Flower Garden Dreaming

flower garden

We have eleven hundred inches of snow on the ground here in Vermont and so naturally I'm thinking about this summer's flower garden. Last year I made an effort to grow even more flowers than in years past, and hardly any of them did well. The dahlias were attacked by slugs, the zinnias we started indoors from seed were pokier to grow then if I'd just tossed the seeds in the ground, and the sweet peas didn't flower. I dreamed of vases of flowers in every room and settled for child-picked wilted dandelions on the dining room table. (Which of course is charming in it's own way.)

Like all gardeners, this year I believe it will go better! I want to have an abundance of flowers so the kids can pick what they like to create bouquets for themselves, friends, and neighbors. And maybe they'll cut some for me, too? A parent can dream. Maybe we'll even try this flower arranging activity!

flower garden
A mix of seeds from a butterfly friendly flower packet.

One thing that is really fun about planting flowers is how varied all the seeds are! From tiny poppy seeds to big round sweet peas, or the miniature broom shape of a bachelor button, seed shapes can be fun to explore with your young gardeners. One of the things that I had great luck with last year was a "Bring Home the Butterflies" flower mix . (The header picture is my little pocket garden in bloom with this mix.) But the seeds are all varied, and it can be a fun guessing game to try to guess which seeds will grow into which plants. Maybe an expert gardener can help out here (that would not be me).

This year I'm planning on a combination of starts from the garden center (lots of snapdragons, as well as coleus and cosmos) plus I'm trying 5-6 types of flowers that can be sowed before the average last frost. Here in Vermont, our growing season is short and this can help with getting flowers in bloom before it gets too cold. Oh and this year I'll just direct sow my zinnias. One thing I will start from seed under grow lights, next to my tomatoes, is this very lovely anniversary aster from our friends at Botanical Interests. These look amazing! Huge white blooms that will either be stunning alone, or mixed in with other cut flowers. Did you know that Botanical Interest will donate $1 for each packet of these asters sold to KidsGardening? We're so honored to be partnering with them, and this will truly be a stand-out addition to your garden. Although eek, will I let my kids just pick these?! Or will those be just for me? Luckily I have many months to figure that out. You can buy these online, or from your local garden retailer.

flower garden

Tomato Time: Comparing hydroponic and grow light growth

tomato time

Hard to believe it, but it is tomato seed planting time in Texas (which probably sounds ridiculous to those of you shoveling snow in northern regions). Each year our 3rd grade gardeners plant tomatoes from seed under grow lights, usually around the third or fourth week of January, to transplant outside the first week of March before spring break. Our goal is try to get the plants ready to harvest before school lets out and also before night time temperatures stay above 75 degrees F (tomatoes will stop setting fruit when the nights are this warm thus tomatoes are spring and fall crops in our area). We usually plant cherry tomatoes because they have shorter days to maturity rates than most other varieties.

tomato growing comparison
Tomato seedlings under grow lights, after 2 weeks.

tomato time
Tomato seedlings, grown hydroponically, after 2 weeks.

This year, in addition to planting tomatoes under grow lights, we also have tomatoes growing hydroponically in an AeroGarden Farm hydroponic unit.  Contrasting the two has been an interesting endeavor. The hydroponic tomatoes have grown so much faster and look so much happier than the ones growing under lights. The pictures to the right shows both 2 weeks after planting. Eventually down the road, I know the grow light tomatoes that we transplant outdoors will over take those being grown in the hydroponic unit, but it is amazing how vigorously they are growing in water. Below (and above) are pictures of the hydroponic tomatoes at 3.5 weeks. The growth rate truly is remarkable and everyone is enjoying watching the tomatoes change daily using this new growing technique.

tomato time
Tomato seedlings, grown hydroponically, after 3.5 weeks.

Another first for our garden this year, we never had a true winter freeze so our fall gardens are still growing strong.  The lettuce beds are full and there are so many sugar snap peas on the vines that the plants are falling over. We are going to break some hearts in two weeks when we have to pull everything out to prepare the soil for our spring gardens (the sugar snap peas have been popular snacks at recess time). Our wildflowers are already blooming too. What will the spring hold I wonder? I am sure there will be many new lessons to share (and a healthy crop of weeds and insects too). Just goes to show that no two seasons are the same in a school garden. Even if we buy the same seeds, plant at the same time and provide the same care – the garden is an ever changing adventure for our young and young at heart gardeners. Never a dull moment in the garden classroom!