kids

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!

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!

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. 

Enjoy!

 

Tomato Fun for Tots

With two kids (and school garden full of them!) I’m always looking for good ways to engage kids in the garden.  Being that it’s August and HOT in Central Florida, our options are limited.  However, I’ve learned to get a head start on my growing season by starting seeds indoors.  Actually, on the patio.  (Not like it’s snowing or anything where they need the cozy comfort of my home interior.)  Without some type of cover, these babies will surely fry.

So perusing my many garden magazines and websites, I stumbled upon this gem of an idea.  Start your tomato sprouts in eggshells!  Why eggshells?  Have you not been reading my posts?  Eggshells are the secret to eliminating blossom-end rot!  Yep.  Along with a sprinkle of epsom salts, that is.  Together, these two ingredients make all the difference in the blooming beauty of your tomatoes.  Besides, it’s fun!  Who doesn’t love cracking eggshells and planting seeds in them?  Jiminy Cricket we’re talking craft heaven here!

To begin, is obvious:  secure a carton of eggs, preferably the cardboard kind.  Plastic and plants do not get along.  Ick.  Next, find someone to eat these 12 eggs so you can have the empty shells!  Note on egg cracking:  go easy and try to be break the egg along a center line around the egg.  You can do this by gently tapping the egg against the edge of a pan or dish, while rotating it around as you do so.  Once free of slippery goo–clean them before you do anything else.  No sense in getting salmonella.  You can’t garden from a hospital bed, so play it safe. Clean, rinse, dry.

Perfect.  Now you’re ready to fill your shells with dirt; rich organic dirt but be sure it’s light enough to drain well.  Soggy seeds do not germinate. And speaking of draining, poke a small hole in the bottom of your shell.  You can manage this with a safety-pin or paper clip.  Again, key word when dealing with eggshells is gentle.  Be gentle. 🙂

Now that you have your dirt in place, drop one or two seeds on top and lightly cover with dirt.  We always like to plant two seeds per plot because quite simply, all seeds don’t sprout.  And we wouldn’t want to waste these lovely eggshells, now would we?

After your seeds begin to sprout, you can transfer them to larger containers or directly into your garden, depending on where you garden.  Here in Central Florida, my sproutlings won’t see the garden until September.  Of course last year we were caught off guard by an early freeze but this year it won’t matter–my babies will be ready by end of November!  Starting now gives them a good four months to produce tomatoes before Jack Frost can get his hands on them.

And the Raw Results Are In!

Our raw challenge has come to an end and the results?  Well, to be honest, they’re mixed. Except for this chocolate mousse.  No question, this pudding was delicious!

In the beginning, going raw was exciting.  New and fresh, the kids and I had a great time perusing the aisles of our Whole Foods store, searching for the “never heard of” ingredients for the gourmet impersonations we were concocting, from our chocolate mousse and lemony cheesecake to our Italian pastas and Asian broccoli dishes.  Eating tons of fruit, we created some wonderful smoothies, too–one of the easiest way for my kids to go raw.

But by mid-week however, the excitement was wearing thin.  The kids were whining for cheeseburgers and my husband…  Well, let’s just say it’s never a good sign when you pick up the scent of meat on your husband’s collar during raw week.  (Oh, the horror!)  Makes me suspect he might have been having a cheeseburger “fling.”  Given the opportunity, the kids most definitely would have “flung” a few burgers into their mouths as well.  Unfortunately for them, they’re under my watch 24/7 whereas my husband is not and alas, I must confess, I think my husband cheated.  Only a little bit.  Only out of necessity, driving all day long, no fast food restaurants willing to ply him with raw delicacies and fresh bliss.  What about salads?

Seems they pose more hazard than sustenance, what with the risk of dressing on the chin, driplets staining his tie, smudged across the steering wheel…  Better he chance the sneak of an easy-to-eat burger than face his business customers with a slew of salad and sauce all over him!

Speaking of non-raw, I think my most coveted (craved) food this past week was bread .  Bread for my pasta, bread for our peppers, sandwiches, pancakes–bread is a major staple in our diet, albeit not a good one.  From gluten to migraines, extra carbs to extra pounds, bread doesn’t promote a healthy lifestyle.  But it tastes so good!  Cookies and cakes, crackers and crusts–I think I’ve found my problem!  I LOVE breadstuff.

What else have I learned?

When making ceviche, be sure to cut your fish into 1/2 inch pieces else your dinner may not be ready come dinner time.  And be adventurous!  Octopus makes for really interesting presentation.

My son can juice a mean dozen lemons in no time flat, all the while craving a plate full of eggs and bacon, Reuben to follow with a healthy cheeseburger for dinner. Kids.  But he loves yogurt and berries.  Eats them most every day.  He simply doesn’t want them for every meal.

Hmph.  Salads and soups will only take your husband so far as well.  At some point, apparently he needs something more “meaty” to fill his belly. Go figure.  And he’s the one who needs to eat healthy!  Me?  I’m fit as a feline and every so finicky–I mean, feisty.  Feisty is what I am.  After all, I am the gardenfrisk! 🙂

On an important note:  When using a blender, do NOT stick your spoon inside while it’s blending to “help things along.”  Yes, you’re sure you have it under control, you know the length of your spoon, you can gauge the distance quite well, thank you but don’t do it.  And don’t–especially don’t–decide to school your daughter in the finer points of blending safety, advising her against doing what you’re doing, because of what “could” happen.  Guess what.  It does.

All over the kitchen. Last thing I wanted to do at that moment was clean a gooey mess.  Not when I was so looking forward to this Lemony Cheesecake my daughter was preparing, nor when I wanted to retire to the sofa.  Nope.  But life throws curve balls at you that way (or sprays them across your countertops, your clothing, your floor).  Then of course, there’s the husband, standing there, staring at you with that barely suppressed grin of his that says, “that’s what you get for making me eat this stuff.” 

To his credit he laughed, made light of it with the kids–all at my expense, of course.  Lucky for him I’m a good-natured sort of gal or he’d have a heap of trouble on his hands!  The nerve of him.  And to think he implied he was counting the days until our raw challenge was over.  Like father like son…

Some of our successes?  (You mean, besides the 5 pounds I lost?) Our red sauce was excellent as was the Alfredo. 

The zucchini pasta needed to be spiraled for the illusion to be complete, though this passes for Pappardelle quite well, if you ask me.  Gazpacho made for a delightful summer soup.  Combined with a salad, it was definitely enough to satisfy my appetite. 

And this Asian style broccoli was another unexpected winner.  My daughter is a broccoli fan and chose to make this dish one night for dinner and the sauce was really good.  Had a nice spice to it.  We skipped the parsnip “rice” and enjoyed it as a side.

All in all would we do it again?  For a whole week?

Maybe not every dish, every day, but we did learn how easy it is to incorporate raw dishes into our normal diet for a healthy living lifestyle.  And healthy we do want to be!

Blueberries are Going Fast!

Here in Florida we have a very narrow window for blueberry picking.  April and May are basically it when it comes to harvest so grab your buckets and get out there!  Before they’re gone for good.  At least until next year…

And make sure you drag the kids along (or will they be dragging you?, because they can do some damage in a blueberry field.  The good kind, as in picking more blueberries than you can possible eat!  Good thing they freeze well and make great smoothie additions…  We went to a local field in our area called Blue Bayou Farms and picked over 5 lbs. worth of berries, then headed next door to the Yalaha Bakery (a German deli and bakery) for some good food, good music, and some unexpected entertainment!  If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by for a visit.  You won’t be disappointed.

Kids do love to dance, don’t they?  (Or is he running?  Finnicky little dance partner…)  Both were a hoot to watch.  As for my blueberries didn’t fare as well this year.  I started out with some gorgeous blooms, but to my disappointment, they didn’t bloom to fruition.

Not sure exactly why, but I suspect it had something to do with water, as in, not enough.  It’s been hot and dry in Central Florida and I’ve been busy–which means my watering schedule suffered.  Basically, I forgot to water them.  🙁   A few did produce which my lovely daughter promptly used to make some blueberry pancakes for me on Mother’s Day (sweet child).  But I have no bounty to speak of.  Sad.  Very sad.  Thank goodness for pick your own blueberry farms. 

For a farm near you, Pick Your Own is a super resource and can be found on my list of Favorite links under U-Pick farms.  You’ll also find instructions there on how to make blueberry jam, jelly and preserves!  They’re simple to make, much like the strawberry preserves the kids and I made for a teacher’s gift (details in our Kid Buzz section) and oh so tasty.

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.

The Gals are Making Progress

And couldn’t be more excited.  Can you blame them?  Not with one look at Ashley’s spectacular home garden!

It is lovely, isn’t it?  Lean in closer, and you’ll notice this little gem. 

Squash for everyone!  Not only is Ashley is the generous sort, but it seems to be a natural fit–when you have bounty, you feel like a party.  Forget that the menu will be filled with your favorites–you won’t have to cook!  Instead, eat them fresh from the vine.  Easy and healthier.

Julie is sprouting right along.  Why just look at these carrots. Yes, that’s a dropped squash seed in their midst. It happens. 

Her herb garden is making nice progress.  If you kneel beside the kiddy pool and dip your head near into the dirt, you can see the tiny beginnings on her basil.

And her tomatoes?  Growing strong and full–though don’t forget to pinch!  Those small growths between the main stems are known as suckers, and if you “pinch” them off before they get too big (like this one), your tomato plant will have more energy to direct to the major branches, wasting less on extraneous ones.

Don’t have your own home garden?  How about starting one in celebration of Earth Day.  Can’t think of a better way to pay homage.

Fluffiest Carrot Cake Ever!

My kids enjoy fresh carrots from the garden, but carrot cake? 

They like this one!  Sweet and delicious, it’s the perfect finish to any spring meal.  Unlike most dark and dense carrot cakes, this recipe whips up a light and fluffy yet oh-so-flavorful-batter earning the approval of even the fussiest of kids. 

With a basket of fresh carrots in hand a sweet tooth aching for satisfaction, we scoured through recipes in search of the perfect carrot cake.  Most are too heavy and rich for our liking, so we devised this version that showcases our garden produce AND pleases our discriminating palates.  It’s also a dessert where we can all pitch in to help; a good thing. 

First, my daughter harvested a basket of fresh carrots.  My son then peeled and grated them. 

While he was busy at work, I asked my daughter if she would make some carrots as decorations for our cake, to which she replied a resounding yes!  Then quickly got down to the business of decorating–with fondant, of course.  She’s a budding cake artist and decided our carrot cake needed some bunnies, too. 

Have at it, girl–let’s make it a party!

Pouring her creative juices into the assignment, she rolled and formed, squished and scrapped  until everything was precisely the way she wanted (I had no idea artists were such perfectionists). 

After due diligence, she settled carrots and greens and her sweet little fella (I use the term “little” lightly, mind you) square in the center of the cake, among an egg-littered meadow. 

Cute, isn’t he? 

Upon seeing the creation, my husband remarked, “What’s he doing?”

“What do you think he’s doing? He’s sitting.”

He raised a brow.  “I’ve never seen a bunny situated quite like that before.  Looks like he’s about to take the car for a drive.”

I shook my head.  Hmph.  (You can see who isn’t the creative one in the family.)  “Well I think he’s adorable.”  And proceeded to take pictures to share.

Afterward, we used the carrot tops for a bit of floral decoration.  We’re thrifty.  Why not use every part of our produce? And when they pass their peak, we’ll continue to utilize them–on the compost pile.

Baking is fun, getting creative is fun…tying them all together with a bounty of garden harvest makes them even more fun. 

And delicious.  Care for some carrot cake?  Check my recipe section and make some today.  You’ll be glad you did!

Sweet and Savory Baked Onions

“How sweet it is” doesn’t begin to describe these delicacies!  The kids devoured the onions they pulled from their school garden this week, followed by howls for seconds.  And I do mean howls.  It’s Friday and these kids were energized, to say the least!

But so long as they’re behaving we don’t mind a bit of energy, right?  Nah.  Besides, who can blame them?  Eating what you grow is way too exciting.

We began our harvest party with a sampling of raw onion slices served with a choice of either ranch or honey mustard dressing–for dipping, of course.  Upon first bite, many of the kids were surprised how well the onions tasted!  Some thought them too “spicy” while others thought they tasted like water.  What?!  Water! How can you say such a thing?

They remained firm in their opinion.

Hmph.  Water?  Well… 

They were picked fresh from our garden, and as vegetables go, onions do consist mostly of water…  Could be an accurate description.  How about we go with “sugar water,” to be precise. 🙂

It was an easy sell.  Next it was time to sample our baked onions–which won the taste competition hands down.  Why? 

Perhaps it was the scent of sweet onions baking in the oven that tickled their bellies (sure worked a number on the teachers!).  Maybe it was the brown sugar and melted cheese that cinched the win (both well-known favorites of children).  But either way, the baked version definitely became the preferred dish of the afternoon, warranting seconds, thirds–as much as I would give them!

Which is heartwarming for a parent.  Connecting kids to what they grow in a tangible way really makes an impression between their garden and their food supply.  Taking time to slice the onions, grate the cheese, witness their entry into the oven followed by the ogling of golden beauty said it all.  Sure they were delicious, but so are a lot of things these kids consume. 

One thing for certain:  these students will remember these onions, no doubt about it!  If you’d like to sample some these gems for yourself, check my recipe section for full details on how you can make them at home.