Grisly Discovery

So what do you do when you stroll out to your garden and you’re hit with an awful, horrible smell?  Well if you’re me, you may ignore it, assume it’s a small rodent nearby and continue setting up for your morning lesson.  Until that is, the first child runs out to the garden, stops short and calls out, “Hey Mrs. Venetta–there’s a dead in cat in our garden!”

What?  I whirled around and my heart stopped.  There in the middle of our row was a poor kitty in the midst of decomposition.  Oh no… Suddenly the odor becomes sickening. 

“Can we compost it?” he asked.

“No.  Definitely not.”  Germs, bacteria–I’m imagining all sorts of horrific things and none of them pretty.  Or healthy.  Or compostable, at least in this garden.  As the other children began to arrive, I sent this boy to the office.  “Let them know what’s going on out here, will you?”

“You bet!”  And with a smile, he was gone.

Kids.  Sometimes you simply can’t faze them.  Amaze them, yes–but not faze them.

Needless to say our morning garden experience didn’t go as planned.  I wasn’t about to have these kids get anywhere near the dead animal so we discussed what we “planned” to do instead.  Crop rotation kids.  Follow your fruits with beans for good organic rotation.  Okay, that’s all for today boys and girls.  See ya next week!

Within the hour the cat was removed, the weed paper (that he was laying upon) as well and the following morning I dug the surface layer of dirt up and out of the garden.  Perhaps this was overkill but I’m an overkill kinda gal.  No germs, no how–not when it comes to kids and seeds, anyway!  

Confident all was well, the next group of kids planted black beans provided those working the “disturbed” section of the dirt bed wear gloves.  Inch deep and a hand length apart!

Great fun was had by this crew and next week we’ll make it up to upper elementary.  But this is a lesson for them in coping with the unexpected (or something like that). But take heart, your beans are climbing up a storm!

To round out the week, the primary students planted their butterfly garden.  Teaching the wee ones how to transplant was quite the whirlwind of activity but I think they all thoroughly enjoyed themselves.  And because it’s located in the small courtyard behind their classroom, they’ll get to enjoy it every day.  From what I understand, garden work is a favorite among the students.  (Doesn’t surprise me.  These kids are smart!)

What did we plant?  Details on how and what to plant for attracting butterflies will be featured on Monday’s post.  There’s actually a lot more to it than you might think!

Attention Dog Lovers

Now I love dogs as much as the next gardener–but not in my garden.  Except for this handsome fellow.  This handsome well-trained fellow.  This is Cody and he knows better than to trample across his mama’s garden beds! 

Okay, that’s not entirely true.  When the neighbor dogs are at the fence begging for his attention, all bets are off.  Cody is a social thing and does enjoy his visits. 

I guess what I’m saying is that when supervised, this boy is an excellent garden companion. It’s the wandering neighborhood dogs I’m concerned about! 

And I have evidence.  Those are doggie footprints. 

They may not look like much in this photo, but trust me, those are them.  In fact, my husband pointed the little fella out to me the day before.  An adorable beagle.  When I called after him he ran, leaving me with the impression he was easily startled, had lost his way and would not be back.

I was wrong.  Next day, he was back.  And rooting for beans.  Apparently dogs like beans?

This was news to me, but after laboring for hours tilling my rows, amending my soil and dropping my seeds, I was not amused.  Walking out to the garden, strolling my rows as I always do, I noticed some of the beans laying atop the dirt.  Now this can happen with too much water.  Yep.  Beans will float right to the surface if you give them too much water.  Can happen in a downpour, though it hadn’t rained.  And I checked my soil moisture.  Just right.

No.  This was the work of an uninvited visitor.  So after I replanted my bean row (plus a few corn kernels in the next row) I contemplated how best to dissuade this canine from doing visiting again.  Like bugs, was there a plant that would naturally repel dogs?  Remember, not only am I an organic gardener but I’m a dog lover.  I have no intention of hurting this pumpkin but I also have no intention of allowing him to run roughshod over my beds again.  What’s a poor gardener to do?

Well I read marigolds will do the trick.  If you plant them around your garden, the dogs will resist the urge to visit. 

Really?  Marigolds?  Lemon and grapefruit rinds are supposed to do the trick as well, however I just don’t see myself littering my garden with citrus rinds.  Not only will it diminish the glorious ambiance, it doesn’t quite set the right example for the kids if you know what I mean.  After all, we have a compost habit we’re trying to maintain and giving them permission to toss rinds on the ground doesn’t feel right.  Besides, look how pretty these two go together.  (And they’re excellent companions in the garden!)  Problem is, my beans are already in.  Too late to plant marigolds to fix my intruder problem.

I could always put up a fence.  A bit extra work and probably not something my husband wants to add to his hunny-do list.  Maybe thorny branches strewn about?

Nah.  I might scratch myself.  Any suggestions?  I’m all ears!

Kids Love Peanut Harvest

Better yet, they LOVE eating the peanuts they harvested!  Baked, boiled or roasted–you name it, they liked it.  And it all started with these beauties right here.

Once we pulled them from the ground, we allowed them to dry as part of the “curing” process.  This is where you set them in the sun for a few days, then pull the peanuts from the plant, toss it into the compost pile and place them in a warm dry location where they can continue to cure.  We do this to reduce the moisture content of the peanuts, especially important if you intend to store them long-term. 

If you like boiled peanuts like we do here in the South, you can dig them up, clean them off and toss them into the kettle!  Okay, that’s old-fashioned lingo for big pot.  But you do need to wash them because these babies have been sitting underground for months and if the bugs we discovered during harvest are any indication of what may be lurking there with them–we suggest a thorough cleaning before you eat them.

Boiling peanuts is simply a matter of covering them in salted water stove top, boiling them down until they’re soft.  Time will depend on your peanuts and the temperature of your stove, but plan for about 2-3 hours minimum.  And don’t be shy with the salt.  If you want to minimize your salt use, allow them to soak in some salted water overnight before boiling. 

Home roasting is a simple matter of placing your peanuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and cooking them at 350* for 20-30 minutes.  Again, this depends on your oven.  Some of mine were a tad burned and I’m going to fully blame the school oven.  I’m sure this wouldn’t have happened at home. 🙂

For our tasting today, each child received a few roasted and a few boiled and devoured their share within minutes.  Verdict?

I’d have to say the boiled peanuts won, hands down!  Probably because they were softer (and not burned).  But you receive an A for effort, Mrs. Venetta!

Anatomy of a Compost Pile

Ever wondered what it looked like beneath that pile of fall leaves?  You know, the one you formed with dead leaves and garden waste?  The one I told you would provide excellent organic matter for your soil?  If you build it, dirt will form?

Yes, that one!  Well in Florida it’s time to use our compost or more specifically our dirt again for fall planting.  Yep, you guessed it–my compost pile has turned a pile of crumbly brown leaves into the most gorgeous black dirt you ever laid your eyes on and I’m ready to use it.  Just look at this treasure!

This photo represents a cross-section of my backyard compost pile.  One of my backyard piles.  I have two, right next to each other.  This one is my “easy” pile.  The one I never turn.  The one I never water.  I let it sit there week after week, month after month until I’m ready to use it.  Well, I’m back in the garden planting and I need soil amendment!  Where do I go?

I go to this pile of compost.  Digging deep into the center, I struck gold.  Black gold.  Can you see it there towards the bottom?  Deep, organic and beautiful black dirt.  Oh, but I can hear my beds jumping for joy already!  The hardest part about this compost pile?  Scooping each shovelful into my wagon and hauling the heaping mass down to the garden.  And no, for you Curious George’s out there, I didn’t build this thing.  That credit goes to lawn guy, a.k.a. my husband and once a year garden helper. 🙂 They do good work!

My active duty pile is the other smaller pile behind it.  This is the one where the kids and I dump the contents of our cute in-house compost jar.  From leftovers to stale bread, from eggshells to green weeds, we use this pile for a more well-rounded source of organic matter. 

After each deposit made with kitchen scraps we cover it with a layer of brown leaves taken from the prior pile.  This way we manage to achieve some semblance of the recommended ration of carbon:nitrogen which is 30:1.  Key word:  some.

But it works!  My vegetables are happy and my soil is ecstatic. Just be sure to rinse your compost jar before returning it to the kitchen.  Cuts down on the ick factor.  Cause Moms don’t like ick in the kitchen! 

Now here–carry this out to the compost pile.  We’re growing dirt!

Get Your Garden Growing with this Groovy Gear!

Talk about recycle and reuse–this month’s Prize Picks has some totally groovy items for your garden.  From old tires to galvanized steel tubs, your garden containers never looked so good! And how great will you feel knowing this rubber didn’t end up in a landfill somewhere?

Awesome.  You’ll feel great.  And while you’re celebrating, don’t toss that wine bottle into the trash or recycle bin.  Instead, why not cut in half and create your very own hydroponic indoor garden?  Your herbs will love you and your conscious will be clear.  (I do love a multi-tasker. :))

For more nifty recycle items, check this month’s Prize Picks for some groovy answers to staying green.  Better yet, why not suggest some of your own?

We’d love to hear from you!

Planting Corn and Harvesting Peanuts

This week was a BUSY week.  Once the elementary students cleared a bed of peanuts, the kindergarteners planted a fresh row of corn.  Can you say perfect crop rotation?  It’s one of the key tenets of organic gardening.  And our school garden is totally organic.  Why?

Because we’re smart.  And healthy.  (Staying on Mother Nature’s good side doesn’t hurt, either. :)) As usual, we begin our lesson in the garden with a tour.  Sure we want to assess our garden’s progress but mostly we want to see how big our sprouts have grown! 

Nothing more exciting than a group of kids identifying the exact pumpkin they planted, or the precise bean, sunflower or tomato…  Well, you get my drift.  Community garden is a concept we’re still working to master.  Not to worry.  Our second favorite thing to do is share.  Especially oohs and aahs.  Just look at these beautiful sunflowers we planted!  Aren’t they gorgeous?

Our beans are making great progress, too.  Within no time these little guys will be climbing up, up and away!

And speaking of little guys, look who we found while harvesting peanuts.  Isn’t he precious?

 Unfortunately his peanut jungle is no longer.  Once these kids began to dig it became sunshine and chaos and cleared in no time.  But we had no choice.  The peanuts were ready.  C’mon kids–did you hear?  The peanuts are ready!

Well yeehaw and grab your pitchfork (or kitchen fork–tends to be safer) and get those peanuts up and out of the ground!  They’re everywhere!  Simply pry them from the ground using your fork to loosen peanuts from the soil and then pull gently.

Look ma, fresh peanuts!  Isn’t it cool how they grow? These were totally underground!

Uh oh, this one didn’t grow.  Do you think I can put it back?

Probably not, but it is neat to see how the peanut sprouts underground, isn’t it?  Kinda like seeing Mother Nature in action!  Besides, we have plans for this bed of dirt.  We’re growing corn and this will make the perfect spot.  Why?  Beans/peanuts leave lots of nitrogen in the soil and corn LOVES nitrogen.  Helps to make its leaves green!

But first we need to “cure” our peanuts which means allow them to dry.  So grab your plant and head over to the benches where we’ll set them out for a few days of oven-baked sunshine!

Our little ones did the work of pulling the peanuts from the roots.  And they did a fantastic job.  Didn’t miss a one!  Which is a good thing, because we have big plans for these peanuts.  We’re going to sample and taste.  Hmmmm-good!

And don’t forget to feed the compost pile with the leftover plants!  It’s hungry and like boys and girls, it needs to EAT if its going to grow big and strong and make good healthy dirt. 

Now that our bed of peanuts has been cleared, the last weed pulled, it’s time to plant the corn.  With a quick lesson these kids were ready for action.  Remember, no more than one kernel per hole, kids!

And away they went.  Like I said, it was a busy week.  We harvested, weeded, composted, crop rotated and planted–and just about in that order!  But best of all we learned something and had fun doing so.





Flirty and Fun Volunteer

Want to extend a BIG thank you to Ashley for signing on to volunteer in the school garden!  So inspired was she by her own adventure this spring, she has eagerly joined the school garden and the kids love her.  The more the merrier, right?

And what’s more merry than these garden boots?  I mean, these are fashion and function all rolled up into one flirty package!

I love creative gardeners who can manage to not only grow some mean veggies but look good while doing it!  Remember:  when you have a garden, expect visitors.  They will come in droves.  They will watch with wonder and amazement. They will talk your ear off (if given the chance) and they will run home and want to start their very own garden.  But they won’t give you notice so be prepared and look great — like our volunteer-extraordinaire, Miss Ashley!

Thanks for showing up with a smile.  🙂 The kids appreciate it.

Building Our Bean Fort

How fun is that?

It’s WAY fun and what an endeavor this has turned out to be–for adults and kids alike!  Just look at this beauty.  Isn’t it amazing?

But let’s start from the beginning, when our middle school students took on the task of building the framework for this project.  It began with a request for my future engineers.  Hands shot up.  Then my architects.  More hands shot up.  Then my laborers.  More hands shot up (don’t you just love eager and exuberant?) and then the assistants, coordinators, you name it.  “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”  Enthusiasm 101. 

Once we assembled our crew, the design process began. 

Now I’m no engineer–but I am smart enough to know how to delegate, so I handed the technical aspects over to the kids. 

Good thing too, because every time I did pipe up it wasn’t as fruitful as I’d hoped.  (But I’m a writer not an engineer!)  No matter.  The kids politely moved past my suggestions and continued solving the problem amongst themselves.  They dug the foundation, tied the framework together.

Then they worked to stabilize the structure and all was running efficient and smooth, much like a well-oiled machine, especially when they came up with the bright idea to use PVC pipe for our roof support beams.  In case my husband is reading this–Yes, I know.  You told me to bring our PVC pipe from homeYes, it was a great idea

What can I say?  (I forgot.)  Moving right along…  While all this fort construction was going on, we turned our compost pile.  Look at all that gorgeous dirt!

Any-hoo, back to the roof.  All was running well–

Until it came time to attach the roof.  A bit of a “mutiny of ideas” ensued as to how we best support the lattice top–cross-wise, lengthwise, overlap–though fortunately it was short-lived.  

“We’re working together around here, right?”  I looked around at disgruntled faces and nodded my head (this is an excellent psychological warfare tactic–nod and they will agree).  “Right?”

Right.  And back to the roof we went, now secured attached and utterly stupendous.  It’s certainly something to be proud, wouldn’t you agree?  I mean, this is a masterpiece of teamwork, energy, determination (all the more amazing under the warm and humid conditions we had to endure). Gotta love Florida!  At least it gives us TWO growing seasons which equals TWICE the fun, right kids?  (We’re nodding again here.) 

Enter lower elementary, a.k.a. our bean planters. 

Their job was to “build” the walls.  Okay, maybe not actually build but certainly plant the seeds for future “wall” growth.  And we want our walls to be dense so don’t be shy kids–plant as many as you can!

This bean fort is going to be really cool.  Almost private, like a real hideaway.  And it will fit a good 5-10 kids!  “Party in the fort1!” Depending upon their size and agreeability, of course.  Better yet, won’t this make for a great photo opportunity?

We think so and since we plan to hang out a bit, we want it to be comfortable.  What’s more comfy than a hay covered floor? 

Awesome.  And more than beautiful, our bean fort will be edible. 

 Yep.  Green beans will be hanging within our reach.  Organic green beans.  Yum. Pluck em, peel em, plop em in! 

But that’s not all we did this week!  Upper elementary planted tomatoes.  And because they’re experts in the garden, they know plants need nutrients to grow full and lush and were sure to include them. 

What do tomatoes need? Epsom salts and eggshells!  Or magnesium sulfate and calcium for you non-gardener types.

Blossom-end rot (ugly black spots) on our tomatoes can be due to a lack of calcium.  And nobody wants to eat rot spots.  But we also like BIG tomatoes so we included magnesium sulfate because magnesium helps chlorophyll formation while sulfate aids in strong healthy cell development. 

 And we do look forward to our plump red tomatoes.  Makes sense to give them the best start we can.  Besides, handling crinkly eggshells (pre-cleaned) and crystallized Epsom salt is kinda neat.  

So what do you think?  Need a bean fort in your neck of the woods?  It’s easy to do, great fun and will be the oh-so-popular place to be! 

The hardest part will be waiting for it to fill in… 🙂

Oh, and lower elementary will be keeping a journal on the entire process, sort of our “record keepers” for the project.  Love teamwork.  But we are a community of gardeners and gardeners enjoy sharing the adventure!

Fiddling with Floating Row Covers

And I do mean fiddling, because as a first-timer using this method, I frankly have no idea what I’m doing.  But I’m desperate.  The squash bugs were BAD this year.  They ate my squash, my zucchini–they’re even after my watermelon as we speak!   They’re beasts, pure and simple.  Hungry beasts.  And with our pumpkin seeds freshly planted, I don’t want to take the chance of losing a single one to squash bugs.  (The kids would never forgive me!)  As to these barren looking beds of mine you’ll have to trust me.  There are seeds under there.

But how does one work these floating row covers to prevent squash bugs, exactly?  I’ve seen pictures.  I know they’re supposed to allow light and water in while keeping bugs out.  Hopefully they’re allowing a nice breeze to whistle through, else we run into a fungus problem.  Then of course there are the afternoon thunderstorms to consider.  When the wind picks up around these parts of Florida, it usually picks up my row covers right along with it!  Anchor pins are not what they’re cracked up to be.  My rock weights don’t always work, either.  Mother Nature is a tough old broad.

So setting my metal half-moons in the dirt, I then cover them with an ultra sheer fabric cover.  That is what a floating row cover is, right?  (Anyone feel free to jump in here.) This should be simple…

After anchoring the ends with pins and rocks, I can only hope it will withstand the winds of summer.  Will this row cover be here when I return this afternoon?  Weather gal did forecast rain for today…

But gazing upon my handiwork, I think really?  Or will I come home to find the white fabric clear across the street in the neighbor’s yard?

That’s the question–or problem, depending on how you like to look at these things. 🙂  How about challenge.  Let’s say we forget all this “problem” talk and move on to the challenge.  The thrill of the game, the test of wills, the exciting match between myself and Mother Nature.  So long as she doesn’t hurl a hurricane my way, I at least stand a chance, don’t you think?

We’ll see.  Stay tuned!

Weeds, Seeds, Sunflowers and Wildlife

The kids have been very busy getting their garden back into shape.  You can imagine a Florida summer of weed growth combined with a garden coordinator missing in action, well, it wasn’t pretty.  But it is now! 

I mean to tell you these weed warriors are serious about their business of weeding–even discovered a bit of wildlife along the way.  One unhappy toad escaped before I could photograph him but this trouble maker had to be relocated. 

These kids are a humane bunch when they’re not squashing and dispatching, but it’s better than poisoning with pesticides, right?  For both the insects and the humans!  As organic gardeners, we don’t want them to suffer and we don’t want our bodies to become sick.  Definitely not.

Slugs and snails are not our friends in the garden.  But lizards are okay!  Though we accidentally unearthed this egg, we were careful to move it to a safe spot for hatching. 

Momma will find him, I’m sure of it.  While we were weeding we were feeding our compost pile.  Growing dirt is easy and fun and GREAT for our plants so with every weed we pulled we fed the dirt baby. 

As good plant caretakers, we do want to give our seeds every advantage in life.  And while we’re working in the garden, it’s so nice to look good, isn’t?  I mean, when we look good, we feel good. 

Have you ever seen a more adorable gardener?  This girl is pretty in pink–sparkly, too!  And speaking of pretty, we’ve decided to expand our garden this year to include sunflowers.  Tall and sunny, these flowers will be a happy addition to our vegetables. 

Thanks to our kindergarteners for planting the seeds!  Won’t they be amazed when these beauties soon tower over them?  What fun.  And gardening is fun.  We’re even thinking of adding a butterfly garden, but must beware:  at some point in the life cycle of the butterfly they are caterpillars–and bad for the vegetable garden.  Caterpillars are hungry and eat a LOT.

So we’ll find a nice spot for the butterflies far, far away from our vegetables. 🙂

I’m sure they won’t mind.  And neither will these little tykes, each and every one of them on their way to becoming gardener-extraordinaires!  As for lessons, this week the upper elementary are preparing for peanut harvest while lower elementary is learning our school garden motto “know what you grow.”  And for kindergarten?  How about a pretty sunflower color page? Sweet!