The past several weeks have been a whirlwind of activity in our home, as the weather has transitioned from winter into spring. We are having the most beautiful spring days here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.
We are participating in the Homeschool Village’s Garden Challenge and also doing a Garden Unit Study too. The Garden Challenge is a four month challenge to get homeschool families involved in learning about gardening.
Anyone can participate in the garden challenge, and it doesn’t matter how simple or elaborate your garden is. The point is to just learn something and share about it. It can be something as simple as a container in the window, a hanging basket in a window, a container on the patio, a flower box, a full scale garden, raised garden beds, or whatever you want to do.
Our Gardens Of The Past
I have always loved gardening. As a child growing up in Kansas, we had many gardens, both at my parents home and at my grandparents home. I remember an acre garden near the house, and a five acre garden at the bottom of the hill for sweet corn and melons. We grew so many potatoes, green beans, cucumbers, corn, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, cabbage, and tomatoes that we always had plenty leftover until the next garden harvest the next year. We had plenty of fruit and nut trees too, including peach, pear, cherry, apple, almond, pecan, walnut, and hickory nuts. The growing and harvest season was always very busy.
My dad loved the garden. He would grow a surplus to sell at local markets. A few years ago, when he died, we found hundreds of receipts of bushels of produce he had sold at the markets that season. Most of it he grew himself in large gardens. But he also knew how to buy bushels of produce at wholesale, and resell it too.
When I was newly married, my dad helped my husband and me put in a large garden in our yard in Kansas. He came for a two week visit and we had the best time together. He would get up with the sunrise and go out and weed the garden before the heat of the day. On a walk, one afternoon, he showed me some “weeds” that he called part of God’s garden. I specifically remember him pointing out wild mustard, dandelions, and poke or dock. He said his parents loved to cook these with bacon and they were some of grandpa’s favorite food. I did remember grandma making wilted greens for grandpa with bacon. I never tasted it though. As a kid, I did not eat cooked greens. But as an adult, I have drank dandelion tea, and I do enjoy turnip greens too.
When we moved to Indiana, my husband helped me put in an even bigger garden and we learned about organic gardening. An elderly neighbor used to work for the Organic Gardening Magazine. He gave me lots of old issues and spent many hours teaching me. He gave me starts of many plants I had never grown before. Things like elephant ear garlic, horse radish, tobacco, spider plant, mosquito plant, and more. These plants were amazing to grow in the garden to help reduce bugs, and I never had a prettier garden thanks to him. He taught me to mulch the whole garden with newspaper and grass clippings. They helped keep the soil moist in the summer, reduce weeds, and as they bio degraded, the soil was enriched with lots of nutrients.
A few years later, I moved to our first farm in Indiana and had a bigger garden. Soon I moved to a bigger farm, and built a bigger garden, and lots of flower and herb beds and a small orchard. My husband also planted an acre of sweet corn and pumpkins for us to sell. He planted five acres of alfalfa orchard grass hay and it provided us with four cuttings a year. Our cattle used the rest of the acreage, though we also harvested grass hay off the cattle pasture too. We were surrounded by 400 acres of highly productive farm ground owned by a neighbor. Indiana has a lot of rainfall and a lot of top soil. We often seen our neighbor’s field corn get eight to ten feet tall with huge yields per acre. It was just a good place to farm and raise produce.
During this time I also spent a lot of time with Amish women in their beautiful gardens and learned so much. I was able to hire an Amish helper named Sarah, to help me with my garden chores as I was producing enough for our family and plenty to sell. With my Sarah’s assistance, we harvested many bushels of produce, canned, froze, dried, and so on, as we worked together to put up the harvest before it could spoil. She worked like lightning. I will always treasure those years we spent together working the garden and the harvest together.
My last years of gardening in Indiana, became a year around project and I had spent many hours in that same garden for 8 years. It was a labor of love in building up the soil with composted leaves and grass clippings, composted cow & horse manure, ashes from the fireplace, and composted hay. The garden was rich and full of life. It must have had over a foot deep of rich soil. It grew the best potatoes, and squash and sweet corn. It produced plentiful carrots, radishes, beets, onions, peppers, herbs, and tomatoes. It was a great garden spot!
Our Current Garden
I have missed my garden since moving to North Carolina. And I have been faced with gardening challenges I have not had to face before. The first year here we rented a house from February to May, then moved back to Indiana for June, July, and part of August, then back to North Carolina the end of August. And I was pregnant with our 5th child. Whew! In August, we rented a house and were not able to use the yard, so the following spring I bought a few planter boxes to put on the patio. The next year we were finally living in our own house in North Carolina, but realizing we were dealing with a very hard red clay, difficult to get grass to grow and very difficult to get a garden to grow. Also dealing with much less rainfall in NC compared to IN, and the entire south was in a major drought that has lasted for several years. So there is a huge learning curve, as I adjust to this new environment with new challenges, despite our past garden success. It is like learning from ground zero all over again. As we were having trouble with the yard, we decide to begin our garden with two raised beds, and then build on each year as we could afford to expand.
Our current garden consists of two raised beds that are 4 feet x 8 feet, two raised beds that are 2 feet x 4 feet, and four planter boxes that are 1 foot x 4 feet. When we are able, we plan to expand our raised beds, and get a tiller and make a large garden bed too. We have lived in this house for 1 1/2 year and we are making progress on the yard and garden one small step at a time.
So we are starting our second summer with our raised garden beds, and our third year with our smaller planter boxes. The first step this spring was to weed all the boxes. This seemed like a huge task, as everything had to be pulled by hand. When we had large garden beds, it is easy to run a tiller or weeder or hoe over everything. But, in small raised beds and planter boxes, there is no room for these tools and the work is mostly done by hand.
If you would like to read another “weeding” story about our planter boxes, please see the link here.
We saved some of our weeds for a science experiment you can read about here.
The raised beds are 8 feet x 4 feet. They are divided in half. Each time we finished weeding a 4 x 4 section, we added in some additional top soil and peat moss to raise the dirt level back up. Peat moss is very helpful in keeping the soil most, but not too moist. It helps slow down some of the water loss in the summer too.
These bags of top soil cost $1 for 40lbs at the local home improvement store. We added one bag on for each 4 x 4 section. The organic peat moss was $11 for 3 cubic feet. We used this also in all the planter boxes too. So we had about $20 dollars invested in topping off all the garden beds and planter boxes this spring.
This was a great family project. Dad helped us too when he got home from work.
After the peat moss and top soil were added to the boxes, the children mixed them all together. This was a great sensory experience. The dirt and peat moss had a fresh smell and it was cool to the touch.
My daughter pretended she was mixing up ingredients for a chocolate cake. She loves to stir.
Then the children worked together to plant the beds. They started with the small raised beds.
Working carefully so as not to disturb the roots, they put each tender plant into the soil. This was a good opportunity to see how the whole plant lives above and below the soil level.
They made some patterns with flower colors, and varieties too.
The 2 x 4 garden beds were filled with petunias, snap dragons, and sweet potatoes. These will look lovely in the coming months and draw bees, butterflies, and humming birds to pollinate our garden. Then in the fall we will harvest the sweet potatoes.
The 1 x 4 planter boxes were weeded and filled with rosemary, chives, oregano, thyme, parsley, lemon balm, bee balm, sweet mint, yarrow, and more herbs. I love growing herbs for special teas, cooking, and medicinal purposes. The boxes were also planted with lettuce, and pansies and other flowers. One planter is full of strawberries too.
To get a jump start on the growing season, and hopefully beat some of the garden pests, I decided to go with started plants this year. In the past, I grew our garden from both seeds, and plants I started. We also bought started tomatoes at the local Amish greenhouse and usually planted about 35 to 50 of these each year. But this time, being pregnant and feeling like I need to simplify and use the resources available to me, I went with started plants from Lowes. I have some seeds leftover from last year, and I will plant those in the next week or two.
I saved seed to from a few plants from last year’s garden too, including zenias, cucumbers, and pumpkin. So I am looking forward to planting these with the children and seeing these seeds germinate and replicate the plants the children and I tended last year. This will be a good hands on lesson to tie together how produce reproduces year after year.
We filled the raised bed gardens with cabbage, red onions, sweet white onions, sweet yellow onions, cucumbers, summer squash, bell peppers, jalapenio peppers, spinach, lettuce, two varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and two non-heirloom varieties, dill, cilantro, sage, and a few things I think I am forgetting. There was also some volunteer cucumber plants starting to grow from seed left over in the bed from last year and a lovely kale that had over wintered and is now blooming too.
I hope to plant some white potatoes yet this spring too. I found potato grow bags at a gardeners store and hope to purchase some yet for this growing season. I have tried methods of growing potatoes in rows in the garden (my favorite way, but you need lots of space which I don’t have just yet), in old tires, flower beds, and even a five gallon bucket before. Potatoes are just fun to grow, and delicious to eat. I love harvesting potatoes with my children. If we don’t get them this spring, then there is always next year.
In the coming weeks we will be sharing with you our gardening learning adventure. We are currently learning about soil and water PH and doing lots of experiments we will share with you soon. We also have started plants indoors in the window for several experiments too. So stay tuned for lots more gardening science stories.
Before we were through, we made sure to water all the plants with a gentle mist from our sprinkler. I think getting wet was the funniest part of the whole day. Like eating a delicious desert and sharing a good story at the end of a satisfying meal. The “work” was through and it was time to get silly.
The children loved playing in the homemade “rain”.
In addition to their plants, the children were soaked from head to toe.
How do you teach your children about gardening, growing food, growing flowers, etc.? Be sure to share your stories with us in the comment section below. Thank you.
This post will be linked to:
The Garden Challenge
No Time For Flash Cards