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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Growing Kids and Community on an Atlanta Urban Farm and Garden

Nine years ago, Bobby Wilson retired from the University of Georgia (UGA) Cooperative Extension. While the norm at this time of your life is to dream of relaxation, staycations and travel, Bobby had a different idea.   He used his retirement funds to purchase a 5-acre plot in downtown Atlanta, a decision supported by his wife, Margaret, and his family.

He called it the Metro Atlanta Urban Farm, and it’s now the headquarters of The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA), which Bobby was a leader and past president.

While at UGA as a Cooperative Extension Agent, he worked with underserved area residents in urban areas. One of his favorite initiatives involved working with seniors, many who were scared to venture outside in their neighborhoods. He used the garden to get the seniors outside and engaged in creating urban garden plots. In the housing projects he visited, he became known as the ‘garden man’ and was left alone.

“Retire?,’ says Bobby with a laugh, “I never thought of retiring and now I can work without getting bogged down in paperwork. Teaching underserved folks how to grow food has always been more than just about growing vegetables – you’re growing people no matter what their age.”

“We use our farm as a teaching tool and an empowerment zone. We want to give kids and people of all ages a sense of their worth and what they can do and that by focusing on something they can accomplish a lot for themselves and others,” continued Bobby.

So what kind of dividends has his retirement plan yielded?   Here’s a partial list:

  • 300 to 400 homeless are fed per month with produce from the farm through the Atlanta Union Mission
  • Site visits to churches and other nonprofits to help them identify garden leaders and sites to grow their own food with guidance from farm experts
  • Created the Metro Atlanta Urban Garden Leadership association as an opportunity to get urban gardeners together for gardening know-how, leadership, networking and problem-solving
  • 5,000 elementary school age kids per year visit the farm on fields trips to better understand the relationship between their food and the soil
  • Community service option for juvenile offenders. He’s now hired two of the kids who came from that program, as they’re not just working in the garden, but learning to cook, how to engage with others who may have different viewpoints and the value of teamwork
  • 500 children visit the farm’s seasonal festivals. They bring policeman to the event so children can meet and engage with the police in a friendly and safe space.

Bobby’s an example of how wealth should be measured – how you give back, engage with community and create meaningful change.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Bobby for about 20 years as an ACGA Board member and also had the opportunity to visit the farm last September at a Garden Writers Association conference.

All of us here at KidsGardening believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn through the garden and Bobby, Cathy, and their team only reaffirm our determination and passion for what we do. Learn more about the impact of getting more kids learning through the garden

PHOTO CREDITS: Rob Cardillo

Blog by: Maree Gaetani

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Meet the Blogger – Beth Saunders

community gardening with kids

I’m so thrilled to have joined the KidsGardening team and to be able to share my experiences of community gardening with kids on the Growing Ideas blog. I’ve been a community gardener for six years now, but before that I had relatively little garden experience. My mom kept a vegetable garden growing up, but I was always scared to go to that part of the property because I once saw my dad removing a (live) snake on the end a shovel. That was enough to keep me on the other side of the yard.

kid in a garden
Author, as a child, with a scowl that would scare a snake.

I live in Burlington, VT, with my young family. We have a good-sized yard for city living, but we also have lots of shade and northern exposure. With big plans for growing our own food after our move to Vermont from Washington, DC, we turned to community gardening. It’s been wonderful to meet new people, glean some knowledge off of the master gardeners, and have lots of fresh vegetables and even a few fruits throughout the summer.

Our plot can best be described as utilitarian. Some of the plots in our garden are absolutely gorgeous, with handmade trellises of gathered driftwood, gorgeous earth with not a weed to be seen, artfully arranged crops that almost look like a labyrinth garden. Mine is covered with straw mulch. Weeds peek out on the edges. My tomato cages are a little rusty and very crooked. Kid-planted seeds grow in odd clumps. It is not, to my daughter’s dismay, fancy. But we love it and it suits us perfectly.

As my little ones are still pretty little (5 and 2), they come along to the garden quite a bit. I’ll be using my blog space to share my experiences and tips growing food and flowers in a communal space with little ones. Spoiler alert: “that’s not ours!” comes up quite a bit.

You don’t have to leave your kids at home if you grow in a community garden. Grab the sprinkle can, throw the kids in the wagon, and the whole family can enjoy growing food with your neighbors.

Blog by: Beth Saunders

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