Container Gardening: Strikes and Gutters

container gardening

Here in Vermont, we’re just starting to reap the rewards of our hard garden work. I love chatting with fellow gardeners about what’s growing well in their gardens this year. I wanted to share one great success, and one colossal failure we’ve had this year.

I’ve got a sizable in-ground community garden plot, but the soil is very sandy and honestly I think it needs a few years of augmentation to be great soil. We’ve struggled with growing things like carrots and beets, and since our family eats lots of carrots, we really want to grow at least some of them!

container gardening
Happy kids with their sizable carrots!

So this year I bought a few fabric bags for growing carrots. (I bought these Grow Bags in a few bright colors.) We filled them with a good local, organic soil designed for containers. We watered them diligently until they sprouted. I mercilessly thinned the carrots. (Ugh, why is thinning carrots so hard?!) Reader, we had fantastic success! My kids pulled up beautiful carrots last week, and we couldn’t be happier. (Well, they fought over who got to eat the purple carrot, but they did eat six carrots in one evening.) There are some that are still pretty tiny, so we’re just doing a few a week, to the dismay of my preschooler who would love nothing more than to pull every.single.carrot out. (Want more info on growing carrots? Check out our carrot growing guide.)

And then there’s the strawberry tower. I wrote about this when we first constructed it. It started off so well! The strawberry plants blossomed! We were all dreaming about shoving our faces full of strawberries. Then, the plants slowly died. Honestly, they may have dried out? The thing was really hard to water. Also, the plants didn’t really have that much soil to work with. My spouse wants to deconstruct it and add a watering source down the middle. I am less into this plan, and want to just plant the strawberries in the ground. But, it was a total fail, and I think we literally got one strawberry from the whole contraption.

What about you? What are your strikes and gutters in the garden this year?

Read in (and About!) the Garden

read about the garden

This month’s KidsGarden News is all about literacy and the garden. So, what better time to continue talking about great children’s books featuring the garden? Last week, Sarah wrote about four books she recommends for folks who garden with kids. I’m going to focus on books to read to kids or that they can read themselves.  

My kids are 4 and 7. Our house is filled with books and we spend a lot of time at the library. Our family of four has four library cards, and at any one time of the month, at least one is maxed out on its borrowing limit of 30 items.   

Here are a few of our family favorites, but please share yours with me too below in the comments so I can go grab them from the library.   

Frog and Toad Together, Arnold Lobel
"The Garden" 

If there was a Frog and Toad fan club, I might just be the president. These books are great for early readers, or for kids who like to be read to. The chapter called “The Garden” has Frog giving seeds to Toad so he can plant his own garden. Toad expects immediate results, and shouts at the seeds to “START GROWING!” This would be a great one to read as you sow seeds in spring to remind kids to be patient with their garden.  

Bee & Me, Alison Jay 

This is a wordless picture book about a city child who befriends a bee after initially being frightened of being stung. The bee misses flowers, though, so they adventure to a rural area to gather seeds to sprinkle around the city. Many children in the city are delighted to see the pollinators that visit the plants. At the end of the book, there are some tips on planting for bees as well as other ways to help them. This would be a good choice before planting a pollinator garden, or perhaps for a child who is fearful of bees. 

Miss Maple’s Seeds, Eliza Wheeler  

This is a sweet and gentle story about a bird-sized woman who cares for seeds over the winter until it’s time for them to start their journey by wind, water, or soil. It would be a good choice for younger kids who like to take care of things (think babies or stuffed animals), perhaps when you start seeds indoors. 

Du Iz Tak?, Carson Ellis 

I love this book. It’s a fantastic read-aloud, and you should get it from the library or book store immediately. It’s written in a made-up language, but the syntax is the same as EnglishThe book follows insects in their discovery of a plant and how it changes throughout the growing season. It’s fun for all ages, but would be a hoot to include in a grammar or language study unit for older elementary school students. Be prepared for the preschool set to want to read this one over and over. You probably won’t mind.  

Zoey and Sassafras: The Pod and The Bog, Asia Citro 

Zoey and Sassafrass is a chapter-book series that my rising second-grader recently got into. It’s about a girl who helps magical creatures. It’s charming and adorable and super STEM-focused. All the books have Zoey solving a natural-world problem using science, but this one is specifically about what a plant needs. My preschooler loves to listen to these as well, so you don’t have to wait on this great series until you have a reader! These would be a great when introducing experiments or this book specifically would be great when studying pollination.  (The link in the beginning of this paragraph goes to a site with loads of activities for the first three books in the series.)

In addition to these, be sure to check out our Read in the Garden activity for more book suggestions, as well as our lesson plans for the books Oliver's Vegetables and Seedfolks.

 

Behind the Scenes of In the Weeds

In the Weeds with Christine

As many of you know, we’ve started a little video series with our education specialist Christine Gall called In the Weeds. Each month, Christine shares a favorite lesson plan from one of our curriculum books and does a quick demonstration. She also shares a few features about the book and what audience it might be most appropriate for.

If you haven’t seen any of our In the Weeds videos, I encourage you to check them out on our YouTube channel, or on our In the Weeds page on our website. We share the latest video in our newsletter, KidsGarden News, each month.

In the Weeds
Sometimes it's cold out there for our In the Weeds video shoots!

One common theme you may notice is that Christine always LOVES the book she’s showcasing. This is, in fact, true, and not just for the camera. We end up using a new copy of each book for each episode because Christine’s copies are so dog-eared and full of sticky notes. She’s a garden educator, and really uses all of these materials!

One thing you may not know is that we give away a copy of the featured curriculum each month. We run these promotions on Facebook and Instagram, so be sure to follow us there in order to be able to enter these giveaways if you’re interested in a particular curriculum book.

I would be really bad at my job as a marketing director if I didn’t also point out that all our curriculum books are for sale through Gardeners Supply Company.

Schools and educational institutions can receive a 25% discount off the regular retail price for items from Gardener’s Supply (discount cannot be applied on top of other discounts). To take advantage of this discount, you must contact Holly-Ruth Stocking at 802-861-7127 or 888-560-1037 and place your order by phone (not available through online shopping at this time). Please mention source code KGO2018.

We hope you like watching In the Weeds as much as we like creating the content. Can I leave you with one of my favorite In the Weeds bloopers? Christine was extra-enthusiastic during a lesson on how seeds travel and got this burr stuck in her hair.

Constructing a Strawberry Tower

strawberry

strawberry tower
The strawberry tower, newly constructed.

My kiddos, like many of their age-mates and fellow humans, LOVE strawberries. In fact, the promise of 1-2 garden strawberries was often how I bribed them to walk to our community garden with me! Our strawberry patch was getting a little tired, and we knew we needed to refresh with new plants this year.

Then along came Taylor.

As you may recall, Taylor was one of our weekly winners for Kids Garden Month. She had a container garden in a baby pool, and the most fascinating strawberry tower made of fence pickets.

strawberry tower
Strawberry plants peeking out of the planter.

I was intrigued. I showed Taylor's video to my spouse, who promptly headed to the lumber yard to buy fence pickets and the correct size hole saw. I promptly ordered 75 bare root strawberry plants from Stark Bro's.

Within two weeks, we had our own strawberry tower! The one hiccup my construction worker reported was that drilling the holes required the use of a corded, rather than cordless drill, since it took so much power to make the holes. (Thanks, Dad, for the loaner. Did we give that back yet?) We buried the bottom of the tower in a planter, then filled it with organic raised bed soil mix, which was a very messy process that resulted in me being completely showered with soil several times. Then we tucked the little bare root plants in the drilled holes. We very carefully wheeled it to the community garden in our Red Flyer wagon, and within a few days, the plants had come to life!

Our next step is to toss some netting over the whole thing so the crows don't get to the berries before we do. We are really excited about this project, and I am so grateful to Taylor for sharing it! Here's to a summer of strawberries!

 

Thank You for Gardening With Kids

Last night I took my pre-schooler to soccer. It's not a team, more like a few weeks where the littles get some experience running around with a ball and having fun. Parent participation is expected, and my kiddo still likes when I'm right by their side in group events. At the end of the time period, the coach said, "and  now I want all of you to yell THANK YOU to your parents for bringing you!"

That's what I want to do! I want to yell THANK YOU to all the parents, teachers, volunteers, aunts and uncles, grandparents, and educators who facilitated the record-breaking participation in our Kids Garden Month contest this year. We know the kids love it, but they don't have any money to buy plants or they need adult supervision to use the glue gun for a seed mosaic. They are able to reflect on what grows in their garden because of YOU!

We are constantly amazed by all of the folks out there who garden with their kids. Every parent who makes it a tradition to plant seeds in early spring, every teacher who goes the extra mile to get their students engaged in the school green space, every volunteer who helps make a school garden possible. Because of you, kids know where there food comes from. Because of you, kids are connecting with nature. Because of you, kids are engaged in experiential, hands-on learning. Because of you, kids are caring for the earth.

Here are KidsGardening, we try to make that work a little easier with activities and lesson plans, garden basics and growing guides, and grants, contests, and giveaways. But it all comes back to the caring grown-ups in kids' lives who get their hands in the soil and make it happen. So, once again, THANK YOU!

(Garden art pictured above is by Oliver R, a kindergartener at the J Center for Early Learning.)

It’s Kids Garden Month!

Kids Garden Month

April is Kids Garden Month! We're celebrating with the KidsGrow contest, and can't wait to see all the amazing things kids will share with us.

If you are interested in having the kids in your life participate, ask them to think about what grows in their garden. Creativity is encouraged! You can also ask them to think about what else might grow in their garden that isn't a plant. For example, are they having fun?  How does gardening make them feel the food they eat? Do they like to spend time with family, friends, or classmates in the garden? What do they do with the garden's harvest?

We created this contest to lift up the powerful and meaningful impact kids have on their community. Gardening can be a springboard to healthier eating, community engagement, and environmental stewardship. These intangible benefits of gardening will last longer than any zucchini or bean you might grow. 

We so look forward to seeing what's growing in your kids' gardens! You can find all the contest rules and methods of entry on our Kids Garden Month 2019 page.

Follow along on our social media accounts (below), and here on the blog, to keep up with all the fun things we're doing this month to celebrate gardening with kids.

Pictured above, a poem by a 7-year-old that reads, "In spring the garden's ready. The seeds are planted, we are watering. The wind blows. I sprout."

Prickly Palace Part Two

cactus from seed

cactus from seed
They are really tiny! Paperclip for scale.

Many months ago, I shared our office planting experiment - the Prickly Palace! To catch you up, we started growing cactus from seed over a year ago. (Has it been that long?!) Ever so slowly, the cactus keep growing.

At least we think they're growing. Honestly, they are so slow that it's hard to tell. But looking back to the image from my blog post ten months ago, they've changed, so that's a good sign. Here's what we've done to help them along since our last post, in case you are looking to try this project in your home or classroom.

Our seedlings are in a windowsill. We live in Vermont, and this winter has been very, very cold. So we put a heat mat under the seedlings just to keep them from getting too chilled.

cactus from seed
Cactus food.

We water 2-3 times a week. The soil gets dry really fast with the heat mat on. In the last month or so, we started using some liquid plant food in a spray bottle, and now that's what we use to water each time. The cactus are responding well! It seems like a few of them have grown tiny arms (maybe they are arms, we can't tell what kind of cactus they are yet!), which is a very exciting development.

prickly palace cactus from seed
A particularly odd looking baby cactus. Do you know what it will grow up to be?

They aren't yet big enough to move into their own pots, but maybe after a summer of growth we will have some repotting to do. Their pots will be so tiny! Let us know if you have any questions, or even better, some advice! If you've done this before we'd love to hear from you.

 

 

Flower Printing

flower printing

Last time I blogged, I told you all about the amaryllis I planted with my kids! I’m back with another amaryllis craft, but this one involves a meat mallet.

After our amaryllis bloom began to fade, I cut off the stalk. The flower still looked to have some life in it, and I immediately thought of the leaf and flower print activity we added to our website a few months ago. In the middle of winter, you bet your garden spade I’m going to squeeze every last bit of life out of a flower!

flower printing
Hammering with an improvised mallet.

The material list for the activity is pretty simple, but I couldn’t find my rubber mallet. I am thinking it’s tucked somewhere in the garage and honestly it was too cold to root around in there hunting for it. So instead I wrapped some wool felt around a meat mallet and let my 7-year old have at it.

She had two flowers to work with, and for the first, she picked off all the petals and rearranged them into a flower shape on the fabric. (See header image above.)

For the second, she just laid the bloom down and hammered away to see what would happen.

flower printing
Red flowers blooming, but purple pigments printing!

Here’s what I found to be most fascinating about this activity – the prints turned out purple! The amaryllis flowers were very bright ruby red. I’m sure there is a fascinating scientific explanation for this. If you have theories - or facts! - of why this happened, please share in the comments.

Here’s my review of this activity: I would DEFINITELY do it again. I would, however, use fresh flowers instead of somewhat mushy faded ones. I’d also use a variety of flowers and leaves instead of just one. We’ll repeat this one in the summer when we have more flower to choose from!

flower printing
Carefully placed amaryllis petals.

A wilted amaryllis flower, hammered by a 7-year-old.

 

Amaryllis Adventures with Kids

kid planting an amaryllis bulb

We are deep into winter here in Vermont, and it’s no surprise that amaryllis bulbs are bringing me great joy in this time of hibernation. I planted them with my kids early in December and our whole family has really been enjoying them! Nary a day goes by that someone doesn’t comment on the bulbs, it’s been a fun, beautiful way to enjoy living plants in this season of ice and snow.

amaryllis with kids
Huge bloom! This (now-faded) double flower was bigger than my toddler's head.

Confession: I only have one houseplant at home. Our house faces north, and we really don’t get great light. So I was a little unsure how amaryllis would fare, but honestly they are pretty determined plants. I gave one to my daughter’s kindergarten class last year, and it bloomed in their windowless classroom (yes I know that’s so sad).

I picked up two amaryllis at my local garden center from the mystery bin. They had probably 20 different types of bulbs at the start of December, each with photos of the blooms. I was immediately drawn to the mystery variety discount bulbs – maybe they rolled out of the bins, and folks didn’t know what kind they were. Since I’ve never seen an ugly amaryllis, I thought it sounded like such a fun way to shop! Kind of like the mystery DumDum lollipops they used to give out at the bank.

Real life: Despite rotating and staking, this flower leaned over for most of its life. Still loved it.

Amaryllis is really so easy that your kids can do it all themselves! Potting it is simple, and so is watering and rotating the pot to ensure even growth. Of the two we planted in December, one has completed a bloom and is already growing a second flower stalk. The other is a bit poky, and has about a ½ inch of a leaf starting to poke out.

It’s not too late to pot one up and have it bloom before spring! Search your local garden center, or scour the interwebs for bulbs. (Gardener’s Supply Company still has a few in stock, for example.) If you’re new to growing amaryllis like me, check out Growing Amaryllis with Kids – I know I’ll be referring to it all year long to keep my current bulbs healthy and blooming year after year.

Mister Chris and Christine!

Mister Chris and Friends is a new children's show on Vermont PBS, and KidsGardening's education specialist Christine Gall appears in several episodes as Farmer Christine. She had a fantastic time working on the show, and we are so excited to share it with you.

Each new episode of Mister Chris and Friends is designed as an educational lesson on an aspect of the natural world, combined with the show’s foundational approach of creating a safe and welcoming environment in which to learn and explore.

The show is incredibly sweet, and if you need to unwind with the littles in your life, you should check it out! May we recommend episode 3, where Christine is the featured guest?

Seeds: In this episode, we wish with our friend Wishing Well that we could grow bigger... right now! Mister Chris will work with our farmer friend, Christine, to learn more about what a seed needs to grow, including time.

You can watch the entire series at Vermont PBS.