School Seedling Trays

The kids are getting a jump-start on spring.  Sure, it’s cold outside —  the temps are chilly, the wind is biting and the frost is back, but these kids are eager to garden.  What better way, than to start from seed?  Lima beans, to be exact.

Fun and easy, starting seedling trays is a great way to bring the outdoors in–particularly appealing this winter.  To begin, we fill our trays with potting mix, tuck our beans in about an inch deep then water them in for a head start on life.  

Each student will be responsible for their own seed.   They’ll water it every day, because they know seeds like to be kept moist. 

They’ll keep their tray near a sunny window (or fool it with a flourescent “grow lamp”) and they’ll keep it warm; one of the keys to good germination.  And they’ll watch it grow.  Better yet, they’ll record each and every moment on the pages of their seed journal — complete with cute veggie decorations!  Gardening should be fun, ya know. 

By starting our bean seeds now, we’ll be harvesting in no time.  And isn’t that what gardening is all about–the glory of harvest?  Sure catching bugs is fun and the smell of herbs are delightful, but vegetables should be eaten and fresh from the vine.   So while we’re learning about the growth cycle, we’ll savor the bounty.

And learn a whole heck of a lot while we’re at it!

Quality Time in the Garden

“Mom, I brought snacks.”

Lifting my head from my tilling work of the potato row, I smiled at my son.  “Really?  What’d you bring?”

“Pistachios.  Do you like pistachios?”

“Sure do.”

Passing me, he promptly dropped to the ground and wrestled to open the canister (our fall purchase from his sister the Girl Scout).  “Can I have some of your water?” he asked.

“By all means.  We can share.  Your pistachios for my water.”

“Um-hm.” 

Returning to my task of tilling dirt for the addition of our compost–the compost he was supposed to be shoveling into the row but had since abandoned, I noted, “So I gather you’re on break?”

“No, I’m not on break.”

This gave me pause.  “No?”

“No, I’m just eating pistachios.”

“But you’re not working.  That’s what we call it when you stop to eat.  It’s called a break.”

Adamantly, he shook his head to the contrary. 

“Do you intend to shovel and pop nut shells at the same time then?”

“No.  I’m just eating them.”  He looked up.  “Want some?”

Giving in to the futility of the conversation block, I replied, “Sure.”

He reached up and plopped an already shelled nut into my mouth.  That is good.  Straightening, my lower back screaming tight, I decided break or no break, this was as good a time as any to sit down and eat nuts.  I lowered myself down to the ground next to him and stuck my hand out. 

He deposited another already shelled nut into my hand.  “Here ya go,” he said — service with a smile.

“Thanks.”   Running through half the can, we talked about nothing in particular, content with our simple enjoyment of tossing shells over the potato row (they are biodegradable after all, and it was fun to aim for the variety of holes in the dirt).  

“He throws, he hits–scores!”  My son cheers.  “And the crowd goes wild!”

I’ve heard this chant before, though I can’t place my finger on exactly where, and delight in his gardening-turned-sports-drama.   No TV, no DS, no itouch…just us, hanging out in the garden on break (or whatever he thinks we’re doing). 

It was nice.  Easy, simple.  Just plain old-fashioned nice.  Looking at him, the shells piling up, I asked, “Can I have a kiss?”

Without hesitation, he leaned over and planted one smack dab on my lips.  I smiled.  “Thanks.”

I don’t receive too many of those anymore, not with him growing up so fast, his self-conscious awareness as his buddies look on… 

And I miss them.  I miss him.  No longer as exciting as an afternoon on the playground with his friends, a play over with his neighbors, an afternoon of football and chips with his dad, I take what I can get.  I’m sensible.  I accept the changes. 

Later, when the game ends and he snuggles up close to me on the sofa, I remind him one day he’ll whisk me across the dance floor when he’s taller than me–

–to which he responds with a shy yet delighted roll of his eyes.   “Mom…”

I grinned and gave him a squeeze.  “Sorry.”  But that’s the way we moms roll.

Students Reap What They Sow

Winter break is over and the kids are back in school–and in the garden. 

Can I tell you how excited they were?  They attacked weeds with gusto–not a minor feat when you consider they were out of school for two weeks!

But upon their return, it was business as usual in the garden.  Plants need food, so we delivered.  But this time, instead of worm poop, we fed them coffee grounds, courtesy one of our teachers (and Starbucks). 

Anyone can stop be part of the solution and with Starbucks help, your plants will thank you.  At least the acid-loving ones like berries!  And potatoes, azaleas… 

What a great program.  Giving is like a boomerang and Starbucks will surely reap a harvest of success from these simple acts of goodwill.  The kids thank you!  (Coffee grounds smell a LOT better than fish emulsion.) 

As will our strawberries.  But I digress.  The real payoff came in the form of harvest. 

We clipped our first broccoli.

 

Isn’t it beautiful?  One of the students thought so and ate it on the spot.  Carrots anyone?

Perhaps you prefer scallions? 

 

Both survived the freeze quite well.   Take a look.   Aren’t they fabulous? 

If only we grew forty-two more…we’d be all set!  One for everybody!  Well, there’s always spring…

To which we look forward.  One of the basic tenets of organic gardening is crop rotation.  Come spring, we will move our plants around, encouraging the utmost in growing conditions.  Check out the kid’s section on this blog for details.  Next week we plan to start our seeds, beginning the with our pole beans.  Will you join us?

Back to School Lunch

Today is our first day back to school after a brief winter break and my daughter surprised me by requesting fresh carrots in her lunch. 

“Carrots?”

“Yes.   I want to get some from the garden.”

Really…  Well, well, well, I thought.  What do we have here?  A new year’s resolution?  A change of heart?  I mean, this is the child who would live off sweets, if you’d let her!  But not one to argue with healthy good sense, I said, “Well have at it!”

“I want some,” her brother piped up. 

I looked at him.  Busy emptying a few packets of artifically-flavored oatmeal into his bowl, I thought, really?  “You want carrots?” 

“Yes,” he said, followed by a bare shrug of his shoulders.  “Sure.  Why not?”

I think someone wants what his sister has, but if that’s what it takes to fill his belly with vegetables, than I’m all for it.  “Will you grab some for him, while you’re in the garden?”

“Sure,” she replied.

“And shoot, how about grabbing a couple for me while you’re there.  I’ll put them–”  Oops.  Almost said put them in the meatloaf which is a bad idea.  The minute these two hear I’m sneaking carrots into their favorite dinner I’ll have a rebellion on my hands!  “–in my salad,” I smoothly finished.  And smiled.  We mothers do need to keep one step ahead of these little darlings.

“Okay!”  And off she went with a friendly reminder from her father:  don’t wear your school shoes down there!  They’ll end up wet.

What a great dad.  Returning to my morning business of preparing lunches, I marveled at what a wonderful day this was beginning to be.  Carrots in her lunch!  Carrots for his breakfast!  Woo-hoo!  It’s a party!  And you thought New Year’s Eve was reason to celebrate.

A few minutes later my daughter bounded back into the house.  “Look at these!  They’re picture-perfect!”

Did someone say picture-perfect?  Hold on a second while I get my camera–we need to capture the beauty of those golden babies for eternity!

Not one to miss out on a photo opportunity, my son vied for his position in front of the lens.  “Take a picture of me, Mom!”

Of course, my sweet.  Everyone needs their moment in the limelight.  “Okay.  Lights, camera, action!”

Doesn’t he look interested in that carrot?  Good enough for me.  In fact, it warms a mother’s heart to see my kids take to fresh vegetables (for whatever reason).  And while they moan and groan on occasion about the required work associated with the garden, it is nice to know they enjoy the harvest.  Vegetables never tasted so good as when you grew them yourself!

Sure there’s something to be said about bragging rights and showing off your homegrown carrots to your friends at school — although these kids are growing their own beautiful carrots behind the classroom — but they do taste better than store-bought.  Same with potatoes and fresh herbs.  When it comes to taste, there’s simply no competition between the vegetables you buy and the vegetables you grow. 

Don’t believe me?  Try growing some yourself! 

 

How can you resist these gorgeous specimens?

Frosty Mornings

With Christmas behind me and the new year ahead, I find myself looking forward to spring.  I’m sure many of my Arctic Amigos feel the same way about now, buried under feet of snow, no sign of their garlic bulbs, their tulips and daffodils mere glimmers of hope, reminding them “this blizzard, too, shall pass.”  And as any organized organic gardener would do, I’m plotting mine out in Excel.

“What?”  Glancing about, I ask,  “Doesn’t everyone?”

Realizing I’m standing alone, I think, perhaps not.  But it does make for easy record keeping; where I planted what and when, which variety matured first, when did I begin harvest, what goes where next… 

Sure, most gardeners use a journal for this type of business, but I’m visual.  And I like color (excel allows me to color code everything from roots to leaves, from fall to spring — oh joy!).

Okay.  So it’s not that exciting, but it does add a bit of fun to the process.  More work, but more fun.  Works for keeping track of Girl Scout cookies sales, too!  So while these carrots are tolerating the frost, hunkering down and going about the business of growing, I’m going about the business of planning.

My cabbage are thriving in the cold.  

As are my broccoli.

Even my tender sweet peas are tolerating the chill.  Not in stellar fashion mind you, but at least they’re still alive.

And tomorrow…  Well, it will probably be more of the same (with the winter we’re having).  Eventually the ground will soften and yield to my touch and I’ll till and I’ll plant and I’ll begin the process anew.  I’ll try new techniques, I’ll expand on what’s working…  And I WILL grow tomatoes to perfection.  If my students can do it, I can do it. 

That’s how the mantra goes, anyway.

Sunshine and Carrots

Nothing like a beautiful golden bounty of carrots to lift your spirits — especially after losing most everything else.   Aren’t they divine?

Perfect for stuffing.  I think.  Never tried it but certainly willing!  As with everyone, Christmas is a busy time of year for us.  Between cooking and kids, family and entertaining…  It’s a wonder I know which direction I’m running!

Which reminds me, I have NO time for blogging.   Besides, I hear Santa’s already begun his journey — saw him sailing over Australia, in fact (thank you, Norad Santa Tracker).  I don’t know about you, but we here in Florida can’t wait for our turn!  Is it bedtime, yet?

Merry Christmas everyone!

Christmas in the Garden

It’s been a postcard-perfect day here in Central Florida (no, those aren’t Christmas trees).  The sun is shining, the temperature’s pleasant and the kids…well the kids are chomping at the bit for Santa’s arrival!

But aren’t we all?  Presents cascading in mounds from beneath the tree, candy canes poking from stockings stuffed fat with trinkets and sweets, the delicate aroma of pancakes drifting through the house (nice images though far from reality in our house!), the magic of Christmas morning lives.  And it’s not limited to the tree, oh, no —  I discovered it can also be found in the garden!

Wandering out to the garden for the first time since the hard freeze of last week (I’ve been suspended in a fog of green depression, mind you — and shopping and baking and mingling, all the while trying to keep up with my regular life), I learned something.  Yes, my plants are dead as scarecrows, but not all is lost. 

Well, the corn are toast, but the carrots and garlic and cabbage are not!  Neither are the onions and broccoli.  Hallelujah! 

If I could have, I would leaped for joy and clicked my heels, jingling bells included.  I don’t leap anymore (joints won’t allow such foolishness) and I have no bells (kids broke them), but I do have potatoes and that is cause for celebration.  Joyous celebration!

Look at these beauties!  Aren’t they gorgeous?  Planted back in October (as a fervent potato enthusiast, I like to chance the odds), these plants had enough time to produce some beautiful round potatoes. 

Some of these were the offspring of my spring potatoes and some were from grocery store purchased organic Yukon gold.  I can’t really tell the difference — I’m better at eating them than growing them — but they are in far better condition than what could have been their fate.   (Dry brown leaves don’t photosynthesize nearly as well and thus, produce, nothing.)

Needless to say, I’m pleased as a reindeer on his way home from Christmas.  Time to eat boys and girls!

“What’s for dinner, Mom!”

Why, it’s funny you should ask…  Sloppy Joes and healthy potato fries!  

“YUM!”  came their choir of response.

Kids love this kind of food.   And my husband?  Well, there’s always leftovers, right?  Sure he doesn’t prefer last night’s meal, but it’s not like I’m starving him or anything.  It’s hard to please everyone all of the time.

Which is why I quit trying.  We all must compromise.  It’s the way of the family dinner table. 

At least in our house.  “Have another serving, kids.  There’s plenty to go around!”

Pull Up the Covers

It’s cold outside!  But we’re not talking flannel, we’re talking row covers  —  a skill every child can manage.  They make their beds, right?

Of course they do and they can make their plant beds, too!  “Out with the old and in with new.”  Not only is this a smart tactic for winter break, but for weed prevention as well.  After all, we’ll be gone for three weeks and we need to prepare the plants for our absence.  We also need to prepare our beds for spring!

Because life in the garden continues.  Despite the season and despite our recent loss, the broccoli and cabbage will fill out, promising a luscious harvest upon our return.  The carrots and onions will hold until January.  But for now, we eagerly pull plants by their roots.

We toss them on to the compost  — another thing to look forward come spring.  We’ll have our own soil amendment!

After all our hard work, they’re gone, but not forgotten.  How could you forget such beautiful tomatoes?

And we cover and clip black paper into place. 

We’re preparing for the potatoes to be planted next month whereby we’ll practice our crop rotation; a staple of good organic gardening.  And best of all?  We get to do it all over again come spring!  Woohoo!

School’s out.

“Making Compost out of Debris”

Yes, “making lemonade out of lemons” sounds better, but I have no lemons — they froze! — along with half my garden.  I’ve lost everything remotely tropical and I’m none too happy about it. 

I mean, I can’t cover the entire yard.  Not the orange trees or the grapefruit.  Not the Lantana (pretty weed flowers) or the palm trees.  And the garden?

At least I tried.  I tried to protect my limas, I did.  I also tried to protect my sweet peas.  But that dastardly Jack Frost nipped them clear to their buds!  But what did I expect? 

He is a villain after all.  I think.  I must admit, I’m not well-versed in my winter fables, but as a Floridian, I haven’t found it a necessary dimension to add to my repertoire — until it froze in Florida.

Four times before Christmas!  And destroyed my lima bean plants.

And my sweets, although this was expected.  Good news here:  I can still salvage any underground treasures that may be hiding beneath the surface.

I did manage to cover my Poinsettia.  Located on the back patio, this was a much easier task.  Aren’t they brilliant?

There is a bright side to this cold weather.  While it won’t be a white Christmas, it feels like Christmas.  I don’t know about you, but something just doesn’t seem right about perspiring while Christmas shopping.  Unless of course, you’re that last-minute shopper darting through the mall, shoving people out of your way because you can’t find that little doo-dad Billy asked for two days before Christmas (forgot to include it on his list to Santa and now it’s YOUR job to see that he gets it!). 

Yes, well, kids need to learn “in every life a little rain must fall” and that the real meaning behind the season is about giving, not receiving;  giving love, sharing blessings and basking in the joy of spirit (good luck with that).  Some adults could stand a refresher course on this lesson.

But back to that bright side — just look at these carrots!  Glorious and green, they’re thriving in this weather!

And my cabbage — they’re cool and comfortable.  (Remind me next year to only attempt these plants in my fall garden.  Easy, reliable — and I don’t have to freeze my little cotton tail covering them!)

But alas, need another reason to be merry and bright despite the loss of green?  Get creative!  I grew tired of dashing off to the compost pile during this cold snap, and decided I needed a kitchen composter.  So I made one!

Okay, I didn’t actually make it.  I painted it at my local “clay, glaze and fire” place and they baked it into perpetuity for me.  After scouring the internet for one and finding none that matched my kitchen (I DO like to coordinate my colors), I decided I should create my own!  And what a great idea.  Using a standard carbon filter for the lid, I now have a place to deposit my kitchen scraps (and hold them indoors for days without stinking up the entire house!).  Isn’t it grand?

No more dashing outside and freezing my pumpkins–no, no!  We’re talking solutions, here, and cute ones at that.  And to think I was distraught over my garden.  Not me.  Hope springs eternal (so long as we allow it!). 

Frost Tolerant Plants

Which are and which are not?  It’s an important question with a valuable answer.  One the kids learned this week.

Central Florida froze.  Unusual this time of year but certainly not unheard of, our temps dipped into freezing territory and despite our frost protection efforts, they killed our plants. 

The kids took it kinda hard. 

 

(A little dramatic, aren’t they?)  They’re passionate about their garden and hate to lose the first leaf.  Usually create a ceremony for such events.

These squash were hurting from fungus BEFORE the frost and truth be told, they probably didn’t stand a chance either way.

However, it’s worth taking note that not all plants dislike the cold.  Some actually prefer it, like broccoli, cabbage and spinach.  These plants don’t thrive in warm weather but they do in cold.  And look at these sweet creatures.  

Our strawberries managed to tolerate the frigid mornings. 

So take heart kids — while our tomatoes suffered a horrible blow all the more horrid because they were SO beautiful and lush — a significant feat when it comes to the garden), we still have a ton of plants to look forward to harvesting, like carrots and onions and sweet peas, to boot!

On another bright note, we clipped our basil before the freeze and dried the leaves in the oven.  Simply put them on a baking sheet and set the oven to low and bake for a few hours (or until dry and crispy).  Voila

Pizza, anyone?  Pasta?  This dried basil of ours rivals any store-bought kind and…as these savvy students were quick to point out–costs a lot less!

So while our lesson today was the identification of frost tolerant vegetation, we learned about drying herbs, too. 

Next week?  Crop rotation.  We’ll pull out the old and prepare for the new — with a very specific order in mind.  You see, an integral part of organic gardening is crop rotation.  And similar to knowing which plants make friendly companions in the garden while growing, crop rotation involves knowing which plants like to be where which plants used to be.  Confused?

You won’t be next week!  Until then, gardeners… 

It’s just another day in the life of the garden.