Friday, January 25, 2013

Gardens and Life: who can tell the difference?

Hi all,

Thanks for supporting the school garden.  I'm doing all my blogging now at my Million Tiny Things blog: gardening, life, and everything in between.  I'd love you to subscribe there and keep up with our ongoing garden antics.  Feel free to scroll through these archives!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Growing up

First, admire our fabulous new bean teepee, then read about our day…

It’s getting warmer, with that energizing spring heat, and we are all glad to be back out in the garden after the last week of standardized tests.  For the morning, we must all band together to get those tomatoes into the ground!  They are getting spindly-tall in those little pots.  We review how to pinch off the lower leaves and plant the plants deep enough to give the too-long stems a strong foundation.  Sometimes the kids feel like this these days: they’ve all grown a few inches when I wasn’t looking.  A few weeks of neglect: vacation, testing, a sick day, and suddenly they no longer fit in the little plastic boxes of my preconceptions.

I’m somehow assigned to the pair of girls who usually get under my thin, non-teacher skin within the first few minutes of class.  They are strong, bright, willful girls, with a lot to say (and no sense of when it’s someone else’s turn to say something).  They are also self-involved to the point of not seeing the full range of hurtful behaviors they can so easily turn on the less vocal, less opinionated members of the class.  And so, in my role as enforcer of the general peace when T is trying to get us through some curricular hurdle, I often have to pull them aside for “reminders,” which they usually interpret as unfounded attacks on their unblemished characters.  Which means, in blunt, that they don’t like me so much.  And if I’m honest and lay aside my “teacher” hat, I have to admit it’s mutual. 

Fortunately, I did remember to wear that “open heart, open mind” teacher hat today, even though it sometimes chafes my temples.  So when T sends the three of us off to plant our tomatoes, I leave my hopeless sense of “boy, won’t this just be so fun… not” in the greenhouse.  Off we go to our assigned garden bed, with the seemingly simple task of planting two whole tomato plants.  We’ve got our work cut out for us.  When we get there, we find a whole clutch of broccoli plants on the verge of going to seed.  Wild Child #1 turns around, and seeing no adult more likely than myself nearby to give the answer she wants, warily focuses the full force of her long-lashed eyes and wheedling voice on my person: “can we eat some, please please?”

“Sure, as much as you want,” I shrug.  She needn’t have tried so hard.  I generally encourage grazing, and we just have to pull these plants anyhow if we want to have room for the tomatoes.  The next several minutes pass with the girls enthusiastically chomping broccoli and chard, and pulling up the broccoli plants by the roots.  This proves to be so much fun that they keep wanting to pull more and more, going way beyond our assigned area, rather than settling down to the job of getting the tomatoes on the ground. 

As I expected, the whining sets in, just about when I call them back to the task at hand.  
“It’s soooo hot.” 

“Yep, so the sooner we get these plants in the sooner we can get out of the sun.”  I’m masking my sweat-induced irritation by cleaning up around the edges of the bed they are theoretically supposed to be “working” in.

Whine, dig, complain, lose focus, work even slower.  WC#2: “It’s REALLY hot.  Can I get a drink of water?”

“Sure, as soon as we get the plants in and watered, we’ll take a water break.”  (After all, it’s only two plants—if I were doing it myself it would take about 30 seconds.  Not that I’m feeling a wee bit impatient or anything.)

“But, but, but..”

“Let’s just get it done, guys.”  I’m such a mean hard-ass; I can see it in their set jaws and hear in their whispers.

Whine, dig, complain, lose focus… but eventually, with many deep theatrical sighs, the tomatoes get into the ground.  Once that’s done, there’s no more asking for water, as the girls have caught sight of the big pile I’ve made of the broccoli plants they pulled and left helter-skelter all over the path.  “Can we do something with that?”

Hmm, that’s not what we’re supposed to be doing, really—we should clean up the beds more--but I’m sick of nagging them.  “Sure, let’s head down and wash it and trim off the edible bits—we can add them to the salad.”  So we all three head into the shade of the kitchen work area.  
The three of us, out of the sun and now with no assignment requiring timely completion, somehow all simultaneously decide to drop our annoyance with each other.  These girls, the ones who usually make me close my eyes and breathe slowly before I speak, are just chatting with me, politely.  And I with them.  We fill a big colander with trimmed-off bit of broccoli (yes of course the stems were woody, but we didn’t care), washed it, mixed it with salad greens and dressed the whole thing with leftover mango dressing from the Mayday picnic.

Our salad was beautiful (tough stems and all) and delicious (if you spit out the stems) and more than that, we had fun doing it.  All three of us.  Together.   The wild girls are getting taller, and more mature, and if their stalks are to have the proper support, I’ve got to let them out of the little boxes I’ve been keeping them in, and shore them up with some good soil, and watch them set their own roots.  We’ve all got our jobs cut out for us here in the garden; just sometimes I’m looking too closely at the task at hand to see the bigger work.  (Thank goodness for the strong-willed girls who can push at my edges.)

The final touch for today’s menu: donated bread thawed out in the solar oven!


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Insert your critique of standardized testing here

(Kids in the classroom filling out circles instead of in the garden.  Chewing gum instead of fresh veggies.  Wrong wrong wrong if you ask me.  Which no one did.)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Make way

The kids have been clearing the beds by their classroom like mad to make way for all the new starts.  Pulling up old plants with gusto, barely remembering to save a few for seeds, mostly just pulling pulling pulling—uprooting toppling fava bean plants everywhere to make way for MORE KALE!  (Plus a few zucchini, but really, those just get out of control with not enough people on campus in the summer to prevent them from becoming not-so-tasty behemoth vegetables.)  The kale will grow fast in the heat and we’ll be eating it before we leave for summer break.

In the pollinator-friendly perennial bed behind us, the tiny plants these exact same kids planted last year in their little handmade gopher baskets are naturalizing, spreading out tall and wide and tossing masses of blossoms toward the bees.  Their mosaic tile border bricks, carefully molded in milk cartons by thoughtful second graders, are now taken for granted, overgrown as they are by the sprawling flowers.  The kids don’t look back, don’t think about how they dug in the manure, loosened the packed ground.  Do not notice how their months of work last year have turned this bare dirt patch into a lush habitat.

Now they are simply bent on uprooting.  It’s so easy, and strangely satisfying to see how on this side of the path, so little effort is required to turn a dense vegetable garden into a naked one.  “Make way for the new!” they declare, fistful after fistful, no regret or remorse troubling their brows.  They are so ready to leave behind the things they are done with.  Me, not so much.  I cling to their childishness, begging for just a few more tastes of the sweetness of their lingering innocence, hoping some grace we planted there can survive.  As they clearcut, I “supervise” by staying nearby, coaxing weeds out from the understory of the pollinator bed.

To me, the two sides of this path reveal the two aspects of their changing nine-year-old natures.  On one side I can see the maturing of what has been planted so far in various selves: the mastery of piano books, the ability to get lost in full-fledged novels, the sophistication of real humor, the moves upward in levels of ballet, tae kwon do, baseball, carpentry.  And on the other, their stubborn retention of their ability to uproot one thing and try on something else completely new. 

Even as they hone their chosen skills, they keep their identities unfixed; they still have so many possible selves to try on, take back off, and decide to keep or toss to Goodwill.  Whereas I’m hopeless at clearing beds, getting stuck in the nostalgia of the beautiful fava plants, thinking “If we just wait, these will bear such delicious beans.”  So, I’ll stay here in my perennial bed, nurturing the flowering plants, while these kids have more important work to do, growing.  And the yummy kale chips next month will be thanks to them.

But this week: Spring Rolls!

Buy: brown rice spring roll wrappers

For the dipping sauce, mix to taste the following:
Garlic, pressed after the kids complain that chopping is silly and make you go find the press
Ginger, minced
Mint leaves, chopped, whatever kind the kids want from the garden

Grate (after the kids complain that chopping is silly and make you go find the grater—apparently this was a lesson if using the right tool for the job, garden helper):

Beet greens
Rainbow chard

Mix the veggies with hoisin sauce and wrap in wrappers according to instructions.  Serve with sauce.  Voila!

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Finish to Start

Having recently attended a training in which she was convinced that kids have too much constraint in their lives (really?? these kids??), T persists in allowing the kids to choose their own activities (from a short list provided by her).  This tactic creates a great deal of chaos at the start of class, but the end result, at least in theory, is that you get a group of kids who are really excited about whatever activity they are doing.   Hmmm.  The kids are jumping all around the garden trying to change groups, recruit their friends to their preferred activities, and generally postpone the start of class.  And they are very loud.  It makes me a little crazy.

This system of self-assignment frontloads the frustration factor.  But then we all really do have fun, and the kids stay on task.  I'm starting to buy in, and wondering how I could apply this principle to other aspects of my life.  So when my youngest suggests that she should trade her current lightweight chore of feeding the cats in exchange for "washing the windows, scrubbing the walls, and sweeping," I, against my initial instinct, agree.  You've never seen such energetic sweeping (even if you have seen a much cleaner floor).  And the windows really are a little more transparent.

Back in garden class, my morning group made pumpkin muffins (recipe below) with great enthusiasm.  And bringing things full circle, two afternoon kids chose to plant pumpkin seeds (check out the gorgeous heirloom pumpkin from which we saved aforementioned seeds last fall).  So by the end of the day, we had proud cooks, full bellies, and several flats of pumpkin starts in the greenhouse.  Seems that the system works after all.  Trading a little crazy for a lot of good work.  Not a bad plan for a garden, or a class or third graders, which really, if you think about it, needs both to thrive.

Pumpkin Muffins for the People (makes 30 good-size gluten-free muffins)

Beat 4 eggs.
Stir in 1 cup maple syrup and 4 tsp vanilla.
Then add:
5 cups Pamela's® gluten-free baking mix,
2 big scoops of cooked pumpkin (about 2 cups or more--ours was cooked in the fall and frozen until now),
and several shakes of whatever spices smell good to the kids (ours picked cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg).
Mix and transfer to well-greased muffin tins (fill each about 2/3 full).
Bake at 350ยบ for 20 minutes or so.

In the afternoon, we made wheat flour muffins from a recipe we found lying around (which as usual we altered beyond recognition).  They were lighter but not as sweet (since the morning group had used more than our share of the maple syrup, ooops), so the kids liked the gluten-free version better.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Missed out

As much as I might have preferred to be in the garden, I was trapped in mandatory computer training all day at work.  Here’s how much info I could extract from my 3rd grader.

Mom: How was gardening?

Kid: Fun.

Mom: What did you do?

Kid: (Shrug.)

Mom: What did you cook?

Kid: I don’t know. Oh, stir-fry.

Mom: With…

Kid: Greens.

Mom: Was it good?

Kid: Yep.  Can I go play now?

Mom: (Shrug.)

An adult who was present reports they made quinoa with all the remaining kale they could forage.  And that it was, in fact, good. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Three “S”es

Kind of like the three R’s (you know, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle), but wetter.  Our follow-up to our first hands-on rainy-day watershed lesson is our ever-popular boots-on rainy-day watershed lesson.  How do you help the rainwater replenish the aquifer and not all just escape to the sea?

First, we follow the water.  All over the campus, down drains and through pipes and across the field, down through the garden.

And way out back, T has created two waterflows, one straight and direct and FAST, the other using the Slow it, Spread it, Sink it lesson.  S times 3.  And we see which one would allow the salmon to spawn safely. 

Then the kids use their shovels, hands and wits to turn the fast-flow into a slower one.  And maybe they don’t always recall what the three “S”es are, but their bodies know.  I’m always trying to explain to my own kids why they should not waste water, but I never find a way that they can hear me.  But out here in the muck, I hear the kids explaining it to each other. Somehow the process of slowing the water allows concepts like “aquifer” and “wildlife habitat preservation” to spread out and sink in.  Or maybe it just helps to have muddy boots.

No recipe, unless you count mud pies.  Which, in my opinion, have a quite high nutritional content.