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!

If kids were vegetables/fruits, mine would be a…

Carrot – These boys and girls are bunches of fun and pure gold, inside and out.  At times they may appear feather-minded or flippant, but not to worry, they usually hop to their senses in short order!  For them, life is joyful.  Who can argue with that?

Corn – All sunshine and candy this child is as sweet and happy as they come, complete with flaxen hair and slender frame, though not all are blonde.  Ever heard of Indian corn?  Browns, reds, these kids come in all colors and flavors!  Occasionally blown off-balance by life, these little ones can prove susceptible to sudden surprise.  But who isn’t?   

Watermelon – Is it summertime, yet?  That’s the question spittin’ from these kids, cause they’re all about outdoor play, picnics and swim parties.  Don’t look for these rosy-cheeks anywhere near a computer game when the sun is shining but by golly Miss Molly when they’re finished—they move on quick, leaving a “scatter” of evidence behind. 

Onion – While these little ones spend more time in tears than many of their peers, despair not—they sweeten as they mature, especially when kept close to home.  Once fully grown, these boys and girls realize how versatile they truly are and find themselves in high demand and welcome most everywhere.

Strawberry – Bright and cheerful, these spring babies are a real treat.  They love the sun, love to shine…they simply love life.  But caution:  prone to a sweet tooth these kids will wallow in crème and sugar if you let them, with a tendency to plump.  And while plump can be perfect, TOO plump is not!  Encourage these sweeties to keep it fresh and minimize the sugary add-ons.

Cabbage – These cherubs are as quiet as they are cute.  No trouble, no talkback, they’re good-natured and easy to mix.  Invited to parties year-round, they blend easily with any crowd and in the rare event they turn sour, don’t fret.  Simply run a hand over their soft heads, hush them to sleep and they’ll be lulled back to good sense in no time!

Chili Pepper – These kids will keep you hopping, skipping AND jumping!  Firecrackers for sure, these kiddos are sharp-minded and rambunctious—a definite hand-full that adds zing to your life.  Many a day you may question your sanity, but never your luck.  While spicy and hard to handle, you wouldn’t trade them for the world.  Not for a second.

Pole Beans – Fresh outdoorsy types, these kids love to climb and see the world.  Tall and slim, they’re forever exploring yet easy to manage.  Need something?  Ask these sweet babies.  They’re quick to produce and don’t disappoint.

Pumpkin – As the name entails, these kids are cuter than pumpkins, round and merry and oh-so-ready for fall.  Apple pie and haystacks are what lure these kids (not to mention a great goblin costume).  But watch your back!  These mischievous critters are practical jokesters, known to spook a time or two.

Weeds – Wouldn’t be fair to overlook these little fellas.  Can’t because they’re everywhere!  Underfoot, out the door, around the corner!  And they’re quick, too.  Staying on top of these kids will take constant supervision and planning ahead.  They need freedom to roam and room to move and if you’re smart—you’ll allot them a space all their own.  No can do?  Ruh, roh.  These resourceful kids will make it happen.

Enjoy them while they’re young!

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,

Had a wife but couldn’t keep her;

He put her in a pumpkin shell

And there he kept her very well.

Well I don’t know about Peter, but the kids have started their pumpkin patch and something tells me they’re going to “keep it” very well.  Woo-hoo! We’ve got ourselves a pumpkin patch!  (It’s that dark patch of dirt beyond the main garden.)

And let me tell you, these kids deserve a round of applause and a pat on the back because it took some serious weeding work to get this garden in shape.  Two months of summer break took its toll.  (Yes, I was in charge of upkeep but a gal gets busy over the summer–and it was hot.  Very hot.)  But not to worry–the weed warriors were here! 

They came–they saw–they weeded something fierce and now we can see dirt again.  Unfortunately most of them were wearing it back to class (though I don’t remember hearing any complaints).  Wait until they get home, right?  But parents, take heart.  This garden is gorgeous! 

Isn’t it wonderful?  And our new pumpkin patch.  First a quick lesson on the growth habit of a pumpkin and how deep we plant the seeds.  Got it?

Got it. Seeds in hand, the kids went to work planting and covering and most certainly dreaming of harvest.

Come fall, we’ll have both Jack-o-lantern and Early Sweet Sugar Pie (yum) pumpkin varieties–one to carve and one to eat.  Pumpkin pie, anyone?  We’ll also be saving the seeds, though one clever youngster kindly pointed out we could roast them.  True.  But don’t we want to save some for next year?

Remember:  we’re organic and self-sustaining which means we’re healthy and we produce our own seeds.  And fun.  We are all about producing our own kind of fun so this year we plan some totally awesome additions to the garden. 

Cooler than a pumpkin patch? 

Oh, WAY cooler.  How about a pole-bean fort, big enough to hideout in?  And speaking of hideouts, why not a sunflower hideaway?  Love it.

So stay-tuned and get your garden growing!  We’ve got big plans this year and for you kids interested in learning something new along the way, check the Kid Buzz section our website.  This week’s lesson for upper elementary was “Planting an Organic Garden” while lower elementary took it slow with “Know What You Grow color page.”  We don’t want to lose any first graders and the older kids always enjoy a review.

Test next week. 🙂  


Cover Crops and Crop Covers

Ah, but the adventure in gardening never ceases!  While I usually associate cover crops with winter, covering your crops is a necessity for us Floridians during summer.  If you want to remain sane, that is, and don’t take kindly to heat exhaustion. Good God–it’s hot around theses parts in August!  Even the poor dogs are complaining. No stretch for our yellow Lab Cody-boy.  Dog never met an air-conditioner he didn’t absolutely adore. Or covet–depending on where he was sleeping that night. 🙂  Don’t ask. Long story.

Any-who, it’s hot. Too hot to garden, too hot to weed, too hot for anything but the pool. Maybe the beach if the trek through the sand weren’t so treacherous, searing the tender skin clear off the bottoms of my feet.  Ouch–but I don’t remember that being a problem as a kid!  Eh, nostalgia 101. 

Now, moving right along, what’s a gardener to do in the scorch of summertime?  She covers her crops, that’s what she does.  If she knows whats good for her, anyway.  Not only will this action keep the weeds at bay, but it will kill those pesky grubs and nematodes too.  Yep, you guessed it.  It’s our very own rendition of the sun-baked oven.  By covering the rows with black (or red) paper we can eliminate the bugs beneath the ground.  (If you plan to research the gem of advice, the proper term is “solarizing the soil.”)  Now, professional grade paper works way better than home gardener grade, but if you can’t lay your hands on the tough stuff, you may want to double up on the home-style version for the same effect:  trap the heat, heat the soil, fry the varmints and prepare for planting.  Isn’t this fun?

I do love a multi-tasker.  Makes the world go round with the ease and flow.  The kids and I have covered just about our entire garden with plain old weed cloth prevention paper and while it doesn’t look pretty (anchor pins don’t work well against summertime thunderstorms so we used anything we could to help weigh the paper down!), it is efficient at preventing weeds–a must in our garden if we plan to avoid mutiny.

Do make sure you perform all of this wonderfully productive work during the early morning or early evening hours, else you fry your brain in the process.  But what if you don’t live in Florida? And don’t have grubs and nematodes?

No nematodes or grubs?  Why, that’s not fair!  It’s not right!  Who are you that you should waltz through the growing season without these dastardly beasts?  Not to worry. Once I’ve had my throw down I’ll haul myself up, brush the dirt from my knees, wipe my hands clean and suggest you may be interested in some cover crops. They’re totally organic, great soil conditioners and even work to keep the weeds at bay.

What’s a cover crop?  Well now, you’ve come to the right place!  Cover crops are all kinds of things, from legumes to rye, brassicas to flowers, but more important–they all have a purpose.  Say you’re an organic gardener (of course you are) and you want to enrich your soil with organic matter.  One way to achieve this is by planting a bean crop, also known as “green manure,” because beans put nitrogen into the soil.  And plants LOVE nitrogen.  This concept is not only great for amending the soil, but it’s also key to the concept of crop rotation.  For a winter cover crop, try a heavy seeding of rye in your garden like you see here planted at the Blue Horizon Farm.  Not only will it improve your soil, but it’s cold tolerant ANd thick enough to provide great weed prevention.  Gotta love that! 

But cover crops can do more than improve soil and prevent weeds.  Planting mustard has shown to suppress fungal disease populations through the release of naturally occurring toxic chemicals during the degradation of glucosinolade compounds in their plant cell tissues while other crops are planted to lure pests away from your garden.  Sort of a pest-trap-planting, if you will. 

Isn’t this great? So whether you’re covering crops or growing crop cover–there’s something to keep everyone active no matter the time of year. Hip-hip-hooray!

Color THIS!

Kids went back to school this week and will be back in the school garden next week. Yahoo!  Anyone else as excited as I am?

It’s a great day to be in the garden I tell you, and this year, we’re involving the kindergarteners a lot more than we did previous.  They’ve proved themselves.  They’re weed warriors, happy harvesters…  Why, they’re downright garden extraordinaires!  And what kindergartener doesn’t like to color?

None I know.  So I’ve whipped up a few coloring pages for the kids, complete with fill-in the blank veggie names.  Next I’ll put together some word finds and connect the dots pages and then come the quizzes.  (I’m sorry but these kids are SMART.)  There’s no reason we can’t throw a few quizzes into the mix for fun, is there?  I mean, quizzes are fun. 

Ask my elementary kids–they’ll tell you. F-U-N spells fun. Yessiree Bob I can see we’re going to have a GREAT year in the garden.  And what will we plant to begin?   Well, after the weeding and amending of soil, we’re going to plant pumpkins.  Three “hip-hip-hoorays” and a twirl and a jump–these kids are going to grow their own pumpkins!

 And then they’ll carving them, bake them, and save their seeds.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it

Sure does.  So how about you join us?  You’ll find everything you need right here.  Then stay tuned!  School garden resumes next week. 🙂  In the meantime, for those of you who want a head start on the coloring deal, check the Kid Buzz section of my blog.