Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday Club

I asked far and wide recently for ideas I could use for an after-school gardening club. Well, we've had two weeks of Wednesday Clubs now, and my little gardeners are doing GREAT!

I have 18 children in my Gardening Club, ranging from kindergartners to sixth graders. Some live in apartments, others in suburban homes. They're great kids, all of them!

The first week I didn't have enough hands-on activities for them. I bought a large bag of seed-starting mix, 3 large packages of plastic drinks cups at the Dollar Store, 2 packets of mixed lettuce seeds, and one packet of radish seeds. I had a bunch of bean seeds on hand already, of various varieties. I told them that we are going to have a lettuce and radish salad in 4 weeks, and that we'd try cut-and-come-again with the lettuce. We should be able to have a second salad at the end of the class. (7 weeks out) And, I promised to bring the bunnies in on the last day, so we can play with them. (and feed the bean seedlings to them)

I had each child take three cups, write (or have someone else write) their name on each cup, then fill the cup most of the way with seed-starting mix. Then we looked at the seed packets, to determine how to plant the seeds. We talked about how to read the packets - depth of planting, sun requirements, thinning, and time to harvest. We sowed the lettuce seeds first, then the radishes, then the beans. Oops. That only took about 45 minutes!

So - then I talked to them. First, we considered the benefits of growing our own food, how it can be picked fresh, how we can choose varieties based on flavor and not on durability in transport. They got the notion of food miles, of what a calorie *is*, and how many calories of energy is used up to transport a calorie of, say, strawberries, from California to here. (Massachusetts)

We talked about compost - the school has a food-composting program to capture food waste from breakfast and lunch. In a nice synergy, I am able to take home the 5 gallon buckets of food waste and feed it to my chickens, who turn it into meat, eggs, and fertilizer. We addressed the question of what we can compost, and what we should NOT compost, and why.

We talked about thinning seedlings. Why do we thin? How do we thin? (fingers, scissors) What can we do with the thinnings? (eat 'em, feed 'em to the rabbits, compost them, transplant them) We discussed fertilizer - chemical, organic, and compost/manure, and what NPK stands for. We considered the benefits of having animals in conjunction with a garden. (they help eat the excess, their manure fertilizes the soil)

Then week 1 was over, and I promised them more to do in week 2.

Week 2 was day before yesterday. I was much better prepared! First, we filled another set of cups with seed-starting mix, one per child, with names on the cups, and planted marigold seeds.

Then, we made compost cans for them to take home! An extra bonus was that all of the materials we used were second-use (as in, reduce, REUSE, recycle). I asked the cafeteria to save us some #10 cans. I got large construction paper on Freecycle. I brought in old gardening magazines and new seed catalogs. I brought in a large set of colored Sharpies. (and lectured them FIRMLY about how indelible Sharpie is) Each child got a piece of paper the right size to cover the #10 can, and decorated it. We used scissors and glue sticks. Once the paper was designed as the child wanted it, we glued it to the can. Then, we reclaimed some laminating plastic that was surplus in the school - wrong size for the school's current needs. We used that as contact paper to seal down the decorated papers.

Once they were all finished, and the considerable clean-up was completed, we watered last week's plantings (the lettuce and radishes had germinated; the beans had not).

Next week - forcing, seed-starting calendars, hardiness zone charts. Possibly also seeking seeds inside fruits - apples, cantaloupe, grapes, peppers, tomatoes. (any other ideas?) We're having fun so far!

I had brought in cuttings from my pussy willow, but we didn't have time to discuss "forcing". We'll get to that next week.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Monday, Monday... a rainy day

Holy cow, I wonder how much snow we would have had if it had been cold enough for snow instead of rain? It poured BUCKETS here today. I think the pot I left outside to soak had about 3" in it. (alas, my rain gauge went missing last fall - must replace it....)

The children spent last night at their father's house, and that turned out to work well for me, since they ended up with a 2 hour delay this morning. I guess some of the other towns in the district must have had ice where we had rain, since at 7:30 this AM it was almost 50 degrees here!

I did get up to see the cookstove. It's a Glenwood K... and it's MINE! Now to get it here :) The lady and I agreed that we'd let her husband and Steve (my carpenter/handyman/worker of miraculous things) take care of the details. The firebox is kind of small, and this one loads from the top rather than the front, but judging by the size of the room it heated with no difficulty, it's going to be just fine here.

Meanwhile, Amber the rabbit doesn't look so good. She's still SO thin, and her belly looks awful. Mastitis is SO nasty. She's had a much penicillin as I can give her, at least for the moment, and while I can't be sure whether it's still infected, it's surely inflamed, though it might be scar tissue.

I thought I'd found the rogue rooster yesterday and dispatched him. Well, he had a rogue brother, apparently! This one was crowing this afternoon, between rain squalls. So... off with 'is head. He's in the freezer now, too. Still can't say that butchering (especially inside!) is my favorite thing, but if it needs to be done, it's best to do it humanely, quickly, and efficiently. *bleah*

First thing tomorrow - my first Literary Theory class at Smith. Here's hoping the buses are running on time, so I can find the classroom!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

a busy weekend

Saturday morning I went to the 4-H Rabbit Workshop at the Blackstone Valley Technical High School. There was a focus on commercial breeds this time. Nancy had asked me to bring a Creme d'Argent so that the kids could see what they look like. I also brought 4 Californian does and 3 Californian bucks for the "judging" class. Roger Cota taught that one - he's our District 7 ARBA director as well as a seasoned judge. It was really interesting to learn how to judge among similar rabbits. It was great to hang out with so many rabbit people! I saw my friend Lisa, and had a chance to talk to some of the youth about things like mastitis (yuck), does who eat their babies (also yuck), butchering (kind of yuck).

This morning I went to church, then drove out toward Albany to meet Rick K to trade a trio of 16 week old Californians (I chose which ones to give him with Roger's help - nice!) for seven 9 week old Cremes - 3 does and 4 bucks. They're full siblings to my buck, though....

When I got back, I did butchering of the rest of the Cals. The males were getting a bit too rowdy, and have been waking my neighbors up at night by thumping. Not ok!!! I also ended up butchering a chicken who was SUPPOSED to be a pullet, but had started crowing. Not only am I not zoned for roosters, but the same neighbors really deserve NOT to be awakened that way. Since it was 33 degrees and raining, I broomsticked on the back patio, then did everything else inside. I cooked the heads and feet so I can feed them to the dogs and/or chickens, saved the livers and kidneys for the dogs, and put the rest of the guts down the disposer. Nice quick cleanup.

We have a flash flood watch for tomorrow - though it's 33* out now, it's forecast to reach 52 tomorrow with heavy rain. I don't particularly want the snow to disappear! It's only a couple of inches, and when it goes, I'll end up with mud. LOTS of mud. Despite the forecast, I'm heading out early to check out a cookstove I found on Craigslist. I really, really want one! Being able to heat and cook with fuel from my own property has a lot to recommend it.