Preserve, Pickle, and Put up for Winter– With Kids

My oldest child is a kitchen helper. She likes to make coffee in the morning, operate the blender for her morning smoothie, and load the dishwasher. At 5, she’s getting to be pretty capable, albeit with lots of time, supervision, and patience on my part. I don’t always have those things in the dinnertime rush after work and school – but weekends can be another story.

At this time of year in Vermont, what better way to practice kitchen skills than with food preservation?

KidsGardening has lots of amazing resources for examining food preservation at home and at school. I thought I’d share how our family incorporates kids into preserving the harvest.

Preserve strawberries

While we do have a few strawberry plants in our garden, we use them mostly as garden bribery. So every June, we hit up a local strawberry patch and pick a huge flat of strawberries. This year, my 5-year-old helped to pick about half of the flat, and then trimmed the tops off carefully so we could make a simple homemade strawberry ice cream and freeze excess strawberries for smoothies throughout the summer.

Pickle green beans

My green beans were kind of disappointing this year, but in past years, we’ve made a dozen jars of dilly beans, which don’t last very long at our house! I think my 5-year-old would eat a jar of dilly beans or pickled carrots daily if we let her. This year, we plan to buy beans from the farmer’s market, and my daughter can snap or cut off the ends, measure ingredients for pickling liquid, and put dill heads in prepared jars. And, of course, eat all the pickles.

Put up tomatillos

This year we planted two tomatillo plants. Which, honestly, was so unnecessary because we planted them last year as well and now have volunteer tomatillo plants like nobody’s business. They’re everywhere. But we love tomatillo salsa, so I let them stay. My daughter has learned when they’re ready to pick (when the fruit has filled up the husk), and the plants are hardy enough to withstand the way she yanks the fruit off. She likes to peel the husks off, which is great because it’s not my favorite task and many hands make light work. (My 2-year-old peeled one, freaked out when her hands got sticky, and moved on to more important things.) Traditionally, I take it from there, but maybe this year she can help me run the blender full of roasted tomatillos and garlic. (I’ve used many different salsa verde recipes, and it’s hard to go wrong, but I like the roasted ones best.) Sometimes I freeze it in batches and put it over a pork shoulder in the crockpot, or I’ll water bath can it to serve with tacos. Either way, my kids usually end up eating with a spoon. 

Do you preserve with your kids? What are some of their favorite recipes or techniques?

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Blog By: Beth Saunders

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Five Favorite Garden-Based Resources for Educators

Every September, as the school year kicks off, I like to take stock of all the garden-based teaching resources that sit on my bookshelf untouched all summer. I do this partly out of necessity—flipping through pages to gather content that I can share with teachers interested in lessons on composting, life cycles, pollination, etc.—but I also do this to simply get inspired. 

I love reading lesson plans but I realize that for many teachers, there just isn’t enough time in the day to sit down and read through an entire curriculum, and that’s assuming you’ve found a resource that resonates with you. And there are so many incredible garden-based curriculums and how-to books out there that it can feel overwhelming figuring out which ones to invest your limited time in. Which is why I’m sharing my five favorite garden-based curriculums in this week’s blog.

KidsGardening’s Math in the Garden: I love this book for it’s incredibly clear ties to math topics, everything from measuring with nonstandard units to graphing and data analysis. If you’re looking to integrate the garden into your classroom studies for the first time, this is a great resource to investigate.

Favorite Lessons: Area and Perimeter of Leaves and Locating Garden Treasures 

Life Lab’s The Growing Classroom: In this classic text, lessons are grouped thematically and are even listed in an online database that lets you search by Next Generation Science and Common Core Math and English Language Arts Standards. The book also has an extensive appendix that includes companion planting guides, composting tips, instructions for building a root view boxes, an English to Spanish garden vocabulary list and much more.

Favorite Lessons: Seedy Character, Space Travelers, and Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

The Food Project’s French Fries and the Food System: I constantly reference this resource for much of my work with middle and high school students. All of the units and projects provide an in-depth look at farming and food systems and are structured to build upon each other sequentially (though you can definitely facilitate lessons independently of the entire curriculum). The Food Project is well known for the incredible hands-on work they do in engaging youth in social change and cultivating personal growth through food and agriculture; their curriculum is a great guide for how to do the same in your own community.

Favorite Lessons: Trace the French Fry and Garden/Farm Planning Unit 

Shelburne Farms’ Project Seasons: This compilation of lesson plans doesn’t just focus on gardening, it includes all sorts of seasonally themed activities focused on connecting youth to the outdoors and the concept of sustainability. And while some lessons focus on geographically specific topics (maple sugaring for example) the majority of activities are easily adaptable to any location.

Favorite Lessons: Grocery Bag Botany, Tomato Planet, and Meet a Tree

Project Food, Land and People: While this resource looks intimidating (it’s nearly 1000 pages) it’s incredible in it’s depth. Each lesson includes extensive “supporting information” and “additional resources” sections that give context to both the educator and student, not to mention ready-to-use worksheets and numerous suggestions for activity extensions. Like French Fries and the Food System, this mammoth curriculum tackles agricultural topics that stretch beyond a school garden.

Favorite Lessons: Buzzy, Buzzy Bee, Perc Through the Pores, and Tomatoes to Ketchup 

These are just a few of the many garden-based resources available to educators. Check out KidsGardening’s other publications and lesson plans or share your own favorites in the comments.

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Blog By: Christine Gall

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KidsGarden Month Winner: It Started With Carrot Seeds

Can gardening change a kid’s life? Monica Velgos, mother of Silas Nahan, the grand prize winner of KidsGardening’s 2017 KidsGarden Month video contest, certainly thinks so. She saw first-hand the many positive changes that gardening brought for 13-year-old Silas, even given the challenges of growing plants in an urban backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

He had been introduced to growing things at his elementary school garden, but his interest really took off when his mom happened to bring home a few packets of seeds in May 2016 for Silas and his sister to plant in a couple of containers in the backyard. As his mom says, “The carrots sprouted, the wildflowers grew, and he got excited. He wanted to grow more.”

“Silas now likes to set goals,” she notes. “Besides planning what he wants to grow, sometimes months in advance, he also tries to improve his grades. He will talk about the number of books he wants to read over the summer, the points he wants to reach with online math. After a summer of gardening on his own and participation in the local CitySprouts middle school gardening program, he ended up getting mostly As. This was new for him. Perhaps having a deep focus like gardening set the course for him wanting to go deeply into other subjects, too.”

She also has noticed that growing vegetables in his garden has translated into healthier eating habits overall. Silas invented a green chicken taco filled with homegrown herbs, scallions, and fresh greens like kale and sorrel, in addition to chicken and mashed avocado. He asks his mom to include kale and poblano peppers from his garden in burritos, to put homegrown lettuce on turkey burgers, and to include broccoli and carrots with family meals.

The garden has become a second living room, says Monica, one that the entire family enjoys for its pleasant atmosphere, not just its harvest. Silas checks out things in the garden each morning, and again in the afternoon. “In the evenings he can spend up to two hours transplanting, moving plants around, and filling new pots." His parents and sister often join him. “We go down there too, it’s fun to watch, and he loves to narrate as he works,” she says.

Silas’s gardening enthusiasm is contagious. His sister has become interested in native species and now cultivates a garden area of her own, filled with native flowering plants to attract bees and birds, along with a little oasis where they can drink. “There are many more birds in the yards now, because of all the greenery. Watching the birds adds to the fun! Both kids feel a lot of responsibility now toward their plants and the creatures who visit them. They celebrate every bee.”

Monica also notes the important lessons that the sense of ownership of a garden provides for a young gardener like Silas. “Creating a garden has given Silas ownership,” she says. “He gets to plan it; he gets to choose when to harvest; he gets to make decisions. There are not many things in life that kids get to make all decisions about. This garden represents his interests expressed the way he wants them expressed. There’s no garden mistake that he will ever make that he won’t learn a lot from. And when he has success, like he had from his delicious husk cherries, which he chose to grow himself, he is so proud. As parents we’ve discovered this great opportunity to let him exercise decision making at a level that he sees as important but that is not going to be disastrous if there is failure.”

Silas has lots of plans for his future garden —and his future as a gardener. He’d like to try growing different varieties of potatoes, some more unusual herbs like epazote, and perhaps some Jerusalem artichokes. But he also has lots of ideas for way to grow as a gardener, including possible work for the nonprofit Food Project on their farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts in coming summers and high school courses in plant biology and food systems.

Watch Silas's winning video entry:

Wouldn’t it be great if all kids had the opportunity to grow and learn in the garden, the way Silas and his sister have? Each $12 you contribute to KidsGardening allows one more child the opportunity to learn through the garden, engaging their natural sense of curiosity and wonder and creating a generation of kids connected to their food and community and engaged in nurturing a healthy planet. 

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Blog By: Susan Littlefield

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