When families grow an organic raised bed garden where they live, they have easy access to fresh organic food and benefit from a sanctuary that restores them mentally, physically, and emotionally. The raised bed can be a 5’ x 4’ wooden container in a site that gets 6 hours of direct sunlight daily, away from trees and high winds. A planter box of cement or rocks edging a wall is a productive raised bed as plants growing off the ground aren’t as easy a prey for pests and disease. Raised beds warm up quicker for earlier planting and extended growing season. Staggering the plantings of veggies is accomplished easier as kids can reach, rotate and harvest crops over an extended growing season in a small raised bed. Kids can terrace their veggie plants to capture the most sun and grow a bigger harvest by putting the tallest ones in the back and the shorter ones in front. A trellis can be attached to the raised bed to keep vines weed and water free. Kids can fill their raised garden bed with organic soil and compost from their compost bin, garden center, or local organic soil company. To save time, money, and water, kids can easily add a drip watering system or a soaker hose with a battery run timer so that watering takes place at the best time of day for maximum absorption and minimal evaporation. Filling the raised bed with fresh balanced organic soil creates a perfect start to growing abundant fruit and veggies. Kids can add castings from Red Wriggler worms that create the highest quality compost with nutrients and micro-organisms for water retention, air flow, and minerals and make the best fertilizer for the soil and the best food for the plants. Kids can hardly wait to taste the healthy variety of homegrown fruit and vegetables that they have grown in their organic raised bed garden.
“Biochar’s high carbon content and porous composition helps soil to retain water, nutrients, protect soil microbes, and ultimately increase crop yields while growing healthier, more productive, disease-resistant plants. All the while helping combat global climate change by sequestering and stabilizing rich organic carbon in your soil,” explained Michael Wittman.
Biochar is a charcoal soil amendment that has been made in Asia, often from bamboo, for thousands of years to increase plant productivity. Charcoal been used for years as an air and water filter. “A natural amendment,” said Michael Wittman, “biochar is a microscopic honeycomb that holds beneficial soil bacteria, moisture, and nutrients.” It can improve soil structure, reduce erosion, and do its job in the soil for hundreds of years. Like a fire in the forest leaves charred wood to enrich the forest floor, biochar enriches the soil by retaining moisture and nutrients. Bamboo biochar has ten times more surface area, a fixed nutrient ratio, more water retention, and absorbs more soluble nutrients than other biochar derived from wood, straw, or manure. Delicate beneficial fungi are difficult to keep in the soil, but biochar can build fungal qualities in all types of soil.
Touring Michael Wittman’s Thousand Oaks garden, Organic Garden Club members learned how to make biochar from wood burning in a small kiln. To keep gophers, squirrels, birds, and bunnies out of the veggies, Michael built a wire house under and around his raised bed garden and hung his tomatoes from the roof. He grows strawberries and herbs in satellite dishes for easy reach with a fire pit cover to keep out the critters. To harvest the rain water, he has two large 350 gallon tanks connected to the rain gutters from his roof with a hose at the side of the tanks to water the garden. He keeps his compost in a wire house, where he mixes it with biochar to provide a home for the growing bacteria and fungi.
The process of making biochar pulls carbon out of the atmosphere and returns it to enrich the soil and grow plants that breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen. With biochar you can as Michael said, “Leave your carbon footprint in the garden…”
Microbes have been living on Earth for 3.7 billion years and perform such vital services that all other creatures on Earth would die without them. Microbes are in the air, the soil, the food, as well as in the human body, especially the skin and intestines. Half the cells in our body are microbial, many are helpful and only a few are destructive. Microbes break down organic substances and change their chemical makeup when foods are fermented, such as yogurt, bread, pickles, and soy sauce, making fermented foods gut healthy. Nutritionists encourage a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods to support a healthy microbial community in a healthy body. Processed food has chemical additives that have been shown to disturb microbes. Antibiotics kill susceptible bacteria but not resistant bacteria which multiply and become more common. Kids should take antibiotics exactly as prescribed by the doctor and avoid antibacterial soaps, lotions, and cleansers. Instead, kids can wash their hands with soap and water, which wash all kinds of bacteria down the drain, and wash often to avoid infection. The microbial cells and human cells work together to keep kids healthy. There are many kinds of microbes in the human body performing many tasks, like helping to digest our food, fighting harmful bacteria in the gut, and developing our immune system. Studies have shown that kids in big families or that go to day care are less likely to suffer from asthma and allergies. Kids that live on farms and interact with farm animals have the lowest rates of allergy and asthma. Kids that grow up with dogs, cats, and horses are also less affected. Antidepressant microbes in soil bacteria produce serotonin bringing happiness and healing to kids and gardeners rooting about in the soil. Kids that spend time outdoors, playing in nature, and growing an organic veggie garden are healthier and happier.
Kids that grow organic veggie gardens can become good stewards of the land, growing their own independence and self sufficiency. The soil is alive! Every cubic inch of healthy soil is a miniature world of beneficial living organisms that feed all living things on our planet. This micro-universe takes the organic material in the soil and turns it into useable food and nutrients for the plant, which grows veggies rich with nutrients for kids. When a plant seed begins to grow the first thing to emerge is the primary root to absorb food and water from the soil. Beautiful veggie root systems aerate the soil and feed the microorganisms that feed nutrients to the plant. Roots bind the soil, hold the plants in position, and draw water, minerals, and nutrients from the soil to feed the plant. Kids can feed the soil with living compost to increase the biodiversity of soil microorganisms. Many of the microorganisms form intimate relationships with roots to increase their ability to utilize water and nutrients. Fungi break down dead organic matter in the compost to release valuable nutrients into the soil. Some plant roots and fungi grow together. The fungi radiates through the soil and forms a velvety covering over the plant roots, greatly increasing the contact with the soil and passing the minerals and nutrients to the plant, while the fungus absorbs sugars from the root cells. Kids can mulch their garden with organic materials to add essential elements contained in the dead plants and make them available to the next generation of plants. Kids can make their plants healthier and able to resist pests and pathogens by feeding the soil compost and mulch. Studies have shown that kids exposed to soil develop a stronger immune system, fewer allergies, and perform better in school.
Wherever there is a patch of sunlight for at least six hours a day, on a fire escape, window box, deck, or balcony, kids can grow organic vegetables in containers. Kids can start their garden by growing herbs and salad greens, which grow quickly and easily in pots. Pots, especially on wheeled platforms, can easily be moved around to adjust to the weather. Kids get so excited experiencing the wonders of the nature by watching small sprouts grow into a full sized plant that they can hardly wait to eat what they have grown. Everything edible that is grown can be successfully raised in a container without weeds, soil borne diseases, or overplanting. The secret is the organic potting soil which gives consistent drainage, is free of weeds and pests, and has the best conditions for young plants. Even in a large backyard, several raised bed gardens are preferred to planting in the ground because they can be filled with healthy organic vegetable potting soil, that has been balanced for growing food and is alive with micro-organisms. Kids can grow veggies rich with nutrients by feeding the plants with nutrient rich compost and an organic fertilizer specially formulated for vegetables. Kids can set up an inexpensive drip watering system with a battery run timer to schedule the right amount of water at the right time of day for their herbs and veggies. Everyone knows that food picked steps from the kitchen is fresher and more delicious. Kids can have a year round garden in containers by moving them according to the weather and rotating their crops to plant the right veggie for the right season. Kids can use sunny vertical space to add to their garden, using wall pockets, deck ledge containers, planter railings, and hanging baskets. Kids can plant peas in a planter box with a trellis to make an edible privacy screen or space divider. Fruit trees will grow by a sunny door in a large container, making a beautiful focal point and producing year after year. Kids can grow bumper crops of fresh organic food in pots and planters and create a feast for their health and table.
Kids can create a butterfly garden with beautiful native flowers that are the specific plants for food and shelter for butterflies and caterpillars in their backyard. The main food of adult butterflies is nectar from red, orange, yellow, blue, or purple flowers. The female butterfly lays her eggs on very specific larval food plants. Larval food plants are native plants that haven’t been sprayed with weed or insect killers. The Monarch butterfly only eats one species of plant, milkweed. Homeowners and developers have changed the landscape from native plants and trees that butterflies and other insects used for food and homes to large lawns trimmed with exotic plants that originated in different climates. The exotic plants tend to escape the gardens and become invasive in the native landscape. Commercial agriculture has also removed the native habitat and added toxic chemicals to the land. Many native plants have been thought of as weeds to be removed but to many species of butterflies these plants are food, such as clovers, mallows, lantana, and butterfly weed. This loss of native habitat has reduced the biodiversity of the North American landscape significantly with less food for insects, birds, and wildlife. Kids can create a good butterfly garden with beautiful native flowers, culinary herbs, and fruits. Kids can watch as the female butterfly lays her eggs on the underside of leaves or flower buds of the native plant. The caterpillar will eat its host plant as it grows and forms a chrysalis. Kids can care for the chrysalis by providing wind protection and shelter from migrating birds. From the chrysalis the adult butterfly emerges to dry its wings in the sun. Kids can provide the butterflies with a shallow source of water and a sunny zone of bright colored native flowers for fragrance, nectar, and food.
Kids can grow their veggies under a lightweight, white fabric that lets light, water, and air in, but keeps insects and critters out. Row covers also help keep the soil moist and the plants protected in the winter. Floating row covers are draped over plants leaving enough slack to allow them room to grow. Kids can place stakes, bricks, rocks, or boards along the edges so the fabric doesn’t blow away. To create a rigid row cover, kids can use lengths of PVC pipes and bend them over their raised bed garden and attach the row cover with stakes in the ground like in the picture above or attach it to the pipes with clips. Kids can also attach the row cover to wood stakes attached to their raised bed frame. Kids can find rolls of row covers, sometimes called row blankets, and PVC pipe at their local garden center. Kids can remove the cover when the plants begin to flower, so that pollinators can access them. When the fruits appear, kids can than attach nets to the PVC pipes or wood stakes to protect their fruit and veggies from birds and critters eager to harvest them. Row covers are a great way for kids to protect their just planted early spring vegetable garden.