Cabbage has been known for thousands of years as a miracle food for good health. Kids can grow beautiful organic cabbage, an annual cool season crop that improves in flavor and sweetness in cold weather, in their raised bed garden, and plant it in the fall. Cabbage is a slow grower that takes up a lot of space. Kids can plan for a two feet square area for each cabbage plant and use a row cover to protect it from pests and weather. Cabbage is rich in vitamin K, C, A, calcium, fiber, and omega 3. It aids digestion, detoxifies the stomach and upper colon, kills bacteria and viruses, and stimulates the immune system. When kids eat organic sauerkraut, fermented cabbage, they are filling their stomachs with beneficial bacteria and microorganisms in the gut that plug gaps in the intestinal wall and reduce many diseases. Cabbages come in several varieties, to plant in the fall and harvest in early spring, to plant in early spring and harvest in summer, and to plant in late spring and harvest in fall. Late varieties are best for sauerkraut, providing the largest and longest keeping heads. As with all veggies in the brassica family, rotate these plants to prevent soil-borne diseases. Kids can harvest cabbage by removing the head, cutting a cross in the top of the cut stalk, and several smaller heads will grow. Crunchy cole slaw, raw shedded cabbage with carrots and onions, makes a refreshing salad. Steamed, grilled, or pan roasted, cabbage is great as a side dish with other veggies or in soups, stews, and rice dishes.
Kids can plant leafy greens in the fall and continue sowing at three week intervals to have salads throughout the winter in Southern California, as in the picture above in my plot at Las Flores Community Garden. Lettuces, spinach, arugula, chard, mustard, and other stir fry greens and salad fixings thrive in cooler temperatures. In fact, leafy greens have a sweeter taste and more vivid colors after a frost. Many of these cool season crops will bolt in hot weather, and an emergence of flowering and seed development rather than leaf formation ends the harvest. Salad leaves as alternatives to lettuce heads have become popular with their rich spicy flavors and superior nutritional content. These leafy greens bring outstanding broad based nourishment to the table with vitamins, minerals, and a wide variety of phytonutrients. Arugula, mustard, bok choy, collards, and kale come from the cruciferous vegetable family, while spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens come from the amaranth family. Kids can start organic seeds indoors or sow directly in their raised bed garden in autumn. Mulch with compost and cover the seedlings with row covers or cloches to conserve soil moisture and protect from pests. Kids can harvest by cutting the outside leaves and leaving the plant to continue growing. Fresh leafy greens are delicious in salads, lightly steamed, or in a quick stir fry. For the best nutrition, harvest leaves in the morning. The more leaves kids harvest, the more will grow.
Broccoli is not only one of the healthiest veggies kids cans eat, but it also makes a beautiful landscape plant in the backyard garden. Broccoli is a prolific annual cool season crop, hardy to frost and light freezes that thrives best in a sunny location that is sheltered from the wind. Broccoli is rich in phytochemicals, vitamin C, folic acid, and fiber, a nutritional powerhouse that fights cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Kids can start organic broccoli seeds indoors and when the starter plants reach 3 or 4 inches tall take them outside for several hours in the heat of the day to harden off for a couple of weeks. Plant the seedlings under a row cover to protect them from pecking birds and other pests and to keep the soil moist and warm. To prevent the spread of soil borne diseases rotate the placement of brassica plants, like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, each season in the garden. Space the plants about two feet apart. As the central flower develops, it may be necessary to stake the plant to keep it stable. To harvest, cut off the heads and side shoots while the flower buds are closed and the heads are dark green. Cut the center head first, leave several inches on the stalk, and add compost to encourage the side stalks to develop over the next six weeks. Kids like to dip raw broccoli, along with other veggies, in hummus. Broccoli and broccoli stems are yummy in soups, rice, quinoa, and lentils. And kids love broccoli in pasta.
Cauliflower is a wonderful winter veggie in the cabbage family with abundant health benefits in its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients, fiber, vitamin C, and potassium. The picture above, taken this November, is my first cauliflower this season. Cauliflower comes in many colors: snowy white, orange, green, and purple. An annual veggie that is hardy to light frosts, cauliflower will bolt in the heat and tastes better after a light freeze, making it a great crop to plant in the fall. Start the seeds indoors and when the starter plants reach 3 or 4 inches tall take them outside for several hours in the heat of the day to harden off for a couple of weeks. Plant the cauliflower seedlings in a raised bed filled with rich organic soil and cover with a floating row cover, a light weight synthetic fabric that allows sunlight and water to pass through to protect the newly planted seeds and seedlings. These covers can be installed over PVC pipe hoops to create insulated tunnels along garden rows to retain heat and moisture and keep out pests. Leave enough space, about 2 feet, between the plants to allow them to fully develop. Water regularly and when the head begins to develop, wrap the leaves around the head and bind them with twine to hold them together to prevent discoloration from the sun. When the head is 6 – 8 inches in diameter, harvest by cutting the head just below the first set of leaves with a sharp knife. After harvesting pull the entire plant from the soil to avoid soil born diseases. Fresh from the garden cauliflower can be added to pasta, rice, or soups to make a delicious and nutritious dish. Hearty cauliflower can be sliced through the stem and roasted with herbs. Kids also like organic steamed cauliflower mashed with organic red potatoes.
Kids think pomegranates are fun to eat with juicy seeds that pop in the mouth, delicious in salads, on ice cream, in baked goods, and vegetable dishes. Kids have been eating pomegranates for thousands of years, and they are mentioned in the Bible, the Mahabharata, Greek mythology, and Shakespeare. The pomegranates in the picture above are on a young tree that was planted a year ago in the Las Flores Community Orchard. Pomegranates are a super-food high in antioxidants that inhibit inflammation and protect collagen in joint cartilage. Drinking pomegranate juice can reduce the toxic effects of free radicals and protect against heart disease, cancer, and cognitive impairment. The skin of the pomegranate is thick and inedible and is used to make a red dye, but inside the skin are hundreds of juicy seeds. First score the fruit with a knife and break it open, put it in a bowl of water, where the seeds sink and the inedible pulp floats, and whack the rind with a large spoon. In late winter, a pomegranate tree can be propagated from a hardwood cutting about 10 inches long, from year old wood that is ¼ to ½ inch in diameter. Once established, the tree is fairly drought tolerant and suited for mild desert climates, taking 3 – 5 years to produce fruit. Pomegranate season is from October through February, so kids can add this winter fruit to baked goods and delicious dishes for the holidays.
Want to start an organic garden, but the project seems overwhelming? Start with small pots of herbs in the patio or a window box on the balcony. Most herbs are perennial, easy to grow, and available at the local nursery. Grab a bag of rich organic potting soil formulated with microorganisms for vegetable gardens, some organic starters, an inexpensive drip watering system, and find a spot that gets 6 hours of sun a day. Choose culinary herbs that can be snipped to add fresh flavor and nutrition to any dish. Or grow your favorite herbs to make healing teas.
At the June Organic Garden Club meeting, Lynne Haavaldsen gave me the Lemon Balm, pictured above, as a starter from her garden. The leaves have a fresh lemon scent and make a delightful hot or cold tea. Lynne said it was one of the oldest of medicinal plants. In ancient medical texts, Lemon Balm is recommended for its calming and uplifting effects. Lemon Balm is native to the Mediterranean region and has fragrant white blossoms in summer that the bees love. Powerful and excellent for kids and adults who have been traumatized, add a few leaves in a cup of hot water several times a day for 3 or 4 weeks to ease worry, heartache, and grief with no side effects. Lemon Balm also alleviates sleep disturbances, anxiety, and digestive problems due to nervousness. Preparing the tea is part of the healing. First, have a direct contact with the plant you have grown by cutting the leaves early in the morning and getting a whiff of lemony scent. Then, steep the tea observing the appearance of the infusion as the tea steeps and, finally, enjoy the pleasure of drinking, as it brings peace into our mind and body. Herbal teas are pleasant, healing, and refreshing to drink and easy to grow.
Scarecrows, like Dorothy’s friend in the “Wizard of Oz”, have been around since people started to farm.To keep birds from eating their crops, ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks made statues of their harvest gods and set them in the fields to protect their food. Over time, different countries made different kinds of scarecrows. In Germany, farmers built wooden witches with potato sack clothes and metal wind chimes to frighten the birds and keep away the evil spirits from their new seedlings. In Japan, they tied smelly oil rags and fish bones to sticks with bamboo wind chimes and placed them in the rice paddies; they also made scarecrows dressed in peasant clothes and hung shiny metal objects that reflected the sunlight to frighten the birds. Native American tribes hung strips of cloth, animal skins, and bones from rawhide thongs or carved wooden hawks on top of pillars to guard their farmlands. Sun reflector wind chimes made from metal, mirrors, tin cans, and CDs, are a good way to protect individual fruit trees and small garden plots.
Kids can make a scarecrow from traditional materials, burlap sacks, buttons, old clothes, and straw. Start with a wooden T frame with two pieces of 2 x 4 wood beams. Attach the 2 foot shoulder board 8 to 10 inches from one end of the 5 to 6 foot long support beam. Kids can connect pieces of wood to create arms or make a fun pose, and dress the scarecrow in any creative way they may like. Lay the frame on the ground, slip one leg of the pants over the bottom of the support beam, with the other leg hanging free. Stuff the clothes with straw, newspaper, or rags. Slip the sleeves of the shirt over the cross piece, attach to the pants and pin on gloves for hands. Old burlap feed bags are an ideal material for a head with dried vines or a mop for hair. Tie twine around the open end of the head and attach it securely to the shirt. A hat can be glued or tied to the head. Kids can decorate their scarecrow with sun reflectors and noise makers to keep birds from gobbling up their new sown seeds and eating the tender green sprouts in their fall garden.