Owls are garden friends at the Las Flores Community Garden, where two owl nest boxes were built on strong posts along the fence, as in the picture above. Owls are great hunters of rodents and help keep mice, rabbits, and squirrels from eating the growing veggies in the garden. Owls don’t make their own nests; they take over useful structures and abandoned nests. Barn owls, which are the size of cats, are the most likely garden partners. Kids can attract owls to their garden by building a sturdy wooden owl house that is the right size for a pair of barn owls and their young. Kids can build the wooden box 38 by 18 by 12 inches with the entrance 6 inches above the base of the box. The oval entrance hole can be 4 ½ wide by 3 ¾ inches tall and should be facing the north to keep the sun from heating up the box. The house need a drainage hole on the bottom and should be cleaned out once a year. Place the owl house high on a post or on top of a structure. In the midwest, there are almost no barn owls left because they are not at home in large fields planted with neat rows of chemically sprayed GMO corn or soybeans. Owls like meadows, grasslands, and open areas where mice and other small prey animals live. The Las Flores Community Garden sits in an open area with lots of rodents for food and two nesting boxes for the owl families.
Kids can grow butternut squash in their raised bed garden during the warm summer months and harvest it early fall. It is heart and bone healthy, rich in beta carotene, potassium, and Vitamin A. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Slice 1 package (14 – 16 ounces) organic extra firm tofu, drained and patted dry into ½ inch thick slabs and arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan and cover top and bottom with paper towels. Mix ¼ cup organic maple syrup, 2 tsp grated and pealed organic fresh ginger, 1 tbsp fresh squeezed orange juice, ½ tsp orange zest, and ½ tsp sea salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cut, peel and seed 1 organic butternut squash into ½ inch cubes and put in a small bowl with ¼ cup of organic pecans. Pour half of the maple syrup mixture into the bowl and mix. Spread the squash on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add 2 tsp soy sauce and ¼ tsp organic apple cider vinegar to the maple syrup mixture in the saucepan and simmer 3 minutes. Remove the paper towels from the tofu, line the sheet pan with parchment paper, arrange and brush the tofu slices with half the soy maple mixture. Put the tofu in the oven, next to the squash, and roast for 20 minutes, tossing the squash occasionally. Remove the squash pan. Turn the tofu pieces over and brush with the rest of the soy maple mixture and cook 10 minutes more. Serve with organic brown rice and garnish with fresh cut basil leaves.
Kids can sprout just about any raw organic whole grain, bean, or seed in a matter of a few days for a fun addition to most any salad. Sprouts are the plants most nutritious stage, and they are concentrated natural sources of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids. In a jar with a lid, kids can create a miniature kitchen garden of tiny power packed plants. Lentils, chickpeas, and beans are rich in protein; during the germination process, the sprouts synthesize new protein and a surge of vitamins from the carbohydrates and fats. Wheat berries, rice, millet and other whole organic grains have all the essential nutrients of the grain magnified when they are spouted. Kids can combine one part whole grain, bean, or seed with 3 parts pure filtered water in the jar. For grains and beans use a ½ cup, for seeds, like quinoa, alfalfa, or chia start with 2 tablespoons. Cover the top of the jar with two layers of cheesecloth secured with a rubber band, and let soak out of direct sunlight at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours. Turn the jar upside down over the sink and drain the water through the cheesecloth. Remove the cheesecloth from the jar, refill with water, put on the lid, and shake to rinse. Remove the lid, cover with cheesecloth, secure with a rubber band, and drain into the sink, shaking out all the water. Kids can also use a sprouting jar with a screen lid to rinse and drain the sprouts, like in the picture above. The soaking water is rich in nutrients and can be used in soups or to water plants. To make sure that mold doesn’t grow, kids can place the jar upside down in a bowl on an angle so the sprouts can continue to drain and air can flow through the cheesecloth. Let set for another 12 hours and repeat the process until the beans, grains, or seeds sprout, 1 – 5 days. Keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 5 days for a bright, crunchy, energy filled addition to a salad.
Summer squash varieties, crookneck, pattypan, sunburst, and zucchini, are fast growing and prolific, producing fruit in 40 to 50 days. Summer squashes are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with skin that has phytochemicals that fight diabetes, protect the liver, and suppress coughs. Kids love squash mixed in pasta, rice, stew, or blended into sauces. Kids can also eat fresh, firm zucchini blossoms that are slightly opened to stuff, sauté, and bake. Squash blossoms are said to be clarifying and to serve when you wish to be understood. Native Americans think of squash as one of the three sisters in a garden, with corn and beans, whose roots nourish each other and when harvested make a nutritionally balanced meal. Kids can start the seeds in small pots in late spring and transplant in early summer to a larger pot or raised bed garden filled with rich organic soil. When harvesting in mid summer, kids can use clippers to cut through the stem 1 inch from the fruit when it is 4 to 6 inches long. The small fruit are called courgettes and are best eaten fresh as they do not store well. If left on the plant, they are called marrows and will grow tougher fruit a foot or longer and will store well.
A fresh picked organic fruit smoothie for breakfast is an energy and mood booster! Kids and toddlers love smoothies which are a delicious and convenient way for kids to get fresh vital nutrients necessary for good health. Organic fruit grown at home to the peak of perfection is filled with essential nutrients and tastes especially sweet and vibrant and make the most flavorful smoothies. Organic fruits from the Farmers Market or local farm produce stand are a better choice than supermarket organic, which may have been picked unripe and shipped many miles. Smoothies are quickly and easily assimilated by the body and contain all the fiber of the fruits used so they keep kids fuller longer. Apple, pear, melon, and pineapple are mildly sweet; apricot, berries, fig, grape, orange, peach, and papaya are sweet; ginger, grapefruit, lemon, and lime add zing; and bananas, mango, and avocado add rich and silky textures. Kids can choose one ingredient from each group or choose one color of fruit for a flavorful smoothie.When bananas get too ripe, kids can remove the peel and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer to save for future drinks. Frozen bananas have the texture of ice cream and make smoothies rich and creamy mixed in the blender. A blender or a high speed Bullet is quick and easy for kids to use. Kids can rinse and chop the fruit, keeping the thin skins on but pealing away the skins of citrus fruits and bananas, pop them in the blender, and mix. Kids can drink the smoothie immediately to get the most nutritional value and most fabulous taste.
The Chef Knife is a large heavy knife with a slight curve of the blade that aids in the rocking motion of chopping. A professional chef will use it for everything from mincing herbs to chopping carrots to crushing garlic. There are several motions of the blade that chefs use to cut the food, with one hand on the blade and the other hand in the form of “the claw”. The claw uses the tips of the fingers and the backs of the fingernails to hold the food steady during the cut. The tips of the fingers are rolled back towards the palm so they are out of the way of the knife’s chopping motion. The chop uses the entire blade moving up and down vertically. The rocking chop keeps the rounded tip of the blade in contact with the board while it pivots down. The push slice allows the weight of the knife to slide the blade forward until it touches the chopping board. The pull slice engages the heel of the blade as it pulls back and down without touching the board. For fast vegetable work the blade is pushed forwards and halfway through and then pulled back and down, touching the board and coming up again at high speed. All these knife strokes take practice using both hands, as the claw hand uses the fingernail to slide the food past the knife. Teens can care for their Chef Knife by washing it by hand, sharpening it after every use, and putting it away in its block of wood.
Kids have been eating grapes since prehistoric times. The Egyptians were the first to ferment grapes to make wine and the practice spread throughout Europe with the Romans and to American with the Spanish missionaries. The cultivation of grapes spread to central California in the 1700s, where most commercial grape growing takes place today. Grapes are vigorous climbers and grape vines grown over an arch provide a lovely decorative feature in a small garden. Kids can plant bare-root grape vines in a climate that has a mild winter and a hot summer. Vines can be propagated from a fellow gardener’s cuttings or kids can find bare-root vines at the nursery. Trim the roots back to 6 inches and plant 1 ½ feet from a support structure, such as a pergola, arbor, or trellis and lean the vine at a 45 degree angle toward the structure. Plant the bare-root vines up to the soil line spreading the roots in all directions in rich organic soil which makes all the difference in the quality of the fruit. Pruning should take place during the third winter. Kids can spur prune the vines by cutting all the canes down to spurs with two or three buds each. Harvest the grapes when the individual grape is easy to pull off and the seeds and stems are brown. Kids can use clean pruner shears to cut the grape bunches from the vine. Grapes will not ripen further once they are off the vine.