Tag Archives: gardening with kids

Tomato pin ups

For 16 summers I have tended some sort of garden.

My first garden was a stovetop-sized plot at a college rental. I peeled back a strip of sod and plopped in one melon and two cherry tomato plants I had purchased at the Boulder farmers market. The plants stretched away from the shady house, falling flat on the sunny lawn like religious seekers at the door of their temple. I harvested ten delicious cherry tomatoes before the frost came.

The following summer I graduated college and got a job working on the San Juan Forest. I’d take my lunch break in an aspen grove, fighting to stay awake amongst the nodding bluebells and twisty peavine, feeling like Dorothy in the poppy fields. Finishing my hummus and veggie sandwich, I’d fill my lunch bags with deer and elk poop, toting them back to my new garden at forest service housing.

The yields were small in those first few gardens. But I fell fast in love with the idea that a hard-shelled seed could be unlocked, transforming into bountiful, delicious food.

Chard seeds. Col says they look like tiny vertebrae.
Bountiful deliciousness, embodied in a chard plant.

Col and Rose, at 6 and almost 4, are certifiably helpful these days. And the fact that they want to be helping in the garden, which is currently as flat and monotonous as a calm sea, makes my heart backflip ten times. My friend Sue says about her 2 daughters every few months, “they’re at such a fun age right now,” which is a wonderful lens to see your children through, it’s like having Buddha editing your thoughts as they burble out. But really, 6 and 4? Does it get better than this?

For the last decade, I’ve been tucking tomato seeds under soil, starting them indoors, around the first of March. I do this because it’s economical, to get a jump on the growing season that is blinkingly short here at 6512 feet, and also because planting seeds is the most hopeful act I can think of when the land is still a thawing canvas of browns.

Tomato-seed Planting Day, 2011:

After many years of experimenting with multitudes of lusciously-named tomato pin-ups from the seed catalog, I grow just 3 varieties (2 mainstays, 1 wild card). Romas are always on the garden menu because they’re prolific, quick growers, densely flavorful, and they make excellent roasted tomato sauce. We also grow sun gold cherry tomatoes, because they’re insanely sweet, long-producing and certain small people think they’re getting away with something when they spend an afternoon plucking juicy gems right from the plant.

sun-dried sungolds in olive oil

This year our wild card is a scotia plum, seeds collected from Dan’s father’s garden thirteen years ago, three years before he died. If we can get them to germinate, I resolve to save this year’s scotia plum seeds in honor of Hal and so I can pass them down to Col and Rose someday, connecting them to the plant-loving spirit of their grandpa.

shameless teaser pic
30 tomato seeds unlocking magic inside

Some tips on starting plants from seed:

* Plant seeds in fine, light soil so the roots can push their way through.

* Keep seeds uniformly and consistently moist.

* The majority of seeds don’t need light to germinate. Keep them in the dark, where the soil surface won’t dry out quickly, then move them into the light at soon as they germinate.

* If you don’t have overhead light, turn your plants around daily (in a south-facing window) so they don’t get too leggy, and/or bring them outside for direct, overhead sun during the day.

What are your seed-starting tips (leave them in the comments). What are you starting from seed this year?

Pickles aren’t like food you grow

Last night—the garden snoozing under blankets of snow—I placed a jar of our home-canned pickles on the dinner table. “Pickles,” mused Col thoughtfully, “aren’t like food you grow. They come from another food.”

It could have been an answer from Jeopardy! The Kindergarten Round!, as in:I’ll take Food Preservation for $100, Mama.”

I could see Col flipping through his mental files, perhaps conjuring up the hot September day we plucked cucumbers from scratchy vines, or the corresponding night when cucumbers, garlic and dill seeds marched through the pickling assembly line of our kitchen.

“They’re from cucumbers!” Col remembered, and a chorus of angels blew trumpets in my garden-loving heart.

Read the rest of this essay called Connecting Children to Food and Nature through Gardening here on the Spring edition of Rhythm of the Home.
Also, via Rhythm of the Home, I’m offering a giveaway of calendula seeds saved from my garden, and homemade calendula salve (great for healing skin irritations, dry skin, rashes). There’s a whole page of gorgeous giveaways offered by Rhythm of the Home contributors and mine is a little like the Barry Manilow album tucked in amongst the entire compiled works of The Beatles, which is to say if you go here and leave a comment that you want the calendula package, your chances of winning are very good.
Have a love-filled weekend.

Homestead Happenings: out with the old and in with the new

Greetings from 6512 feet where our teeth are flecked with wild meat and our skin has taken on a strange green color, sort of like this:

Okay. I promise I’ll stop talking about zucchini for a little while, but I think many of us are rowing the same zucchini boat and maybe we can throw each other an oar from time to time. Here’s two oars for you this week: this recipe’s for zucchini chips which I’m gearing up to make, and this one’s for creamy corn, zuke and lime pasta, which I made last night for company, embarrassing myself with my frequent, corn-in-my-teeth outbursts of “this is soooo good,” which it was.

All meals start with this


Dan and I had a meeting last night at our freezer, where we rummaged through the rag-tag remains of our meat supply. Tis the season to discover the previously passed-over packages like “buck liver,” “elk heart,” or “scrappy, lower leg stew meat.” I am famous for opting out of the more gnarly cuts like the semi-digestable, sinewy lower leg, which Dan chews at for whole August evenings, farting and defending his meal, as if someone was talking trash about his Mama.

The elk heart I nibble on, enjoying the insanely rich flesh before my mind interrupts my tongue and gives it too much information. The kids, having scant experience building their prejudice files, know organ meats simply as foods that occasionally appear on the table, and can get quite ravenous around a lightly fried elk heart. (Apparently their mental files also do not include “male business attire” because they spotted our neighbor Sage in a tie recently and wondered why he was wearing “a scarf around his neck”).

Also found in the depths of the freezer were bags of frozen elk pee. For reals. (Sorry Aunt Jan, I know you’re here to read cute stuff about the kids). Dan read an article in one of his bow hunting mags which suggested traipsing off to the woods, digging up piles of elk pee and freezing them until hunting season at which time you thaw and douse clothing to camouflage your hunky man-scent. Of course I support going natural and cost-free, but have you ever smelled a musky spray of ungulate urine? It’s not something you want mingling with your frozen applesauce and chimichurri. We’re still negotiating on this one.


In other news on the homestead I had a morning to myself in the garden yesterday, and it’s crazy what I can accomplish without having to rescue Dandelion the Buff Orpington hen from getting dunked in a water bucket or reminding a certain young lady that “we don’t put screwdrivers in our butt, okay honey?” But what is more remarkable is what I’ve accomplished this year with the kids around, which is everything, because as you may remember, my kid-free time is strictly spent hiding out with my secret lover.

Please don’t think for a second that as I’m yanking bindweed from the squash patch that Col and Rose are turning the compost or consulting their list of garden chores. As I zoom around the garden, getting one minuscule task done, the kids are often swirling mint leaves into the chickens’ water bowl or systematically dragging everything out of our shed. Within minutes Rose is naked and Col, mud-splattered. I race against the clock of harassed chickens and unearthed spiders, gritting my caffeinated teeth and sighing like it’s an olympic sport while the kids go feral under the influence of sun, sky and dirt. But deep down I know it’s good, their curiosity, their independence, their partnership, their ability to see a wilderness in our 1/8 acre city lot.

Skinny-dipping in the bird bath, mingling with mosquito larvae!

The garden is pumping out goodies and as we get to the bottom of our elk and deer supply, I’m starting to fill the freezer back up with pesto, gooseberries, and roasted squash dip. Out with the old and in with the new.

Migrant farm workers somberly snipping cilantro leaves.

Those cucumbers I transplanted to the greenhouse all died a slow, withery death, so I replaced them with chard, little 4-leaved plants I found crawling out from under the shady bustle of zucchini skirts. In fact, I transplanted 15 little chardians, stashing them around the garden like a junkie hiding little fixes. You can almost feel the first frost snaking down the mountains and I’m putting my money on chard.

Why yes, I do love it so much I want to marry it.

The monsoon rains are bold this year. Stepping out of their prescribed afternoon cloudburst, they’re showing up in the morning, or rumbling all the night long. And I tell you, rain is an event here in the Southwest. At the first smattering of rain, we applaud and dance around like the heavens were spitting gold, which really, they are.

Still seeking zuke recipes y’all. XO,