Little Green Thumbs Kick-Off to a new gardening year

We celebrated the start of another indoor growing season with close to 20 Little Green Thumbs teachers and volunteers. Our fun evening started with a tour of Northlands Urban Farm where we got to see hardy kale, collards and some flowering plants still going strong after some early season snow. It was too cold for the honeybees to fly, and so it was easy to take a close peek at the hive through a viewing window. 

Patty Milligan, our tour leader with Northlands, also encouraged us to feed the chickens and shared what students are very excited about when coming to the farm – holding an egg recently laid by one of the colourful hens! Our tour also included a taste test of edible Tangerine Gem Marigolds, and farmer Suzanne made a compelling case for us to taste Electric Daisies, aka toothache plant or buzz buttons. This flower in the aster family is a medicinal plant that creates a tingle on the tongue and is a favorite of some of the youth visiting the farm.

Our second part of the evening was a cooking demo and dinner at Highlands School with Chef Daniel Huber, a strong and busy supporter and volunteer with YEG Leftovers. This organization rescues leftover food from restaurants, grocery stores and food producers. The food is cooked in commercial kitchens and made available to Edmontonians in need. Daniel shared the story of YEG Leftovers and his efforts to encourage young people to cook for themselves with your teachers.

At the same time, a delicious veggie curry simmered on the stove. After a short while, we got to enjoy a wonderful shared meal in the school’s food lab. Our participants appreciated the opportunity of a preview to the indoor gardening season and to share conversation with like-minded Little Green Thumbs teachers eager to grow food plants with their students.

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

Speakers visit LGT Classes

Beyond the indoor garden boxes, people with an interest in nature contribute to food production and health products. Recently, some of our Little Green Thumbs students and teachers had an opportunity to learn from interesting and engaging speakers.

Edible gourmet mushrooms, whether for home-cooked or restaurant meals, are receiving more attention these days. Dr. Wang, a chemical engineer, mom, gardener and mushroom lover, was unable to find the mushrooms she was used to in her native China. Once she mastered the skill of growing her own oyster, reishi, lion’s mane and other mushrooms, she decided to start a business preparing and selling mushroom kits that families can tend and harvest at home. The kits are available at local farmers’ markets.

Our Little Green Thumbs students were amazed to learn that in addition to food and medicine, certain mushrooms lend themselves to being turned into leather, building bricks, and boards to replace wood in furniture and other applications. Many mushroom varieties help to remediate soil, loosen compacted soil, and help plants extend their root network to access nutrients and water. Mushrooms need high humidity and like to consume cellulose from wood chips, straw or hemp. While indoor plants need high levels of light, mushrooms do well in indirect, less intense light during the day. Dr. Wang’s presentation piqued the curiosity of many students.

Another unique job the students learned about was that of a herbalist. Dionne Jennings shared her passion and knowledge of some common herbs or medicinal plants we can grow at home, such as mint, lemon balm, rose, calendula, thyme, garlic and red raspberry. A refreshing water-based spray of mint to freshen up the face or hands was well received. The students also learned about the benefits of the dandelions, how every part can be used to support the body - and it’s an important food for bees! The students had a chance to taste garlic syrup and elderberry syrup, both helpful support the body’s immune system.

Our most requested topic for a presentation was the life and importance of bees. This topic fits very well with science in grades 1-3 and many children know that some bees have suffered from habitat loss, pesticide use and other factors that contribute to their decline. Patty Milligan with Northlands did an excellent job helping the children understand the lifecycle of bees. She also brought a fun kit with tools of the trade. The students tried on a bee hat, practiced using a smoker (without any embers of course), and they got to smell and feel pollen, honeycomb and propolis. Tasting two kinds of honey was another highlight.

We were fortunate to have Trudy and Kirk Harrold again to speak to a few LGT classes before spring work gets super busy at the farm. On their 111 year-old farm, the past, present and future play an important role as three generations farm together and grandchildren might continue as they grow up. The land is rich in history as well; Kirk passed around a 200 year-old stone hammer and mentioned finding numerous ancient arrowheads and flints. The Harrolds told the story of how they care for their land by leaving buffers of vegetation around water bodies and plant extra trees and shrubs to increase habitat for birds, insects and other wildlife. They also limit the use of chemicals as much as possible. The family raises beef cattle, and grows cereal crops, canola and peas in rotation. These crops feed the animals and surplus harvest is sold for human consumption. The students had many great questions and got a really good insight into the human – plant – animal food web at work on the Harrold farm.

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

Sharing the Abundance

Spring is officially here but in our indoor gardens it’s harvest and sharing season. We are thrilled to learn about the diverse and rewarding stories from our Little Green Thumbs classes!

At A Blair McPherson School, parents and about 100 students celebrated the garden. Ms. Woelber reports that her students gave a talk and then everyone shared beans, peas, basil, lemon balm, lettuce and parsley. A student who’s only been in Canada for 6 months from India designed the poster to invite the school community to the event.

At Windsor Park School, the students created a “Three Sisters Garden” in early February (see above), after reading the story. Eight weeks later, the garden box is very prolific with pole beans that have reached the ceiling. Tasty beans are ready for harvest and the cucumber is starting to develop fruit. The class had a “Salabration” in early March and recently invited me to a fun tasting event. The students enjoyed fresh beans, pea and nasturtium leaves, and also yummy lemon balm iced tea.

Another salad event took place at Dr Margaret-Ann Armour School. The children harvested, washed and cut up fresh kale to mix in with other salad ingredients. The salad spinner was a popular tool and not a scrap of the kale salad remained when it was time to go home.

Indoor gardens also have challenges, including insects that somehow manage to get inside and help themselves to our plants. As there are no natural insect predators in the classroom, soapy water spray or sticky traps may help. In severe cases, the class may need to “cut their losses” and remove plants that are unable to fend off the pests. This is fertile ground for discussions about predator-prey relationships in nature and our role in supporting healthy insect populations in our gardens. At St. Kateri School, a tough decision was made to remove affected pepper plants. Fortunately, the tomato plants fared better and the students have harvested many baskets of yummy cherry tomatoes, and fresh nasturtium leaves (see photos below).

Another challenge is watering during holidays. At St. Teresa School, some plants died during the December break. Ms. Hanneman wrote: “We had a great exploration about why the plants died and what we need to do for the next time. Students loved observing the plants that had dried up and comparing them to healthy plants. Students then problem solved for our next planting that will be over spring break. They have decided to write a letter to the daycare that will be here to look after our plants and water regularly. The students have learned a valuable lesson about the responsibility of taking care of plants to have them grow.” What a great writing activity and a chance to involve the daycare children in the indoor garden.

Humans are not the only ones in need of fresh vegetables for nutrition. In the Genesis Early Learning class at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, the gibbons have shown a clear preference for indoor garden lettuce versus store bought lettuce. The children also grew KATNP that has been shared with some of the big and small cats.

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

 

Adventures in Indoor Growing

Gardens foster feelings of awe for nature, and they are great for experiential learning. Such are the adventures in many of our Little Green Thumbs classrooms.

At Weinlos School, the children decided to plant some sunflower seeds that a student had brought in. Surprise! It turns out that the flowers are monsters that claim a good portion of the grow light to themselves. The plants are about 150 cm tall! The lovely flowers will hopefully develop into tasty seeds the students can enjoy.

Harvest is an exciting time, and many Grade 3 students at École Greenfield had not eaten a lot of salad before growing their own greens in the garden. The class harvested lettuce, kale and Swiss chard, then added Caesar dressing and croutons. Their teacher reported that: “Everyone LOVED it and said how delicious it was. They were so proud that they had grown the salad we were eating!”

Another adventure is brewing at St. Francis of Assisi School. The students planted seeds from pumpkins they carved for Halloween. Now they have both an orange and white variety of pumpkins growing. The two plants have slightly different growth habits; while one is trailing on the ground, the other is more upright and bushy. The huge leaves and flowers are impressive and we look forward to seeing how they develop.

Gardens also present many challenges or learning opportunities. On occasion, pests such as aphids or spider mites seem to appear out of nowhere. It pays to spend time observing the plants and scouting for trouble. Unlike an outdoor garden, winter indoor gardens do not have the benefit of predatory insects helping to control pests. In many cases, soapy water and rubbing the critters off with a gentle hand will help. Other times, we need to admit a little setback and start again or take joy in the crops that succeed. As with other things in life, persistence eventually pays off!

Indoor Gardens off to a great start

Our fantastic Little Green Thumbs teachers have all picked up their free gardening supplies, and many have started seeds with their excited students.

Also, over 25 teachers took advantage of indoor gardening training, learning about safety, garden box setup and growing a variety of crops, such as cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes, pole beans, lettuce, kale, and Swiss Chard. Some great herbs that thrive indoors are basil and lemon balm. The students and teachers will have the dilemma of choice!

At St. Francis of Assisi School, the students will be experimenting with a container of transplanted strawberry plants. Are the indoor conditions suitable for the berry plants to produce fruit? That and many other questions provide a wealth of inquiry opportunities for our Little Green Thumbs gardeners. 

We look forward to learning about the gardening adventures of our 56 indoor gardens in the next few months!

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

Learning about the Joys and Challenges of Food Production in Alberta

We were very fortunate to connect a few of our Little Green Thumbs classes with producers in the Edmonton area (see other blog posts) in the last couple of months. The children were very attentive and had many great questions and stories for the farmers. In turn, we were so pleased with personal stories the farmers shared with the children.

Trudy and Kirk Harrold explained the importance of being good stewards of the land that has been in their family since 1907, for 4 generations. The farm is near Elk Island Park and they are passionate about creating healthy soil, protecting soil from overuse and also reserving spaces for wildlife. They see how healthy the land is by how well the wild animals are doing on their land. The family is proud of the food they produce for Albertans while working hard to protect the land and environment. Kirk and Trudy brought samples of grains they grow, such as wheat, barley, oats, canola, and peas. Photos from the farm showed the crops, animals and wildlife they care for. Last fall, the Harrold family is one of many farming families in Alberta unable to bring in a large portion of their crops. They are hoping for a better season to come and we thank them for learning more about farming.

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“What’s the best part of your job?” was a question Ben Stocks was happy to answer. Stocks Greenhouses near Sherwood Park produces tulips, other flowers and veggies for the market. Ben loves working outside, having lots of freedom and producing flowers and vegetables that people want to buy. He is noticing a resurgence in locally grown food. Cucumbers are becoming more popular again for pickling, and his sweet corn and other veggies are always snapped up quickly at the market. The children learned how he plants tulip bulbs in the winter and keeps the bulbs cold for several months before they start growing in the greenhouse. Once the flowers are almost ready to open, they are picked, loaded up on the truck and taken to the market. Ben really enjoys the moments when the flowers are at their prime and ready to be received by happy customers.

“What’s the worst part of your job?” asked the children. Many crops, including watermelon, are grown under a plastic tunnel or in a greenhouse. The strong spring and fall wind can sometimes rip and damage the roof of these structures. Wondering what the weather might bring is one of many challenges of farming. We also learned that growing tulips in the field was very difficult before Ben’s family got dog Maggie. Hungry deer would mow down all the tulips until Maggie got the job of chasing the deer away.

Little Green Thumbs classes have a unique opportunity to get a taste for growing plants right in their classroom. In a few years, perhaps some of these children will be part of the emerging trend of young families giving agriculture a try, growing food crops, raising animals, keeping bees, or growing flowers or other agricultural products for our local markets. 

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

Little Green Thumbs Kale Contest

Our young gardeners were invited to participate in a Kale Feast Photo Contest this fall. Here are some stories and photos.

Prizes for the contest were sponsored by SPUD (Sustainable Produce Urban Delivery) a local company that strives to source food from local farmers and organic producers. The winning classes, determined by a random draw, received either a presentation and smoothie demonstration (Weinlos School), organic apples (St. Kateri School) or a gift certificate to get some produce from SPUD (Ottewell Junior High).
 
We were very happy with the efforts demonstrated by all the classes who decided to enter the contest. Here are some snapshots from the submissions.

Grade 2 students at Elmwood School developed a recipe for a “Green Bomb Salad” with classroom grown kale, cucumbers, basil and lemon balm. Teacher Ms. Andrews writes: “There were many triumphs in the project. The main triumph is that all the students ate and enjoyed the salad. The students are so invested in this garden and they are so excited to taste their harvest even they had never tasted the vegetables.”
 
At Windsor Park School, the Grade 1 students made “Kale Chips”. The students wrote about the experience in their journal (see image below).

The Gardening Club at Ottewell Junior High made “Sweet Potato Kale Fritters”. One of the students wrote up how the group worked together to grow the plants for their recipe: “The gardening club has been meeting since November, that’s when the teamwork began. We have met faithfully twice a week to water, plant, prune, stake, build trellis, photograph, and giggle at our progress. Along the way we have harvested kale, basil, tomatoes, cucumbers, and legumes. The basil we dried. The kale we froze, everything else we ate fresh. We also set up an instagram page and have been adding photos as we’ve been taking them.”

Another delicious meal was served at Weinlos School. The students made “Kale and Basil Pizza” and also a salad with lettuce and kale from the classroom garden. Here are a few lines from Jade’s story: “The class was so excited and happy they couldn’t wait for the pizzas to be ready, one because we never tried it, two because we all love pizza! Soon we came in from another recess and we saw the trays with the pizzas. We all found our pizza and ate it. We didn’t really taste basil or kale because it was under the cheese. But it was really tasty!”

The Kindergarten class at St. Kateri School “had an absolute BLAST!” entering the contest. Teacher Ms Carignan’s report shows that her students really went to town with different recipes that included kale. They made a “Friendship Smoothie” with their reading buddies, they helped to make a “Kindness Salad” and tried other recipes such as “Banana Kale Muffins”, “Kale Chips” and “Kale and Basil Dip with carrots”. Wow, what a great way to use healthy kale in yummy treats.

Our Little Green Thumbs classes grow many other plants in their indoor garden, and most of all the garden is an opportunity to learn about cooperation, caring for plants, experimenting, measuring and many other activities. Here are just a few more photos that teachers sent from their gardens in the last month or so. It’s always such a pleasure hearing from the schools.

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs

A Bee in My Bonnet

Bees are very important for the pollination of many plants, including fruit, berries, vegetables and other crops. Some of our Little Green Thumbs indoor garden classes learned about bees and honey production from beekeeper and educator Patty Milligan.

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The students explored different stations where they had an opportunity to touch, see and smell objects related to beekeeping. There was a bee box with frames of comb and queen boxes to explore. The children had fun putting on a hat and veil, then pump the bellows of the smoker that’s used to calm the bees.

With gleeful smiles, a couple of students rubbed their hands in a box with dried pollen, only to realize that the yellow powder was stuck until they got permission to go wash it off. There was also a box with propolis, a special compound bees collect from tree buds to fill cracks in the hive and sanitize the interior of their home.

The students had many interesting questions about the life of bees and what it’s like to be a beekeeper. Some of the questions were: “What do the drones do? How long does the queen live? Why are bees important? Do they die after they sting?”

In a time when both wild and domesticated bees are suffering from population decline due to habitat loss and pollution, learning about their life and role in food production is timely for our young gardeners.

Patty enjoys sharing her expertise with school groups and can be reached through her facebook page

Claudia Bolli, Little Green Thumbs, Sustainable Food Edmonton

Recap: 24th Annual Community Garden Potluck

 Great information was shared!

Great information was shared!

Thanks to all who braved the snow and ice and made the 24th Annual Community Garden potluck a huge success!

Over 130 tougher-than-nails gardeners, vendors and resource providers came together and got their green thumbs revved up for the growing season.

It was great to see many new community gardens take out Associate Memberships and join the network of city-wide gardens that access SFE's events, supports, and resources.

We offered a free sign to all members this year, along with our seed giveaway. Six Bee Hotels found new homes as did deluxe gift baskets, yummy jams and jellies from Operation Fruit Rescue, Home & Garden Expo tickets and paint crafts for the kids.

 Bee Hotel winner!

Bee Hotel winner!

Our speakers, Dustin Bajer, Cherry Dodd, and Lorraine Taylor all brought great -if not fascinating- info on pollinators, native plants, pests, problems, and solutions. It all tied together and I heard many times over how people learned something new.

And the food! We have some wonderful cooks in Edmonton. It was truly a feast that everyone enjoyed. Many of you were especially thrilled with the Cheddar Cheese biscuits. Turns out they're called Cheddar Cheese Coins, and were prepared by Dawn Woolsey of the Urban Eden Community


Cheddar Cheese Coins (Cheddar Shortbread)

Combine:

2 cups flour

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp cayenne (optional)

Add:

1 cup butter cut into small pieces

Mix until mixture has the texture of coarse meal

Add:

1 cup grated aged or sharp cheddar

Mix until mixture holds together nicely.

Chill:

Divide into 4 pieces and roll into logs approximately 6" long.

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate minimum 1 hour or up to 3 days.

(Dough can be frozen up to 4 weeks.)

Bake:

Cut dough into 1/3 or 1/4" slices.

Place on parchment or greased sheets

Bake 20 minutes @ 350 degrees

Cool on baking sheet for 2-3 minutes then move to wire rack.


 Home & Garden ticket winners

Home & Garden ticket winners

The connections and community building that took place are a success shared by all. It was heartwarming to experience the selfless offers to help, provide advice and support amongst gardeners.

SFE also has continued support available to community gardens. Our next grant intake is May 31 and funds are available for pilot projects, new gardens, expansions, renovations, and emergency repairs. 

Please visit http://www.sustainablefoodedmonton.org/communitygardens for applications and guidelines

Farmer Visit to Little Green Thumbs Classes

Today some lucky Little Green Thumbs classes had a chance to talk to a young farmer about her market garden.

The students were pretty excited and had prepared some great questions, such as “What do you grow on your farm? Do you have a tractor? Is it hard to be a farmer? Do you grow a couple of flowers so that the bees can get food?”

Sarah Preston of Bumble Beets Farm shared her story and showed photos of her ½ acre farm where she grows about 45 varieties of vegetables and takes care of 5 beehives. Sarah developed a passion for gardening as a small child and had the opportunity to experiment with plants and learn alongside her grandparents. In 2014, she decided to start a small CSA (community supported agriculture) and supply healthy organic veggies to 5 families. Last year, she had 25 members and also sold her vegetables at the Farmer’s Market at Salisbury Greenhouse in Sherwood Park from June to early September.

Sarah grows lovely purple, white and orange carrots, and surprises her customers with beautiful golden zucchini. She also sells a lot of snap peas, large head lettuce, dill, beets and beans.

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The children learned how she grows purple kale to reduce damage from the caterpillar of the cabbage white butterfly that likes to munch on green plants in the cabbage family. The green caterpillars can’t camouflage well on purple kale and therefore the butterflies tend to lay fewer eggs on the colourful plants. Sarah also grows wildflowers to attract beneficial insects and provide food for pollinators.

The students got to touch and smell a piece of honeycomb and see photos of Sarah’s beehive, her only animals on the farm, other than some cats and a dog. The children were surprised to learn that the dog and cats get along very nicely on the farm.

Sarah was very pleased to see some of our indoor gardens. Many classes have already harvested lettuce and kale. At A. Blair McPherson School, about 90 students received a “fairy salad” in a little cup. Some of their Tiny Tim tomatoes are now ripe and they will be making “fairy pizza”. As a farmer, Sarah now returns to her important work of planning the crops and preparing for her upcoming growing season. Thank you for your stories and time, Sarah!

Indoor Transplanting Time

Just before the holidays, the Centennial School kindergarten students were keen to help transplant some tender veggie plants they had started from seed a few weeks earlier.
To make sure the plants were going to thrive during the Christmas break, our volunteer Isha spent a couple of hours with the children, helping them with the delicate job of transplanting tomatoes, cucumbers, basil and lettuce into the grow boxes. With a bit of adjustment to the light’s height and increasing the timer, we’re hoping the plants will grow nicely from seedling to mature plant in the next few months.

January 26 update: Check out the prolific growth of this indoor garden in the gallery below. The beans are touching the ceiling and the tiny tomatoes transplanted on Dec 20 are now large, healthy plants!