Of mice, Ming and my seed stash

When planting season is upon us, gardeners and farmers of all stripes are making plans and counting seeds. As long-time gardeners and seed savers know, the winter months make for great opportunities to do both easily from the comfort of an easy chair beside the woodstove.

Last growing season I raised a couple of varieties of squash and a watermelon that were big hits at the market and here at home, so I kept the best fruits for next year’s seed and set them in the cool storage in October to fully mature. A chilly winter day is perfect for cutting into a still beautiful squash and seeing next season’s opportunities hanging in sweet-smelling strands of vegetable innards. I carefully separated the magical capsules from the slippery gook and set them in a container of water for a relaxing bath, the first of their life’s projects accomplished.  

After a day or two of soaking and a good rinse, I set my five types of seed aside on dinner plates in the kitchen where they’ll sit for a couple weeks while being irregularly rearranged for optimum drying and personal reassurances that spring would return. A week quickly passed and soon we were hosting a get-together at our home, whereupon my wife instructed me to “move my seed mess” from the dining table, which I dutifully did for the safety and protection of the seeds, as well as my own personal welfare. I marched the plates into the living room and tucked them out of the way on top of our wine cabinet, sliding aside the old, Chinese-style vase that my wife rescued from her grandmother’s throw-outs 40 years ago. A week or so later I remembered that they were still there and went to finish the job only to discover the seeds missing — all of them — everything. Ouch. The picture of a starving hill family flashed in front of my eyes at the thought of next year’s crop being robbed before even being planted.

After the initial shock had worn off and my heart rate returned to more normal levels, I began to examine the evidence. I suspected a visiting (or resident) mouse had made off with the goods in the still of the night and had stashed those hundreds of gene packets somewhere for later distribution and use, probably as dinner. Like Sherlock Holmes, I set out to recover the stolen merchandise the little nemesis had absconded. Applying my best mouse-like intelligence, I began my search, checking both the obvious and the most dubious of possible caches, but I came up empty-handed.

The search continued for days, even reluctantly enlisting the help of my wife, who found the whole parade quite amusing, and thinking the thieving rodent’s antics were “cute.” A couple of days later, when I had all but given up my quest, I went to move the old vase from the top of the wine cabinet for some overdo dusting. The chunky, sentimental artifact has graced our homes all these years, and we’ve often kidded about taking our “Ming” vase to the “Antiques Road Show” and discovering it to be a rare piece worth thousands, if not millions.  

As I moved the vase aside from the oncoming cloth, I heard a strange rattle from deep inside. I shook it once again and turned it over to find the source of the noise and seeds of several shapes and sizes began to flow from its mouth, my stash of garden hopes being found.

That silly old vase may not be a rare antique nor worth the stack of cash we’ve joked about, but this year it proved itself quite valuable, and I doubt I’ll ever look at it in quite the same way again, thanks to my own neglect and one small, forward-looking mouse.

(John Beckman is a farmer, builder and part-time seed saver in Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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