Seed Balls Spread Beauty

Making seed balls with kids is a really fun way to spread wildflower seeds. We tried it out this summer, and I think it would make a really great fall activity, too!

KidsGardening has a great how-to on making seed balls – but I wanted something even easier. We took this activity with us to a family lakehouse, and wanted to make our packing as simple as possible. I found some pre-made seed ball mix online, and bought a few packets of wildflower seeds at my local garden center. I also grabbed all the poppy seeds we had been collecting from our home garden. (You can see them in the image above - we had at least four tablespoons worth!)

Both kids AND adults had fun getting a little messy mixing the seeds into the clay. If you’re doing this activity with toddlers, I recommend using bigger seeds. Or, if you use really tiny seeds, like poppies, you can roll the clay in a few seeds instead of trying to sprinkle them on your clay.

We rolled up some seed balls, let them dry for a day, and then set out to spread some beauty.

Throwing the seed balls was my kids’ favorite part! We can’t wait to visit again next summer and see what, if anything, has grown.

seed ball mix
small hands and a seed ball
dried seed balls
seed ball throwing
seed ball throwing

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Cooking with Kids – Using the Garden’s Bounty

cooking with kids

I love cooking with my kids. It's a way for us to spend time together doing something I love. (Not that I don't also love building animal homes with Magna-Tiles and playing The Floor is Lava.) Here are some of the ways my kids and I have been eating and preparing the end-of-season bounty from our garden.

Fresh from the garden
One of the best parts of gardening with kids is letting them snack their way through the garden! One of my children claims the only way she likes carrots is if they are freshly-pulled from the garden. Peas, beans, and cherry tomatoes also fall into this category.

Try a little salt
Sometimes I’m so hesitant to add salt to my kids’ food, because I don’t want them to get accustom to the taste of salty foods. But a little salt makes everything taste better. It will make cucumber slices taste more cucumber-y, and what’s better than a sliced tomato with a wee sprinkling of salt? It could also be a fun taste test experiment - try one cucumber with a tiny bit of salt, and one without, and make notes on the difference.

Pesto
It’s not just for basil anymore! Yes, basil pesto is amazing, and if you live in a cooler climate, you’re probably stocking your freezer with it right now. But if your kids dig basil pesto, try some others as well. Kale pesto is fantastic. (I've been heaping kale pesto on pan-roasted chickpeas and pasta for dinner more times than I care to admit.) Carrot top pesto, garlic scape pesto, spinach pesto, vegan, nut-free, the sky’s the limit on pesto variations. Bonus: kids love pushing buttons on the blender or food-processor!

Pickle it
When in doubt, pickle it. Refrigerator pickles are great for kids (and grown-ups) because you don’t have to mess with a hot-water bath, and you can eat them later the same day as opposed to waiting a few weeks. They can help chop up the vegetables (I have one of these wavy choppers, and it's great for making your pickles look fancy and for kiddo helpers), measure out spices and vinegar for the brine, and stuff the vegetables into jars. You should probably do the boiling and maybe the hot-liquid pouring. You can quick-pickle pretty much anything. Some of my favorites are: cucumbers, onions, carrots, beans, fennel, even cherry tomatoes!

What are you cooking with your kids? I love hearing new ideas! 

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Garden Stories: The Hornworm Incident

hornworm

One of the great things about gardening – of which there are many! – are the stories you can tell. Kids always have great garden stories; from accidentally eating a slug on a piece of kale, to the time a groundhog devoured all the snap peas. This last one actually led to a 5-minute dramatic production put on by my daughter’s preschool class.

So, here's the garden story we've been telling around our house recently...

The other day my daughter and I were happily hunting for ripe cherry tomatoes when I noticed that one of my tomato plants was growing only stems, but no leaves. Later that night, it hit me. My plant isn’t growing only stems, something is eating the leaves!

I had it in my head what it could be, and checked the KidsGardening growing guide and another gardening book to be sure. Yep. It’s a hornworm.

(Cue a horror movie scream.)

hornworm poop
The black droppings of a hornworm.

The next morning, after dreaming that my tomato crop was ruined by a freakish August snowstorm, I became obsessed with tracking down the tomato-muncher. My kids came up with all kinds of plans to scare it out of the garden, my favorite being a sign that said, “No hornworms allowed.”

I spent about 40 minutes hunting for it, at two different times of day. I watched the plant for movement.  I found poop. Wow. SO MUCH HORNWORM POOP! (Sarah blogged about being surprised how much poop a monarch caterpillar can make. I imagine this is similar.)

But I didn’t find the hornworm. I am hopeful that the crows that had been eating the strawberries flew by and enjoyed a tasty hornworm snack. If so, I may forgive the crows.

Telling stories about garden foes, funny incidents, or gross encounters connects the garden to your family or school's history. It can connect you, as an adult, to fellow gardeners who may have advice or whoppers of their own to add. If your kids are like mine, they want to hear the same stories over and over again. (Mayyyybe I use this opportunity to embellish the story a wee bit and really draw out the suspense.) So, tell us, what's the garden story you've been telling around the watering hose this summer?

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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My Kids Aren’t In the Garden

The other day, my colleague Sarah asked how my kids were liking gardening this summer. Eek. Confession time: I haven’t taken them to our community garden plot much at all this summer.

I have a huge list of reasons: it’s been boiling hot (for Vermont), I’ve been enjoying the peaceful alone time, and since I always feel “behind” on gardening, I feel like I don’t have the extra time to take them along. Oh, and maybe the most important reason: crows have been eating our strawberries! Wildlife is eating my best garden bribes!

They have been eating produce from our plot. I have been able to bring home some kale, and they claim that our garden kale is the best on planet Earth. One kid was so excited about the first garden snow pea she saved it to show her friends at art camp.

They have been helping garden at home a bit. We have a few low-to-no maintenance flower beds that they like to help water. They both help manage the weeds. They monitor our rudbeckia for aphids. (None yet!) They let us know the score of the lilies vs. lily leaf beetles matchup. (Honestly, it’s kind of a tie game at this point.) They LOVE to help fill up our Oya.

I’m resolving (publicly!) to do better. Maybe now that we’re moving into harvest season it will be a little easier to bring them to our plot. As I mentioned, our peas have finally come in, so while the strawberries recover under some bird netting, I have some other snackable bribes. And the zinnias are almost blooming, and who doesn’t love to bring home flowers?!

I’m not going to force it, though. I’ll invite them to come (perhaps with a little bribery), and offer a wagon ride. But if it becomes a too-hot, too-buggy, “stop touching the neighbor’s tomatoes!” chore, then I’m ok just bringing home the fresh foods for them to snack on in the front yard and at the dinner table.

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Plant a Seed and Watch it Grow – or Not

plant a seed and watch it grow

A few months ago, while we were starting pepper, eggplant, and tomato seeds, my 6-year old really wanted to plant an apple seed. She said she wanted to grow an apple tree to plant in our community garden so she could eat apples anytime she wanted. I delayed her a few times, because I knew that 1) the seed wouldn’t germinate and 2) it wouldn’t just sprout a tree that would produce apples within six months.

Well, when we were starting a second round of plants this winter, she found an apple seed she had covertly saved from a few days back and asked if I could save a seed-starting cell for her apple tree. So she stuck it in some seed starting mix. And whaddayaknow, it sprouted within a week. I was shocked. Everything I’ve read about starting apples from seed says it’s not the best idea because 1) you don’t know what type of apples it will actually produce and 2) there is an elaborate process of scoring the seed, cold storage for several weeks or months, then planting in specific conditions.

She doesn't care which apple variety she produces, and did none of the horticultural requirements for success. 

But it sprouted!

Her little apple seedling did great under the grow lights, and has since been transplanted to a magenta pot outside. The plan is to let it get bigger this year, and then plant it in a family member’s orchard next spring. If the apple tree survives long enough to produce apples – we know nothing of tending apple seedlings – it will be nothing short of a miracle.

Why was I so hesitant to plant the apple seed? A seed failing to germinate wasn’t going to send my kid into a tailspin of disappointment. And we could always try again.  

I like to think that I encourage my kids to take reasonable risks. Usually I think of this as physical risks – jumping from stumps, hanging upside down on the monkey bars, or learning to use a carving knife. But taking educational risks are maybe even more important (and less likely to require stitches). This was a time where I failed at encouraging reasonable risk taking. (Luckily I was saved by my child’s persistence.) It’s ok to fail. It’s ok to have a science experiment fizzle instead of pop. It’s ok to have a vegetable fail to produce in the garden. Sometimes you can follow all of the rules and advice, and still not be successful. It's ok to have it be about the journey rather than the destination. 

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Budding Botanist Grantee Visits

budding botanist

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting two of our Budding Botanist grantees. Sponsored by the Klorane Botanical Foundation, Budding Botanist grants will help our youngest citizens learn about plants, explore their world and inspire them to take care of the life they discover in their local ecosystems.

My first stop was Rosemead High School in Los Angeles, CA. (Student gardeners, faculty advisors, and FoodCorps educator are pictured above.) With the Budding Botanist grant, they plan to improve their existing “Best of Thymes” garden and experiment with a “Wisdom of Weeds” garden. If you haven’t seen teacher Joseph Vasquez’ speak about the transformational power of weeds, watch it now! Senior Kaitlyn Ly gave us a tour of the garden, from the marquis garden filled with native plants, the citrus trees throughout campus, and the corn growing in planters in the culinary garden. The school has done a remarkable job of incorporating edible and educational plants throughout the campus, and they even have plans for a monarch corridor!

Next, I visited Garfield Elementary School in Oakland, CA. Teacher Abdul-Haqq Khalifah works with a core group of mainly African-American boys to maintain the garden space. With the Budding Botanist grant, he hopes to invest in improvements that will make the program sustainable for years to come, and continue to provide green space access to the students of Garfield Elementary, and educate them about healthy food and nutrition choices.

The KidsGardening staff and representatives from the Klorane Botanical Foundation are visiting all of the Budding Botanist awardees, so stay tuned on social media for lots more photos and videos!

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Poetry in the Garden

poetry in the garden

April is Kids Garden Month AND National Poetry Month. We’ve received some really fantastic poems as entries into our Dream Big contest, and I cannot resist sharing a few. (The blog header, above, is a Kids Garden Month entry from Ethan, Adelaide and Julia from Chalker Elementary School in Georgia.)

My Dream Garden Poem
Zoey, Arcola Elementary, 2nd grade

If I love gardens
Then I love animals too
I would put animals ,plants ,and tree’s too
And I love gardens forever
I would add things everyday
And I am happy with my gardens!

my dream garden poem
Sameet, Arcola Elementary

the flowers are whispering
the trees are talking
the garden is yawning
the moon is yelling
the animals are understanding
the bushes are shivering

Ror0rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

OUR SCHOOL GARDEN
By: Mrs. Morgan’s 1st Grade Class

Plants dance like ants in the sun.
Flowers have powers to tower to the sky.
Soil is loyal and royal, so our plants grow tall.
Rain will drain on the plants and help them sprout.

Care is important to get rid of weeds.
Wind can bend the trees and send love.
Seeds have needs and they look like beads.
Eating kale in the garden with friends is to sail through the waters of life.

MY DREAM GARDEN
By LK, Raven's Wood Outdoor School for Renegades

Lavender and lupine,
sunflowers and mint.
Roses covering an arbor, with chairs underneath
and sweet-smelling sage.

Unicorns play and
Fairies dance,
around an enchanted fountain,
made out of shining stones.

The garden's perfectly round,
with the fountain in the middle.
Cobblestone paths,
with strawberries growing all around.

There are strawberries and fountain water,
It’s safe and comfortable.
There are birds singing and bees buzzing.
But it’s enchanted, so the human eye can't see it.

The Garden Rap
By Evan and Greg, Loudenslager School

Look at my garden so
Big and bright. When the
Sun’s out it has light.
When it becomes night
It gives people a fright,
Then they get a nightlight.
I got a fountain and it
Looks like a mountain
Then people started pouting.
In our garden was a gnome
Next to our home
And our dog found
A bone. We found a
Watering can next to
A man named Stan.
We found a rock on the
Shed’s lock. I hope you liked
Our garden rap but now it is
Time to take a nap!

Are you looking for some ideas to incorporate poetry in the garden? We have a lesson plan for that! Growing Poems is geared for grades 2-8, and is designed to cultivate creativity and communication skills through garden-inspired poetry.

You have until April 30 to send in your entry for Kids Garden Month. Gardeners age 0-18: Tell us about your dream garden using words, artwork, song, or media (really, the sky's the limit!). What grows, who visits, and why do you love it? Entries can be submitted by individuals, or by a class or group. Each week we’ll choose a favorite entry to receive a prize package, and at the end of the month we’ll award two grand prize winners – one to an individual and one to a group or class – with a $250 gift card to Gardener's Supply Company to help their dreams become reality.

Thank you to Chartwells for sponsoring Kids Garden Month 2018!

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Prickly Palace: Growing Cactus from Seed

Growing cacti from seed

While we here are KidsGardening are still dreaming big for Kids Garden Month, we’re also dreaming tiny when it comes to our indoor staff garden.

Let me back up a bit.

Back in February, our staff embarked on a growing project. We decided to try something none of us in the office had any experience starting from seed – cactuses! Succulents and cactuses are all the rage right now for good reason – they’re adorable, are available in such interesting shapes and colors, and their tiny size make them appealing to collect.

Most of us here at KidsGardening have started seedlings for an annual vegetable or flower garden before, but the cactuses have been an entirely new experience for all of us. Honestly, that’s been one of the best parts – no one really knows what they’re doing, so we have all gotten the opportunity to learn together.

One of the first bits of research we did about growing cactuses taught us that we would need to be patient. It will take about a year before they’ll be big enough to transplant to their own pots!

If you’re interested in growing your own cactuses, here’s what we have done so far for our cactus babies, affectionately called the Prickly Palace.

Materials

  • Packet of mixed cactus seeds
  • Plastic growing flat and cover
  • Seed starting soil mix
  • Bonsai soil mix, or other gritty soil
  • Heat mat (this was necessary for our drafty winter window, but your climate may vary)

Method

starting cactus from seed
Pour seed starting soil mix into your plastic growing flat. Moisten with water, and mix so the water is evenly distributed.
growing cactus from seed
Evenly distribute the cactus seeds on the soil.
starting cactus from seed
Cover with a light coating of bonsai soil mix.
growing cactus from seed
Place on top of a heat mat to ensure the proper seed germination temperature. Cover with the plastic cover in order to maintain moisture. Your cactuses should be exposed to some sunlight, but not direct sun all day.
growing cactus from seed
After a few weeks, the cactuses will sprout!
growing cactus from seed
Once they have spines, ventilate your plants by taking the plastic cover off for several hours each day. We let ours dry out a bit, but still water 1-2 times a week. (Dime for scale)

Once the cactuses are the size of marbles, they will be ready to transplant into their own pots. At that point, we’ll use a cactus / succulent soil mix to repot them into individual clay pots. Only 10 more months to go!

This would be a GREAT project for patient kids or adults! What about you? Have you grown cactus from seed? Do you have any advice for us?

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Kids Are Dreaming Big

dreaming big

We have been BLOWN AWAY by the creativity of the kids dreaming big for Kids Garden Month. From cheese sandwich plants to unicorn poop fertilizer, here are just a few of the amazing entries we've received so far. Look for more inspiration on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter feeds!

We received a stack of lovely poems from a class of second graders at Arcola Elementary School. I wish I could share them all, but here’s just one:

MY GARDEN DREAM POEM

A garden a garden a beautiful garden full, of flowers, lavenders, and roses.
I have to water the flowers to help them survive otherwise they’ll die
The butterfly’s fly, the bees buzz and the birds sing
My garden will have very beautiful trees, flowers, and plants
My garden will be the beautiful most of all
In my garden it will have a delightful smell

The Little Bears group from Raven’s Wood Outdoor School for Renegades worked together to create a story board and illustration of their dream garden. Here’s an excerpt from the story:

Once upon a time, there was a fairy family. This family created a beautiful, magical garden. They decided to plant magical plants and flowers.

This Magical Garden had mammoth sunflowers that could touch the moon, and the roses could be smelled from five miles away. The garden had trees that guarded it, and rainbows that made wishes come true. There were magical cats that climbed the guard trees. They helped the trees to see. When there was an intruder, the cats told the guard trees to scare them away. 

Unicorn poop was used as fertilizer to make the plants magical. The fairies grew medicine plants, carrots, and strawberries. 

By Sadie, Reijo, Eli, Ian, Emmett, and James

Paula, a 9th grader, created this outstanding drawing that incorporates the many benefits of community gardens.

dreaming big

Kyla’s dream garden incorporates an insect hotel that will help pollinators survive in the city. Brilliant idea, Kyla!

Dreaming big

Shiloh’s dream garden has a cheese sandwich!

Did we mention we're giving out weekly AND grand prizes thanks to our friends at Gardener's Supply? Check out our Kids Garden Month page for all the details on weekly and grand prizes, contest rules, and how to submit your entries. We can't wait to hear from you!

Thank you to Chartwells for sponsoring Kids Garden Month!

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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Starting Seeds with Kids

Sure, we have a over a foot of snow on the ground here in northern New England, but it’s still seed starting season! (If you’re wondering what seeds to start when or where, check out our resource When to Plant Seeds.) A few weeks ago, we dug out our grow light system, and started the first round of seeds for our community garden plot. (Seed starting for the first time? Read Susan’s blog post to get prepared.) This year, we made it a family activity, and included everyone who wanted to be included, however they wanted to be included.

seed starting with kidsThe grown-ups set up the grow light system, but the kids pretty much did the rest of it. We spread an old towel on the kitchen floor and plunked down to fill our trays with seed-starting mix. My 6-year old garden pixie walked into the kitchen just as I opened the mix and sighed, “Ah, I love the smell of soil.” 

indoor family garden activityThe kids had a lively discussion about who would get to plant which seeds. Luckily we were starting lots of different varieties of eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and flowers, so each kid got to pick their favorite packets.

We were starting seeds that were packed a few years ago, so we over-planted some of our seeds to ensure germination rates. (Looking for a garden lesson plan on germination? Check out Germination Exploration.) Also, the fine motor skills of 3-year olds lend themselves well to over-planting. Just don’t hesitate to thin your plants!

After we plugged in our lights and heat mats, and got our little trays all situated, the fun really began. The following morning, my 3-year old ran to the grow lights and reported back solemnly, “Dey not growed yet.”

seed starting with kidsBut we checked after school every day, watered the plants and the floor and the walls, wiped up lots of spills, and after just a few days, “dey growed!”

Whether under grow lights, or in the soil of a pot by the window or on the porch, there is nothing quite like the magic of watching a seed sprout.

Beth Saunders

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