Kids in Southern California can grow bananas in their yard by getting a pup from a neighbor’s banana plant or a banana corm from the nursery. Kids have been eating bananas for 10,000 years. An instant energy booster, bananas are rich in fiber, loaded with essential vitamins, and high in potassium and iron.The banana plant is not a tree, but the largest herbaceous flowering plant with about 1000 edible varieties. Bananas are tropical plants and grow more slowly here than in the tropics. Because some varieties grow to 20 feet tall, dwarf varieties growing to about 12 feet are best for fruit picking. Kids can choose a Dwarf Brazilian or Dwarf Namwah for sweet tasty bananas that grow well in Ventura County.
The banana has a corm instead of a trunk, which is a stem of the plant that stores nutrients from one growing season to help to grow roots, leaves, and flowers for the next growing season and has a rhizome that sprouts shallow and extensive root systems, like ginger or turmeric. Banana plants spread rapidly with their underground roots and need to be pruned to one or two stalks. It takes about 18 months for a stalk to start flowering. The curved fruit grows on the long flowering stalk and the bananas form in clusters called hands. Kids should wear old clothes to harvest them because sap from the bananas permanently stain. Each stalk will only bear fruit once and should be removed after a few replacement stalks grow.
Bananas like rich organic soil, lots of water, and heavy feeding when they are growing, spring through fall. Plant them near a warm south facing wall to protect them from winds and frost. Kids can prune the dead leaves and use them with lots of compost for mulch to hold in the moisture. In the winter, when they are dormant, water the bananas very little. Each flowering stalk holds 6 – 8 hands of bananas that ripen from the top. Kids can pick the ripe hand of bananas, leaving the green hands on the stalk to lengthen the harvest and not have too many ripe bananas at once.
Winter is the perfect time for a hot cup of soup. Using winter veggies from the garden, kids can make a healthy soup to take to school in their thermos or to have at home for an afternoon snack. Broccoli is rich in vitamins, minerals, omega-3, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant nutrients; plus it lowers the rates of cancer. Steaming is the best way to cook veggies, as steaming retains their flavor, texture, and nutrition. Kids can chop an entire organic broccoli with the stock included, 1 organic red potato, 1 stalk celery, and ¼ cup red onion. Steam the veggies for 10 minutes or until tender keeping the broccoli flowers a bright deep green. Set aside the broccoli flowers. In a sauce pan melt 1 tbsp organic vegan butter, stir in 1 tbsp organic whole wheat pastry flour, brown a minute, and stir in ½ cup organic almond milk. Put the broccoli stems, potato, celery, and onion in the blender with 1 cup veggie steam water and mix until smooth. Add the almond milk mixture, ½ tsp sea salt, and ¼ tsp ground cardamom and blend. To serve, pour the soup into bowls and place a broccoli flower on top.
Microbes are everywhere in the environment, floating in the atmosphere, in the oceans, soil, and in our guts. When leaves fall in the forest, microbes decompose them into soil-building humus to feed the trees. Healthy soil makes healthy plants that produce fruits and veggies to grow healthy kids. Soil microbes purify our groundwater, decompose dead animals and plants, hold the soil in place, and help feed the plants that recycle our air. Organic matter added to the soil feeds and nourishes the worms, bacteria, and microbes, creating drainage and airflow important for healthy plant roots, as well as a balanced ecosystem to improve the environment. Kids can start a compost bin to create premium food for the soil and its microbes. Soil microbes break down the organic compost into useable food and nutrients for the plants and for kids who eat the veggies that grow on the plant.
On the other hand, chemical fertilizers injure the microbial life that sustains this healthy growth of veggies, lessens the nutrients, and drives up the salt index. Instead of using chemical fertilizers, kids can improve the structure of the soil and add billions of beneficial microbial creatures to the soil to invigorate the plants and improve the environment by recycling vegetable kitchen scraps and garden waste in a compost bin.
To keep healthy microbes in the soil, don’t walk on the veggie beds, don’t till the soil, don’t rake the leaves, don’t use chemical fertilizers, and don’t disturb the tree roots. Create pathways of wood chips around the fruit trees and veggie beds. Add compost as a mulch on top of the soil to improve the soil, hold in moisture, regulate the temperature of the soil, and prevent weeds from growing.
Almost all the foods we eat contain living microbes. In the gut, these beneficial microbes keep the small percentage of harmful bacteria in check and activate our immune systems. Soil microbes have been used to make many of our medicines: antibiotic compounds, immune suppressants, and probiotics. Antidepressant microbes in soil bacteria produce serotonin which makes gardening a stress reducer and mood lifter, improving cognitive functions and bringing happiness and healing to kids and gardeners rooting about in the soil.
Yams, dioscorea, originating in Africa called “nyami”, are root vegetables growing under perennial herbaceous vines, and come in over 600 varieties. They are cylindrical with rough brown bark-like skin and yellow flesh; some varieties have white, purple, or pink flesh. Over fifty years ago, U.S. supermarkets and producers began using the term “yam” to distinguish between types of sweet potatoes, which come from South America, but true yams can be found in African grocery stores. Fried yam is a beloved African snack and side dish. Basic ingredients in West African cooking are onion, fresh ginger root, chili and tomato with a Five Spice mix of cubeb black pepper, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and ground ginger. Traditional farming methods are used to grow fresh herbs and vegetables in garden compounds with homes dotted around them, making most Ghanaian food organic, locally sourced, sustainable, and unprocessed.
Kids can substitute orange sweet potatoes for the hard to find yams. Preheat the oven to 400°. Wash 4 organic yams or sweet potatoes, prick with a fork, and place on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for 45 minutes. On a separate baking sheet, place 3 organic red peppers, drizzle with organic extra virgin olive oil, and bake along side of the yams for 20 minutes. Sauté a diced organic red onion in a saucepan in 1 tbsp organic extra virgin olive oil for a few minutes, stir in 1 deseeded and minced red chili pepper, 1 tsp fresh minced ginger, 2 organic minced garlic cloves, and 8 cups of mixed organic baby stir fry greens. Add ½ tsp sea salt, ¼ tsp cayenne, ⅛ tsp cloves, ⅛ tsp nutmeg, ⅛ tsp cinnamon and 2 tbsp water. Cover and steam until spinach has softened. Remove the baked yams and peppers from the oven. Chop the peppers, discarding the cores and seeds, and add to the spinach mixture. Stir in ½ cup chopped cilantro. Cut down the middle of the yams without going all the way through and divide the spinach mixture stuffing it into the holes and allowing some to spill over the sides of the yams. This dish is traditionally served in Ghana with roasted plantains.
Everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, especially fresh baked organic chocolate chip cookies with apricots, walnuts, and oats. Perfect for parties, gifts, and afternoon snacks, these healthy treats give kids brain power and energy. Oats have the highest percentage of protein and fiber of any grain. Organic walnuts in addition to protein and fiber, are rich in omega-3, heart healthy fats. Apricots are filled with Vitamin A, fiber, and heart healthy lycopene. Studies at the University of California have shown that eating a 100 calories of dark chocolate a day results in lower levels of body fat, lower blood pressure, and a healthy heart. Dark chocolate is a super food with polyphenols that make it a treat for kids’ health and spirit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Soak ¼ cup dried apricots in a cup. In a large bowl using a fork, cream 8 tbsp soft organic vegan butter and ½ cup organic cane sugar; add 2 tbsp of organic maple syrup and 1 tsp vanilla extract. Mix in ¾ cup whole wheat pastry flour, ¾ cup organic old fashioned rolled oats, 1 tsp arrowroot starch, ½ tsp baking soda, ¼ tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp sea salt, ½ tsp cinnamon and blend well. Stir in ¼ cup walnut pieces, ¼ cup chopped dried apricot, and ⅔ cup semi sweet chocolate chips. Spoon the dough onto parchment paper lined cookie sheets. Bake for 10 minutes and cool 15 minutes.