We’ve Broken Ground for Our School Garden

Actually, we broke all the weeds out of our garden and it’s looking good.  Thank you, Middle Schoolers!  They are the brawn of the group. 

(Brains, too!) And boy can they do some damage to some weeds.  This color-coordinated gal is weeding garden beds.  One glance at the photo and you know we’re not talking any small amount of weeds.  But after an hour of fun in the sun…

It was just about weed-free.  Amazing, isn’t it?  Truly, they did outstanding work.  Even harvested our summer crop of peanuts!  Then Lower Elementary came onto the scene and tilled a row and prepped it for seeds.  Remember, plants like soft beds (just like kids!), so we had to be sure it was tilled to a fluffy-fine perfection. 

Next they formed holes, plopped the seeds in and covered well.  Water in and we’re good to go! 

Up next was Upper Elementary and these boys and girls may give Middle Schoolers a run for their energy bars, because as you can see, they cleared our pole bean fence in no time flat. Previously home to our sunflowers, the pole beans will enjoy the space and deposit some much needed nitrogen into the dirt.  Cucumbers will make the fence their home come spring and they need their nutrients. 

As organic gardeners, we rotate our crops so you’ll never find the same veggie in the same spot come next season.

For their lessons this week, the Middle Schoolers received the “Organic Gardening Essentials” handout while Elementary students received “Starting from Seed” — LE = lower elementary and UE = upper elementary.  All lessons can be found in our Kid Buzz section, under Lessons in Organic Gardening.  Feel free to copy and share!

And follow along, won’t you?  It’ll be fun! 🙂

Whipping Up Some Potatoes

Okay, maybe not whipped per se, but definitely a whirlwind of yum in the kitchen.  Last week we harvested potatoes, this week we eat them! Gosh, I love gardening, don’t you?

And these were easy to make.  A little olive oil, fresh chopped rosemary, salt and pepper and this time, we added a bit of Parmesan to the mix in lieu of sweet onions.  Delicious.  From kindergarten to middle school these potatoes were a hit.  Next!  Recipe can be found here.

In the garden this week, the kids pulled out the remaining potato plants, squash, and corn in preparation for crop rotation.

Now you’re probably wondering, corn?  I don’t recall seeing any corn.  Well, they weren’t much to see unfortunately.  I mean, they were exciting for the kids, but not much when it comes to cobs.

Perhaps we didn’t feed them enough.  Corn are pigs in the garden and maybe our eyes were smaller than their appetites.  They’re cute, but should be twice the size. We’ll work on it.

Moving right along, peanuts will fill our beds over the summer.  As part of our crop rotation, these guys are awesome because they fix the soil with nitrogen–especially important after the hogs wiped it clean of any and all nutrients.  Yes, I’m talking about corn and squash, even potatoes.  Peanuts love the heat, too and will take near about the entire summer break to grow and mature, about 3-4 months.  Remember: plants like soft beds of dirt–especially peanuts.  The plants drop pegs or “stems” into the ground and that’s where the peanuts form.  If the soil is too hard, the peanuts will have a hard time of it. So make it easy and loosen that soil!

We won’t follow our row of black beans with peanuts, because they’re part of the same rotation family.  Instead, will “close” that row off and wait until fall, maybe plant some broccoli or cabbage, both of whom love nitrogen.  Why?  Because they’re “leaves” and leaves love nitrogen.  Sing it with me kids:  beans, leaves, roots and fruits! (It’s our preferred order for crop rotation.)  Beans, leaves, roots and fruits!

Seed Sale begins on Monday which means the kids have furiously cutting and gluing their seed packets together and filling them with seed.  We have a wagon-full of black beans and pole beans to sell, plus some squash, sunflower and even tomato (some of which will have to be handed out the week after as you can’t rush Mother Nature!).  Cucumber didn’t fare so well, but we won’t give up on them.  There’s always fall! 🙂

Not only will we raise money for the garden, but the students will reap the rewards of independence knowing they are FULLY sustainable.  From seed to harvest to dish, glove to tool to feed and mulch, they’ll take pride in the fact it all stemmed from their effort.  The way I see it, self-reliance breeds self-respect.  And that’s a good thing.

How to Save Broccoli Seeds

Learning how to save broccoli seeds is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I knew the appearance of flowers meant I was on the right track, but I never could figure out where the seeds came from.  Oh sure, a quick search on the internet provides all the answers, but I was trying to use nature as my guide.  Surely something would look familiar soon.  Marigold seeds came directly from the flowers, why not broccoli?

Because that isn’t the way nature works.  You see, broccoli seeds are hidden in the pods BELOW the broccoli flowers.  You can see them here, beginning to plump as they form. 

But these aren’t quite ready yet (photo taken in February).  You need to allow them to fully develop before attempting to harvest.  For example, this plant is from my fall garden.  It’s April now, which gives you some indication as to the time required for these pods to form.  You can’t rush Mother Nature.  (She gets a bit itchy when you do.)  First you’ll see the flowers form and eventually the pods.  Mind you, I waited months for these, but it’s worth the wait knowing you can achieve self-sustainability.

For easier harvest, pull the entire plant out and allow the pods to dry on the stalk.  Now the kicker is how to get them out without destroying them.  Broccoli seeds are quite tiny.  In fact, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to recognize them when I see them.  From the various sources I checked, it seems your first task is to save these pods, allow them to dry and then “pound” them open to get the seeds. 

Pound them?  That sounds so harsh.  How will this not crush the seeds?  Perhaps I can “pry” them open and allow the seeds to tumble out into my awaiting seed packet.  Better yet, how about I lay them out on white paper so that I can see the little fellas!  (Old eyes need all the help they can get.)

That’s much better.  Now rather than pound them out, how about I twist open the pods, much like I do with my bean pods?  Seems so much more humane.

And if it works, it works —just look at those little beauties!  Remember, these are very tiny so this photo may be deceiving.  Be sure your work space is conducive to working with broccoli pods (translated: an area where you won’t lose them if they roll off your paper—which they might do!)  Then, with your awaiting seed packet, fold the paper and roll them in…

Ta-da!  You’ve saved your broccoli seeds!  How cool is that?  Now mark your packet with all the pertinent details like where you harvested them and when and of course what type of seeds along with which variety!  You can make your own custom seed-saving packets by using my template found here.

Woo-hoo–spring is practically here!

Already?  Great beets alive, pull your heads out of the sand and get busy!  There are seeds to buy, ground to prep, compost to turn—

Oops—did we forget to start the compost pile?  Can’t find it under all the snow?  Well, leave it be then, there are plenty of other things to keep us busy.  Like gather the tools, plan for location, check the water supply…  Now where did that sprinkler go? 

So many things to think about could scare a gal clear out of the garden, but hold on to your tool belt, because we’re going to make this easy!  As pie.  (Because we all have time to bake pie, right?)

No, we don’t, but we DO have time for a garden.  Whether you prefer flowers or vegetables, it all works the same.  First we peruse the glorious pages of our seed and bulb catalogs, indulging in visions of beautifully lined walkways and patios bursting with bloom.  Remember:  edible landscape is all the rage now.  Next we imagine the luxury of plucking fresh produce from our very own garden, our very own salad buffet just outside our front door, organic and healthy, host to a fiesta of ladybugs and bees.

Perfect.  These babies love to mix and mingle with the butterflies and dragonflies hovering nearby.  Are you with me?  Can you feel the excitement, the powerful rejuvenation after a long and cold winter?  It’s true.  Springtime is the season of renewal. From the soft grass underfoot to the blossoms at our fingertips and the vegetables in our basket, spring is when we take heart in nature and plan for another harmonious year ahead. 

A wonderful outlook to be sure, so don’t ruin it with angst or reluctance.  And to keep your restless mind from wandering, here’s your short list for things to do:

1 – Figure out where you want (have space) to plant your flowers/vegetables.

2 – If this space is overgrown, cut everything back.  “Hey, a little room here?  We need room here!”

3 – Not enough seed catalogues?  Break out the search engines type the keywords of your heart’s desire!

4 – Educate yourself on companion planting, ie. who likes who, who can’t be in the same row as who.  (You know what I’m talking about.  Sometimes plants can be so difficult.)

5 – Sharpen your tools.  Or find them.  Whichever works best.  I suggest 3 to start:  weeder, cultivator and hoe – if you’re serious about this, that is. Otherwise, ditch the hoe. It’s a back-breaker.  Check my Prize Picks section for some of my favorites!

6 – Dirt check.  Not all dirt is created equally so a soil test would be a good start.  Give you an idea of how much work this garden thing will really entail.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Newspapers, pine bark, old dead leaves…  They’re all members of the organic mulch building blocks association and the make for the perfect weed prevention/fertilizer.

8 – Don’t forget to locate your hose.  Plants won’t grow if you don’t water them.  Genius!

9 – Buy a wind chime.  Some birds need scaring and you need relaxing.  Makes for nice ambiance, too.  We do want to visit our garden, don’t we?  Daily visits are one of the secrets to successful gardening.  (Just ask Jax from my novel, Jennifer’s Garden —  the man knows his business!)

10- Dream.  Wistfully daydream and contemplate about the wonder your garden will become.

Once spring ever gets here, that is.

Seed Shopping!

Yes it’s that time of year again when the seed catalogs arrive.  Eagerly you run to the mailbox (or jog—ice tends to be slippery) and pull out those gorgeous pages filled with plump ripe fruits and vegetables, a colorful array of flowers and herbs and immediately you begin planning for spring.  Leafing through as you walk, you are amazed by the sheer variety of buttery lettuce leaves, the fantastic diversity of beans.  Who knew beans were not only green, but purple and yellow?  That corn came in red?  At least the carrots all look like carrots, a subtle (and welcome) reminder you have not lost your mind.

But I digress.  It’s time to buy your seeds!  That is, if you haven’t been seed saving.  Now mind you, for those of you who are saving seeds I completely understand how you can become so excited over your tomato crop and making sauce and ketchup that you completely forgot to save a few ripe tomatoes for the purpose of plucking seeds.  Yes, you plopped them right into the boiling water to blanch them for skin removal without even thinking.  It happens.  It’s okay.  More San Marzano tomato seeds are on my list, too.

Take heart!  You’re enjoying the thrill of gardening, reaping what you sow and cooking the dickens out of it.  For my raw food fans, the concept remains the same.  Chopping seeds in your Cuisinart isn’t helpful for seed saving so slow down, take a deep breath, and think before you throw the switch. 🙂  I’m just sayin’…

And this spring I have a few experiements to share with you.  For my tomatoes, I’m going to try some red ground paper.  Supposedly it not only keeps the weeds at bay but it helps the tomaotes grow bigger and plumper.  How?

I have no clue.  Like I said, this is new for me.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress to be sure.  I’m also going to add a little diversity to my herb garden.  Yes, I must confess, I’m a sucker for brightly colored-pages and one of my seed catalogs really snookered me in this year so I’m going with it.  Maybe I’ll get crazy and make some herbal tea with chammomile, or add some lemon balm to my (husband’s) iced tea.  A little mint anyone?  Keeps the ants away!

Anyway, as you can see I have big fun planned so grab your hat—we’re going gardening!

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!

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.

Garden Gals Share the Adventure!

What an inspiration these gals are, what with their fabulous green gardens and baskets of veggies–and you should see their thumbs.  They’re totally green!  After watching Ashley’s glorious experience in the garden, her father decided to start a garden of his own.  Isn’t that great

Me?  I LOVE sharing the adventure.  It’s too easy not to and brings such joy to those who partake, how can I not?  Remember:  Ashley’s already planning on adding another planter box for next season!

Back from vacation, Julie was momentarily distracted by the beach…and Fourth of July celebrations…but don’t think for a second she isn’t back in action!  Yes, there were casualties.  She lost most of her squash and zucchini while she was cavorting and carrying on, though this fella seems quite determined to stick it out.

Go zucchini, go!  And her tomatoes are holding on, sprouting as though she were never gone.  Didn’t I tell you Mother Nature will make allowances for the gardener with all the exuberance and none of the time (or talent, for some of us :))?  You bet she will and these ruby reds are proof positive!  

Now I will be honest with you.  When I photographed this melon, I thought he was doomed.  A goner.  Small and covered in green, I thought for sure he’d been overcome by a mold of some sort.  But alas, it’s not the case!  This is a special breed of melon (one I’m not familiar with which is no big stretch–I’m as green as they come and sometimes that pertains to know how).  Good thing I’m an eager student!

It’s called a Sugar Baby melon and it’s supposed to look like this.  Whew!  (Almost fainted when I saw her reach in and pick it up bare-handed.)  Gardening can get gross.  Exhilarating, but gross.

Her herbs are loving life.  In Florida these will thrive without full sun.  Actually, from what I’ve seen, full summer sun is NOT an herb’s friend.  No, ma’am.  My basil is not nearly as plump and luscious as Julie’s.  Though hers could use a pinch. 

Nearby, her cilantro has grown wild and wooly and is now flowering, soon to produce coriander seeds.

Did you know that cilantro and coriander stem from the same plant?  They do!  First you’ll harvest the flat wide leaves of cilantro–perfect for any salsa–and then you’ll wait and watch as they produce pretty white flowers which will then produce seeds.  Once the seeds turn brown, you’ll have yourself a fresh supply of coriander for the kitchen.  Doesn’t that sound delightful?

More than delightful, it’s YUM.  This gardening thing is so rewarding.  From basket to belly we gardeners really do live the sweet life.

Meet Ashley

Meet Ashley.  When she heard her friend Julie was taking part in our new garden venture, why don’t you know she went straight to her husband and suggested they build a planter box?  I use the term “they” quite loosely here, though she did help.  And–she prepared nice snacks for him and the boys, smiled pleasantly as she held the boards so he could nail them in place and assisted where possible.  (This is all excellent wife behavior and it works–most of the time, anyway.)

Would you look at this amazing piece of engineering perfection?  It’s a veritable masterpiece!  Compliments help, too.  🙂

Note to building crew:  lining your planter is a fine idea, but keep in mind your plants’ drainage needs.  Soggy roots are like soggy fruits–not delightful.  Be sure your planter is capable of draining.  Then, add a load of fresh dirt and you’re on your way!

For her first garden, Ashley chose a few of her family’s favorites; another wise move.  Growing vegetables that are easy and fun but no one cares to eat is a losing proposition.  Trust me.  Watching your fruit wither on the vine–literally–is a sad day, indeed.  (Kinda gross, too.)  For starters, we have beans, squash, melon, carrots and potatoes. 

How is she fitting all those veggies in there?  I’m glad you asked.  Organization 101.

Prior to planting, it’s a good idea to lay those colorful packets out across the dirt.  This way, you can eyeball their placement, keeping in mind their friends and foes.  Plants have their favorite companions, you know, and they’ll simply wilt and whine when planted too far apart. 

If you must squish a few “squabblers” together, so be it.  One thing I’ve learned is that Mother Nature appreciates enthusiasm.  She’ll give you a pass without fuss the first time you break her rules.  She won’t punish you with rotten diseases or nasty infestations to ruin your moment, but next season?  You’d better get another box.  Oh, honey…!

Once you’ve decided where everyone will be residing, dig according to your seeds’ needs.  Rule of thumb:  tiny seeds prefer shallow surface planting while larger ones go deeper.  And potato tubers?  We dug them a special section situating them lower than all their neighbors.  Important, because as they grow, you’ll want to continually mound them with dirt.  This forces greater potato production and we do want to produce, don’t we?  Yes, we do. 

Speaking of produce, Ashley’s gone crazy excited and decided to try her hand at composting, too!  Leftovers no longer go in the garbage–they go in the sink!  (Until we find a more attractive alternative.)  Then, her handy-dandy-super-helpful young sons will transport this bin to the outdoor compost pile.  Neat system, isn’t it?

Boys love composting, because it can lead to great worm hunting.  And any boy worth his sea salt knows:  if you plan on catching the big one, you’d better have some worms on hand.  Could there be any more fun than finding them on your own?  I think not.

Finally, spray a little water over your planter to get your new seeds settled in and then it’s off to the picnic.  In no time Ashley will witness an explosion of sprouts across her planter followed by leaves and veggies and harvest and–

Whew!  I’m excited just thinking about it!

For those of you wondering how Julie’s garden is coming along, well, you know, life, spring break…  Well, life just plain happens.  In the real world, our best intentions can easily be sidetracked by a few rows–but not to worry–she’ll be digging into her yard in no time!  Tanned from the beach, to boot. 

While we’re on the subject of gals in the garden, check out BloominThyme’s new garden series at in the Living section.  Join us, won’t you?

Field of Wildflowers

Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than a field of wildflowers?   Have you ever driven along a country highway, struck by nature, overwhelmed with the sudden urge to pull off the road and simply enjoy? 

Okay, this does happen a LOT in Wyoming, where the mere glimpse of wildlife can send your brake pedal crashing to the floor (hopefully that’s the only thing crashing), but I find a field of wildflowers can stop me in my tracks.   Much safer, too.   Moose and buffalo can be so unpredictable.

But here in Florida, there are no enormous animals to consider, so long as you stay out of the water, only flowers — wildflowers that blanket the roadsides, filling the landscape with the breath of spring.   Winter has eased its pinch, warm days and cool nights filling out the month of April.   I used to think fall was my favorite season, but now, I’m second guessing that notion. 

My garden is chock full of new plantings, my backyard is covered in wildflowers (seeds scattered by myself and the kids three years ago but now completely self-proliferating), and my jasmine are bursting with blossoms.   Bees literally follow me from garden to jasmine, past berries and buds, as if they don’t know which nectar they want next! 

It occurs to me life is in full swing.   The birds and the bees are doing their thing — the birds choosing to “take” from the fruit of my labors as where the bees tend to “give,” but they are instinctual little beasts and do as they were born to do.

Much like my sweet children.   As they grow, it’s becoming more and more apparent I will be walking down the path of most resistance, lurking in their shadows as they struggle through adolescence. 

Today, they still enjoy the simple pleasures of posing for pictures in the field of wildflowers.   But I can see the writing in the sky.

They want to blend in.

They want to be like their friends. 

Unlike our conversations of the past, where standing out from the crowd and being your own person were concepts they embraced, I now see the threads of homogeneous thought weaving silently through their minds. 

Sure, it’s okay if that kid’s different, but not me.   Not you

We can’t be different.   We can’t be unique.   No, no. 

“Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”   “Mom, whatever you do, don’t say anything to Coach.”   “Mom, you’re not funny.”

“I’m not?”   I glance around my person, as though expecting to find lifeline tossed my way.   “Are you sure?”   I thrust hands to my hips.   “You used to think it was fun when I honked at you on the playground, or waved at you during class.” 

I paused, glancing around the yard.   “Or danced in our field of wildflowers…”

Groan, grunt, grimace.   Arms fly across their chest as they reply in unison, “Not anymore.”

Not anymore, I murmur under my breath, and drop my gaze to the ground.   Not anymore

Lifting my head, I look at them more closely.   All legs and arms, long and lanky, smart as whips and filled with attitude I realize, no, I imagine not.   It’s easy to see you’re growing up (way too fast) and duly falling into line with your peers (sad but true).   I know you can see the beauty in this field as well as I can, but you’re focused on the reds and pinks, the subtle blend of harmony they create when clustered together. 

Those little white flowers over there…   Where you can appreciate them, you don’t want to be them. 

I understand.   It’s normal.   Especially, for my daughter.   She’s closer to the bewitching age than my son, but he’s right behind her..   His ears burn as hot as hers do when the lips start flappin and the gums start smackin.   From the classroom to the playground and everywhere in between, kids are sensitive to the shades of gray.   They’re not ready to stand up to that kind of scrutiny.

I understand.   As I immerse myself in this gift of spring, this once a season treat, this glorious field of diverse color, I realize the effect is mostly lost upon the younger set.   Where I see a gorgeous palette of subtle blends, I also delight in zeroing in on the standouts.   Those that leap out at me.

But I’m an adult.   I’ve outgrown the pressure from my peers, the need to blend in.   I’m okay being known as the Crazy Lady Down the Street.   No longer requiring the validation of strangers, the safety of similar, I can dance with abandon.

Because I’m at the top of my apex (aka: over the hill), the top of my game.   With time, my kids will get there, too.   Once they’ve had the chance to develop their own identity. 

It’s okay.  I get that not everyone wants to be the Crazy Lady Down the Street (though I can’t imagine why not.   Think of the fun they’re missing!).   But one day they’ll come to terms with themselves and see this field as I do; beautiful in bits and pieces, as well as in whole, weeds, bare spots and all.