Take Cover!

Mama Nature is throwing us one last dose of chill!  And while some don’t think it will dip into frost territory, we’re not taking any chances.  We’ve been burned (think icy burn) before and will not be again. 

Just look at these sweet little things.  Would you take a chance with their survival?  Didn’t think so.   So after some discussion, we used this lightweight frost blanket to cover our beans, tomatoes and peppers.  It’s not the only option.  We could have “insulated” them with mulch, or thrown a bed sheet over top.  Though whichever way you choose to attack this problem, the goal remains the same:  protect their leaves from frost.

Our potatoes are growing well and quite robust and should be able to tolerate a “near dip” experience.  Though just to be sure, we gathered some oak leaves to ensure a snuggly evening.  Talk about perfect segue–our lesson this week was mulch!  

What kind of mulch?

Natural of course, like leaves, bark, hay and would you believe newspaper?  

Oh, yes.  So long as you keep it from flying into your neighbor’s yard by trapping it somehow–we used hay–newspaper mulch is a great way to recycle.  If you prefer the lovely look of all hay, then simply toss the paper out back like the old news that it is–and onto your compost pile!   

If you don’t have one yet, you will soon.  Composting is too easy and too efficient–even for those city dwellers we know.  One afternoon surfing the net will prove you can compost indoors AND keep it clean.  A must.  We are tidy when at all possible.

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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?  How about this sweet baby strawberry.  Precious, isn’t it?

Glorious.  Absolutely glorious.  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.

Replanting Beans

After our sorrowful discovery last week, the kids were back in the garden with their beans, albeit a new batch.  But that’s part of the lesson, isn’t it?  In real life, things don’t always work as planned.  Especially when your garden coordinator fails to watch the weather report!

Lucky for me, children are forgiving by nature and we spent little time crying over what could have been and proceeded to look forward to what can become!  (Is that grammatically correct?  Probably should check these things ahead of time when writing about students!)  Especially when your upper elementary kids come out to plant black eye peas.

However, in the business of gardening, scientific elements take center stage, not grammar, hence the assignment for upper elementary.  “Hey kids!  What’s the scientific abbreviation for Molybdenum?”

Would you believe they knew the answer?  I can hardly pronounce the word let alone rattle off its abbreviation!  But that’s why we’re in school, isn’t it?  To receive an education. 

Does it matter the adults learn, too?  I mean, my schooling was a long time ago.  And my brain quite full of important information…

Bet these kids don’t know that whites shouldn’t be mixed with darks in the laundry!  (Actually, many of them do.)  Back to the garden.  We planted black beans and limas this week, intermingling them for an intricate weave of color come spring.  And this time, the kids will be watching for the weather.  They have strict instructions to keep an eye on Mother Nature and inform their teacher at the first sign of temperature drop.

Who will then inform me, who will then promptly cover our little darlings in the garden.  See?  Problem solved.  We did notice our sweet onions popping through the soil.

Looking good, but they need to be covered, so the kids headed over to their compost pile.  Collecting the fresh organic matter we covered them and continue our wait.

Won’t be long now.  A few months and we’ll be in the salsa business!  Er–once we get some tomatoes in the garden.  But with another potential freeze on the horizon, I’m not yet willing to risk their introduction outdoors!

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.

 

Ta-da!  Finished.  Just look at that lovely bed of onions.  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. (Look close, poor babies are hard to see.)

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.

Transplanting Beans

Talk about excitement–this week the students transplanted their bean sprouts into the garden–woo-hoo!  Pull those seed journals out and get scribbling because we have things to report!   Now, before we go on, let’s acknowledge the (sad) fact that not all seeds germinate.  As in nature, some make it and some don’t.  Glancing over the seed trays, it was apparent several of ours didn’t sprout.  But why?

It’s simple really.  Beans are like Goldilocks.  They like their soil not too wet, not too dry… actually. they like it just right.   And as their trusty gardeners, it’s our responsibility to maintain proper germination conditions.  As their supervisor, it was an issue I wanted to explore. 

“If yours didn’t sprout, I want you to dig for your bean.”

The burrowing began.  “Hey–who stole my bean!”

Peering over his shoulder, he wasn’t telling tales.  There was definitely no bean in the soil.   “Now, let’s not be too quick to judgment, kids.  There could be another reason your bean is missing.”  Met with suspicious scowls, I continued, “Remember, your beans are heavier than the light fluffy dirt.  If you flood your seed tray with water, the seeds can float to the soil’s surface.”

“Hey,” another perked to attention.  “Mine’s mushy.”

“Why do you think that happened?”

The pointed finger flew through the air.  “She watered my sprout too much!”

“Oh she did, did she?”  You see, much like adults, it never tends to be our fault.  It was someone else.  I’m sure of it. 

Another bean came up dry.  Actually split into two pieces.  He frowned.  “Mine didn’t get enough water.”

“You see, just like in nature, if there’s not enough rain or too much sun, the seeds won’t grow will they?”  Heads swung from side to side.  Not one to commiserate, I exclaimed, “How about we plant the ones we have!”

The kids jumped to attention.  “Okay!”  Well that was easy.   Guiding them to the correct row, the kids weeded the bed and tilled the soil. 

Plants do prefer soft beds.  Next, we dug holes twice the size of our sprout’s root ball.

Gently–and I do mean to emphasize gently–we removed the sprouts from their containers and placed them into the awaiting holes.  

“Okay, now, same as a castle, let’s build a moat around our sprouts.  This is called a well and it will collect the water, directing it straight to the sprout’s roots.”

Oh, ho–do these kids know about building moats!  They went straight to work and formed the most beautiful wells you’d ever want to see.  (It’s all about the lingo.  Speak in kid terms and you can communicate anything!)

Stepping back, surveying our handiwork, we had to admit, these transplants looked great.  We’re going to have ourselves one lush row of limas to be sure.  But better than the ample harvest on our horizon was the sheer cooperation these kids demonstrated.  Transplanting bean sprouts can be tricky business.  Many of the kids needed help transferring their delicate sprouts from tray to dirt and you know who helped them?

Their fellow students.  To watch as one child took charge and assisted the other place his hard-earned sprout into the ground warmed this mother’s heart.  Weeks of watering and tending their trays really made an impact on these kids–to the point they felt a vested interest in the outcome of their transplant.  Which doesn’t bode well for our co-op concept.  (Kids are funny that way —  they’ll remember exactly where their sprout is and make sure everyone knows it’s theirs.) 

But that’s okay.  It all works out in the end.  One thing I’ve personally discovered is that if you want to get a child to eat vegetables, have them grow them themselves.  I’ve never seen so much plucking of fresh veggies and popping them in their mouths as I have in this garden!

But who can blame them?  They are gorgeous, aren’t they?  Definitely a feat to be proud.  We’ll worry about doling out beans later.  For now, we simply enjoy.

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