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.
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.
A food desert is an area that doesn’t have large grocery stores selling a variety of healthy foods. Instead, food desert areas have convenience stores and fast food places that sell foods high in empty calories and fat. With an abundant variety of available grants, people are turning empty lots into school and community gardens to grow organic fruits and veggies in food desert areas, an economical way to get the highest quality food. Growing food in a school or community garden, kids can put food on the table, improve their health, improve their environment and boost morale. Community gardening improves the quality of life, producing delicious organic food, regular exercise, and neighborly good will. Garden projects in outdoor class rooms help kids to learn where their food comes from and to develop healthy eating habits, especially when the fresh produce is used in cooking classes and school lunches. Outdoor classrooms at schools bring food studies into the curriculum and offer opportunities to taste, touch, and ingest lessons in virtually every academic subject on every grade level. A garden with cold frames and cloches can give kids a varied and changing diet with access to different antioxidants, vitamins, and nutrients throughout the year. Rejuvenating an empty lot in a food desert area into a lush edible garden inspires the neighborhood to plant containers of flowers on fire escapes and herbs in window boxes giving the whole area new life.
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.
Fall leaves are everywhere and are terrific for mulching in any state of decomposition as they contain nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to feed the soil. Kids can mow the leaves and use the chopped leaves for mulch, as wet matted leaves don’t allow water to reach the soil until they decompose. Applying mulch in the fall to an organic veggie garden helps to keep down the weeds, to keep moisture in the soil, to feed the soil, and to keep soil temperatures even. Plants in mulched soil will grow deeply and find their own water, creating strong roots that grow larger harvests. Because mulch absorbs the impact of falling rain, soil erosion is controlled by slowing the flow of rainwater and wind speed during a storm and encouraging the water to percolate into the soil.
Organic mulches, like leaves, straw, pine leaves, sawdust, and bark chips, are pleasing to the eye and good for the soil. Natural mulches enhance soil structure and keep earthworms and microorganisms in the garden happy breaking down the organic material and creating pathways in the soil for water and air. As the mulch decomposes with the help of these soil organisms, it enriches the soil providing nutrients for the plant roots. Mulch keeps the soil temperature warmer at night and cooler during the day, as the blanket of mulch keeps the soil from drying out too quickly. Kids use less water for their garden as mulching keeps the water from evaporating in the sunshine.
Gardeners can spread mulch on the pathways as an attractive landscaping feature to prevent weeds from growing, to help keep low hanging veggies and fruit clean, and to make a mud free path to tend to the garden. Kids can also plant ground covering herbs for a living mulch, like clover around tomatoes, which enriches the soil and attracts beneficial bugs.
In the fall, kids can cultivate the ground, removing any weeds and adding compost, before adding a layer of mulch. Kids can spread 2 inches of decaying chopped leaves on their organic veggie garden and top with 1 inch of an attractive shredded bark mulch. Mulching keeps the soil moist and prolongs the growing season of cool weather veggies, producing the most abundant healthy organic fruits and vegetables.