Gardening With Kids….Adventures of late.

Sharing my passion for gardening and cooking is one of my favorite jobs, so of course the after-school gardening programs have been a delightful change from the doldrums of office life.

The students at Polk Central were so excited, that all 70 + of them wanted to participate.  The large youth to educator ratio has been both challenging and invigorating, and is a learning process with a sharp curve.  In the past I have always worked with small groups, this allows for a lot of guided hands-on activities and explorations.  Working with such a large group has pushed me to go beyond my comfort level and throw out some old tactics.

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Chef Sydney and Chef Alex were a big hit.

Over the past few months we have hosted our very own “Cooking Show” for the kids.   Alex and I donned homemade tissue paper chef hats and spoke in silly accents while preparing seed and nut bars.  The energy bars were a hit with the kids, their teachers, and their parents!  Our goal is to introduce the students to how great healthy food can taste, and also provide recipes that made with affordable and environmentally sound ingredients for their parents to recreate.

Gardening in winter???

The gardening side of the program has been ready to gear up, and sadly the winter has not been very obliging.  We lost some starts to the snow days, because without students to water them, the plants withered away.  (Thankfully, I thought ahead, and planted extras.)  However, with failure comes learning, and comparing the two sets of plants will show students how plants need light, water, and maintenance to survive.

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Some of the back-up starts growing at the Mill Spring Agricultural Center.

Let’s just get outside…

This week we took the students out on a nature hike, in hopes that a bit of fresh air would help to calm them down.  The large group was a bit overwhelming as we trekked through paths lined with overgrown blackberry brambles, and barren trees, but the students were engaged!  As we were leaving I overheard a student telling her friend they should harvest fresh pine leaves to make tea with, not use the old ones they picked up on the trail.  (If you didn’t know pine needle tea is very high in Vitamin C).

It is surprising what the students will pick up, even in the chaos of questions and explorations.

Teach, Learn, Repeat…

I always leave the school in a whirl-wind.  It is like voluntarily walking into a tornado and then stepping out into the calm after the storm.  I’ve survived, I’ve learned, and I’m thirsty for more adventure.

Until next time….

 

 

Interested in Youth Gardening  or Outdoor Education??

For More Information Contact:

Sydney Klein

Sydney@polkcountyfarms.org

Packaged Bee Installation Workshop

The season is ON for beekeepers! If you are a beginning beekeeper, you may want to know more about installing a package of bees.

Check out “Don the Fat Bee Man,” and his videos on YouTube, including this one about installing a package.

Phil Holbert of Holbert Bee Supply will demonstrate a package installation on April 10th at his shop in Saluda, NC. You can reach him at (828) 749-2337 for more information. There will be two sessions that day.

 

 

Spring is in the air…

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”
―Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard’s Egg

 

I don’t know that I find anything more energizing than seeing the first daffodils emerge, a sign that spring has surely arrived.

…The cool mornings and warm afternoon breezes, the drizzly mornings, the sunny afternoons, the grass awakening to a vivid green, the red buds, the dogwoods, the cherries….Spring is my soul medicine.

It’s hard for me to not want to skip out of my job and spend my days barefoot gardening, and my nights cleaning out and organizing my home.  Spring is a time to start fresh and allow yourself, and your garden, to grow, flourish, and fruit.

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Look how happy spring makes me…

By now you have hopefully prepared your beds, if not, it’s never too late…maybe.  You can now focus on the health of your soil and your spring, summer, and fall garden plan.  Planning ahead allows you to reap a continuous harvest, and avoid a lot of frustration and confusion.

Compost is key to soil health, and you should consider adding about a 2″ application over your beds and incorporating it 6″ deep into the soil.  There are many sources of compost.

You can get fully composted animal manures, mushroom compost (though this may be laden with harmful chemicals if not organic), make your own compost from kitchen scraps and waste, etc.

I find that making compost is the best source.  For one, it’s pretty much free.  Secondly, you know what is in it.  And lastly, you help keep all those kitchen scraps from ending up in a landfill and leaking methane gases into the atmosphere.

Spring time, to me, smells like soil.  The bacteria are kicking into full-drive, as they decompose matter to create fertile, earthy goodness.  You can tell the health of your soil from smelling, feeling, and looking at it.

Healthy soil should form a ball that can be broken by  the light push of the finger.  It should smell like the forest floor, and it should be dark with very few large clumps.

If you find that your soil is heavy in clay (in Polk County??….neevveerr).  Adding compost, over the years will help to fix some of the problems associated with heavy clay soils.  Clay soil tends to hold onto too much water, hinders root development, causes caking of the top layer, and decreases the ability of plants to absorb certain nutrients.

Compost improves aeration, drainage, soil texture, organic matter content, and bacteria in the soil.  Over time it increases the fertility of the soil, allowing you to grow healthy plants with minimal input.

This blog was just a taste of the gardening information out there.  The best way to learn to garden, is to garden.  Let your mistakes teach you, find what works best for your space and time, experiment, and most of all, delight in your successes.

A great website that has helped me a lot is organicgardening.com.

A good book for a quick reference is the Rodales’ Complete Guide to Organic Gardening.  Don’t let the size fool you.  This big book has short informational blurbs on almost anything you could think of.  My mom gave me her copy, and for that reason, I love it most of all.

So, as you shed away the winter blues and begin to work your garden, be sure to acknowledge the joy it brings you, and share this with those around you.

Happy Spring to you!

 

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Feel free to email me with questions:

Sydney Klein

sydney@polkcountyfarms.org

 

 

Planning for a Spring (and summer) Garden

Spring is right around the corner, despite the frosty February we have been blessed with.  As the snow melts and the sun begins to warm our bones we may realize that we have lost our chance to not only start our spring crops, but our summer plants too!

Of course you can always pick up plants at the store, but there is something incredibly satisfying about starting your garden from the seed up.  Starting your own plants opens the door to a whole new exploration of plant varieties.  Open-pollinated and heirlooms can be grown and their seeds harvested for the next years crop.  Additionally, growing your own seedlings is a sure fire way to be assured the plant has not been started in chemically treated soil or sprayed with harmful chemicals.

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So, what can and should be started indoors this time of the year??

The answer may surprise those who are new to growing.  For starters it’s getting pretty late for your cole crops.  These include: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, Asian greens, kale, etc.  You can get away with doing late plantings of Asian greens and kale, maybe some heat tolerant cabbages, but a lot of broccoli will bolt if it is planted too late in the spring.  Broccoli is much better as a fall crop.

But hey, you never know if you don’t try!  If you want to try out broccoli, etc.  who’s to say it won’t work out.  We started a second round of brassicas last week and hope to transplant them on March 25th.  The ideal planting time for cabbages and broccoli in the spring is 2-3 weeks before the last frost date.

In the search for the last frost date in Polk, I came up with anywhere from April 9th to May 1st.  Our weather is so variable, it’s really hard to tell, so I marked on my calender April 22nd.  A good happy medium.  The trick is to keep an eye on the weather.  If there are frost warnings, just cover your plants overnight.  Kale can handle a light frost, but it’s best to cover them just in case.  Red Russian Kale is one that does not tolerate frost as well, so just be aware if you plan on planting this variety.

Onions should also be started this week, if not two weeks ago.  Spring onions are typically transplanted as soon as the soil is workable and they need about 6 weeks indoors prior to planting.  This doesn’t mean you can’t grow onions, however.  You can buy sets at farm supply stores, but this will limit your variety to: purple, white, and sweet.  This also prevents you from growing truly organic onions.  I still plan on trying to start some onion seeds indoors this week, I think onions started from seed tend to be stronger, less likely to bolt, and tastier.

Other crops that love spring time are peas, carrots, lettuces, radishes, and beets.  All of these can be direct seeded about two weeks before the last frost date.  I have on my calender April 8th as the date to seed these crops.

Summer is not that far off….

For your summer crops, this week is ideal to start your tomatoes, peppers, and especially any flowers.  Flowers and peppers take a long time.  Marigolds should be started early enough that they will begin to flower once your tomatoes start to fruit, to help with the pest prevention qualities of these potent smelling flowers.  Summer crops can be transplanted in early May.

Not sure how to start?  There are so many tutorials online for starting plants indoors.  An indoor greenhouse can be a really awesome way to get quality starts for cheap.  Place the small greenhouse in a south-facing window and voila! It’s something that can be broken down and put back together and reused season after season.  They range a lot in price, but I’ve gotten a pretty decent one from a hardware store for about $35.00

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Inexpensive Greenhouse. Notice the peat pots, this was a bad choice that year.

Tips for healthy seedlings:

  1. Avoid those bio-degradable pots (They dry out super fast and always fall apart and make a huge mess)
  2. Don’t wait too long to thin out seedlings.  If you let multiple plants grow in the same pot you decrease the available water and nutrients, overcrowding also hinders root development, giving you “leggy” vegetables.
  3. Consistent watering is key!!  Water the soil mix before you even plant, it shouldn’t be soggy, but as moist as a wrung out sponge.  Keep an eye on your plants, never let the mix dry out, especially peat-moss based mixes.  Once peat dries out, it takes a while for it to begin to reabsorb water, which will give you poor root development.
  4. Some plant mixes won’t provide enough food for the length of time the plants are indoors.  You can fertilize starts with a mixture of fish emulsion and water for a boost of nitrogen.
  5. Don’t let your seedlings flower.  If you notice flowers starting on your plants, pinch them off.  This is an indication that the plant is stressed.  It could mean that water, sunlight, nutrient, or space needs are not being met.  Letting plants flower takes the plant’s energy from root development to fruiting, and it will produce an unhealthy transplant.  Don’t worry, it will flower again.
  6. Be sure to include time to “harden off” plants 1-2 weeks prior to your intended transplanting date.  Hardening off involves reducing water, and increase sunlight, wind, and outdoor exposure prior to planting.  This is done at slow intervals, and if you’ve never done it, it wouldn’t hurt to read up a little on it.

I hope this helps, and gets you ready to plant your spring garden.  Spring crops are some of the best.  Good Luck!

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If questions arise feel free to contact me at:

sydney@polkcountyfarms.org