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.
Harvest baking is a movement toward wholesome organic foods that are locally sourced and prepared in healthy ways that is catching on across the nation. Kids that have an organic raised bed garden can add fresh picked organic fruit, herbs, and veggies to rolls, breads, pizzas, calzones, biscuits, cakes, and cookies. Using various organic whole grains, kids can bake with the harvest and share healthy baked goodies with family and friends that are packed with vitamins and minerals. Morning breads like pump muffins, tender crusty biscuits, and rich scones are perfect for featuring a seasonal harvest, such as spinach scones or butternut squash muffins. Quick breads and tea loaves can be sweet or savory, such as cornbread with fresh corn, onions, peppers, garlic, and herbs. Yeast breads, rolls, and buns that are laced with herbs, shredded carrots, and potatoes, can tenderize the bread and add an enticing earthy flavor. Kids can feel the dough spring to life in their hands when they make pizza dough by hand and experiment with different fresh organic veggie sauces, like butternut squash sauce, and toppings of herbs and seasonal veggies. Using the pizza dough, kids can also stuff calzones and create amazing flatbreads, like hummus with grilled veggies. Savory and sweet harvest pies and tarts, like eggplant and lentil turnovers or caramel apple pie, start with making a simple pie crust. Kids can use and reuse dried beans pushed up high on the sides of the pie pan to weigh down pre-baked pie shells, which keeps the crust from puffing up while it bakes. Cookies, bars, coffee cakes, pound cakes, and cakes made with fresh fruit, herbs, nuts, and veggies are moist and tender with the right balance of sweetness. Kids can include their organic raised bed fruit and veggie garden in their baking to add flavor and nutrition and create more wholesome meals.
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.
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.
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.
Kids can read the organic seed package of the veggies they would like to eat to discover which veggies to plant in their raised bed garden in the fall. There are three components to having an abundant winter harvest: cold hardy vegetables, succession planting, and protected cultivation. Vegetables that can tolerate cold temperatures can be cultivated in Southern California out of doors year round. Salad mixes are extra yummy as they reach a higher level of perfection without the stress of scorching summer heat. Stir fry greens, spinach, chard, leeks, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, and snow peas are a few of the cold hardy veggies kids can grow in the winter. Kids can also plant onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks, whose smell can repel pests, in late fall to harvest in early summer. Succession planting means that kids can sow seeds every two or three weeks from late summer to late fall to keep the cornucopia flowing during the shorter days and cooler temperatures of winter. Taking advantage of every square foot of garden space, kids can use companion planting of different veggies in one raised bed, as one crop is harvested another crop takes advantage of the extra light to grow to maturity. To protect the crops from the cold, kids can use several methods to cover their veggies, such as: a greenhouse, cloches, cold frames, row covers, and mulching. In mild winter climates, kids can use floating row covers, which are made of light weight fabric that allows sunlight, air, and water to pass through, but protects newly planted seeds and seedlings. These covers can be installed over hoops to create insulated tunnels over the raised beds to keep in the heat and keep out insects and critters. Kids can have abundant harvests of cold hardy vegetables all winter with companion succession planting and protective row covers.