It must be something about this time of year, but the New Zealand supermarkets have been running collectible giveaways lately (as in, “Spend $40 and we give you one part of this set”). These giveaways are aimed at children… probably because they’ve figured out that children apply more marketing pressure than any supermarket ever could wield alone. At one chain they are giving away plastic Star Wars tokens, and at the other they are giving away vegetable seed pots.
You can guess where I’ve been shopping. And it’s not that I don’t like Star Wars.
Now, I really like the idea of marketing something to kids that holds all the appeal of being collectible (there is a whole set of vegetables and herbs to complete, but you don’t know which one you’ve got until you open the packet) but is also interactive and requires their input over a long period of time. Each packet contains a seed mat, a peat pot, a dehydrated soil tablet, and a little label with notes about the plant. You have to put it all together, and then you have to keep it watered and growing for an extended period of several weeks. Some of the plants (like the eggplant) will mean that you have to foster them for months in order to get the vegetable. That’s a long-term commitment for a kid, but if it works out you’ve taught them a lot about how to be a gardener.
And I guess that brings up my only criticism about the packs (apart from the fact that the seeds and soil are all imported), and the scheme in general: there isn’t much information about how to make your plant succeed. Indeed, the packets don’t even list the varietals that they include – so when it says that I have a chili I don’t know if it’s a jalapeno or a scotch bonnet. The packs also have generic instructions on setting up the pots in the first place, including the instruction to put the seed mat under 2cm of soil… That’s nearly an inch! That’s probably okay for a tomato or a cucumber seed, but the tiny seeds of dill or thyme will really struggle to break through that much dirt. And if the kid ends up with seeds which don’t germinate, then that puts them off the whole concept of gardening at all.
Once the seeds have germinated, there’s precious little information about what to do after that. Some plants say that you need to repot them, and some don’t. Given that they are using seed mats, and each contains several seeds, none of them suggest thinning out your seedlings so that you only have one per pot. There’s no instructions as to how you repot a seedling, or where you put them next, or how big the pot should be, or whether they need fertilizer… the list goes on and on. And I guess that’s the point. There’s only so much room on the packet for instructions, and truly successful gardening comes with a lot of research. Some of these plants (like the chilies and eggplants and tomatoes) will struggle if you plant them outside in the cooler parts of New Zealand, but there’s nothing about that either. They do offer more detailed information on their website, but you have to go looking for it and I suspect that they think most kids will have lost interest by that point.
Funny thing is, I still remember the first time I grew seedlings on my windowsill. I was a teenager by that point, and they were sweet bell peppers. I felt a great sense of achievement when they first popped their heads up, and as I fostered them up to a size where I could transplant them into the garden… The snails got them all on the same night I planted them outside. I’d spent weeks keeping these little buggers alive, but didn’t know enough to put down snail bait.
I learned a lesson, but I also wish somebody had told me earlier so that I could have got some bell peppers that year.