Planting Seeds with Tabitha (or, The Pigeonhole Principle)

We were planting seeds the other day. Indoors. This is Minnesota, after all.

Over the course of many years of gardening I have worked out a system. Yogurt containers, potting soil and these lovely clear IKEA containers.

photo (1)

The IKEA boxes are a recent innovation. They keep soil moisture high (yet have enough volume to allow the plants to breathe), and they let me move plants inside and out according to the ever-varying spring weather (it was 80° on Sunday this week, and it snowed on Wednesday).

Sorry for the digression. Back on task.

We were planting tomato seeds by poking holes into the soil, placing one seed in each hole and covering the seed. We had discussed how deep to make the holes; that the depth corresponding to Tabitha’s first knuckle is not at all the same as the depth corresponding to my own, et cetera.

Tabitha (six years old): How many holes should I put in this one?

Me: Five. Put one in each hole.

I hold out my hand with several seeds for her to take.

T: But there’s more seeds than holes.

Me: So what?

T: So then they’ll be crowded.

This is her line of reasoning, not mine. I had not been at all concerned with trying to offer the precise number of seeds she would need. I had simply shaken some from the pack into the palm of my hand.

But since she started it, I develop a plan. I am going to do my best to get her to state the pigeonhole principle.

Me: But what did you say about the seeds and holes?

T: There are more seeds.

Me: And what are the consequences of that?

T: You said the plants wouldn’t grow as well if there are two in the same hole.

So close! She is using the pigeonhole principle, but I cannot quite get her to state it.

So I do.

I tell her about pigeons and pigeonholes.

TooManyPigeons

We proceed to a lovely (and thoroughly uninformed) discussion of the mechanics of sending messages by carrier pigeon. She wonders, for instance, about how to send a message to your friend, since the carrier pigeon’s unique skill is to fly home from anywhere, but not vice versa. We deduce together that you must need to borrow your friend’s pigeon.

Oh, and those tomato seeds? Brandywine.

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