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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Vegetable Scrap Painting

vegetable scrap painting

It’s been a looooong cold winter here in Vermont, and it’s only January. When it’s dangerously cold outside (high of -5°F) our family starts getting into science experiments and art projects. Trying to think of ways to brighten up our winter doldrums with a garden-related activity, my mind turned to the KidsGardening lesson plan Exploring Plant Dyes.

Not one to actually follow directions, I took some liberties with this lesson plan. First, I didn’t really want to permanently dye anything, but since we go through an obscene amount of paint in our house, I thought it might be interesting to try to make some paint from vegetable scraps.

As I was scrounging around in the refrigerator for the purple cabbage, I also found some rainbow carrots that had seen better days. My six-year old peeled a few outer leaves off the cabbage, and peeled the carrots. I chopped the carrots, and we put them in two saucepans with a few cups of water. We had one saucepan for the cabbage and dark purple carrots, and another for the yellow and red carrots. (Note, our purple carrots were purple all the way through. Some varieties have purple skin and orange flesh.)

After an hour or so on the stove, our purple veggie scraps yielded a lovely, deep purple water. The yellow and red carrots, though, barely colored the water at all. (We had been hoping for orange.) So I sprinkled in a bit of ground turmeric, and after 15 minutes or so, our water was very orange!

vegetable scrap paintingI strained the veggies out using a fine mesh strainer, and let the water cool in mason jar. I left it on the counter for a few days until we had some time to paint.

This was a mistake.

Guess what happens when you leave cabbage water in a tightly sealed jar at room temperature? Yep, it stinks. The turmeric paint wasn’t as bad.

As we’re painting, my six-year old says, “Mommy, this kind of smells bad. It smells like farts.” 

The colors were muted, but it was still fun. If we did it again, which is a big if, I would plan to paint as soon as the water cooled.

The moral of this blog post? If you follow the directions in KidsGardening lesson plans or activities, you’ll likely have success. If you wing it, you end up with fart paint.

Beth Saunders

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Gardening Gifts for Kids

gardening gift guide

If you have littles in your life that love to garden, or you want to make a commitment to get your kids in the garden this next growing season, consider adding one or more of these items to your holiday shopping list! It would be fun to make your own gift set with a few of these items, collected together in a colorful TubTrug, and tied up with some garden twine.

  1. Real garden tools, in sizes just for little hands.
    Could you imagine trying to use a full-size shovel as a hand trowel? That’s what it must feel like for small children to use your garden tools! These brightly colored tools would be a welcome addition to any kid’s tool collection.

  2. Books in Bloom, Discovering the plant biology in great children’s literature.
    I absolutely love this book. It’s been on my bookshelf at work since my second day with KidsGardening. This book has lesson plans for grades preK-5, and is written for a teacher or home educator.

  3. Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Gardening Together with Children, by Sharon Lovejoy (KidsGardening Advisory Board member!)
    A dear friend of my mother’s gave me this book, because she knows how much I love to garden with my kids. It’s full of wonderful activities and ideas for gardening with kids.

  4. A plant tower.
    Perfect for setting up in a classroom near a window, or a sunny spot in your house, a plant tower will let kids start tender fruit and vegetables inside, or let them experiment with houseplants. Use code SCHOOL at checkout to purchase a plant tower from Flowerhouse for only $40!

  5. Garden-themed picture books.
    There are so many wonderful gardening-themed books for kids, this section could be it's own post! Here are a few favorites of mine and our garden educator, Christine.
    Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin & Harry Bliss
    Enormous Potato, by Aubrey Davis
    The Littlest Gardener, by Emily Hughes
    Tops & Bottoms, by Janet Stevens
    The Carrot Seed, by Ruth Krauss
    Bee & Me, by Alison Jay

  6. Seed packets in their favorite colors.
    Pop over to your local garden center, and choose easy-to-grow varieties of flowers or vegetables in colors your kid loves. Tending a garden of flowers–or even vegetables–full of favorite colors actually sounds like something I might want to do next year…

  7. Amaryllis bulbs.
    Amaryllis are so fun for kids because they grow so quickly! These are wonderful to brighten the indoors of any home or classroom. Bonus: Susan has a wonderful post on growing amaryllis with kids.

  8. A donation to KidsGardening.
    Using the garden as a hands-on teaching tool connects children with nature, helps them know where food comes from, and encourages environmental stewardship. A gift of $12 to KidsGardening will give one more kid the joy of learning through the garden next year.

What are some of your favorite gifts for little green thumbs? Share in the comments!

Beth Saunders

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Popping Poppy Seed Pods

Popping Poppy Seeds Pods
Happy toddler collecting dried poppy seed pods.

I really love poppies. You know in the fall or spring when you wander into the garden center for some bulbs, there’s always something you can’t resist? For me, it’s a package of poppy seeds. Nothing beats their vibrant color! They hardly bloom for more than a few days, but they’re prolific and when one loses its petals to a hard rain, another is shortly on the way. But as much as I love the flowers, I think my kids love the seed pods even more.

Seeds spilled on the sidewalk. Oops.

The red poppies and violet poppies growing in my yard reseed themselves quite nicely. They’ve been coming back year after year, even though we always collect the seeds pods and then forget to sprinkle them around the garden. (Poppy seeds generally like to overwinter in your garden.) We have, however, gifted a few tablespoons of seeds to our neighbor’s mother, who also loves poppies.

At our house, we like to collect the brown, dried pods for a few weeks, and then open a whole bunch of seed pods at once. It’s not necessarily an activity with a purpose, we just put them into a jar. But it’s fun, it gives the kids a way to be involved in the garden clean-up, and it’s cool to see how many tiny seeds are in each pod.

Maybe this year we’ll sprinkle our collected seeds into homemade plantable paper to give as teachers’ gifts, or make our own child-illustrated seed packets to give away.

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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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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Let’s Check on the Strawberries

successful year in the school garden

Taking my two kids to our community garden plot can sometimes feel like a monumental outing, despite the fact that it’s one block away from where we live. After a long day at school, they usually want to cuddle up with a book and bowl of Goldfish crackers, but if I’ve got kale on the menu for dinner, we need to venture out. Here are a few of my tricks to get everyone excited about checking out the garden.

  • A fun method of transportation. While our plot is only a block away, sometimes getting there is half the battle. The proximity makes it a great distance for a wagon ride. In the spring, when we were hauling plant supports and starts to the garden, we piled all the plants and small people into the wagon. Now, the wagon is great for hauling home a bucketful of cherry tomatoes, as well as little legs. Sometimes we’ll ride our bikes, but our plot is so close that we end up riding around the block a few times and then stopping at the garden.
  • My garden bribery strawberries. Quarter for scale.

    “Let’s go check on the strawberries!” This is what I say every.single.time I am getting my kids excited for a trip to the garden. We planted Day Neutral strawberries, which produce fruit continually throughout the summer. I’m always crossing my fingers the harvest goddess will come to my rescue and produce fruit in even numbers, because the math just does not work out to have one strawberry and two kids.

  • Their own produce bag. Allowing them to harvest hardier plants gives them ownership of the garden and what grows there. Sometimes my two year old puts green beans or tomatillos in her bag. Most of the time she collects wood chips and rocks.
  • Water-ready shoes and their own watering can. At ages 5 and 2, my kids think waterplay is the best summer activity ever. My 5 year old can fill a watering can and the kids will take turns watering the basil plants over and over again while I quickly cut kale for dinner.

The other day, as we toodled home with a full basket of garden goodies, my five-year old said, unprompted, “When you said ‘let’s go to the garden!’ I really didn’t want to go but I actually had a lot of fun.”

Do you have to cajole your kids to your community garden plot, or are they excited to see what’s growing?

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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