Time to Harvest the Carrots!

Talk about exciting days in the garden, the kids have been waiting a LONG time for this day.  It’s time to harvest the carrots! Not only are there plenty of carrots to go around–one for you, one for you, one for you–but these kids remember the carrot cake we made from our last batch and their tongues are wagging.  Mm…  Fluffy and oh-so-yummy!

Yep.  These guys and gals would like nothing more than to feast on some more carrot cake and cream cheese frosting, but this time how about we try something different?  WHAT?  No carrot cake? 

Ah, c’mon. Now that would be just plain crazy talk.  How about a little bit of both?  Carrot juice to go with that cake, anyone?

Start grabbing carrots!  But hey–what happened to the rest of mine?

And why is my carrot so funky looking?

Hm.  Interesting.  As experienced gardeners, we know that carrots like soft beds of dirt.  All plants prefer soft dirt!  It allows their roots to grow nice and deep.  Since carrots are actually the “roots,” they try to grow nice and deep, which gives them the pretty cone-shaped appearance we’ve come to know and love. 

If the dirt is too packed?  It’s hard.  And hard dirt is “hard” for a carrot to push through as they grow.  Ah-ha!  No wonder they couldn’t grow deep.  True.  Could have been a rock or something.  But our carrots are strong-willed (like many of us children) and are determined to continue growing.  If they can’t go down?  They’ll go sideways.  Yep.  Or they’ll pour all their energy into growing wider.

But with spring break bouncing in our way this month, the kids will have a lesson in “delayed gratification.”  No fun, I know.  But definitely a fact of life.  So how will we store them until our return?

I’m glad you asked.  One of the easiest ways to store carrots (without losing half your refrigerator space) is to layer them in damp sand–sawdust will work, too!  Find a bin, box or even plastic bucket and gather (aka: purchase) your sand. 

Choosing only your best carrots, clip the greens about an inch away from the carrot end and layer them  within the damp sand/sawdust. 

Couple of things to keep in mind:  if you plan to store these long-term, choose a dark space where it remains somewhat cool.   For many of my Arctic Amigos, this will be a root cellar.  But warm region folks like us will need to find a dark corner in our garage or garden shed.  One of the keys to this storage system is to keep the “filler” sand damp throughout the length of your storage.  Now we’ll only need to store ours for a couple of weeks, but it sure was fun to learn how to keep them longer if we needed! 🙂  Knowledge = fun

Also, standing your carrots upright and sifting the sand/sawdust over and around them will help when it comes time to use them.  Simply pluck and pull! 

Wunderbar.  Now start dreaming of that carrot cake!  It’s not so very far away…

Progress Report for Spring!

The kids are almost fully planted now with an array of cucumbers, tomatoes, squash, black beans, potatoes, radish and soon to be herb garden.  Still remaining in the previous garden are sweet onions and carrots. Brussels sprouts too, although we haven’t seen the first sign of a “sprout.”  Oh well, yet another garden mystery for us to solve by mixing up a concoction of N-P-K! 

As you see, our garden is covered in hay.  This serves two purposes: 

Number one, it makes for pretty lined walkways and number two?  It makes great mulch. We do love a multi-tasker!

To the left, we are rebuilding our bean fort, but this time, no heavy roof material.  As the polebeans climb, we’ll stretch twine overhead for them to wind around. 

The middle schoolers worked hard on this project and lower elementary followed their lead by planting beans all around the base.

They worked in two shifts and the more the merrier! Remember, we’re using the harvest as sales product for our first garden fundraiser come May.  Yipee!

As we planted our sunflowers this week, we paused to contemplate how truly wonderful these plants are.  They attract aphids away from the more tender plants in our garden and the aphids attract ants.  Big and sturdy, these flowers can handle the traffic the other plants cannot!  But better yet, sunflowers are also said to improve the growth of corn.  Now that’s what I call helpful companions in the garden  🙂

And for those of you worried about the recent cold snaps in our area, everything survived with nary a bruise.  What didn’t survive so well?  Our radish—but that had nothing to do with the temperature.  We can chalk that up to overeager weeders and hay throwers! 

Well…these bodies DO get busy when they’re in the garden.  A good thing!  And since we’re self-sustaining, we can always plant more seeds (not to mention brush up on our plant identification skills).  Se pasa!

Kids and Cabbage

Both cute as buttons, we brought them together in the kitchen to eat what they grew! How fun is that? When kindergarteners are involved, believe me—it’s WAY fun.  First we had to harvest the cabbage from our garden and these two girls really have it down to a team sport.  When the cabbage is large and round, simply twist and pull.  Twist and pull and snap to one side if necessary.

Ta da!  Cabbage for coleslaw!  And what a beauty! 


So on the menu this week?  Coleslaw:  a mix of cabbage, cucumbers, sweet onions—all of which we are growing in our garden. Goodbye, grocery store! These kids are growing their own meals now. 🙂

And making coleslaw is EASY. Simply chop up a head of cabbage, 1 sweet onion and 1 cucumber then toss them together with a little bit of red wine vinegar, mayonnaise and salt and pepper to taste.  And “to taste” is key, because as you know, taste buds run as different as kids on a playground—every which direction, to be exact.

So “add a little, taste a little, add a little, taste a little….” It’s how old southern women make their coleslaw (and this recipe came from my mother—an old southern woman). But the results? Just ask the kids—oh wait, their mouths are full!

For those who didn’t “prefer” the coleslaw, no worries! We’ll compost it and make dirt. Now that’s what I call self-sustaining! And totally organic.  The plants love us for it.

So how about it? Follow our lead and plant cabbage, cucumbers and sweet onions in YOUR garden and you too, will have all the ingredients for the best coleslaw EVER.

Cucumbers and Beans are IN

This week the kids planted their cucumbers and black beans—black beans harvested from their fall crop!  Can you say self-sustaining?  These gardeners are definitely on their way to food independence. 🙂

We chose the fence line for our cucumbers for two reasons:  they like to climb and they adore sunflowers.  (Refer to our layout plan for details:  School garden layout) Perfect!

Our beans are neighbors with potatoes and corn—both very good friends.  And next season?  Corn will follow beans, because beans fix nitrogen in the soil and corn loves nitrogen!

Next week we will be working on constructing our new bean fort, as well as planting our sunflowers and tomato seeds.  And remember:  tomato seeds love a mix of Epsom salts and eggshells!

It’s All About the Potatoes

This week it’s been all about the potatoes, from my home garden to the school garden—we’ve planted potatoes.  And rather than bore you with the details yet again, I’ll share this one picture with you. 

These are the youngest children we have involved in the garden and if you ever questioned how much fun kids in the garden can be, well, you won’t question it anymore.  These boys and girls are each planting a cut potato seed for our future French fry bake lesson we have planned for April and they couldn’t be happier (or more pleased with themselves).

They each dug their hole, they each placed their potato inside and they each covered it with a mix of existing dirt and cow poop (potatoes LOVE cow poop, don’t you know?).  And while it felt zoo-ish and zany at times—tends to happen when you have 30 children below the age of 9 together at one time—it was downright fun.  A LOT of fun. If you have kids and you’re not gardening together?  You are definitely missing out. 

And if you have a child that refuses to eat their vegetables, I’ll let you in on a little secret:  when they grow the vegetable by their own little hand, they will eat it (and enjoy it!).  Trust me, these kids love to haul their bounty straight into the kitchen and cook those puppies right up!  (Puppy as slang, kids, not cute & furry.) 

It is WAY yum.  And if your school doesn’t have a garden than sign them up for one.  Raise your hand, gather a few friends, spring is on the horizon.  How will you pay for it all?  Easy.  After a small initial investment in seeds, you can harvest your first bounty, save your seeds, create custom seed packets made and decorated by the kids (see my Kid Buzz section for easy instructions) and you’ve got yourself a school fundraiser!

Who wouldn’t pay $4.95 for a packet of seeds grown by their school’s students?  Shoot, if I”m willing to pay $3.50 for a box of Girl Scout cookies that disappear within minutes, I should be willing to pay $4.95 for dozens of seeds that will produce hundreds more!  Our sunflowers did.  Our beans did.  Our tomatoes did. And all were easy and fun to grow.

Think about it.  Spring is just around the corner!

Baking the Sweets of our Harvest

One of the best parts of gardening is reaping what you sow.  Or should I say, cooking what you reaped is one of the best parts of gardening.  This week the kids headed to the kitchen to prepare a feast of sweets using their recently harvested sweet potatoes.  On the menu was sweet potato fries and sweet potato pie.  Mmmm good!

First, we had to wash our potatoes.  When making sweet potato fries, we leave the skin on and since these babies came from our garden and not the supermarket, guess whose job it was to scrub them clean? 

Yep, you guessed it–upper elementary received the honors!  We used the scrub side of a brand new sponge to do the job, but you can also use a nail brush (any small brush will do) to gently clean the dirt from the skin.  CAUTION: gently is the key word here.  You do not want to remove the skins, only rid them of dirt. Some of the boys needed a bit of practice with this lesson. 🙂

While these kids cleaned our future fries, another group boiled our pie potatoes.  Boiling your sweet potatoes first will make skin removal EASY. 

When potatoes are soft enough to pierce through with a fork, remove from heat and allow to cool.  (Peeling while hot hurts!) But don’t wait until entirely cooled because then the skins tend to stick. 

While these kids squished out fresh boiled sweets for our pies, another group spiced up our fries with a rosemary garlic spice combo I picked up at the local supermarket.  Personally I find this spice to blend perfectly with the flavor of sweets and many of the kids agreed. 

“Wow, that smells good!”

Simple and direct works for me!  After the spice, we coated our fries with olive oil and lined them on a shallow baking pan.

Meanwhile, our pie sweets were getting their own set of spices–cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, vanilla–and blended until smooth.  Then both hit the oven to bake for about 35 – 45 minutes. 

For full recipe details, check the recipe section of this website.   And be sure you do, because from primary to middle school there wasn’t a frown or scrunched nose to be found.  Bravo to our amazing cooks!

But how could anyone not delight in these delicacies?  Don’t they just look delicious?

Trust me–they were.  In fact, I went straight home and made a few pies of my own.  Well…  Thanksgiving is the time of year to feast and give thanks, isn’t it?  And I’m thankful for a school full of willing participants who make gardening fun, a garden full of wonderful healthy produce and family and friends with whom I can share it all. 

Happy Thanksgiving!  (gobble, gobble…) 


Swimmin for Sweets

Now I don’t know about you, but when it comes to the garden you cannot have more fun than swimmin’ for taters! 

That goes for dirt, too, because potatoes grow underground and harvesting them requires digging–and lots of it!

But what kid doesn’t like to dig?  None that I know of and this harvesting potatoes business is a lot like digging for buried treasure. 

I mean the squeals that erupt when a child hits “gold” are incredible.  Although the battles can be equally spectacular.  When you have several little bodies scoping out the same general vicinity it’s bound to happen…

“It’s mine!”

“No, I found it first!”

“Get your hands off MY potato!”

“Kids, kids–these sweet potatoes are for ALL of us and you know what we’re going to do with them?”

One bright child shouted out, “Eat them!”

“That’s right!  We’re going to make sweet potato french fries and sweet potato pie!”

Hoots of joy explode across the garden.  “I love sweet potato pie!”

 Of course you do.  We all do!  And harvest resumes in earnest, the silly little tug-of-war long forgotten.  Though to be honest, it did get a little dicey there for a while and I have the broken potatoes to prove it!  But the kids had fun harvesting what they grew, tossing vines and root sprigs to the compost pile, looking forward to chowing down the produce.  Suffice it to say, you will want to send home a note prior to harvest:  swimming through dirt, dress accordingly.

And that’s what counts:  completing the cycle of growing your own vegetables.  We plant the seeds, we help them grow, we harvest them, eat them and compost what we don’t use for next season’s crop.  Beautiful, isn’t it?


Garden Class is in Session

This week we did something a little different–we invited the upper elementary students to garden with the kindergarteners.  And what a wonderful idea this turned out to be because you see, there’s nothing better than student instruction to get the job done.  Well, that and a little sing-song from the garden coordinators!

First off we toured the garden–talk about excitement–have you ever seen a real live sunflower?  These things are amazing!  Huge, glorious and best of all, easy to grow.  At least in our magic school garden where everything grows easier than my home garden.  (But don’t get me started.)  Take a look for yourself as our sun beauties begin the process of awakening…

Then unfurl their long and luscious petals…

Followed by a burst of glorious sunshine–flower style!  I never realized I was such a fan of sunflowers until we grew them ourselves (kinda like kids and vegetables).

Can’t wait to harvest some sunflower seeds!  After admiring our flowers, we moved on to inspect the bean fort.  Look ma–our walls have beans!  Not to mention we get to walk around inside of it. 🙂

Next we took care of maintenance and weeded our carrots.  Pinch and pull, no tools allowed here!  Our babies are WAY too delicate for anything pokey and sharp.

And pull caterpillars from our black beans.  This fella was delighted with the prospect until he decided one bit him.  Though it could have been the thrill of the hunt that got him.  Not entirely sure.

Then it was time to plant our sweet onions.  Upper elementary demonstrated this feat while the younger ones looked on.  And as they worked, we discussed what comes next–

Caring for our garden.  Water, sun and food.  What do plants eat?  Why gross, stinky stuff of course!  Ask the kids.  They each received a voluntary whiff of fish emulsion.  Eweeeeee…..  Yuck is right!  But plants also like worm poop and blood meal and while you’re at it, why not serve up a little compost tea?  Makes for a well-rounded organic plant diet!

For this week’s lesson, check the Kid Buzz section:  Caring for your garden where it’s all about N-P-K!

How to Plant a Butterfly Garden

Last week the kindergarteners planted their very own butterfly garden.  Talk about excitement, these kids had a ball!  Better yet, they’ll get to visit their handiwork every day in their very own outdoor garden space behind their classroom.  It’s one of my favorite aspects of Montessori training.  Not only do kids learn the basics of reading and math, they learn about cleaning and caring for their space and this includes their outdoor environment.

Caterpillars can eat through leaves at alarming rates which totally interferes with the life cycle of the veggie plant!  Think:  no growth.  And no growth = no veggies!  Very bad.  But not to worry, our butterflies will be very happy in their new courtyard.  Which plants will attract butterflies?

Glad you asked.  Bright colors will attract the butterfly as well as sweet delicious nectar.  And make it easy for them to find you by grouping your flowers by color (easier to spot from afar).   Best colors?  The brightest, of course!  So be sure to include bright red, yellow and orange, pinks and purples, too.

Nectar plants are a must have in your butterfly garden but you can also include non-nectar plants like milkweed and daisies.  Butterflies enjoy them and it gives them a place to lay their eggs.  Another hint for success? 

Keep your flowers close together if possible.  It helps focus the attention of both children and butterflies. 🙂  In our garden we chose the butterfly bush (for obvious reasons), orange and pink pentas, pink and purple petunias, orange-yellow crossandra, sunset gold lantanas and various shades of ixora. 

Other good choices would be zinnas, marigold, coneflower, lilac, impatients and asters.  Really hard to go wrong, just check what grows best in your area.

And get those kids involved.  As you can see, kids are amazing when it comes to the garden and are quite capable when it comes to the business of transplanting so by all means, let them have at it! 

With one simple instruction on how to dig a hole slightly larger than your flower container, gently pull the plant from free, supporting the stem with one hand and the root ball with the other, then placing it into the awaiting hole and lightly packing the dirt back in around it, these kids were ready for the garden show.

In no time we had this garden section filled with bright and lively color and do you know what?  I bet we’ll have butterflies by the end of the school day.  Now listen, don’t let this shady photo fool you.  In Florida, afternoon thunderstorms are one of those things in life you can count on and this project accomplished as the last task of the day, but bear in mind most butterfly garden flowers prefer full sun.  At least enough to stretch out and warm their leaves and attract our fluttering friends!  But shade is good too–especially in our type of heat. 

And speaking of heat, include some stones near your garden to capture and retain the sun’s heat–butterflies like soaking in the rays.  They also like splashing in puddles so make sure you have a small “pond” nearby for them to drink up.  After all, you don’t want them leaving this beautiful enclave for a water trip, do you?

No way!  We don’t want them flitting anywhere but here.  (Can’t wait to hear the stories of butterfly observation.)  Now what are YOU waiting for?  Get busy and send out the invites!  You’ll have butterflies fluttering around your yard in no time.


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.