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    How Does Your Garden Grow?





     

    One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.  ~William Shakespeare


    (Columbine, out back)  

    I've tended a garden – of some kind – for as long as I can recall. As a child, we had a great big garden – surrounded by a picket fence, filled with treasures we’d tend all summer long: potatoes, carrots, corn, peas, broccoli, strawberries. I remember tilling the soil, planting, watering, pulling weeds (ugh), and finally harvesting our bounty! The garden was always a marvelous place for discovery: we had bugs in our veggies, rats digging tunnels through our rows, and one year, even turned over a nest of baby bunnies! Gardening was a part of every day life – a lot of work, but fun too, and even better – we ended up with Stuff To Eat at the end of it all.


    (Our strawberries ripened this weekend & they were delicious!)

    When Adam and I were apartment living, I kept pots of flowers and tomatoes on our deck, and when we moved to Maine, we tried our hand at a full-fledged vegetable garden a couple of years, along with many perennial beds.  Though we never got much of a veggie harvest, there was always something that felt so right – and even necessary – about tending a garden. Without it, there’s a piece missing from Spring and Summer. A piece missing from the soul.


    (Our backyard garden as of last week) 

    We’ve been back in New Jersey now a few years, and don’t have much space. But every year with the kids I’ve made the effort to get something in the soil with them. Our perennial beds are thriving, but with limited space and sun, we don’t have the most impressive veggie garden. Yet, even without ending up with baskets full of edibles in the fall, it’s still so important to get your hands dirty. Through gardening, my children have come to understand the sequence of planting a seed, watching it sprout, grow, bear fruit, and die… the cycle of life. A garden is life.  I’m grateful for the time with my kids – planting seeds, digging in the dirt, feeling the sun on our shoulders, the breeze in our hair, smelling the rich soil, and watching our plants move through the cycle of life and seasons.


    (Kiddos, planting)

    We are all a part of this earth – no matter how far away from it we tend to get, through technology – we come from the earth, we return to it, we need it. The garden reminds me of how interconnected we all are with each other and our earth, and I am grateful for it.


    (Foxglove, out front) 

    So… how does YOUR garden grow? Do you have rows and rows of veggies or a couple tomatoes in pots? How do you connect with the earth with your children?

    Posted: May 31 2011, 19:19 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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    Starting Seeds





    Last year was the first year we tried planting edible plants in our backyard in containers, and had a fairly successful (albeit modest) harvest: a couple of sweet strawberries, three tiny cucumbers, and several handfuls of cherry tomatoes! In our condo, we are blessed with a tiny fenced yard which allows us a private (although mostly shady) area where we can plant our own veggies and flowers, along with a sunny garden we built up against the woods in the common area. We've used the in-ground garden in past years for non-edible plants (due to the pesticides & fertilizers which are spread in the neighborhood [not inside the fences], I'm not comfortable eating anything from the common area) like sunflowers and pumpkins. This year, we decided to get a bit more ambitious with our edible garden, and we're going for some shade-tolerant root veggies: beets & carrots, greens: lettuce, spinach, and broccoli, along with fun-to-grow & eat snap peas! It's still a bit too cold yet in New Jersey to plant veggies outside, so we decided to start our seeds inside, and move them out to the back in a few weeks. I'm not sure yet whether we'll construct a raised bed, or plant in pots again. We also haven't decided what's to go in the common area garden yet either. Stay tuned for details!

    We bought some lovely organic potting soil (from Maine - yay!), biodegradable pots, and organic seeds, put down some newspaper, and got to work! The kids had a blast in the dirt (okay, so did I!), my daughter showed a bit of her creative side with designing the seed markers, and my son practiced his motor skills gently watering the finished pots. Enjoy our afternoon in pictures... Can't wait until they start to sprout!


    (Go Organic!)


    (If you could only SMELL this dirt - *swoon*)


    (Carefully filling the pots)


    (Gently sprinkling the seeds)


    (More seeding...)


    (Watering the pots)


    (Done!)

    Are you planning a garden this year? What are you planting?

    Posted: Mar 28 2011, 00:35 by kelly | Comments (6) RSS comment feed |
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    Healthy Snacking, Healthy Kids





    Snacking has a bad rap.  But it really shouldn’t, as snacking can be one of the healthiest ways to eat! When you eat several smaller meals throughout the day – as you feel hungry – instead of ignoring your hunger signals and waiting until a big sit down meal, you tend to eat less, and thus feel less hungry overall.  When I’m less hungry, I find I make better, healthier choices for snacking, and am less inclined to gorge myself when I do sit down for dinner.  When I’m not sugar-starved and faced with the feeling of, “oh my gosh, if I don’t get something in my face right now I’m going to keel over – pass me whatever is edible”, then I can make a more measured choice. I believe that when given a chance, your body will let you know when you’re hungry, and if you trust that feeling, you can make good, healthy choices to satisfy and nourish yourself! 

     

    With children, I’ve found they are naturally inclined to be snackers.  They have smaller stomachs, higher energy levels, and just need to eat smaller meals, more frequently, in order to stay healthy, and even-keeled (which, as we all know, is super important for everyone’s sanity!). When preparing snacks for the kids, I like to use the grazing method.  I prepare a plate with several different options on it, and put it out on a small table for them to pick at as they are hungry. Why? Primarily, this approach takes the pressure off eating.  The grazing plate allows for a little of something for everyone, with no need to sit down in a specific spot at a particular time or eat something that they aren’t fond of. Not everyone is always hungry at the same time, nor for the same thing.  And as the goal with food isn’t clearing a plate or eating exactly what’s put in front of you, but rather, consciousness: being aware of your hunger, and choosing healthy foods (that taste good, too), grazing just makes sense! The other reason I like the grazing approach to eating is because it seems to follow naturally after breastfeeding my infants on cue, baby-led feeding my older babies, and child-led weaning my toddlers.  It’s about giving your children a choice, and trusting their bodies to let them know when they are hungry and what they’re hungry for. 

     

    So what kinds of snacks am I talking about when I say healthy snacking/grazing?

     

    Here are a few healthy (vegetarian) suggestions for kids (and adults):

     

    Veggies:

    Sliced avocado
    Baby carrots

    Sliced cucumbers

    Celery

    Sweet potato chips

    Olives

    Pickles

     

    Protein:

    Peanut butter, sunbutter, almond butter

    Cream cheese

    Hard boiled egg slices

    Hummus

    Cheddar or colby cheese cubes

    Cheese strings (we love Armenian string cheese)

    Rolled tofurky

    Cashews, walnuts, almonds

    Yogurt (we like Liberte brand because it’s naturally sweetened with fruit)


    Fruit:

    Apple slices

    Peach, nectarine, mango slices

    Berries (I serve cherries pre-pitted)

    Grapes

    Clementine oranges (easy for kids to peel)

    Dried cherries, cranberries, apples
    Banana circles

     

    Grains:

    Whole wheat crackers

    Pretzels (we like Newman’s Own protein)

    Popcorn (air popped, non-GMO)

    Spiral or Farfale pasta

    Whole wheat pancake or waffle slices

     

    Pickles

    Posted: Jun 11 2010, 19:04 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Filed under: Children | VEGetariANism

    Container Vegetable Gardening





    I’ve been perennial gardening for years. Adam and I were sort of thrown into it nearly 10 years ago, when we moved to Maine, and the house we bought was surrounded by an amazing array of perennial plants and flowers. I’d grown up gardening with my mother, and felt, at the time, that I had a pretty good handle on plants. I could get mostly any houseplant to grow & thrive, and had luck in our previous apartments with summer annuals out on the balcony. But 8 fully landscaped flower beds on two acres (the woman from whom we purchased the house even left us with a detailed map of the flowers and plants – yeah, that might have tipped us off)… this was a different animal altogether. During our five years in Maine, we had some gardening successes (amazing echinacea and lilac bushes) and failures (composting, vegetable gardening, and weed management - FAIL), but in all, we learned SO MUCH about gardening (namely, never, ever, buy a house with 8 huge meticulously landscaped perennial beds again, because man oh man, that is a LOT of mulch), and came to love it in spite of the challenges. We even got married in our gardens (cue giant previously mentioned echinacea):

    When we moved to our apartment in New Jersey, I really missed the calming aspect of gardening, in spite of the work. I missed tending the plants (that didn’t talk back, but let you know by growing bigger & more beautiful, that you were doing a good job nonetheless), smelling the fragrant lilac in early spring, and the feeling of great energy and beauty that exuded from each plant. So, as soon as we bought our house here, I set to work spending a near fortune all my free time on planting New Jersey-friendly perennials, and slowly expanding our tiny front flower bed into the beautiful garden it is today. I’ve always involved the children when gardening; from the time my daughter was a baby – I’d set her out on a blanket next to the bed where I was working – until today; where both of my children happily work beside me, and even lead the way in gardening.


    My daughter & son leading the way out the back yard to our pumpkin garden

    This year, since both kids are of the age where they can actively participate in and learn about the details of planting, caring for, looking after, trimming, and harvesting plants, I decided to take another step forward in gardening, and we started a “vegetable garden” and container veggies. Now, I put that first one in quotes because our current “vegetable garden” actually only consists of pumpkins, sunflowers, and ornamental corn (which we planted today), due to the unknown soil quality and potential contaminants. I’m not comfortable eating anything we plant out there. However, because I think there’s great teaching and motivational value for my children in being able to actually EAT the literal fruits of your labor, I also decided we’d take on the task of container gardening in our enclosed back yard (out of reach of the landscapers who liberally and frequently spray pesticides through our neighborhood).

    After an initial less-than-stellar attempt at locating organic potting mix at a big box store this weekend, I elicited the assistance of twitter. With the help of Hobo_Mama & innerwizdom’s sage gardening advice, I was able to locate an appropriate natural potting medium for our new cucumbers (and for transplanting our tomato and strawberry). The kids and I made a special trip to Whole Foods and found an organic potting mix by Organic Mechanics and an organic compost & peat mix by Coast of Maine (rather apropos, no?).


    As an aside (and let me say, neither of the aformentioned companies have contacted me in any way, and I paid for these items myself - I just feel it necessary to tell you about how awesome they are), the difference between the two actually organic soils and the so-called "organic" soil by Miracle Gro that I was duped into buying at the local big box store is unbelievable. The M.G. (abbreviating from here on out, as not to attract any more unneeded attention to said mainstream brand) soil smelled so noxious – even IN the bag (unopened!) in our house – that that I had to immediately put it outside. There was NO WAY I was going to put our edible vegetables in that. After opening the bag, I discovered it was heavy, dense, smelly, and full of unknown bits of who knows what. I didn’t want my children to even touch the stuff. I should have been tipped off by the warning on the back, indicating to keep away from children. It’s SOIL! Keep away from children? Ey yi yi… can you say greenwashing? In contrast, the Organic Mechanics and Coast of Maine soils were rich, dark, and smelled heavenly (like dirt SHOULD!) yet were light & fluffy to boot. I willingly encouraged my kids get themselves dirty in the organic soils.

    My son alternated scoops from both bags and filled the container. My daughter placed our cucumber plants (we chose a low-growing bush variety - good for containers, and pickling!) in the midst, and gently pressed down the additional soil my son placed around the base of the baby plants. We put in a metal trellis on which the cukes could travel up. Watered, and done!

    Next, came tending the back garden. We discovered that something (we’ve seen deer, groundhog, birds, and squirrels visit our garden, hence the installation of the fence) had eaten the heads off of our sunflower sprouts; which was our third attempt at growing sunflowers out back. On the upside, our Northern Giant pumpkin is really taking off! We also had some random wild corn sprout up in our garden, so we decided not to leave those stalks lonely, and planted some ornamental red corn.

    The kids turned up the dirt, pulled weeds, and prepped the soil.


    My three and five year old painstakingly placed one kernel at a time into each hole and gently covered them. I was amazed, as I always am, by the gentleness and patience my children naturally display around the plants. We watered everything, and voila! Another fabulous day in the garden! Here’s hoping nothing decides to dig up the kernels as special treats.

    Up next? Transplanting our tomato & strawberry plants into the fragrant Maine soil. So... what are you planting?

    Posted: Jun 09 2010, 00:00 by kelly | Comments (5) RSS comment feed |
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