Kids and Gardening

Gardening with children has been one of the great pleasures of the unexpectedly early spring of 2012 that came to Pennsylvania.  This is the first year where both of my youngest children are finally old enough to spend time together in the garden where they can be handled sufficiently by one parent.   As either of my wife or I help the children play and learn about the garden, the other can work on bigger tasks like weeding or moving compost.  After spending much time whispering the gardener’s lament, “There is always next year.”, the garden is finally in a place where we will have what we want while also increasing the amount of quality time we have with our children.

The fun part about having the children out and gardening is how naturally they take to it.  Whether they are digging for dinosaur bones, our very own pair of Dr. Scott the Paleontologist, or helping to transplant strawberries, they don’t need encouragement.

Having spent time volunteering with a local community organization helping to build garden space in Harrisburg, children’s desire to be out, garden, do hard work, all while learning amazed me.  Not only with my own children, but also with those children from the city, there was little need for support on my part.  They only required instructions to start the project and they jumped right in including planting apple trees, hauling mulch, or shoveling manure,

If you want to teach children to garden, the job is made easy for you.  Lead them to a space where they can dig, plant, and grow.  With a little guidance along the way they will take care of the rest.

Homemade Lime-aid goes over well

Ugh, it is hot and humid here like it is in most of the US.  We’re trying to stay cool and hydrated.  I got a good deal on limes at the store and Sheridan asked if I could make lime-aid.  Well, I had never done it and didn’t find any recipes in my cookbooks and didn’t want to run to the computer so I just gave it a shot.  Here is the recipe:


  • 3 limes
  • 1 C sugar (more or less to taste)
  • cold water

Wash the limes well and remove any stickers. Cut the limes in half and juice into a large pitcher or other glass container (don’t use plastic, they are very acidic.)  I used a Pyrex 1 Qt measuring cup.  Add the sugar and mash the limes into the sugar with a wooden spoon or something like that.  Let sit for 5 minutes or so.  Put this mixtures into a 2 quart (1/2 gallon) container – preferably glass – and add water to fill.  Chill.

That’s it!   I’ve been told it is tasty and it is about gone now so I’ll have to make some more.  I want to try substituting honey for the sugar next time since we are trying to cut down on refined sugar.

I had a shock yesterday while strolling the garden.  The plants I though were cucumber plants are not, well, I don’t think they are.  One of the fruits is softball sized, round and looks surprisingly like a cantaloupe.  I have things things all OVER my garden so whatever they are, if they live until the fruits are ripe we’re going to have a lot of them.  I found ten while I was out there.  Still getting strawberries, peas (almost over), peppers and my first Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes.  Not many tomatoes made it past the deer this year.  <sigh>  Still thinking toward fall.  We may build some hoop houses this year.  We’ll see.

Stay cool!!!

Plan for next year, save your tomato and pepper seeds!

Never too early to plan for next year - save those seeds!

Boy was it hard to get motivated this morning.  I didn’t sleep well plus the weather is just oppressive and doesn’t make you want to leave the house.  Ugh!

As I was fixing dinner the other night I found myself doing something that I bet a lot of people don’t think about any more.  When I was cutting up a green pepper I saved the seeds instead of throwing them out.  I wrapped them in a paper towel to dry, taped it shut and labeled them with what they were and the date.  After a few days drying on top of the fridge they’ll go into my seed box for planting next year.

I do the same thing with tomatoes and sometimes stone fruits too – just to try my hand at growing them from seed.

“Way back when” (which in most places was pre-WWIII) people used to do the regularly as it was the best way to get seeds for your garden.  Somewhere along the line we’ve forgotten that the seed sold by Burpee for $2.99 a packet  is the same seed we get free inside our food.

It is true that if you are eating a hybrid crop (and if it came from the supermarket most likely it is a hybrid) the pepper you get next year may not be the same as the one you ate today, but it will be a pepper for sure and the seed will be free.

It is kind of fun to put all your pepper seeds (separating hot and not hot if you like) in the same container and then plant them without knowing exactly what you will get.

Tomatoes work the same way though for those the prep is a little messier.  For them I mix the tomato seeds/pulp in a baby food jar with some water.  I let it sit for a few days, shaking to mix the stuff up when it separates.  Eventually most of the seeds will drop to the bottom and you can get them out to dry on some paper towels and then pack them away.  Sometimes the stuff in the jar ferments and smells unsavory, the seed is still OK but it is best to not soak the seeds in a plastic container since you’ll never get the smell out.

Keep all your seeds in a cool place or in the fridge crisper drawer (I have way too many for that) and next year you’ll be set.

Other seeds you can be collecting for next year are:  columbine, sunflower, marigold, thyme, oregano, chives, catnip, basil, four o’clocks and lots more.

Garden plastic – free source, your newspaper

Newspaper Bags get a new life

When we start seeds indoors I usually need to cover the flats with plastic since I have a lot more flats than I do lids.  Before I’ve used plastic grocery bags for this, but I have fewer and fewer of these now that reusable bags have come onto the scened.  So I looked around and found a stash of old newspaper bags.

Most people I know with dogs use these while they are walking their dogs, but we don’t have a dog and I hadn’t found a use for them yet.  They are really too small for collecting much garbage and too thin for anything heavy. 

Flat plastic from newspaper bags

So I cut one open and ended up with an 18.5×19.5 inch piece of plastic.  These are a great size to cover my flats of seeds waiting to sprout and they are light enough that they don’t weigh down already sprouted seeds if I have multiple varieties in a flat.

What a great way to reuse these bags and get some help in the garden too.

Saddleback Caterpillar Sting

This little guy, about an inch long in real life, is a Saddleback Caterpillar.  They are of note for two reasons:

1.  They are general feeders that will munch on a wide variety of garden plants.  In large numbers, which I’ve had this year, they can defoliate a 3 year old blueberry bush in a matter of days.  On doing a garden walk two weeks ago I noticed that all four of the blueberry bushes were in various states of being denuded.  A cursory glance didn’t reveal anything, so I went ahead and started picking blueberries figuring I would find the predators in the early morning or late evening. That’s when it happened.  I got stung.

2.  The are a stinging caterpillar.  I’ve been swarmed by ground hornets on several occasions, usually because I ran over a nest with a mower, and hit by bumble bees, but nothing compares to the stings I received from the Saddleback Caterpillar.  I didn’t know what hit me but it hurt like crazy.  I rushed inside to wash my hand and check the damage, thinking I disturbed a wasp.  There were three stings in total, that I could see, all clustered in the soft part of my hand between the thumb and forefinger.  The pain was like an electrical current pulsing into my hand, and yes, I’ve electrocuted myself before so know what that feels like.

A rash raised up across the back of my hand.  Application of ice took out the peak pain and a follow up with a topical anesthetic made it tolerable the rest of the day.  The next morning the rash and pain were gone.  Though it didn’t last long, it did incapacitate that hand while it lasted.


I have been hand picking them while wearing a heavy pair of leather gloves and then disposing of them.  Manual control works without much effort.  Though I pulled over 40 off of the 4 bushes the first time out after discovering them, and recovered from the sting, in days since I have only picked another half dozen or so.  Because of this, I don’t see a reason to spray or dust for them because the alternatives, such as BT also kills butterflies and other beneficial insects indiscriminately.

However you choose to handle them make sure and wear protective clothing and to be careful!  These little guys pack a powerful punch.

Transplanting Brambles

Though the picture isn’t much to look at, that is one of the 7 blackberry canes I transplanted earlier this week. They are part of my Phase I permaculture implementation.  Besides providing habitat and food, it will eventually form a hedge along the eastern edge of the property to help keep the fisherman out of our yard as they walk to the stream.  Should another serious flood occur, they will bear the brunt of the damage and debris coming into the yard.

It has been a nearly a year to get them to this point.  Using directions I looked up on the web last year, I dug out all the first year sucker canes in early April, just as they were coming into leaf.  This was a few weeks late, as Mid-March is about right.

When getting them out of the ground care was taken to preserve as much of the root stem as possible.  I potted each one in it’s own 1 gallon pot with my preferred potting medium: straight Organic Endeavors compost.  Placed in the side yard they received limited full sun and set leaves well through the summer.  No special care was given to get them through the winter and they remained there.  The heavy snowfall Pennsylvania received this year served as good insulation.

As I pulled the pots up for transfer, the roots had snaked out and into the ground around them.  A bit of work was required to loosen them and minimize damage but was promising for my transplant success.  Tossing them in the wheelbarrow and grabbing a digging spade, my little lovelies and I headed to the field.

The warmed, moist soil made digging easy on the warm spring afternoon.  Each hole was prepared and planted individually, with the compost and plant going in together and topped off with the extracted dirt.  These were allowed to settle into the picture you see above.  A few days later they will get a top dressing of a few more inches of compost and a layer of mulch.  What will be used for mulch is up in the air at the moment, but I am thinking leaf mold from beneath the maple or some shredded newsprint.

Potting brambles for transplant provided older canes with well established root systems.  The process was simple and didn’t take too much time.  Though still too early to tell if they will flourish, I have good expectations that they will.

The next stage in this experiment is to transplant freshly dug canes into the field.  I have a few dozen that need to come out of my wife’s flower bed.

Harvesting Garlic: Worth the wait.

Garlic Assortment

We harvested our Garlic this past weekend and it is now hanging in the garage to cure.  Now that we have been successful, I would like to take you through the process from beginning to end.

Last fall we ordered 7 different varieties of planting bulbs from We Grow Garlic. We chose to  order from them because we could get individual bulbs to try without having to go with a pre-chosen assortment, there was plenty of information to get you through, the prices are very reasonable as you go by the bulb not by weight which can get pricey, and they were one of the only places with garlic left when we realized we wanted to plant some.  We ordered in late September, having heard it was a late fall crop, only to find out that we should have placed the order in the beginning of August, just in time to get it fresh from the curing process.  So, if you are reading this shortly after it goes up and you haven’t ordered, do it soon!

Once it arrived I spent an evening dissecting each bulb and choosing only the largest cloves from each one to go into the ground.  From each bulb I was able to pull about half that were worth planting, for a total of 28 seed cloves.  The rest went into a brown paper bag and a cool dark place to be cooked with later.

I prepared a 3’x4′ bed in our new front yard garden and followed the instructions provided.  To make planting easier I pointed a 6″ long stick 1″ in diameter, marked 2″ from the point, to act as a dibber and planting guide.  I spaced my cloves 6″ apart in staggered rows and was able to comfortably fit my 28 cloves in with a bit of room to spare.

Planting the cloves.

Planting the cloves.

When they were in I marked each section with a wooden stake with the name of the garlic written on in permanent marker.  Though this idea seemed great when I did it, and they survived admirably through the fall and light winter, once the spring rains and summer storms hit, they weathered quickly.  And little did I know that the soft earth caused them to shift, completely destroying my ability to know exactly what was what.  Next time around I will be planting singular rows well separated and clearly marked.

Once everything was done, I covered the garlic with 4 inches of straw and gave it a light watering.  I continued to do so until late October, once the weather turned turned cold and threat of frost appeared.  With the wet spring and coll summer so far, it did not need to be water and grew vigorously.

The general consensus was that as the outer leaves start to brown and die off the garlic is ready to harvest.  With the Scotland like weather so far this year the plants continued to grown vigorously, which has us debating on when they would actually be ready to harvest.   Finally we made the choice to get them out of the ground and realized it might be a little late.  Thankfully it went well and we were happy to find that every clove planted yielded a nice bulb.  There were no elephant varieties in the collection, so they look modest in size compared to the giant white bulbs you find in the grocery store.  The softnecks were dug out gently while the hardnecks came free with only a slight tug.    Three bulbs did show signs of being harvested a little too late, as they had started to split apart, but were debris and bug free so I kept them.

My teenage daughter collected the bulbs as my wife and I dug them up and was responsible for cleaning them up.  After wiping off the heaviest dirt in the field, being careful not to damage the skin, she filled the utility sink with a few inches of water and gave them a quick rinse.  I then sorted, wrapped, and hung them to dry.

Here is a picture of a group up to dry.

A bundle of curing bulbs.

A bundle of curing bulbs.

I have four such bundles hanging in our large airy garage.  They will remain there for 4-6 weeks until ready, at which point the stems and roots will be trimmed and they will be moved to our cool dry pantry for long term storage.  Though I could use them to plant for next year’s crop, I am going to support We Grow Garlic by ordering a fresh batch.

Any questions?  Please leave a comment.