Pumpkin Time! – Grow Your Own Story


Guest Blogger – Erzsi Deak

As a children’s book author and a gardener, I’ve learned that cultivating a vegetable garden – or pumpkin patch – and writing a book are alike in many ways. Vegetable gardens don’t plant themselves. And books never write themselves! But how do you go from bare soil to a big orange pumpkin? From a blank page to a book?

Cultivating a garden and writing a book are two activities that have a lot more in common than you might think, as I discovered when I wrote Pumpkin Time!, a book about a little girl who grows pumpkins so she can invite all her friends to a pumpkin celebration come harvest time. Growing your own story is a good analogy for making both a garden and a book.

In the garden, you first prepare the soil and plant seeds. When your baby plants appear, you water them, mulch them, feed them, and encourage them to grow. Perhaps you get others to help with the weeding and watering, like my friend, pumpkin gardener Tim Donoghue. Then, when the time is right and the pumpkins are ripe…it’s harvest time!

Writing a book is much the same: First you have to prepare the groundwork (what/where/when/why), then you plant the seeds (start writing) and spread mulch (pondering and rewriting). Next comes watering and weeding (more editing and rewriting). Then the illustrations are created, with the help of artists like Doug Cushman, who drew the pictures for the book.

At the end of the gardening season we have a bountiful harvest – pumpkins to carve for Halloween Jack-o-lanterns or make into delicious pies for the Thanksgiving table. And when a book is published we get to read a story and share the story with our friends!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Here are some ideas to help you Grow Your Own Story on paper:

Ask yourself, who is your story about? What do your characters want or need? What’s stopping them from getting what they want? How will they get what they wants or needs?

Here’s an example from our book,Pumpkin Time!. Evy and Turkey want to invite their friends to a home-made harvest celebration. But the cupboards are bare! Evy and Turkey look at the calendar. They have six months to prepare their feast. Evy and Turkey plant pumpkin seeds. They water and weed. Oh, no! The snails are trying to eat the baby plants! Evy herds the snails away from the pumpkin. Turkey invites all their friends to the party and Evy bakes a big pumpkin pie for everyone to share. Sheep likes his with whipped cream. Yum!

Here’s some planting how-to’s to help you Grow Your Own Story in the garden:

  • Miniature Jack Be Little pumpkins are a good variety choice. Select a spot in full sun with rich, well-drained soil. Be sure each vine has about 4 square feet of growing space.
  • Wait until 2–3 weeks after the last spring frost date to plant seeds when the soil is warm. Plant 4–6 pumpkin seeds 1 inch deep in the middle of a small mound.
  • When the plants are 2–3 inches tall, remove all but to 2 of the healthiest plants. Snip off the extra plants at the soil line with a small pair of scissors.
  • Keep the soil moist by watering moderately, but try to avoid getting the leaves wet. Spread a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help keep weeds down.
  • Each plant will produce 8–10 miniature pumpkins that will be ready to harvest around 95 days after planting.

About the Authors:

Erzsi Deak is a member of the Educator Advisory Panel of Kidsgardening.org and a writer, an editor, and a literary agent at Hen&ink Literary Studio; she lives in the South of France. Doug Cushman is an author-illustrator of more than 100 books and a self-avowed foodie who lives in Brittany, France. Tim Donoghue is an artist and was on the stage in London and at the Trinity Repertory Theatre in Providence, RI, for many years; when not gardening or in his art studio, Tim is writing a middle-grade novel at home in the Alpes of Haute Provence.

Portait photo by: Basil Glew-Galloway
All other photos provided by: Erzsi Deak

Posted in Books & Curriculum, Guest Blog   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Here’s Why Your School Needs to Plant Daffodils

Guest Blogger – Kathleen LaLiberte, Longfield Gardens

Guest Blogger – Kathleen LaLiberte, Longfield Gardens

Breaking News: The National Garden Bureau has chosen daffodils as the bulb of the year for 2017. This means these cheery, spring-blooming flowers will be getting lots of special attention during the next 12 months. Longfield Gardens wants to help your school join in on the fun!

Before we tell you how you could win 250 free daffodil bulbs for your school, here are a couple cool things you might not know about these spring flowers:


img_3704There’s a whole plant inside each bulb. If you slice a daffodil bulb in half you’ll see everything the plant needs for the year ahead: a compressed mass of stem, leaves and flowers, plus stored food energy to fuel its growth. Bulbs evolved to survive difficult growing conditions, and this adaptation makes them incredibly easy to grow.

Daffodils are pretty to look at, but don’t eat them. All parts of a daffodil – bulb, stem, leaves and flowers – are poisonous. To protect themselves from being eaten by deer, squirrels, chipmunks and other pests, daffodils manufacture nitrogen-based alkaloids that have a foul taste and are toxic to mammals.

Daffodils can clone themselves. – Daffodils reproduce by seed and can also produce exact replicas of themselves in the form of “bulb offsets”. It takes about 4 years to grow a daffodil from seed to flower, but a bulb offset will flower almost immediately. Plant a few dozen daffodil bulbs and you’ll soon have hundreds.

Barrett Browning Daffodil

Barrett Browning Daffodil

Not all daffodils are yellow. –Daffodils are native to southern Europe and northern Africa, and there are many natural variations in flower size, shape and color. Over the past 400 years, daffodil breeders have introduced thousands more (see 40 of the best at longfield-gardens.com). Traits breeders are currently working on include pink trumpets, upward-facing flowers, stronger stems and more compact growth habits.

Daffodils can flower in the snow. – Most daffodils are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures by using a number of strategies to avoid freezing. Unlike other spring bulbs such as tulips and hyacinths, daffodil bulbs can bloom even if the bulbs get frozen for brief periods of time. The flowers themselves will usually tolerate temperatures as low as 25 degrees F.

Daffodils live for generations. – Daffodils only need to be planted once. The bulbs are hardy perennials and will return to bloom again every spring, year after year. Over time, the bulbs will multiply and your daffodil display will get better and better.

You don’t need a green thumb to grow a daffodil. – Daffodils are perfectly packaged for success. In the fall, simply dig a hole 8” deep, drop in a bulb and cover it back up. When spring arrives, the plant will emerge from the soil and burst into bloom. Success like that is inspiring – especially to children!

Longfield Gardens is partnering with the National Garden Bureau and Kidsgardening.org, to give away 7500 free daffodil bulbs to school programs around the U.S. Interested in getting free daffodil bulbs to plant at your school?

Here’s how to win:

What You’ll Get: 30 schools will each receive 250 free daffodil bulbs.

Who Can Win: The giveaway is open to all current and new subscribers of KidsGarden News.

Deadline for Entry: Hurry! The deadline to register is October 14. Winners will be announced October 20 and bulbs will be shipped to arrive at your school by November 1.

How to Register: Simply complete the entry form HERE. If you are not already a KidsGarden News subscriber, completing the entry form will also subscribe you to our e-newsletter.

Details: All winners must be willing to share photos from fall planting and spring bloom time (along with parental photo permission forms as needed). The bulbs will need to be planted in early November – before the soil freezes. Planting instructions are included with the bulbs. Depending on soil conditions, it typically takes 2-4 hours to plant 250 bulbs – so with a couple people the project will go quickly!


About our Guest Blogger:

Kathleen LaLiberte is an avid gardener, horticulturalist and garden writer. She was one of the founders of Gardener’s Supply and now works with Longfield Gardens from her home in northern Vermont.

Photos provided by: Longfield Gardens & BigStock Images

Posted in Garden Giveaway, Guest Blog   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Onion Chronicles ––– Five things I learned about onions

Larry K

Larry Keyes

I started looking into the subject of onions when I heard that October is Onion Month. Once I got started I could barely stop; I was slurping up onion knowledge.

  1. The reason that onions make can make you cry is due to a fairly complex chemical reaction that begins when an enzyme is released when the onion is sliced. After further chemical reactions with air, the resulting gas combines with tears in your eyes to create a very mild sulfuric acid. And, of course, it is this mild acid which irritates your eyes. There is this classic sequence in the movie Julie and Julia, where Julia Child (a very determined person…) played by Meryl Streep practices dicing onions for her course at the Cordon Bleu cooking school, during which she drives her husband from their apartment.
  2. The many layers of an onion are actually the base of the onion’s leaves, the green part that grows above ground. Of course, the larger that the onion bulb is, the more leaves, and the more layers.  It also turns out that larger onions tend to have a sharper onion taste than smaller onions of the same variety.
  3. Several common onions are available in North America.  Some examples.
      • Red Onions – A little less potent than yellow onions, they are often added raw to salads and burgers.
      • Yellow Onions – Probably the most common cooking onion, these have a very strong, oniony flavor when raw but lose their sharpness when cooked.
      • White Onions – Smaller and sweeter than red and yellow onions, they are often used in Mexican cooking.
      • Scallions – These can be either bulbing onion varieties harvested prematurely before they begin to form bulbs or special varieties that never form bulbs.  
      • Spring Onions – These are regular onion varieties harvested after the scallion stage when a small bulb has formed; basically “baby” onions.

        This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  4. Much of the advice on growing onions suggests starting onions indoors from seeds in February or March for planting outside in April and May. This timetable works for so-called “long day” onions that are grown in the northern part of the U.S. The long days of early summer are the signal to the onion plant to switch from producing leaves to developing a bulb. “Short-day” onions are grown in the south and begin to bulb up when the days are 10-12 hours long. They are planted in the fall to be harvested the following spring. “Day neutral” onions aren’t as sensitive to day-length and grow well in much of the country, save for the northern and southern extremes. They are usually planted in the spring.
  5. Onions were used in the practice of “cromniomancy,” in which the onion plants are used to predict the future, answer a perplexing question or to help choose a marriage partner.  To find answers to yes/no questions, two onions are placed on an altar. One onion is labeled “yes”, and the other is labeled “no”.  The onion which sprouts first points to the answer.
Posted in Blog, Plant of the Month   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Joining KidsGardening!


Emily S – Executive Director

Rachel Carson said that, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” Nowhere are the “wonders of the universe” more apparent to me than in the natural world.

Growing up in a rural farming community in New Hampshire, my summers involved building forts in the woods, growing giant pumpkins for the local fair, and eating raspberries until my fingers were stained.

This unrestricted access to the outdoors shaped who I would become. And it has influenced my ideas for the kinds of childhood experiences I will provide for my own young son. Most children in the United States, however, are not so fortunate. They lack easy access to safe outdoor spaces in which to learn, grow, and thrive.

This is why I am delighted to join the dedicated staff and board at KidsGardening.org to work with all of KidsGardening’s partners locally and nationally to get more kids outdoors and learning through the garden.

There is an increasing amount of data that points to the profound impact that time in nature can have on children—both in terms of their ability to learn and their mental and physical health. Add to this the learning experience of nurturing a growing plant and connecting to one’s food, and through gardening programs we are delivering a wealth of benefits to our littlest citizens.

Reading through grant applications from some of the many educators we help fund, I am heartened by the passion and creativity of the women and men teaching our nation’s children. Proposals for garden programs range from medicine wheel gardens on Navajo reservations, to rooftop gardens for fresh local produce in urban food deserts, to therapy gardens for at-risk youth. We wish we could fund every one of them!

These educators, who work firsthand with children every day, experience the benefits that learning gardens have on children. According to developmental psychologist, Gabrielle Principe, author of Your Brain on Childhood, in order to “capitalize on the way the human brain was meant to grow, we have to redesign children’s environments…and naturalize childhood again.”

My vision is a nation where every child has the opportunity to experience the wonder, serenity, and joy of nature through gardening.

About the Author:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Emily Shipman joined KidsGardening.org as Executive Director in September 2016.

Emily brings a wealth of experience, expertise, and enthusiasm to the position. Her past work has bridged many integrated areas, including community development, food and nutrition security, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and economic development.

Before coming to KidsGardening.org, Emily was program director at the Sustainable Food Lab, a global network of organizations facilitating market-based change for a sustainable food system. While there she worked with multinational food and beverage companies to bring more development benefits to smallholder farmers through sustainable trade. Emily holds a B.S. in Public Policy and Anthropology from Hobart and William Smith College and an M.S. in Nonprofit Management from Marlboro College Graduate School.

Whether working with companies to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in the developing world, raising funds to ensure Vermont families do not go hungry, or organizing a local farmer’s market, Emily has always kept food and agriculture close to her heart.


Posted in Blog, KidsGardening   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Safe Garden Watering

toolboxgb_summerThere’s been a lot in the news lately about lead in drinking water and the danger it presents, especially to children. The lead contamination of Flint, Michigan’s drinking water horrified the country and has left many folks wondering about the safety of their own drinking water. While the problems in Flint were city-wide and due to the bad decision making on the part of city officials, even when the public water supply is safe, elevated lead levels may be found in the tap water coming out of some faucets, usually the result of corrosion of older fixtures or from the solder that connects interior or service pipes. So it’s a good idea to test the water at the outlets that provide drinking water in your school, home, or childcare center and follow your health department’s recommendations if lead levels are elevated. Get more information on lead in drinking water from the CDC.

kggi_irrigationBut what about the water used to irrigate the garden? Do elevated lead levels in irrigation water also present a health threat? While it’s important to take steps to eliminate the source of lead contamination if the water at the outlet used for irrigating the garden shows elevated lead levels, research done at Michigan State University on soils in Flint gardens can make gardeners who find themselves in this situation rest a little easier. Looking at the soil in Flint’s edible flint demonstration garden, researchers calculated that the amount of lead added by the contaminated water over two seasons was minimal and that it “seems unlikely that lead contaminated irrigation water had any significant impact on Flint garden soils.” They also note that “Residual lead in urban soils themselves is more of a concern than additional lead added from the irrigation water, which is why soil testing – including testing for environmental contaminants such as lead – is recommended for all new food gardens, as well as researching the site’s previous uses.”

toolboxdsg_ediblegardenEdible gardens are a wonderful source of delicious, healthful and nutritious food. Some judicious testing of water and soil can help you continue to reap a worry-free harvest!

Find out more about how to grow a safe and successful edible garden.

Posted in School Gardens   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Pregnant Gardener: Setting the Stage for Healthy Sprouts

Amanda S

Amanda S

Although the heat can be a little challenging, summer is a wonderful time to be pregnant, especially for a gardener! Growing a baby is much like growing a plant. Gardeners and soon-to-be mothers alike have the same goal: to nurture the seed as soon as it is planted so it has the best chance growing into a strong and healthy plant or child.

I am a strong believer and live by the basic saying of “you are what you eat.” My parents would repeat it over and over at the dinner table. At that time, I really didn’t want to become a beet or a Brussels sprout… but as I grew older, I started to notice how my diet affected how I felt. To this day, I carefully listen to my body and make sure that I pay attention to my nutritional intake. Now, as an expectant mother, I take extra care in understanding what I need to eat to support my health and my baby’s proper growth and development. Luckily for me, many of my nutritional needs come straight from my garden or my neighbor’s garden!

Here are some of my favorite healthy homemade garden snacks:

  • Blueberry/Strawberry Popsicles: Combine berries, fresh lime/lemon juice, and a splash of coconut water into blender, blend and adjust to your preference. Freeze for some popsicle fun!
  • Cucumber and Tomato Sandwiches: Enjoy this easy sandwich on a multigrain bread with mayonnaise, cucumbers and tomatoes. Cucumbers help keep you hydrated and provide Vitamins A and C!
  • Instant Pickles: Soak cucumbers in apple cider vinegar for 5-10 minutes; drain and enjoy!
  • Kale Chips: Toss with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt; bake at 350 F until crisp.
  • Sweet Potatoes: Bake with cinnamon and maple syrup
  • Juice it up!: Juice together 2 beets, 1 lemon (rind and all), 2 apples, and 3 carrots – a veggie garden in a glass!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Posted in Health & Nutrition   Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,