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Transplanting Tomatoes (before the official start of spring!)

Are we lucky to live in Florida, or what? 

Sure, I run the risk of one last freeze.  Happens every year.  Nearly.  But maybe I’ll be spared this spring.  After all, Mother Nature tortured me in December…  Do you think she could be so cruel?

Nah, me neither.  She’s an all right gal.  So what if I don’t agree with her sense of humor, or her downright obstinate ways when it comes to wielding her power, but she has been good to me.  Overall, I can’t complain.  (Are you listening, Mrs. N?  I’m the good one!)

So out the door these sproutlings went, straight into the garden.  I started them early January and yes, I did have to drag them inside a few times and spot them a sweet place by the warm and blazing hearth.  But just look how they’ve rewarded me.  Aren’t they grand?  Real beauties.  My kids helped clear the row of hay and I tilled the section with ease. 

Once you know the secrets of preparation this part is EASY.  Then, I gingerly pulled each out and placed it into a hole amended with a mixture of my very own compost (AKA homemade dirt), epsom salt and eggshells.  Brilliant.  And the key to eliminating blossom-end rot.  I hope.  Formed a well around my babies and watered them in.  Finito.  Easy as tomato pie.

Mud pie.  I meant mud pie.  Last time I tried to make an authentic Italian tomato pie for my husband, things didn’t go very smoothly.  Time-consuming, irritating…  It was the crust that gave me issue.  And my handy-dandy Cuisinart contraption that promised to do the hard mixing did nothing of the kind! 

False advertising, if you ask me.  But I digress–into the land of disappointment (where I do not care to dwell).  My tomatoes are in!  Who has time to weep?

I have a watering schedule to attend, fertilization needs to consider…  And companions.  Who shall I plant next door?

If you think I haven’t already arranged for that play over in my excel program, you’re kidding yourself.  What else do you do during winter?  Besides scour the seed magazines and drool over the gorgeous photos and plethora of produce. 

Beats Christmas shopping.

Calling All Parents and Teachers!

Your children need you!  Join Michelle Obama as she calls upon kids to adopt a healthier lifestyle.  It’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their 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?

“A garden?  Are you serious?  I don’t have time for that!”

Ah…but you do.  You just don’t know 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?

It doesn’t.  Vegetable gardens can be successfully managed with minimal time, so long as you have a plan.  I learned this tidbit of wisdom from my kids, not to mention the demands of real life, my husband, etc.  Like many of you, the last thing I have time for is a garden, but when the rewards are so great, and the lure is strong… 

It’s tempting.  So tempting, I started my home garden on a whim and desire and haven’t looked back since–it’s been that rewarding.  Even my kids help! (Now that I’ve learned to manage the load.)  Trust me.  Weeding, watering, pruning and picking doesn’t have to be hard.  When you plan your schedule around the natural cycle of life, you don’t have to fight it.  Instead, you focus on the important things, like seed selection, plant feeding, bug plucking, picture-taking and harvest.  That’s really all the kids care about, anyway.

And care they do.  They LOVE being out in the garden!  So long as you make it fun and keep it interesting, they’re good to go.  For example, weeding takes strong hands.  “Who here has strong muscles?” 

Hands fly up.  “I do!  I do!” 

“Good.  I need some weed warriors to attack this zone and rid the area of weeds.” Children swarm the area with incredible speed, pull with unbelievable precision.  Reminds me of Star Wars.

“Who knows a plant’s favorite food?”

Blank stares.

“Worm poop!” I exclaim.

Eyes light up, expressions explode with delight.   Now we’re talking.  “Okay, who wants to feed the plants?”

Hands fly up.  “I do!  I do!”

“Who knows how do dig?”  I do!  I do!  “Who can work like a bulldozer and grade the surface smooth?”  I can!  I can!  “Who can build a moat around their seeds to keep the water close?”  Me!  Me!

You get the picture.  Kids love to garden.  With the right lingo and a little direction, they are all over it.  All you have to do is sit back and snap away.  Photos, that is.  You’ll want to document every wonderful moment.  Especially when they find the unexpected earthworm, or the unwelcome hornworm.  It’s all in the discovery.

But schools are strapped for cash.  Who pays for all this wonder and lesson? 

It’s true, someone has to buy the seeds and choose a location.  Someone has to set the schedule and build a curriculum.  And someone has to show up to supervise.  As garden coordinator for our school, I give about two hours of my time per week.  That’s it.  This involves about 3 classes, 3 different ages.  (Yes, we’re a small school.)  But the math works for the same; when you add classes, you add volunteers. 

Don’t know where to begin?  No problem.  There are a plethora of resources to choose from, both locally and nationally.  Where I live, the University of Florida agricultural department encourages school gardens and provides an amazing amount of information to get your school garden started.  They’ve also come up with an ingenious motivator in the form of a school garden competition.  What kid wouldn’t want to have the best and brightest blooms? 

An abundance of private organizations exist as well, like The Edible Schoolyard out in California founded by Chef Alice Waters, Kids Gardening! located up in Vermont and Lifelab (also out in California), just to name a few.  Funding an issue?

Try the National Gardening Association’s website for ideas.  Also, check with your local seed and feed store for some help with donations in exchange for a little blurb in your school newsletter and/or website.  The cost to them will be minimal yet the exposure they’ll reap will be exponential.  If you’re building raised beds instead of in ground, consult with your local hardware/lumber store for some help.  Connecting the community and children is a win-win for all involved.

From an education aspect, these gardens can become part of the actual curriculum (Kids Gardening! provides  a ton of tools for teachers), or they can simply be part of a volunteer effort.  Either way, the kids will thank you.  One need only glance at a few of our school garden photos to see the pleasure the kids derive from being outside, steeped in the glory of nature.  In fact, pass them around at your next PTA meeting and you’ll see the hands fly up.  “Who wants to help with our school garden?”  I do!  I do! 

And we haven’t even discussed the harvest party!  When kids actually “reap what they’ve sown,” it connects the dots between planting and harvest like nothing else.  Every weed they pulled, every seed they buried, every sprout they watered culminates into the most delicious food they’ve ever tasted.  Add the fact it presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating choices, ie. oven-baked french fries, homemade (baked) potato chips, salsa, coleslaw, fruit smoothies to name a few, and you have the perfect combination–and a captive audience.

Gardening is all what you make of it.  Exciting and fun or dreary and doldrums, it’s up to you.  To help you get started, you can find a few lessons in the Kid Buzz section of this website.  For more information, check these suggestions from About.com homeschooling.  Above all else, keep in mind the kids don’t care how fancy a garden you design, they only care about getting involved in the process.  Start with what you can afford, what you can manage time wise and the rest will follow.  Remember:  elbow grease is free yet the payoff is priceless.

Share this link and let’s get something wonderful started.  Gardeing is an adventure–share it with a child!

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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