, I was excited to start again. In a corner next to our bay window, I carved out a decent sized plot for flowers such as salvia, butterfly bush and black-eyed Susans. Each year, I’d add a few other features — bright yellow coreopsis, snowy white daisies, even some annuals such as explosively colorful lantana.

When we learned that we’d be blessed with Anthony, my wife wanted to start growing some of her own produce, to make good, clean food for herself as well as potentially mash baby food for when Anthony was ready. My springtime project was constructing a raised bed next to our flower patch, and planting a few basics: tomatoes, peppers and carrots.

That first year didn’t work out the way we hoped. The carrots never developed more than stubby little roots. Peppers started out well, but never grew into the crisp, crunchy veggies of our dreams. Tomatoes were attacked by pests and rotted on the stalk.

But we didn’t give up. I read up on how to supplement the soil in our raised beds so the plants could get optimal nutrients. To keep pests away, I planted lemongrass and spearmint along the edges of the garden. Watering was more consistent, particularly in the unshaded heat of an Indiana July day.

And we had produce to enjoy! We made salads, stuffed jalepeños and pasta sauce. Along the way, I enlisted Anthony to help, giving him (limited) control on what to plant.

Last year he chose small cherry tomatoes — “snackers,” he called them — which he delighted in popping into his mouth on warm summer nights. Sugar snap peas were also his idea.

More than the bounty of harvest, he’s found joy in simply digging in the dirt. He helps me weed and water, using his own personal gardening shovel to make holes for the seeds or plants. Finding a worm or a pillbug, he shouts excitedly, collecting his small menagerie in a bucket to marvel at later.

So now, at last, we’re getting ready for this year’s garden. Anthony says he wants to try carrots again, and maybe do corn, to go along with his “snackers.”

Not sure how everything will turn out, but as long as we get to have our hands in the dirt, it will be a success.