lessons

Back to School and Into the Garden!

School is back in session and it’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their very own school garden.

From aphids to zinnias, beets to watermelon, children can gain a wealth of valuable knowledge from participating in a garden, but they need guidance.  And who better to guide them than you?

ladybug in action!

“Me? But I don’t have time for a garden.”

Of course you do—you simply don’t realize it yet!  Gardens don’t have to be time-consuming.  Nor do they have to be stressful.  I mean, where in the garden manual does it say you must sacrifice every ounce of your free time and sanity for the sake of growing vegetables? More

Where Have the Students Been?

You mean between field trips to the butterfly gardens and fossil museum?  Christmas break and Martin Luther King Day?  Well, they’ve been in the garden, that’s where, expanding and tilling and generally having a grand old time!

You see, we have learned a valuable lesson.  Plants need sunlight to grow and they need a good dose of it–especially during the winter months.  During spring and summer, our Florida kids enjoy an early afternoon break in the shade, but right now?  Not so much. More

Vigilance Required

This week, garden duty was all about vigilance.  What’s eating our tomatoes?  What smashed our pumpkin?  What burrowed beneath our squash?

All good questions, and thankfully, we have Upper Elementary on the lookout.  Many of our tomatoes are beginning to turn red and we want nothing to jeopardize their progress.  Ruh-roh.  Too late.  Moms–close your eyes.  The ick factor will scare you… More

Lookee What We Found in the Compost!

You know it’s a good day in the compost pile when this little fella is making his home in your homemade dirt.  Can you see him?  He’s the curvy-looking stick. :)

It means nice, damp conditions.  It means nutrients.  It means this compost will be AWESOME for garden use–all of which we learned this week in our lessons (listed below).  But better yet, a compost pile is just plain fun. More

Going Back to School

Kids head back to school next week which means I as garden coordinator head back with them.  While we didn’t spend a lot of time in the garden over the summer (peanuts are fairly low-maintenance), we have BIG plans for the year ahead, beginning with our pumpkin patch.  As you may recall, last year our pumpkins hit a rough patch of fungus and did not produce the orange beauties we were expecting.  Why not?

Well, we could chalk it up to ambitious gardeners, seed crowding, Florida humidity, the normal stuff–but this year we’re doing things a bit differently.  We have moved locations, giving the pumpkins ample space to stretch out and spread their vines.  We also plan to put mulch beneath them to ward off grass growth.  Kinda hard to cut the lawn around the pumpkins and vines which caused some of the problems.  But no worries.  We will master the art of pumpkin growth this year!  We’ll also harvest our peanuts and generally prepare the garden for our fall crop. 

As to our lessons, we will coordinate garden and classroom for a seamless and common sense approach to education.  Translated:  what they’re learning in class will correspond to what they’re learning in the garden.  Easy enough when it comes to botany and chemistry.  It’s life science in middle school that will prove a bit more, “challenging” shall we say?  Oh yes, we’ll be talking reproduction in the garden, 101. :)

If anyone has any suggestions for curriculum or craft ideas, I’m all ears!  On the current agenda we have:   art in the garden to express their creative side, journaling to practice their power of observation and writing skills, science projects with our attempt at building a solar oven, measuring and graphing for a slice of math among the beds, the power of self-sustainability beginning from seed to harvest, then learning to save their seeds for next season, and of course cooking.  We eat what we grow which makes everything taste better.  For added fun, we’re incorporating Spanish into our garden, with bilingual plant signs to vocabulary lists.  Sounds fun, doesn’t it?  Oh–and don’t forget the field trip to the worm fun.  Talk about a good time, worms are it.

So follow along with us as we share our garden lessons and crafts and by all means–share some of yours.  We’ll consider it a coop garden of sorts, albeit virtual in nature.

Last Day of School

Today is our last day of school and while there’s not a frown in sight, they are sad to say goodbye to their garden.  And who wouldn’t be? Gardening is BIG fun–especially during school hours!

“You mean we get to go outside again?”

“Yes pumpkin, you do.”

Speaking of pumpkins, our summer “crop” of students will do the honors this year and plant our pumpkin patch. Waiting until August is simply too late. Too late if you want pumpkins to carve for Halloween, that is. Or how about a pumpkin stand? Our seed sale fundraiser last week was a rip-roaring success. We raised an amazing $285.00 for our garden!  Isn’t that awesome? Now each student will have a tool to work with in the garden (no more sharing between friends) and we’ll ALL have gloves that fit.  For bonus points, we’ll throw in some magnifying glasses to use for leaf study, bug discovery, infection inspection–it’ll be super!

But before we go, how about one last check on our tomatoes (we’ll pull these out over summer and replace them with peanuts). 

Our first batch of which have already begun to sprout.

 

All over the place!

 

Gorgeous.  Simply gorgeous.  Come fall, we may host another seed sale, or send some home to parents as thank yous!  My summer plan is to create a full-fledged garden curriculum for the students, one that will coincide with the botany and science lessons they’re learning in class. With a seamless approach to their education, hopefully the students will be the big winners.

So if you’d like to incorporate gardening into your child’s education, sign up for new blog post notifications and you won’t miss a minute of the fun.  All lessons will be free for he taking!

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Hydroponics and Worms

Ventured out to the WindHorse Wellness Center this past weekend for a review on worm composting.  My little guys weren’t doing as well as expected (imagine that)  and I wanted to know why?   Why would any worm want to escape from the fabulous Wormery Lodge crafted especially for them? 

They can’t deny it.  I know some of them made a break for it by the dried carcass I spotted on the garage floor.  I would have attributed it to another case of stray-crazy-worm-syndrome, save for the few that continued to loiter near the lid of my container. 

Hmph.  The nerve.  To think I showered them with daily visits of spritz and scraps.  But seeing no sense in dwelling in the misery–and having no interest in repeating the misfortune–I decided to consult with the experts.  You can imagine my delight when the serendipity of coincidence landed this wonderful email in my inbox:  Lesson in worm composting this weekend at WindHorse!

Well, glory be!  Could the heavens be nudging me in that direction?  (Of course.  How else do you think that message ended up in my mailbox?)  So away I went where I met the sensational Angela Ringler — one of the eco-fabulous Green Girls from www.KarmaFarmOnline.com (the place to buy eco-friendly products) and learned everything I needed to know about worm composting.  Does this woman know about worms!

She gave an excellent demonstration using a specially made worm composter.  Granted, this one was a far cry from my do-it-yourself doozy, but “style” wasn’t my problem.  Getting up close and personal with her worms, I realized it was far more serious.

I’d been dooped.  Unintentionally, I’m sure, but my local angler was incorrect when he cited the worms he carried were red wigglers.  (I think.)  Sure, they wiggled a lot, but they weren’t as red as Angela’s.  Hers were red-red–worm red, brick red.  Plain red

Mine?  While mine were gorgeous, they lacked the rosy rouge of her girls and stood bland by comparison.  So, I set them free into my compost pile near the garden, with the very high hopes they may find their way into my veggie patch.  Remember the old saying?  “If you love something, set it free.  If it doesn’t come back, it was never meant to be yours.  But if it does, love it forever.”  To my worms I say this isn’t goodbye…it’s simply until we meet again.

Enough drama.  The point remains, her composter was awesome, easy and stink-free.  So lovely, she keeps it in her house!  Love that convenience.  Would get one for myself, but besides the fact my family eats too much for the composter she utilized, I have no place to put it.  Thank goodness she showed us how to make the perfect at-home bin!  Would you believe it looks a lot like mine

Two simple improvements to my bin and we’re in business!  Number one:  add a piece of screen mesh to the lid.  This covers the holes, provides excellent escape prevention, yet maintains plenty of air circulation.  Number two:  add a spigot to one end, bottom center.  As worms eat, they not only poop, but pee.  (Gee, did we forget that little fact?  Where are those birds and bees when we need them!)   This liquid is like a magic tea.  You spritz it on your plants for not only great nutrient supply, but disease and bug control to boot!   Who knew! 

While at WindHorse, I had the pleasure of viewing their hydroponic towers; the perfect solution for small spaces with minimal mess.  Don’t they just look easy?  Plants are said to grow up to 50% faster, because they don’t expend unnecessary energy growing roots through soil in search of nutrients.  It’s readily available in the liquid solution.   And if this wasn’t enough good news, this system uses about 10% of the water consumed by traditional crops.  Wow.   These berries are a beautiful testament, wouldn’t you agree? 

And you’re not limited to the smaller plants, either.  During a brief stroll through the hydroponic garden, I learned you can also grow tomatoes this way.  Just look at this beast! 

Simply flourishing–robust and green.  The iron fence next to this tower lends needed support (which I highly recommend).  My thanks to Al–resident hydroponic gardener–for his allowing my unexpected visit!  Would make an excellent field trip

In fact, March 19-20 they’re hosting their WindHorse Equinox, ”a festival of international food & fun!”   Sounds like great times, but better than food, there will be a fellow on site giving a class on how to make your own hydroponic system.  Is that great, or what? 

Can’t wait.  And can’t wait to get my red wigglers.  In fact, I’m going to Karma Farm online to buy my next batch.  This way I’ll be sure to get the real thing.  For hydroponic growing centers in your area, check with your local agriculture department for a listing.  Or surf the web!  Amazing the amount of information available at your fingertips these days.  Have fun!