Turning Trash into Garden Treasure

garden treasure

As we enter into the winter holiday season, I don’t know about you, but I find myself surrounded by more stuff and unfortunately, I also find that I am generating more waste too. Between preparing extra meals and treats for special events and visiting guests, gift exchanges, craft days, and my sad attempts at decorating, it seems like the paper, plastic, and cardboard especially in my life seems to grow exponentially. Although recycling is good, I think we are all quickly realizing that a better solution is to find ways to reuse products ourselves rather than having them enter the waste management stream at all.

So today, I thought I would share some of the articles and activities we have on KidsGardening for reusing and repurposing items to use in the garden. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire you to stop and take a look at things before dropping them in the trash can or recycling bin this holiday season.

Carton 2 Garden Contest
The 2019-2020 Carton 2 Garden Contest is now underway. Schools can enter to win prizes for projects that come up with creative ways to re-purpose milk and juice cartons to either build or enhance their school garden. For inspiration, you can view projects from past winners or you can also receive a set of special lesson plans for using cartons by registering your interest in this year’s contest. Cartons can be from school or from home, so what better way to use all those extra juice and milk cartons you purchased for holiday guests. [Header image above is from a past year Carton 2 Garden winner.]

Reducing, Reusing and Recycling in the Garden
An awesome set of ideas from Annie Warmke, a former KidsGardening Advisory Board member, this article provides ideas for reusing jar lids, tin cans, campaign signs (another product of the month of November), baby food jars, metal baskets, plastic sandwich bags, soda bottles, grocery store bags, and much, much more.

Homemade Botanical Paper
Make paper out of paper and turn them into bookmarks, ornaments, stationary and other handmade gifts. You can also throw in a few seeds and the paper can later be planted in the spring to kick of your garden.

Garden Art Boxes
Boxes everywhere right? Turn them into activity kits that will help your young gardeners explore.

Compost Bins and Worm Compost Bins
Finally, don’t forget about all that food waste. You can turn extra food scraps into garden gold by composting them.  If your weather is not ideal for starting an outdoor compost bin, explore ways to construct a worm compost bin which can be (and in most cases should be) located indoors.

Peas, Pollinators, and (Hydro)Ponics

Fall finally made it to Texas (this is the first week that our day time temperatures have not been in the 90s) and our gardens are rejoicing.  In spite of the summer that just would not quit, we kicked off our fall planting the first Friday of October and we have had some unhappy plants the last few weeks including lettuce seed that has just refused to grow.  Honestly, I was tired of being outside too. We are all happy about the cooler temperatures!

For those of you new to the blog, in addition to my work at KidsGardening, I also help coordinate the gardens at my son’s elementary school.  This school year we are trying a few new things while also keeping a few fan favorites, so I thought I would share our line up with you.  

school garden pictures
Sugar snap pea races

First up, we started our annual Sugar Snap Pea races with our third graders.  Each class divided into four teams and each team planted sugar snap peas at the base of one of the poles of their class teepee.  The kids picked out team names and the team whose plants get to the top first will win a small prize (last year it was a bookmark).  In addition to garden planting, we also made plant pals this year (homemade “chia” pets with panty hose, soil and grass seed) and that activity was such a hit.  The whole school now wants one (teachers and parents included). We ring our sugar snap pea beds with blooming annuals and also talk about pollinators and companion planting. We did very similar plantings with our PreK classes (although without the contest portion and with a more informal lesson structure).

We are also trying two new things this school year.  With our second grade classes, we are working on the Cabot Pollinator Patch Program.  Created through a partnership with the great folks at Cabot Creamery Co-operative, this program provides a series of activities designed to promote and build awareness around the importance of protecting pollinators.

Pollinator garden at school
Pollinator garden

In the garden, the second graders planted a variety of blooming annuals along with sowing spring flowering wildflower seeds.  The kids placed small butterfly decorations where the wildflower seeds are planted in anticipation of the butterflies to come next spring (and also so everyone remembers that we did plant something there so the new sprouts do not get accidentally “weeded”). We also played many rousing rounds of the “Be the Bee” game to teach kids about some of the reasons why bees and other pollinator populations are declining.  We are going to follow it up in the coming weeks with additional activities from the program to hopefully firmly plant a love for pollinators in our young gardeners.

And last but not least, our fourth grade classes are getting a look at farming of the future as we explore hydroponics. KidsGardening is working with The National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation to help support their Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project through the development of a guide to help elementary educators introduce students to hydroponic gardening.  Although not an official pilot site, our fourth grade classes are getting a chance to give hydroponics a try (and also play guinea pig on the new lessons). In addition to learning the basics of hydroponics through videos and activities, we have planted lettuce 3 different ways so that they can see the differences first hand. We have planted lettuce in an AeroGarden Farm hydroponic unit, in pots placed under grow lights and also out in raised garden beds. The photos I am sharing with you were taken after 2 weeks of growth.  Due to our extreme heat, the hydroponic and grow light lettuce plants are out pacing our outdoor plants by leaps and bounds. The students are definitely getting to see the benefits of being able to control environmental conditions like temperature and moisture. As the weather cools (and hopefully those outdoor plants will start growing), I know we will have lots of other opportunities for comparison like leaf color and thickness, pest problems and water usage. I promise to share more as our experiment continues. (Grow outdoor lettuce! Grow!).

The last few weeks have been busy and demanding, but as always, getting back into the garden reminds me why I do what I do.  The garden is the perfect hands-on tool for teaching kids about science in a fun way while also connecting them to their environment and helping them gain an appreciation for our food system.  Digging in the soil and watching the seeds and plants grow, is an experience that can not be replaced through virtual reality and it is an opportunity that every child everywhere needs.  

Lettuce
Lettuce under grow lights

Lettuce
Hydroponic lettuce

Lettuce
Lettuce sprouts outside in the hot Texas fall

Crowdfunding for School Gardens

crowdfunding for school gardens

The back to school season also means back to fundraising. The purchasing of school supplies and new shoes is quickly followed by efforts to help raise money to fund the educational needs and activities not supported by the school district. (For many of you, I bet this is an amount that seems to grow each year). At my children’s school, I am in the midst of volunteering for campaigns to help raise the funds to support this year’s demands and my energy and pocketbook are quickly draining. I have spent a lot of time this year researching fundraising options and thinking about the philosophy behind giving and knowing that many of you are probably in the same boat, I wanted to share some thoughts.

The traditional youth and school fundraisers centered on the sale of products are quickly getting replaced by crowdfunding alternatives. What is crowdfunding? Broadly defined, crowdfunding is fundraising efforts focused on raising small amounts of money from large numbers of people generally without the exchange of any type of goods. Frequently they involve the use of online platforms and social media or in some cases efforts are organized around events.

The administration at both of the schools I work with are fully behind (and strongly encourage) using crowdfunding techniques rather than product sales. They like crowdfunding campaigns because more of the money raised goes directly to the school – it is a great thing to be able to promote. That being said, one of the challenges I have found is that people do not fully understand the time and energy it takes to conduct a successful crowd fundraiser. You have to replace the reward of a product with the motivation to give just to give. To do this you have to be so very clear about the goals of your programs and expenses, why they are important and the critical need for the funding. Communicating this information is much more complicated than just throwing together a fun run or putting together an online fundraising website. It comes down to sharing your story and marketing it in such a way that folks who are not involved with it on a day to day basis truly understand the value of what you are doing. I can honestly say from working on both types of fundraisers, that the product fundraisers I have worked on have been less time consuming and tend to bring in the same if not more money. However, that being said, crowdfunding campaigns do something that product sales do not. A successful crowdfunding campaign creates a sense of community and cultivates feelings of ownership that, over the long run, expands the number of people invested in your efforts which will hopefully contribute to the sustainability of your program in the future.

So what are some tips for creating a successful crowdfunding campaign? KidsGardening recently participated in a webinar from the School Garden Support Organization on Crowdfunding for School Gardens and if you have the chance, check out the archive for more information. In addition to talking about a social marketing campaign we hosted using the Crowdrise platform, and sharing some of the tips I have gathered, Hillary Lyons shared information about the Embrace Joy and Justice Campaign from Slow Food USA, and Roger Doiron introduced us all to Seedmoney.org.

If you are thinking about exploring the use of a crowdfunding campaign for your school garden, you really need to check out Seedmoney.org. Specifically focused on helping garden programs (both in the United States and around the world), Seedmoney provides the platform and the assistance to help you conduct a month-long crowdfunding campaign (from November 15th through December 15th). On top of that, they also have grant opportunities for the chance to earn matching funds. The deadline to apply to participate is November 12th, so make sure to check it out now if you are interested.

I will leave you with these thoughts. As I begin to get weary in asking for money, I try to find ways to remind myself why it is important – I have to pair the tedious fundraising work with some time out in the school garden surrounded by the little smiling faces eager to learn to remind myself these efforts help create a school environment that is positive for teachers and students. Also, I try to always remember the importance of telling the story. It is important to remember that when you are knee deep in the weeds, not everyone has the same perspective, but that does not mean they do not want to help. And my last tip is to always remember the importance of saying thank you for every donation, no matter the size. Gratitude is a two way street. It is important to the donor, but it also fuels the recipient. It helps remind you that you are not alone and you have people supporting your efforts.

Teaching Kids to Protect Our Pollinators

Pollinator Patch

This summer at North Wind Day Camp in Canton, New York, 49 curious and intrepid campers, ages 7-12, earned the Pollinator Patch created by Cabot Creamery Cooperative and KidsGardening. The free patch program was developed to help children understand the importance of pollinators in our world and teach them practical ways they can help protect and preserve pollinator populations.

Pollinator PatchSeventh generation Cabot farmer, Allison Akin, of Five Mile Farm in Lisbon, New York led the pollinator activities. The campers worked hard to earn their patches, but also had fun learning about pollinators and their vital importance in growing food for people and animals. They learned that more than 150 of our common food crops, from avocados to zucchini, rely on pollinators to move pollen among flowers and facilitate fertilization, which leads to the development of fruits and seeds. Pollination occurs not only with bees, but also hummingbirds, moths, bats, butterflies, flies, and beetles. They all ensure the continued existence of millions of plant species. The campers learned that one of every three mouthfuls of our food depend on pollinators.

How did they learn about the work of pollinators? With fun activities and games. “Be the Bee” is a game that demonstrates how pollinators work, going from plant to plant. It was also a great way for campers to get to know one another and work cooperatively. They learned about the anatomy of flowers from those growing around them and went on to color and label each plant. And they learned about ways they could encourage pollinators to thrive in their neighborhood by planting gardens that would attract and support a healthy pollinator community.

Pollinator Patch Be the Bee Capturing the imaginations and commitment of young campers with the activities required to earn the Pollinator Patch is one more way we can encourage the health and well being of our communities and our planet. If you or your organization would like to learn more about how your group can help children earn the Pollinator Patch, go to the Cabot website’s Pollinator page for more information.

Inspiration for Early Childhood Gardens

early childhood gardens

Need a little inspiration for your early childhood garden program this fall?  Check out the Gro More Good Webinar Series we have been working on with the National Head Start Association and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.

This month’s webinar featured resources for using garden programs as a tool for teaching literacy.  As an introduction, I expanded on many of the tips from our article on Creating a Reading Garden and Becky Schedler from Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens shared some amazing lesson and activity ideas they have used at their Nature School over the years.  You can view the webinar by filling out the registration form.  As soon as you register, you will be redirected to a recording of the full hour-long session, which you can watch at your convenience.

Becky presented on ideas from their vegetable gardens inspired by the book “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!” by Candace Fleming, their flower gardens centered around Lois Ehlert’s book “Planting a Rainbow,” and my favorite, an imagination garden building on a variety of Jack in the Beanstalk books. To give you a sneak peak, here are a few ideas from their Jack and the Beanstalk garden.

The class:

  • read an assortment of  books inspired by the classic tale of Jack
  • researched different types of beans including pole and bush beans
  • created a set of instructions on how to plant beans
  • planted the garden and added labels and whimsical accessories like hanging baskets of white flowering plants to serve as clouds and small farm animals and tractors to help the kids imagine the towering bean plant
  • planted bean seeds in paper towels so they could watch the roots grow and explored germination
  • made lifecycle cards and practiced sequencing
  • retold the story using props both in the garden and in the classroom
  • hosted a sensory table featuring bean seeds
  • held a taste test of different types of beans and created a class chart of favorite
  • used beans in cooking activities
  • took beans and activity ideas home to share with their families.

So much fun!  And so well integrated into the classroom curriculum!  Our school NEEDS this garden! I can’t wait to share all these ideas with our school’s Head Start teachers!  (Can you tell I am excited about this?)

In addition to the webinar series, on our website, we have also created a landing page with links to a lot of our favorite early childhood related resources.  Also, if you are looking for recommendations for excellent garden and nature focused children’s books, make sure to check out the Growing Good Kids Book Awards from the Junior Master Gardener program and the American Horticultural Society.  An expanding collection since 2005 (and in 2005 they recognized classic books written before 2005), the 2019 winners were just announced in July and they are all delightful. Tying gardens to treasured books is an excellent way to engage young children in gardening activities and help fuel their love of reading by connecting books to hands-on activities. It is a win-win situation.

We are working with NHSA on a line up of new webinars for the 2019-2020 school year so keep an eye out for more to come soon!

Summer Photo Contest

As I look through the pictures that have been submitted for our 2019 Summer Photo Contest, I am reminded of the old saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I love looking through all the photos of kids in their gardens showing off their beautiful spaces and prized harvest with faces full of joy. What do these pictures say to me? They say that getting kids gardening is important work and worth the time, energy, and resources I am dedicating to help make it happen. What do they say to you?

Photography has changed so much since I was a kid. I can still remember the suspense of picking up prints from the store wondering if your vacation pictures turned out well or, as usually was the case with the photos I took, were they out of focus with a thumb featured in them? With the evolution of digital photography, and especially the invention of the cell phone camera, the taking and sharing of photos has become an integral part of our world. Photos are powerful. We use them to communicate big stuff like expressing our thoughts and feelings, telling our stories and sharing news, documenting our joy and sorrow, and to hold our memories.

And just like any communication tool, we interpret images through the lens of our own experience and understanding. This is why different people can look at the same picture and yet formulate a completely different take away message.

So today I thought I would share a few photos of our family’s gardening adventures that are special to me and why.

The header photo above is a picture of flowers arranged by my son last summer. All on his own, he decided he want to make some arrangements and quickly picked every flower in our outdoor and indoor gardens. He proudly displayed them in a collection of assorted vases (which also each have a story of their own). He was so proud of his work, he then asked to borrow my camera to take this picture of his floral display. I love looking at this picture because we were going through a lot of struggles at the time and I can distinctly remember how light and happy we both felt doing this simple activity. It gave us a win when we really needed one.

Every fall, we plant container gardens of pansies – I love pansies so much – they are the happiest flowers around. This photo is of my daughter when she was 4 posing as we worked on our annual planting of bulbs and pansies. So it combines one of my favorite annual gardening activities with memories of her cute curls and sweet face.

Soil garden anyone? This photo is also from our annual pansy planting, but around 2 years later and it shows my son digging into the soil. The pansies never made it into his pot that year. Many of his earliest gardens were just pots of soil that he would enjoy digging through and watering … sometimes he would dress them up with some found natural items scattered about. Not exactly what I had planned, but a good learning experience for us both.

 

Lastly here is a picture from one of the early years of our school garden when the wood was still fresh and everything was new and exciting. After many years of watering, weeding and working to sustain the garden program, remembering how and why we got it started provides some inspiration to keep it going even when challenges abound.

Your turn! Please share some of your photos with us through our Summer Photo Contest!

Summer Reading List

summer reading list

I love to read. There is nothing better than finding a book that is so well written it captures all of your attention while you read it and leaves behind thoughts that stay close to the surface of your memory when you get done.  Our July KidsGarden News shares some ideas for engaging young readers through gardening, so I thought in today’s blog, I would share a few books for the grown-ups involved with youth gardens too.  Here are some of my current favorites:

Teaming with Microbes by Jeff Lowenfels and Wayne Lewis

Soil is really cool and this book will prove it to you.  I have read many books on soil and have attended a wide range of classes, labs, and workshops too, but it was reading this book that really brought soil alive for me. The authors do an amazing job of sharing a lot of technical information in a very easy to understand and relatable way.  Soil is not only a key to a successful garden, it is also a key to a healthy planet. As garden educators, I believe we should spend more time teaching youth about soil and this book will give you a strong background to do it.

Understanding Food and Climate Change by The Center for Ecoliteracy

A digital guide that includes not only written text, but also an assortment of videos and other interactive graphics, Understanding Food and Climate Change is a good starting place for learning about and considering the many factors related to the issue of climate change. It provides a number of resources that could be used to help you introduce and discuss this very important and complex topic with your youth gardeners.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

I love this book for many reasons, but I have added it to this list because I think the excerpts in which Michelle Obama discusses the White House Garden and what the garden meant to her, her family and beyond are great reminders of the power of gardening. The process of organizing and running youth garden programs comes with many rewards, but make no mistake, it is hard work and definitely not without a fair number of challenges.  Finding sources of inspiration whether that be in a book, through news or research articles, or formal or informal networking with others in the youth garden world is key for keeping up your motivation. Don’t underestimate your need to refuel mentally and emotionally for your gardening efforts.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection is a book about engaging in the practice of wholehearted living which I doubt I can do justice explaining myself in this short blog, but the take away message of this book for me was that it is important to dig into life with courage and compassion.  Once again you might be thinking, how does this book relate to youth gardening?  Teaching youth and growing plants are only part of the equation behind youth garden programming.  Working with adults (volunteers, parents, administrators, neighbors, maintenance crews, cafeteria staff, donors, and many more…) is also a critical component to creating a successful and sustainable youth garden program. We live in a society that is quick with criticism and many times short on appreciation and praise and even when working towards a worthy cause like a youth garden program, you can’t escape those challenges. Brené Brown has a number of books related to leadership and communication that I have found helpful as I navigate the process of working as a garden coordinator and volunteer. I am listing The Gifts of Imperfection here because I think it is a good place to start. I would recommend all of her books as tools for thinking about setting your goals, understanding your own motivation and helping you navigate the relationships involved in your garden program.

 

So, grab some books and head out to the garden with your young gardeners. Check out our latest article for ideas on creating special places in your garden for reading.

Celebrating Pollinators

Celebrating Pollinators

Pull out the party hats --- or better yet the antennae headbands --- next week, June 17th-23rd is National Pollinator Week!

Established through a Senate Resolution in 2007, National Pollinator Week was established to help bring attention to declining pollinator populations. More than 150 common food crops, from avocados to zucchini (and most importantly chocolate and coffee), rely directly on pollinators to move pollen among flowers to facilitate fertilization, which ultimately leads to the development of fruits and seeds. Beyond human food crops, an estimated 75% of all flowering plants rely on pollinators so the impact of declining pollinator numbers has significant implications for ecosystems across the globe.

Fortunately, efforts to bring attention to this crisis are showing signs of success.  For example, as part of the National Pollinator Garden Network, KidsGardening helped promote the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge with the goal of creating networks of home and community gardens across the country to provide habitats for pollinators.  This February the collaborative team proudly announced reaching our goal of having over 1,000,000 pollinator friendly sites registered. Data collected and shared in a final impact report indicated that the Challenge went far beyond the registered sites showing that it led to a shift in consumer awareness, and wider actions such as pro-pollinator pledges, proclamations and policies. Since the campaign launch, 92 percent of garden centers have seen an increase in demand for pollinator-friendly plants and services and 86 percent are offering more pollinator-friendly plants, services, and education.  It is not too late to join!  You can continue to register your pollinator garden and be part of the initiative.

Looking for specific activity ideas for how engage your youth garden program participants during National Pollinator Week? Explore the new Pollinator Patch Program created through our partnership with Cabot Creamery Co-operative. The guide offers activities designed to help participants understand the importance of pollinators in our world and teach them practical ways they can help protect and preserve pollinator populations. After completing the activities you can request free Pollinator Patches for each of your participants.

Here are some additional resources you may want to investigate this Pollinator Week:

Wild for Pollinators

Supporting pollinator habitats can be as simple as leaving an unmowed area of your yard to allow natural habitat to develop. Visit our Wild for Pollinator webpage for more information and to find links to many of our KidsGardening pollinator resources.

2019 Pollinator Poster

Educators can request up to 5 free copies of the 2019 Pollinator Poster showing endangered pollinators and their habitats from the USDA National Resources Conservation Service.  Complete details about the animals and plant pictured can be found on the Pollinator Partnership website.

Ecoregional Planting Guides

Check out Pollinator.org to download detailed planting guides that offer in depth information about native pollinators and plants in your area.

Pollinators from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

From podcasts to educational resources, The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has put together an impressive collection of pollinator related links to help you learn more.

Happy Pollinator Week everyone! Don’t forget to thank all the bees, hummingbirds, moths, bats, butterflies, flies and beetles you see for all their hard work next week!

We Have Ears!

Corn in a raised bed

We always try to incorporate one new thing in our school garden each season. This spring the something new was planting corn to go with our Tops and Bottoms theme (inspired by the book by Janet Stevens of the same name). The beds containing lettuce, kale (tops) and radishes (bottoms) took off quickly as I knew they would, but our corn germinated very slowly (we had a couple of late cold snaps) and even after the sprouts appeared, it did not take off at quite the growth rate I thought it would.

The kids kept asking me where was the corn and I started pondering whether I was going to need to run to the store to buy some ears of corn for the classes who planted in those beds (and if I could attach them to the plants without anyone noticing – just kidding…. okay, maybe it crossed my mind in passing).

And then one Monday we returned from a long weekend and there were tassels on top of our corn plants! Yes! I am pretty sure I was more excited than the kids. In fact, I think adding something new each season is more important for motivating the volunteers and teachers than it is for grabbing the students' interest. And then the questions started coming in and I realized my knowledge of how the corn plant works was lacking. Fortunately our friends at the National Gardening Association have an excellent resource all About Corn in their Learning Library. The tassels at the top are the male flowers that produce pollen that rains down on the female flowers which appear as threadlike silks further down the stalk in the joints of the leaves. The female silks will eventually become the ears of corn with each silk corresponds to a single kernel. Pretty cool right?

Whew! It worked. With the last day of school approaching,  I am not sure if our corn will reach full maturity, but the ears are at least getting big enough so that we can open up a few and show the students that they did in fact grow corn this spring.   Now if our cherry tomatoes would just ripen up, we will be golden. We currently have hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of very green cherry tomatoes and only 5 full days of school left—yikes! Just a reminder for me that it is always a challenge to match the school and garden calendars.

2019 National Children and Youth Garden Symposium

NCYGS

I know cold weather has over stayed its welcome in many areas of the country, but believe it or not, summer is just around the corner. I wanted to use today’s blog to encourage you to consider attending this year’s National Children and Youth Garden Symposium Conference which will be held July 10-13th in Madison, Wisconsin.

Since 1993, The American Horticultural Society’s National Children and Youth Garden Symposium has served as a catalyst for growth in the youth garden movement.  Bringing together administrators, educators, volunteers, and parents for networking and professional development, the Conference is a source of knowledge, inspiration and rejuvenation.  Each year there is a diverse line up of sessions and workshops representing youth gardening programs from all over the country.  Attendees represent public and private school gardens, community and nonprofit organizations, universities and colleges, botanical gardens and arboreta, the horticulture industry, and much more. There truly is something for everyone. As much as I enjoy the formal sessions, what I love most are the opportunities to network which are plentiful throughout the conference.

Conveniently scheduled in mid-July when school is out of session, to me it comes at the perfect time of the year too.  After a busy spring garden season, I am feeling as exhausted as the plants in my garden and getting the chance to remind myself why I do what I do, helps re-charge me for the fall. I always come away with an impressive number of new ideas and new connections.

Registration is now open and an Early Bird Rate is available until May 25th.  A wide range of travel accommodations are also listed on the website to fit every budget.  The American Horticultural Society and the local host organizations (this year that includes Community Ground Works, Environmental Design Lab and The Wisconsin School Garden Network) always do the most amazing job keeping the costs as low as possible. Full details are available on the National Children and Youth Garden Symposium site.

KidsGardening will be at this year’s conference – will we see you there? Let us know in the comments!