spring planting

The Kids Are Back in Action!

And boy have they been busy!  They have to be–with all the rain we’ve had in the last week (did you hear about Florida’s wet weather on the news?). 

Of course, they had a little motivation.  Take a look at these strawberries!  Large, plump and juicy.  “I’ll weed!  I’ll weed!”

So they weeded and mulched and ran and jumped–the latter two WITHOUT proper authorization, mind you. But it was hard to contain their excitement. 

I mean, it’s been over a week since we were last in the garden!  Who can stand to be away that long?  Not me.  Not these kids.

And they really did a great job.  If this scallion section isn’t proof positive, I don’t know what is!  Here’s the before.

Enter magic weeding hands and voila–weeds almost completely gone!

We also discovered this lovely cauliflower…but lavender

Who planted that?  Don’t remember.  Hybrid broccoli?  Snuck into the seed tray at the garden center?  Doesn’t matter.  We’ll keep it.  Next to that, we pinched tomatoes.

Checked on our cucumbers and they’re ready to climb the fence behind them.  Corn is progressing well, and so are our beans.  In general, all is well. 

Time for our sweet reward. Ready, set–everyone grab a berry!  Okay.  We didn’t really set them loose.  They lined up and then we set them loose.  In an orderly fashion.  After all, even though it doesn’t look like it, we are still in school!

The Last Hurrah before Spring Break!

The kids are antsy and itchy and not because of anything in the garden, oh no–it’s almost spring break!  Try corralling that kind of distraction for an afternoon of weeding and you’ll get dips and dives in enthusiasm–until they spot the strawberries.

“Can I have one!  Can I have one!” 

Zeroing in on the plants in question, I do the quick math in my head:  5 strawberries, 10 kids…  And this is just the first group out for the day!

“Please, can we pick them?”

What could I say?  This is the day they’ve waited for, the one I promised would come and fill them with more excitement than they could contain.  Glancing between kids and berries I had no choice.  “Yes”–hands flew outward–“but not before I get a picture!”

Talk about the difficulty of delayed gratification–you’d a thought we were on a ten-hour bus ride with no stops for bathroom breaks the way these kids were bouncing, bobbing, bursting for release.  But the berries were worth it.  🙂 

Upon our return, these cucumbers will be great fun.  They’ll climb right up this fence–ours for the grabbing!  (Someone sense a pickling lesson in our future?)

The kindergarteners joined us this week for the honor of planting the ever popular watermelon seed, dropping several into each hole.  They have no idea how much space one watermelon plant needs, let alone five in each hole.  But they had fun and each had a turn (THE most important factor in gardening with the wee ones).

While weeding, we noticed this little guy–another near catastrophe in the making.  Poor thing had no idea what was going on, what, with all these little hands darting in his direction! 

And speaking of things flying at high speeds I leave you with this note of caution:  when gardening during Science Olympiad week, keep your eyes peeled.  While supervising the garden activity, I was surprised by a splash on my ankle.  Turning, I spotted the group of middle school boys–laughing.  Never a good sign.  Apparently, their project was some sort of water balloon launch and I was in range. 

Eyeballing the little pumpkins, I thought, it’s all fun and games until the garden coordinator gets wet!  (Though I had to admit, they’re distance and precision were pretty good.) 

To his credit, the young man came over and apologized to which I promptly accepted.  He’s just lucky it was my leg and not my lens.

p.s.  The upper elementary kids surprised me with this wonderful shamrock filled with limericks about their *fabulous* garden coordinator, yours truly.  Each and every rhyme is a true creative gem–I wish I could post them ALL here for your reading pleasure–you’d love them.  I will cherish it and the salt and pepper snail shakers (my favorite kind of snails–the pretend kind!). 

Thanks kids and have a GREAT spring break!

Kids Planting and Progressing

For the kids, this was a week of “seed fun.”  

With the warm wave of weather here in Florida, we’re taking our chances and planting now–to ensure our crops are ready before graduation.  We do have our priorities, you know and the harvest party is top of the list! 

To begin, we toured the garden to check on our plants’ progress.  The cilantro is turning coriander.  No longer content to remain in its original form, this plant is now shooting  toward the sky, sporting lovely white blooms.  Soon, these flowers will produce coriander seeds–which of course we will harvest.  I know there’s some parent out there ready and waiting with the perfect recipe.  And if not, the kids and I will find something to do with them.  (BTW, we’re open to suggestion.)

Our baby carrots are tender and sweet.  No, they’re nowhere near ready, but their greenery is quite delicate.

And just look at those potatoes.  The kids can almost taste those healthy potato chips and fries now.  

“Wipe off the drool, kids.  We still have a while to go.  And for increased production, cover those babies with dirt!”

And production we need if we expect to have enough potatoes for a party’s worth of chips!  Healthy of course, lightly coated with olive oil and herbs and baked to golden perfection.  (Food talk keeps the kids motivated.) 

Yet more fascinating than food are our beans.  Personally, I find the early stages of bean development to be the most visual examples of Mother Nature in action than most anything else.  More than leaves sprouting and stems growing, this life cycle literally unfurls before your very eyes. 

Why, just look at them!

You can almost feel the energy as it opens from the seed, erupting in a burst…

…exploding in green bloom.  Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?

Magnificent.  Not into beans?  We also planted cucumber and corn seeds, as well as transplanted tomatoes.

The kids learned tomatoes are best planted deep, covering the bottom two “leaves” as they bury the base.  By doing so, they’ll encourage stronger root growth and development for their small tomato sprout.  Important–as we anticipate big strong tomatoes come spring!  And on our way back to class, we spotted this early gem.

Delectable little devil, isn’t it?  Can’t wait to make preserves out of that little pumpkin!  Oh, didn’t I mention?  We’re going to learn how to can!  Berries, tomatoes…

It’s the simple things in life.

Spring Garden Checklist

With spring only a month away, it’s time to finalize your garden plans.  By being prepared, you’ll be certain not to miss your first day of planting.   While this day varies from region to region based on frost dates, most gardeners can plan on March-April to begin their outdoor festivities. 

But why wait?  You can start many of your seeds indoors and get a jump-start on the season!  Which brings us to the first item on the checklist:

1 – Order seeds.  Grow what you’ll eat–not what’s easy.  I know it’s tempting, but there’s no sadder day than the one when you witness perfectly good food withering on the vine.

2 – Design layout.  If building container beds, get your lumber now.  I don’t know about you, but my husband likes a bit of notice before he’s asked to perform.  Getting your creative juices warmed and flowing now, will help speed the process later.  “Oh, honey…  About that little favor! ”

3 – Sharpen your tools.  Or simply clean them off, know where they are, organize them.  The last thing you need is to be searching for that trowel when you need it.  Mine is indispensable because it weeds (its primary function) digs, buries and levels.  You gotta love a multi-tasker.  Other essentials include gloves, hat, sunscreen and water bottle. 

For you serious gardeners, you might want to add a long-handled hoe (I prefer the triangular-shaped head) for the job of cultivating your rows.  Not me.  I’m a busy gal with a bad back — “till as you go” is more my speed!

4 – Turn your compost.   You do have a compost pile, don’t you?  It’s too easy not to–just toss, pile, and turn.  Easy as 1-2-3!

5 – Organize your rows/containers based on companion planting.  Like people, plants do have their favorites, so keep them close.  Besides keeping the harmony, it provides a natural pesticide.  The sooner you break out the excel program (my preferred garden journal), the sooner you’re planting seeds.  Bear in mind your crop rotation as well–unless this is your first time playin’ in the sunshine!  For serious techies, try this nifty program for planning your garden.  Really cool.

6 – Check your water supply.  Now’s the time to fix those leaky drip hoses or grease any squeaky sprinkler heads.  And if you can’t fix them–replace them–before spring fever hits and they’re scooped from the shelves.  Lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency in the eyes of the store manager.

7 – Gather your mulch.  Discarded newspapers, lawn trimmings, hay, pine straw and bark…  All of these lend themselves well for use as natural mulch, though be sure to wet your newspaper down (or layer it with another form of mulch for a good thick cover).   Trust me.  Your neighbors will not be happy when your “mulch” blows across their lawn. 

8 – Prepare soil.  Remove weeds and add compost.  100% organic, it provides an excellent soil amendment, rich in the nutrients your plants need.  Also, till your beds ahead of time.  This will introduce air into the soil and accelerate bacteria activity, which in turn helps release nutrients into the soil.  If your worms have been busy, be sure to harvest their castings ahead of time, giving the “worm poop” plenty of time to dry before use.  Word to the wise:  after you’ve taken the time to remove weeds from your soil, be sure to cover your beds with row covers (or a hefty dose of mulch).  Otherwise, you’ll be wedding again before your seeds/seedlings arrive on scene.  In my house, that’s call for mutiny.

9 – Soil test.  If you’re not sure what shape your soil’s in, take a sample to your local garden store.   I take mine to the seed and feed and they test it on the spot.  You do-it-yourselfers will prefer a home test kit.  They’re simple to use and give a good idea where you stand soil-wise.  Then, depending on what you’re planting, you may want to adjust the pH (acidity-alkalinity) by adding lime to raise pH, or peat/pine/sulfur to lower it. 

10 – Dream.  Until your seedlings are ready to hit the garden, sit back and wistfully dream of the day when your beds will be lush and full, and flourishing with life.

It helps to pass the time until planting season really begins!

Compost and Crop Rotation

Calling all kids!  Calling all kids!  It’s time to turn the compost!

Talk about a good time–I don’t know which they enjoyed more–shoveling dirt or handling tools!  New toys, is more like it.  Young people are always looking for the latest and greatest and if they can’t find that, well then, they’ll settle for something new.  New to them, that is. 

Fine with me.  Our middle schoolers and upper elementary students had a field day with the job of turning their heap of hay and weeds AND they were being productive.  An awesome combination in my garden journal.  Better yet, as they worked their way through, they were amazed by the dirt they had “grown.”  Composting is pretty cool.

While these composters were at work, another group  was busy pulling out the broccoli.  The broccoli eaten, the plants bolted, it was time.  Besides, it was time to plant our scallions.  As part of our crop rotation plan, we will follow our “leaves” with “roots” as in bean, leaves, roots and fruits.  If you dance around and repeat this order in a sing-song tone, the kids tend to remember it.   They also roll their eyes, snicker, giggle and refuse to dance with you–but they do remember it.

But of course, before we can plant we must remove the weeds.  A job more fun when done with friends.  Avoiding roots and other buried treasures in our dirt bed, the kids planted their onions and covered them with a nice layer of soft dirt. 

Peering into the bag of leftover onions sets, one boy asked if he could have them.  As in, take-them-into-your-classroom-hide-them-in-your-locker-and-cause-ruckus, have them?  

No.  He wanted to plant them in his home garden.  I smiled.  There was no way I could resist that kind of enthusiasm, so of course, I handed him the bag.   

Moving right along, the lower elementary kids descended upon the garden and I had to give them some bad news.  It’s not always “sunshine and candy” in the garden.  Nope.  Sometimes gardeners (a.k.a. me) miss weather cues (too busy to watch the weather channel) and are caught off guard by surprise frosts.  Not good when you have fragile vulnerable Lima transplants in the ground.  Yep, you guessed it.  Frost-bitten.

Back in the old days, farmer kids had to rely solely on their garden for food.  Lucky for us, we don’t have to rely on our crop for survival.  But hey–look at our potatoes!  Heads turned.  See how wonderful they’re growing?

Ooohs and aaahs abounded as they forgave me, then we toured around the garden for a focus on the positive.  Our carrots are sprouting, our sweet onions are doing well…

Then, to make it up for my error, I suggested we engage in a bit of transplanting (one of their favorite things to do!)  We began with oregano.

Discovered this little guy along the way.  Ugh.  Unwelcome in our garden, he was dispatched to another section of the yard. 

Added some lavender.  One child mistook it for rosemary, whereby we did a “smell” comparison.  They touched the rosemary with one hand, the lavender with the other and compared.  Spicy, strong, soap, perfume…  We had lots of observations, to which I added, “One smells like the kitchen, and one smells like mom.”  

All in all, it was a good week in the garden.

 

If this cabbage isn’t a testament to the glory of a garden, I don’t know what is.  Simply gorgeous.

Frosty Mornings

With Christmas behind me and the new year ahead, I find myself looking forward to spring.  I’m sure many of my Arctic Amigos feel the same way about now, buried under feet of snow, no sign of their garlic bulbs, their tulips and daffodils mere glimmers of hope, reminding them “this blizzard, too, shall pass.”  And as any organized organic gardener would do, I’m plotting mine out in Excel.

“What?”  Glancing about, I ask,  “Doesn’t everyone?”

Realizing I’m standing alone, I think, perhaps not.  But it does make for easy record keeping; where I planted what and when, which variety matured first, when did I begin harvest, what goes where next… 

Sure, most gardeners use a journal for this type of business, but I’m visual.  And I like color (excel allows me to color code everything from roots to leaves, from fall to spring — oh joy!).

Okay.  So it’s not that exciting, but it does add a bit of fun to the process.  More work, but more fun.  Works for keeping track of Girl Scout cookies sales, too!  So while these carrots are tolerating the frost, hunkering down and going about the business of growing, I’m going about the business of planning.

My cabbage are thriving in the cold.  

As are my broccoli.

Even my tender sweet peas are tolerating the chill.  Not in stellar fashion mind you, but at least they’re still alive.

And tomorrow…  Well, it will probably be more of the same (with the winter we’re having).  Eventually the ground will soften and yield to my touch and I’ll till and I’ll plant and I’ll begin the process anew.  I’ll try new techniques, I’ll expand on what’s working…  And I WILL grow tomatoes to perfection.  If my students can do it, I can do it. 

That’s how the mantra goes, anyway.

Pull Up the Covers

It’s cold outside!  But we’re not talking flannel, we’re talking row covers  —  a skill every child can manage.  They make their beds, right?

Of course they do and they can make their plant beds, too!  “Out with the old and in with new.”  Not only is this a smart tactic for winter break, but for weed prevention as well.  After all, we’ll be gone for three weeks and we need to prepare the plants for our absence.  We also need to prepare our beds for spring!

Because life in the garden continues.  Despite the season and despite our recent loss, the broccoli and cabbage will fill out, promising a luscious harvest upon our return.  The carrots and onions will hold until January.  But for now, we eagerly pull plants by their roots.

We toss them on to the compost  — another thing to look forward come spring.  We’ll have our own soil amendment!

After all our hard work, they’re gone, but not forgotten.  How could you forget such beautiful tomatoes?

And we cover and clip black paper into place. 

We’re preparing for the potatoes to be planted next month whereby we’ll practice our crop rotation; a staple of good organic gardening.  And best of all?  We get to do it all over again come spring!  Woohoo!

School’s out.