When we started farming, our children were quite young and it has been easy to instil in them the importance of being able to grow their own foods. We weren’t one of those families where Mom worked in the garden while the children sat in the house playing video games. Instead, we all have a part in planning, planting and harvesting our bounty together. We start the process in late February.
We are now on mailing lists for most of the major seed catalogues in Canada. They start flowing late January and the second they hit the mailbox we know spring is on the way. Once we get a good pile of catalogues it is time to have our planning sessions.
If you’re not sure what planting zone you are in, this website is a good source of information http://sis.agr.gc.ca/cansis/nsdb/ climate/hardiness/intro. html. Once this is established it is time to decide what to grow. Usually we pick a -30 C afternoon when daydreaming about July heat is a welcome event and everyone grabs a pencil, paper and catalogue. The goal is that everyone makes a list of their favourite vegetables along with what variety sounds like it will perform best in our garden. My daughter keeps all the seed packages from the previous year and we critique as we go. We have found this saves us planting varieties that just don’t do well in our garden.
Another fun activity we do is each of us gets to pick a vegetable that we have never grown or tried to eat before. We have found that children are much more willing to try different vegetables when they have been involved in the growing process than when I buy them and put them on the table. We have experimented with many types of squash as well as drying beans. Some worked well and some didn’t, but my daughter’s journaling of our experiments helps us to not make the same mistakes. This year she wants to try to find fiddleheads. I am curious about asparagus peas from Vesey Seeds, http://www.veseys.com, while others want to include cooking herbs into the garden. We have lambs so mint could also be an interesting inclusion so I can make our own mint sauce from my great-grandma’s recipe. The possibilities are endless.
To get an early start on our growing season we recycle black cattle protein lick tubs into planters. We fill them with homegrown topsoil made from rotted compost and manure, and leave them on our deck over the winter. As soon as the snow melts we place recycled glass refrigerator shelves over top of them. This helps to quickly warm the soil and because they are rectangular and the tubs are round they allow for air to circulate. When the temperature of the soil maintains a temp. of 5 C we start some cool-season vegetables. A probe thermometer is great to check the soil temperature.
Last year we started radishes at the end of April and were eating them by early June. To help the children learn research skills I have been giving them challenges to find new ways to cook old favourites. Last season’s big surprise was that we could eat radish tops. They can be stir-fried, steamed, chopped in salads, added to soups. Really any place that other greens, such as turnip, would be used, radishes can also be. We preferred them heated slightly due to their leaves having pokes on them as they age. To harvest the tops we pinched the biggest ones off and left the rest to grow. This did make the radishes smaller but we ate the plants from a single package of radish seeds for a month.
Another reason to get children involved in growing their own food is to teach them about the environment. They learn what insects are beneficial or not and how their own actions can make an impact. Over the years, one of the family’s favourite projects was growing sunflowers for us to harvest and save for birds to eat in the winter. We have recently learned of a project involving growing sunflowers. The seeds are sent to the farmer, and the family tracks bee visits. Because we are becoming increasingly aware of the loss of our bee populations we have signed up to take part in the project again this year. Last year all our seeds drowned so we had no data but even that was beneficial to the project. Their website is http://www.greatsunflower.org/in case your family would also like to take part in this important and fun project.
Now that our children aren’t that young anymore I am glad we spent the extra time teaching and learning as a family. They are now taking the initiative to pull out the gardening books and calling home to tell me the seeds are in the stores. Most of them do not love all parts of the gardening process, but when we talk about the yardsites they dream of one day, a garden is always mentioned in the plans. For that I am thankful.
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