“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
This is my first blog post, but not my first garden. I’m writing these posts now because I believe in the program, the practicality and the magic of it. My hope is to show you how easy it can be, and how rewarding. My name is Kelly. You should know I’m a fairly new gardener. They say you have to have killed at least 1000 plants to become a Master Gardener, and I’m well on my way. I completed the Bexar County Master Gardener program this year. I can’t recommend it enough. More information can be found here: Master Gardener Program. I have a bachelor’s degree in Biology and am applying to medical school in the not too distant future. Right now I am enjoying my husband and toddler! I am mostly interested in growing vegetables and feeding the world. I drive past highway medians all the time and say “YOU COULD GROW SO MUCH FOOD THERE!” If vegetables aren’t your thing, fear not. We grow herbs and flowers here too. I would say though, that if you have never picked a warm cherry tomato right off the stem, and eaten it, that you are missing out!
The instructions for the Children’s Garden come from our Bexar County AgriLife Horticulture extension agent, David Rodriguez. These represent the very best science backed gardening practices, with research conducted and aggregated by Texas A&M University. The best growing and hardiest vegetable varieties are selected, so that success is nearly inevitable. I plan to include videos periodically about how to build raised beds, what to put in them, how to install drip irrigation, how to select things to grow and when to plant them, and how to harvest and prepare what you grow. There are more than a few people who just follow along and do exactly what we do here at the children’s garden every week. That works too. Selecting things that your family likes to eat and planting those would be even better. Note that the agendas with most of this information can be found at the top of the page under “Agendas”. I am working on a new site design, so keep an eye out. Let’s dive right into week one!
Most of the kids have gardened with us before. This is high praise, I think, that they keep coming back. The volunteers arrive early to set things up. We are greeted by sunrises and the promise of things to come.
Here’s the funny thing. Since its the first day, kids arrive and wait outside the gate to be checked in. The ones who have done it before are chattering and bouncing, but the newer ones are almost always quiet. The skepticism is pretty obvious. Can you blame them? Looking at all of these empty beds, and having never gardened before, they have no idea what a riot of color it will all be in just a few months. You drop a tiny seed in the ground and grow a giant plant? They’re not buying it. I can hardly wait to see their faces by Halloween! Here’s a picture of the Celosia that’s planted right by the gate:
Celosia takes the heat well and has soft, sturdy blooms. According to Aggie Horticulture, the name is derived from Greek and translates to “burning”. You can almost see that in the above photo, yes?
The section leaders all talk about gardening manners. We don’t walk on the beds, and we pick up debris in and around the plots and walkways. They are usually shown the compost section, which doesn’t look like much, but it’s what makes everything grow so well! Here’s a quick guide to compost. Families are encouraged to bring compostable materials in to add to the pile such as vegetable scraps, coffee filters, tea bags, and egg shells. We have volunteers who turn the pile and sift it for us.
The first thing everyone does is “scratch” in 8 cups of Lady Bug naturally derived organic fertilizer per plot. This means they sprinkle it evenly all over, and then use a small garden rake to gently break the surface and mix it all in.
The children only planted one thing today, and it was a “Tycoon” variety tomato transplant. We had the one gallon size, because they are larger and even more well established. Tomatoes are one of the things it is much easier to use transplants for, instead of seeds! The volunteers had come around and placed tomato cages where they would go, so these were removed.
Next we dug holes for our plants. Here, John shows everyone that the hole should be about twice as wide as the container, to give the roots loose soil to spread into.
After digging the hole, we mixed two additional cups of the Ladybug fertilizer with the soil removed from the hole. Next, we GENTLY removed the tomato from the container and pinched the edges to help the roots spread.
The tomato is placed in the hole. The top should be level with the soil. Half the soil we removed is put back in, and then we watered the hole thoroughly. Once the hole drained we added the rest of the soil back in. Any leftover soil we used to make a “berm” around the edges, to help keep water and nutrients in. No roots should be exposed, and any leaves touching the soil should be removed. If any soil remains on the plant it can be watered off, but you shouldn’t make a habit out of watering the leaves of vegetable plants!
*Note: Planting of tomatoes in the spring and fall is often done differently. We backfilled the soil and watered it BEFORE adding the plant because the sun has been drying out this soil for months. Watering first lets osmosis carry the water away to the drier parts of the bed, without stealing it from the plant later. The watering we do AFTER planting now should stay with the plant, which needs it in this hot Texas summer!
Finally, one cup of fertilizer is sprinkled around the base of the plant, avoiding the stem! Fertilizer touching any stem or leaf can burn it. Mulch is added to the berm, and everything is watered with the watering can.
The stake that comes attached to the plant should be left alone. It will support the tomato while it grows. The tomato cages are placed over the plants and hammered in place with rebar stakes. All plants should have a name tag with the name of the plant on front, and the date on the back.
Yes, if you can believe it, we do fertilize these tomatoes one more time. The Ladybug fertilizer is a natural product, and so more is required. We finish the planting with Hasta-Gro liquid fertilizer. Each two gallon watering can gets 2 oz of Hasta-Gro with half a can of water (one gallon). Each tomato plant gets one quarter gallon of fertilizer/water mix. Remember not to get any on the leaves! The instructors turned on the drip irrigation for a few minutes to make sure everything was well watered in.
That was all the planting for the day. We break it up over the first 4 or 5 Saturday’s, because it can be overwhelming! If you have questions, please comment and I’ll be sure to find an answer for you! If you know someone who would like to register, please have them do so! It isn’t too late.