Category Archives: gardening and children

It is our tiny farm

Woohooo!!!! As of this morning we have harvested a total of 201 lbs (91 Kg) of fresh and delicious vegetables from our tiny suburban farm. Although calling it a farm may be an overly optimistic exaggeration, as I have planted an area just under 200 square feet, and I have no livestock,  I makes me feel much better than calling it a garden. Our original hope of reaching a production of 150 lbs this season, has so far been surpassed by a heaping 30%, and if everything goes according to plan, we may even be able to reach the 250 lbs mark before winter arrives.IMG_5322 IMG_4140 IMG_3270

One pound of food per square foot of soil… not quite sure if I should brag about this or not, but the way I see it is that for one whole season, my family has been able to eat produce as fresh as it gets, knowing that no harmful chemicals have been used to grow them. Was it cheaper to produce them than to buy them? Well if you factor in the investment to build the raised beds, irrigation system, and other structures that I could not re purpose, probably not. But the way I see it, all that was an investment, not a cost, and the structures will still be there for a few more years.IMG_5337 IMG_5348 Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset IMG_5250

Our tiny farm provides us with much more than food, it is my laboratory, my school, and a place where I can be creative, daring and resourceful. It also makes me humble, I must admit not everything I try works every time, as a matter of fact I still have to grow one single beet to at least the size of a ping pong, or even smaller… Gardening has lit the fuse of my curiosity again, it has made me want to discover and learn new things, it has made me dig through (pun intended) and try to apply knowledge I gathered while working on fish farming a few decades ago, and best of all, it has made me want to share whatever little I learn or experience.IMG_2169 IMG_2140 IMG_2158

If you live in Suffolk County NY, let’s get together and exchange experiences and ideas over a cup of coffee. If you live elsewhere, let’s start talking, I really don’t bite. Please also visit, like and follow my facebook page.

 

 

 

A Harvest Celebration

A couple of weeks ago, our garden started showing definite signs of seasonal maturity, many plants were in full bloom, some others were steadily producing fruit, while a few, like the lettuces, had already called it quits. One very interesting group were those of the onion and garlic family, which after putting out their funky looking flowers were begging to be pulled out of the ground. It was time for a harvest party!

My two special guests were M and B, both 7 years old.  B you may remember from her internship last year, when she helped me by taking care of the garden (B Is The New Farmer In Charge.  and  Meet B Our Interim Farmer), and also  when she planted all the garlic bulbs (Planting Our 2014 Garlic Crop). I met M last fall, he is a member of the track team where I assist coaching. M is a great kid with a happy face and a curious mind, much like B.IMG_2173

I had thought of bringing B back to harvest the garlic she had planted, as a way for her to see the result of her work last fall. In conversation with M’s mom, I learned he had shown recent interest in gardening, so I thought he would perhaps also enjoy spending an afternoon picking fruit and veggies, and learning about worms, bees and where some of the food comes from.

It was a great afternoon, the stage was our garden, and mother nature set it up perfectly for us to find amazing goodies in every corner. We started by emptying out one of the soft containers where I grew potatoes. B and M had fun digging with their hands through the soft soil in the wheelbarrow looking for nice bright red potatoes.IMG_2140 IMG_2136 IMG_2141 IMG_2177 From there we moved to the zucchinis, tomatoes, and cucumbers searching for fruit ready to be picked. With amazement, they pulled carrots from the ground, and also picked beans from the vines.IMG_2144IMG_2146 IMG_2149

We stopped to look how the baby cantaloupes and water melons were forming, and made sure to smell some of the herbs growing. At the far end of our garden we found cabbages, onions and a small forest of garlic plants to pick from.IMG_2157

IMG_2165 IMG_2169We finished work by digging through a compost pile usually frequented by sub-foot long night crawlers to see who could find the biggest worm, and later took a look at how the worms in our worm farm recycle some of our kitchen waste.IMG_2175

It was a great afternoon, we gave the children bags to put in all their goodies to take home, and B proudly commented “I don’t eat any of this stuff…I am just taking it home for my family”. I often think how interesting it would be to include gardening as part of the elementary school curriculum, children could learn so much by getting their fingers back into the soil.  IMG_2153 IMG_2136 IMG_2158

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It is salad time

June is always a salad month, not a stew or a sauce month, definitely just a salad month. All plants are surely growing, but most are too immature to feed a hungry family.  This early in the season all I am able to harvest consistently is salad greens and radishes. IMG_3760

No, I am not complaining, we enjoy being able to go out and pick a nice mix of of lettuces to eat that same eve. We always make sure to include assorted color, shape and textured leaves for best flavor and visual impact. IMG_3761 IMG_3762 IMG_3922 IMG_3915

Since we started harvesting our greens about 10 days ago the combined harvest of lettuces and the like (spinach, young chard, etc) has been plentiful, but not excessive. We are harvesting on a cut and come again basis, and so far we have visited  75% of the plants, some of which have been cut more than once already. IMG_3923 IMG_3924

I certainly cannot take full credit for our production, the cooler and wet weather we have been experiencing has kept the lettuce growing and not induced it to bolt.

Last week I reported on our first radish harvest. Our first three square feet of radishes produced over 1.6 lbs. That is a lot more radish than we bought in all of last year, however having it available and fresh, has made it easy for us to include them in our diet. It is so easy to grow, that I have already replaced the harvested squares with new plantings. Today I started picking a different square with long radishes, Salad Rose variety from Burpee Seeds. IMG_3855 IMG_3877 IMG_3881

Beautiful red skin with a pink to whitish center, very crisp texture and live peppery flavor.IMG_3928 IMG_3929 IMG_3930

As for the rest of the garden, it seems all other plants are getting in the mood to grow and produce something. The peas are going mad trying to grab and climb up the trellis, their white flowers and pods popping out everywhere.IMG_3880 IMG_3767 IMG_3868

The tomatoes, have been flowering for a week now, and you can see fruit starting to form in some of the plants. I think this is the earliest I have had tomatoes form on the vines ever. At this rate, we may have cherry tomatoes by 4th of July. So far the plants are looking very healthy, the indeterminate variety clearly growing faster than the determinate ones.IMG_3841

The zucchinis in the grow bags are doing wonderfully, their leaves have not become gigantic as I am used to seeing them. Instead it seem as if the plants are putting more of their energy producing flowers. IMG_3878The first two male flowers came out yesterday, and today the first female flower was fully open. IMG_3839 IMG_3837 IMG_3898

Lucky enough there were also couple male flowers to get pollen from, so for sure we’ll be having zucchini this week. Check out one of my early posts on fertilizing zucchinis  A bees job. Remember also that zucchini flowers are edible, for a great way to use the flowers visit Nonna’s zucchini flower recipe.

The water melon, cantaloupe and spaghetti squash growing in bags are doing great. I am considering dedicating the small area of my yard with Southern exposure to growing plants in bags next year. IMG_3905 IMG_3823

Not everything is picture perfect though… The corn I planted a couple of weeks ago has failed to impress me. I was concerned since the beginning that the area would not get enough sun, and indeed it doesn’t. I have just a couple corn plants struggling to survive, if it wasn’t because I don’t have anything else I want to grow there I would have pulled their plug already.  My biggest concern currently is with the potatoes. Some of the plants in one of three bags started to wilt and died after the last dirt fill. Perhaps I did not leave enough leaves out of the ground, but it has been so cool and wet around here lately that I started to fear fungal infestation. I have been checking carefully for signs of fungi, but cannot see anything so far that would suggest that is the cause, in any case I just hope for warm sunny days ahead.

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30 days from seed to salad plate

Today we had our first harvest of the season. Not bad considering that about a month ago I was still wearing a down sweater while planting some of our seedlings. We picked a handful of radishes, and their tops, and some lettuce leaves, enough for a nice salad that we put together with tomatoes, cucumber, and a honey Dijon vinaigrette.

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It never ceases to amaze me how quickly radishes grow, I can’t think of any other crop that can be enjoyed in as little as 30 days from planting the seeds.

IMG_1669The perfect plant for those short on patience, and great to introduce children to gardening, as aside from being fast growing, they give a fantastic display as the roots seem to crawl out of the ground as they grow. Moreover, almost nothing really goes to waste, as the tops and the roots are all edible.

 

 

 

 

A fumble and a save

About three weeks ago the ground became “workable”, I rushed to the garden with a few packets of seeds that clearly indicated “sow outside as soon as the ground is workable”. I planted bean, pea, carrot, beet, radish and lettuce seeds. As excited as I was to start planting, I must admit it was not a happy or even productive time. I recall how I was still wearing a down jacket then, and how my fingers froze from exposure. I spilled some seeds as I trembled, and hurriedly marked the squares where I had sowed seeds with orange flagging tied onto a small bamboo stick that I pushed into the ground.
Fast forward to today, I have seedlings coming out in all of the squares, some lined up in neat square foot gardening patterns, others growing all over like what they probably are, weeds.

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These are all lined up neatly, maybe beets or radishes

Since I had committed to memory the identity of the seeds and the planting density in each square, it is almost impossible to know which seedlings are keepers and which are junk. The only possible solution was to turn the soil over wherever I was unsure of what was coming out and start the process all over again.
I am now fully aware of my memory shortcomings, so I decided to plan my work ahead of time. I had seen a friend of mine use cheap disposable cutlery to mark her seedling trays, so I replaced the flagging bamboo sticks with cutlery left over from an already forgotten event (funny how you always run out of forks but end up with plenty of unused knives and spoons). To further simplify my work I wrote on each utensil the name and the recommended planting density per square foot. I did all this on my kitchen counter to avoid fumbling with sheets of paper that always want to take flight when you are outside, and to stick to the master plan on how many squares of each type I am planning on growing this year.

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Easier to plan ahead and avoid getting carried away
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Got my work cut out

By planning ahead, it  allowed me to share the planting with Beth, and carry on a real and totally unrelated conversation in the process without having to answer or guess “how many of these should I put here?” at every square.

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My new markers in action. The orange flagging marks a square where seedlings are already coming out in a predetermined pattern, I just don’t know what they are

I am thinking this may be a nice way to involve young children when planting a garden. The cutlery provides specific instructions on what to do, and is a great visual cue as to the progress of the work… once they are all used up our job is done.

Thank you for visiting, please leave a comment

Please check these cool posts from fellow gardeners

http://pittsburghrules.com/2014/04/19/carrots-tomatoes-and-happiness-a-garden-update/

http://headinthegarden.com/2014/04/23/my-garden-update-4-23-14/

http://greenbumb.com/2014/04/23/green-onion-update/

http://2me4art.com/2014/04/29/diy-regrow-your-food/

Planting our 2014 garlic crop.

She arrived with her mom wearing the apron Beth had made for her when she took over our garden last summer. She came to the kitchen, gave us a hug and asked if she could help me toss the salad I was getting ready for dinner. She pulled over a step stool to reach over the large bowl on the counter. Once the salad was all ready, she made me change into a different apron, because the one I was wearing was “a cooking apron, not a gardening one”. I had invited B (my 6 year old garden helper) to come a week ago so we could plant together next year’s garlic crop, and she was definitely ready for business.

Earlier that afternoon, before B’s arrival, I had separated two pounds of organic garlic that I had bought at D Acres Farm in our last visit to New Hampshire in early October.

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The cloves all felt firm and were much better than average in size. I had gotten a nice assortment of garlic, some purple, some white, but all apparently the hard neck type. 

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My previous attempt to grow garlic in my garden using store bought garlic a couple of years ago was not successful at all, so besides getting better seed, I prepared one of my newly built raised beds  with a nice 2” top layer of rock dust enriched compost on top of a fluffy layer of compost/vermiculite/peat moss prepared following the traditional Mel’s Mix recipe.

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When B arrived in the garden she was surprised to see how different it was from when she last saw it in the summer. She was concerned that the side of the raised bed we were going to work at was a bit too close to the edge of our garden, but once she sat on the ground she was no longer worried. I explained what we were going to do, and showed her how plant the cloves with the pointy side up inside the holes I had previously made about a finger deep and 4” apart.

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In order to keep track of our work progress, I had marked the whole bed with a grid made out of cording. We planted one square at a time, before going to the next square, and we marked the planted area by spreading some of the garlic peelings on top of the dirt. 

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B caught on what was needed to be done immediately, she did not miss planting any of the cloves in the correct place, and truly enjoyed beating me at planting each our designated squares.

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In total, we planted 135 cloves, if we get them all to produce a full head we will be set with garlic for next winter, and will feel much safer should vampires start attacking. 

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Sharing some of my gardening chores with B is truly an enjoyable experience. She may be too young to completely understand many of the reasons why things are done one way or another, but it seems she also finds enjoyment at  getting her hands dirty working the ground. It is hard to tell if she will still be interested in gardening as she grows up, but I will be happy to nurture her curiosity in this field while she is.

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Do you garden with your children? What activities do you share with them? 

Meet B our interim farmer

When we came home from our vacation, my older son had one question for me, “where did you find a six year old farmer girl to take care of your garden?”. I explained that B is my friend’s daughter, and how she had offered at one point to help me with my chores. I related how excited she was to learn that she had been chosen to be totally in charge for a whole week while we were going away.

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Just before leaving on vacation, my wife thought that B was going to need an apron while working in the garden, one that would keep her from getting her clothes dirty, and with deep pockets where she could keep her tools, or collect fruit. She made her an apron that night and we left it with her mom just before leaving.

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B’s work week at the farm went fantastic, she reminded her parents every day that she had to come and work. She was responsible, very gentle with the plants and extremely careful with her work.

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B liked looking around our pond to find the elusive frogs that live in it.

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Her favorite chore in the farm was watering the plants and getting wet wile doing it, she said laughing.

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She was so good at making the water rain on the plants that she learned how to make rainbows.

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Not everything was easy, though, B says one of the hardest thing she had to do was tasting a cherry tomato, yuck!! Also cutting eggplants off without getting pricked on the fingers by the green part was very difficult.

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Spending a whole week caring for a garden gave B an insight on how fast plants do grow. She truly enjoyed the experience and  is even convincing her mom to plant a garden in their home so she can care for it. To feed B’s curiosity and interest in gardening, we will start a garlic and onion patch in her home this fall.

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As for my garden, what can I say? It really looked better than when I left. The new plants grew quite a few inches, the tomatoes are producing so much the plants look like they need a rest (just this week I picked over 6 lbs of cherry tomatoes), the eggplants are shinny black and plump, and all the peppers are screaming to be picked off the plants.  This really proves that caring is more important than a green thumb.

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When asked if she would do it again, she answered that whenever I go away I can always ask her to care for my farm. Would I hire her again? In a heartbeat!!

Thank you B, you are the best.

B is the new farmer in charge

So we are finally getting ready to leave on vacation to beautiful New Hampshire and Maine. We have made plans for months in anticipation of this moment, having changed them quite a few times. I checked tons of websites and trail books, read dozens of trip reviews and watched quite a few videos to figure out how to best spend the few days we take off every summer.  I have spent many nights tracing possible trails and selecting daily destinations. This year we chose to combine hiking, kayaking and camping. With this in mind, I made lists of equipment we’d need on every leg of the trip, gathered most of it from our basement, custom built a few things to out rig our boats, and ordered whatever else we did not have but was on the list. Certainly if half of the fun is getting there, preparing for it is got to be at least a quarter.

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Throughout all this preparation, the thought of leaving my garden in the middle of the summer was constantly on my mind. After all it is the middle of production. We are getting a few pounds of tomatoes every day, the peppers are ready to be collected, every couple of days one or two eggplants are ready to eat, and all my seedlings still need to be watched to guarantee harvesting in the early fall. I did the best I could at increasing irrigation intervals to prevent a bake like it happened when we went away for a few days in early July. My main concern was “Who would be picking the fruit?”. We definitely do not want it to rot or go to waste.

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That is when B came to mind. I recalled she had offered to help me with my garden a few weeks ago. At the time I had offered to go pick her up and bring her over, but she declined because I did not have a booster seat in my car. B is my colleague’s daughter. She a  very bright 6 year old with beautiful brown eyes and an engaging personality. Who better than her  to take care of the place while we are gone?

Her appointment as farm tomato picker was sent to her  as a text  through her mom. B, jumped, danced and hollered “woohooo” as she was read that she had been chosen from among “hundreds of applicants”. That afternoon, she came to my house to learn the ropes and take the reigns of my “farm”. We met at the curb, and she skipped all the way from there to the backyard, stopping only to say hi to my wife Beth half way up. Once there we took time to touch and smell all the herbs, the scents and names of plants were all so new to her. She saw where the carrots are growing, and of course we spent some time picking cherry tomatoes, one of which she tasted but not liked. She learned that to pick eggplants you grab the fruit, not the prickly stem, and that some peppers can be very hot. She tasted fresh broccoli, and managed to walk in between narrowly planted rows of seedlings with some grace (this was the hardest thing for her, so this morning I planted a stick with orange blazing tape next to each seedling so she can see better where they are). Of all the things B got to try, I think watering the plants was the most fun, especially when we turned the hose in rain mode and she could get her head wet too.

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B’s short training visit yesterday made me somewhat wish I was not leaving so soon. Not because I am afraid she will not take good care, nor because I am going to miss my garden terribly while hiking or paddling through some amazing wilderness. I guess I wish I could spend more time showing her fun things, like how cucumber plants lash on to things, or why flowers attract bees, or just how to name a few plants or birds. I am sure we will have a chance in the future to do some gardening together. This is her week to explore and to be the farmer in charge. With an attitude like hers, she can only succeed. Hopefully next post we will have some of B’s gardening photos.

Do you share your garden experience with your children? What intrigues children the most in a garden? When do your children start joining you in the garden?