Learning How to Save Seeds

Okay–we all know a child’s favorite time in the garden is harvest time. 

Of course it is.  Shoot, it’s MY favorite time in the garden, who are we kidding?  After all the weeding and feeding, pruning and plucking–I’m plum ready for some bounty!  Aren’t you?

And with our bounty comes the business of seed saving.  In our school garden we’re working on self-sustainability.  Granted, we must first work on defining what this big word means, though I’m proud to say, many of the lower elementary kids knew the answer, albeit their description was somewhat conceptual in nature.

Which is fine with me.  These kids are learning hands-on practical gardening and I’d rather they understand the concept than memorize the details. 

Now mind you, these kids understand that if there were no gardeners around to harvest the seeds, plants would still grow and reproduce.  (It’s just more fun when gardeners are in involved!)  So to begin, we examined our peas and beans in various stages of growth.  Black eye peas are green or tan and can be eaten fresh.  Not black beans.  Their pod begins green, gradually becomes lavender before finally turning completely purple (eggplant, to be exact).  And you don’t eat them from the vine.  Bad belly cramps.  Very bad.

When they reach the deep dark color, we know they’ve fully matured.  At this point, we can pick them, dry them, eat them (after soaking) or save them for planting next season. 

 What happens if we don’t pick them in time?  They dry themselves on the vine, ultimately spitting out onto the ground when their pod shrivels.  A fascinating process, to be sure. 

More fascinating than harvest was finding this little gal.  Cute, isn’t she? 

“Can I take her home?”

“No, sweetheart.”  I glanced at a group of envious expressions.  “Does anyone know why?”

“Ladybugs are beneficials!”

I nodded, pleased by their quick response.  “That’s right!”

This week our task was to harvest and collect the beans and peas so we can plant them in our fall semester crop.  Not only did we grow the bean plant, we will now use our very own seeds to grow the next one! Very cool.  (This thrill cannot be emphasized enough.)  For kids and adults alike! 

While beans are easy to harvest and save (simply remove them from their pod and allow them to dry) our tomatoes, cucumbers and corn will require a bit more effort. And our carrots, broccoli and onions?  Better have a special seed section assigned, because these plants need time to produce flowers and ultimately seeds—an experiment I’m working on in my home garden.

But until I master the “art” of seed saving, I can only encourage kids to work with the easy veggies—like beans, peas and cucumbers!  Not only did they harvest plenty for practice, we’ve got ourselves enough for whole meal!  Now if only I had a yummy kid-friendly recipe for cucumbers….

 Any suggestions? I’m preparing these for a Monday feast but need some good ideas on how to serve them — kid-friendly, of course!

Wanna save seeds at home?  Start with your very own custom-made seed saving packets!  Check the Kid Buzz section for complete instructions.

Stake Those Tomatoes

They’re heavy and need the support.  One look at Julie’s prize reds and it’s easy to understand why they must be staked.  There are so many!  (Yay, Julie!)

 

You can also use a trellis for support and attaching the vines with soft green tape (this avoids injury which can be an invitation to disease/bacteria).  I’ve gone with a modified version for my tomatoes, running a type of garden wire through posts, accentuating the support system with bamboo. 

 

I used to rely solely on bamboo until I realized my plants were too heavy and the wind too strong.  Add a little rain and my stakes were sagging. 

You don’t want sagging stakes.  Not only do they look pitiful, they provide no support.  And for anyone considering the use of pantyhose in lieu of ties because of its soft texture—think twice.  I tried that last year and it only led to mildew and ick. 

Then, when it was time to clear the stakes for next season’s crop, I couldn’t get the darn things off my bamboo!  They don’t cut well with scissors.  Best to avoid it altogether if you ask me.  Now, meandering further into Julie’s garden, I noticed this contraption. 

Yes, that’s a watermelon housed within a tomato cage.  On the one hand, this is smart logic.  Watermelons are vines that will climb if given the opportunity, and their fruit is heavy…

 But this is a “no-no!” 🙂  A wire cage will do nothing (but get in her way!) for her watermelons.  Perhaps one of the children snuck into the garden on a whim of helpful elf-like behavior and mistook it for a tomato?

 Never know.  What I do know, is that placing her squash, zucchini and watermelon near the edge of her planter box is SO smart.  Talk about best use of space, this is it! 

  

With limited dirt area, she’s allowing her vines to sprawl out onto the grass where they will blossom and grow; a feat that does not require dirt.  Ashley has done much the same with her zucchini.  As you can see, this one is quite content hanging out on the ground outside its planter box.

 

She’s added some lovely wooden trellis support for her cucumber and beans.  Though I have some doubts as to the identity of this particular fellow.  What is that thing?

Reminds me of the zucchini I grew last fall that dwarfed into a pumpkin.  Must have been another case of “seed escapees,” or in my case, amending my soil with “not quite ripe” compost.  Hmph.  Sometimes you simply cannot overcome the excitement factor.

 

Keep up the green growing, girls—you’re on a roll!

A Bounty of Baskets

Baskets are an essential part of gardening, especially during harvest.   But with so many baskets to choose from, where does one begin?

Longaberger Basket Spring & Summer Wish List Collection

Simple.  Think about how you plan to use your basket.  Workload matters.  Once you’ve decided on size and weight, how about style and functionality?  Many woven baskets start out well, but don’t tend to last. 

Waterproof baskets are a must in our garden.  Not only because there are kids involved, but because we must wash our vegetables prior to eating.  Never know who has been lurking in your garden…  For a general rundown on the selection process, check the Prize Picks section this month for a nice variety of baskets, ranging in both size and job description–and prepare for harvest!

This One’s for You, Mom

Today I planned to post another chapter in the lives of my students and their school garden, including the addition of a few photos from my homegrown blueberry patch, perhaps a few analogies between kids and plants…

But then my daughter surprised me with an early Mother’s Day gift.

Kids.  They really are the only gift a mother needs on yet another Sunday in a busy calendar year…  Of course they’re not satisfied with merely existing.  Oh, no–they need to be noticed and fussed over, coddled and loved; they’re basically miniature adults in this regard.  And like adults who need to be loved, they also need to love, and share.  As she did with me today.

Now, not to take away from her delivery, but when my child walks up to me and prefaces the bestowing of a gift with an “I need you to pay attention” — as if I don’t ALWAYS pay attention when she’s bearing gifts!–I get a little nervous.  My evening news was over (a definite pre-requisite in our household, because it’s the only time “I” get to watch television), and it was me who called her out to the living room for the specific purpose of her gift-giving — per her request — I must admit, I was somewhat wary. 

“Pay attention?” I replied.  “Why wouldn’t I pay attention?  You’re giving me prizes!”

Grinning, hiding my gift behind her back, she wanted to be sure.  “Okay.  Are you ready?”

I glanced around the empty, quiet room.  “Yes, I think so…”

Unable to contain herself, she whipped out the cards and handed them to me.  “I made you these at school.”

Watercolor renditions of a garden.  A compilation of all the beautiful flowers that surround our home.  I do love flowers.  There were four in total; one large and three smaller.  “They’re beautiful, honey.  Thank you!”

Her smile took total control of her face then as she was clearly pleased by my response.  But they are beautiful.  The largest one had a hand-written note inside about how wonderful I am (thank you for finally noticing!) while the other three were custom note cards for my personal use (her teacher reduced her original painting which she showcased against bright orange paper).  “They’re perfect.”

She proceeded to explain to me how I was to use them, then remained seated next to me, steeped in my admiration.

Looking at her, an unrestrained bundle of joy and innocence, elation and pride, I was reminded once again how precious children are and how lucky I am to be a mother.  This child is golden, through and through.  Sure she bickers with her brother, snips at me most mornings and complains about my dinner selection–who doesn’t?  Though in her card, she was kind enough to mention I was a good cook.

But that’s real life.  You get the good with the bad, the fun with the not-so-fun, the green with the brown (that’s garden lingo).  You get it all. 

If you’re lucky.  I don’t know about you, but I haven’t quite evolved to that place where I could live in la-la happy land all the time and be happy.  I need contrast.  I need lessons.  I need growth.  Reminders like today aid me in that path and I’m thankful, each and every day.

This weekend it’s Mother’s Day and we’ll focus on mom, but in reality, everyday is mother’s day–and father’s day, children’s day, grandparents day…  With the right attitude, every day is ours, and one to be celebrated.

To all my fellow moms, have a happy Mother’s Day and enjoy!  They’re prepared to please

Watch Out for Squash Bugs!

Ashley has some beautiful squash growing in her garden.  Actually, she has a lot of beautiful EVERYTHING growing in her garden–just look at this overflow of flourishing foliage!

But she must be vigilant, because squash bugs can devastate a squash plant in no time.  I should know–look what they’ve done to my compost squash!  Before:

And now for the horrible ruins left in their aftermath:

Do you think they’ve moved on since eating me out of compost and squash?  Of course not.  For those of you who have never seen a squash bug and wouldn’t know how to spot one if he were crawling along your planter, take a good long gander…

Ugly.  Plain and simple.  These bugs are not pretty and they’re ruthless in their attack.  (Apparently summer squash is one of their favorites.)  They also lay eggs.  Check the undersides of your leaves for these telltale signs you might have a problem.

 Yes, I realize I’ve scared some of you clear out of the garden with these photos, but organic gardening requires vigilance and stiff spines.  Sure it would be easier to spray these marauders, but then you’d be forced to consume toxic chemicals–and you don’t want to consume poison.  I mean, isn’t eating healthy part of the gardening process? 

It is.  But gardening is also fun, so ask one of your kids to handle the duty of bug dispatch (squash em, Danno).  They enjoy it far more than you do!  Just be sure they’re wearing gloves.  You can also try planting marigold nearby, as squash bugs tend to keep their distance from these golden glories. 

On to a more postitive note (though still dealing with squash), Julie’s garden is thriving as well!  Yes, that’s squash AND zucchini in her garden.  Vigilance…  Vigilance…

Though she has a bit of explaining to do. 

“Julie?”  I mean, I’m all about garden decoration, but antlers? 

Seems our theme is a bit off…

Engaging Kids in the Garden

And by this I mean both verb and noun.  Kids are a hoot in the garden.  Not only do they come up with some of the most amazing theories about nature at work, but they delight in the simplest of discoveries (a joy for any parent to watch).

But how do you get kids INTO the garden?  In general, kids tend to avoid chores like homework.  Sure, they understand it’s part of the deal, but if they can shortcut the process somehow…

…then by all means, they’re shorting!  However, if the garden presents adventure and discovery, you won’t be able to keep them out.  Bugs, rare finds, lost coins, worms, butterflies, animal poop–having your own garden equates to big time excitement!  And then of course there’s harvest time.  What kid doesn’t like to eat yummy food?

Stop laughing.  I’m serious! Vegetables can be yummy for kids, so long as they’re “staged” in the proper fashion.  (Note to parents of daughters:  while I don’t literally mean fashion, you can use this angle to get your girls in the garden.  How?  My daughter plays with her Polly’s among the branches and trellis’ and has quite the time of it, creative little thing that she is!).   But truthfully, lure them with the promise of baking healthy french fries and potato chips together.  

Packing carrots with the greens intact makes for amazing bragging rights (wonderful cupcakes, too).  Even broccoli snapped from the stalk seems a whole lot more alluring to kids than the shrink-wrapped store-bought kind.  I mean, what lucky person had the right to break all those “trees” from the stalks?

Not your kids.  Trust me–they want their chance.  It’s fun to harvest vegetables!  Pulling carrots from their hiding places, swimming for buried treasure–er, potatoes.  It’s a blast!  And the sheer pride they derive from planting seeds, watching them grow… 

It’s truly a wonderful experience.  Have them grow their own herbs, too, and then dry them in oven.  They’re perfect for sprinkling on pizza, pasta–you name it!  Not to mention they make great gifts for friends and family, and dare I mention…teachers?  End of the school year is approaching fast, but don’t worry if your child doesn’t have their own garden yet–they can practice with fresh fruits and vegetables from the grocery store!  My kids and I recently went strawberry picking and ended up with flats of excess berries.  What did we do?

Made our own homemade preserves.  (It’s easier than you think.)  Check my recipe section for complete how-to instructions and don’t forget Mom!  With Mother’s Day on the horizon, your kids will enjoy giving her the gift of nature with satchels of lavender and rosemary, or painting a planter pot at the local paint and glaze shop. We have an awesome one in our area.  Check your local listings for one near you. 

While we’re talking rosemary, try using some to make rosemary lemonade!  Or how about making homemade aromatherapy oils?  Hmmm…  Moms love that kind of stuff.  I should know–I am one!

For those who “know how to sew,” how about creating a garden apron?  Worked to get my daughter excited about the garden…  And it’s too cute to pass.  For those rebel do-it-yourselfers, I’ve included the “apron-construction-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” patternI do love a challenge.

Now that we’re all dressed up, how about hosting a harvest party?  Better yet, invite your childs’ friends over for a potato swim or carrot dig!  They will surely be the hit of the neighborhood.  And there are some awfully cute garden-style invitations to choose from out there.   I couldn’t resist.

And when they finish with their first season, encourage sustainability with custom-designed seed saving packets. Instructions are right here under the Kid Buzz section of this website and they are way cool.

No matter which path you choose, gardening with kids is tons of fun and a true joy.  Plant seeds of love together, and watch your relationship grow.

Cooking with Kids

And I do mean cooking!  We were back in the kitchen this week, enjoying fresh potatoes, sweet onions and delectable rosemary–all from our garden.  In fact, the potatoes were harvested over the last several days, to the delight of all involved.  In fact, I’m not sure who was more excited, the lower elementary kids or the middle school students!

All learned how to swim for potatoes and agreed: it’s a lot like digging for buried treasure.  (Like I always say, having your own garden is way cool.)  It’s a dirty job, but definitely a fun one.

 

The younger crowd even found some the middle schoolers missed.  A feat that may not go unmentioned.  And what happens if we accidentally leave some in the ground?

Mother Nature will take care of them (hopefully reward us with an unexpected harvest come fall!).  That would be awesome, because if I’ve learned one thing from this school garden experience, it’s that we didn’t plant near enough to satisfy these kids.  From carrots to scallions, broccoli to strawberries, these kids were always ready for more.  A good thing, in my book!

With our baskets full and our bellies empty, we cooked up trays for sampling.  Throughout the afternoon, the kids floated on air, much like the scent of roasting vegetables and rosemary. 

Okay, that’s not exactly true.  They were wiggling, giggling, holding their nose, pushing for a view–just as you’d expect when presented with the opportunity to learn how to prepare their very own vegetables!  It is exciting.  Nothing better than eating what you grew. 

So as the adult in charge, I bumped up my tolerance level to “extremely patient” and off we went.  I showed them how to clean their potatoes, chop them into pieces, coat them with olive oil, tossing in some sweet onions and fresh garden rosemary.  Mmmmm….  We roasted them and devoured them, all in the space of one fun-filled hour in school.

Does it get any better?

Bounty of Spring Squash

Would you look at Ashley’s squash?  They’re fabulous!

“Time for dinner, kids!”  And while she’s at it, she’ll throw a little fresh salad together.  Why not?  She has plenty! (Sure they look a tad peaked, but it was hot today!  Not to worry, they’ll clean up fine.)

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen potato plants this big.  These things are monsters!

And despite conventional wisdom (and space restriction on our part), they DO get along with squash.  Like old friends these two, wouldn’t you agree?

See, we can get along, without any trouble at all.  Though her cucumber needs some assistance.  This baby is sprawling–like she owns the place–antics for which we simply have no room.  Like a good mother, Ashley will guide her to the fence and encourage some good climbing behavior. 

Speaking of good mothers (with sensitive spots), Julie’s garden is doing well, though she hasn’t the heart to remove this stray melon. 

While it may seem fun right now, this fellow has no business mingling with those carrots.  It’s Julie’s job to remove the wayward lad–before he gets unruly.  Which he will.  He’s a melon and talk about wandering!  Don’t get me started.  He’s only going to get bigger.  Sorry, but the boy needs to go. 

Her tomatoes are doing well, even sporting little tomato sprouts.  However, they’re also sporting squiggly white lines. 

Do you know what that means?  (I didn’t either until I looked it up.  Never posed a problem at my house.)  Anyhoo, these lines indicate she has leaf miners.  Not good.  Granted the damage is mostly cosmetic, unless of course a large number of leaves are affected.  If so, the overall vigor of her plant could be significantly reduced.  If left intact, the tunnels–those lines are actually tunnels–can allow fungus and bacteria to enter.  

Best thing she can do at this point is to remove the damaged leaves, water well and keep it healthy.  Beneficial wasps are natural predators for leaf miners, so sending an invitation to her neighborhood wasp center could prove helpful.  Otherwise, her tomato plant is healthy and robust should recover from the trauma.  Good work, Julie!

Cooking up a Spring Harvest

I do love harvest time.  Not only do I find it more enjoyable than weeding (and a lot easier than tilling), it means it’s time to EAT!  And who doesn’t love to eat fresh veggies from the garden?

Nobody I know.  Especially when a basket full of potatoes and sweet onions are involved.  These are a mix of Yukon Gold, Red Cloud and a batch I planted from an organic potato purchase from my local grocery store. (Yes, you CAN do that–but don’t tell anyone I told you so.  Master gardeners tend to frown upon this sort of corner-cutting.)

Add a few sprigs of rosemary the herb garden, a little olive oil and next thing you know you have all the makings for an excellent side dish to dinner!  Roasted potatoes anyone? 

A bit of minced garlic would be the perfect mix-in for this dish.  Which I also just happened to harvest this weekend!

Very yummy.  And for those leftovers:  reheat them, crack an egg in a skillet and cook until it’s sunny side up, then scoop it over top of the potatoes for a hearty breakfast.  But whatever you do, don’t let the original chef know you squirted out a dollop of ketchup to go with them.  They were once a gourmet dinner side.

Like I said, for me, harvest is all about eating, though there is a “fun-factor” involved.  One of the students at school sent me a picture of her home garden harvest and there were more exclamation points in one paragraph than I have seen in quite some time! 

But can you blame her?  Look at the size of those zucchini!  Beans…and a tomato, too.  She’s AWESOME!

Harvest time is a wonderful time.  Especially in spring, because this is the only time I have fresh sweet onions and garlic–veritable staples in the Italian diet.  Remember:  I’m after the perfect sauce.  Just as soon as those tomatoes of mine are ready, I’m all over it!

P.S. For those of you reading this thinking I could never grow vegetables like those–think again.  If these black beans don’t prove it to you, I don’t know what will.  Sure, I put the cage around them–but only AFTER I noticed they were blooming completely on their own.

Roma tomatoes, too.  These babies are twice the size of my garden tomatoes.

So please, if my compost pile of dead leaves can grow these black beans and Roma tomatoes without a lick of help from me, than so can you.  Trust me.  Mother Nature WILL help you.  She wants you to grow and grow to your heart’s content!  (Less work for her.)

P.S.S. One more reason to start that compost pile!  As if you needed another…

Spring Bounty for the Kids

After all their hard work, the kids are sliding down the home stretch.  First they pulled their sweet onions and next week?

Potato mania!  The kids can’t wait to roast them with their leftover sweet onions and rosemary.  Mmmmm….  Until then, they had to maintain.  Let the weeding begin! 

Promising them a bit of the fluffiest-carrot-cake-ever ( the remainder of Monday’s post) proved an excellent motivator.  Totally unfair of me, I know–but totally effective!  Those weeds didn’t stand a chance against these guys!

While weeding, we noticed our black beans are forming pods.  When they darken to purple, that’s our sign to harvest.

We trained our cucumbers to climb the fence, as we expect a full wall of bounty come May.

And of course our tomatoes are gorgeous.  Something about the dirt on this school ground puts my home garden to shame.  Would you look at these?

Mine at home are not even half the size (and I loaned the kids some of MY tomato sprouts!).  Go figure.  At that, I’ll leave you with their black eye peas.

They too are flourishing.  Unfortunately, I don’t know too many recipes for fresh black eye peas which means I’ll have to rely on tradition.  Now if only I can find that ham hock I bought for New Year’s…