Weeds and Watering

The boys have become very attune to their gardens, especially in the areas of defense and protection. Weeds are quickly spotted – Intruder! – and plucked out by their little fingers. No one messes with their turf. They now know the differences between their vegetable plants and weeds, which they didn’t know before this project.

“The weeds are pointed on the end, like grass,” they tell me. Or, they’re short and have curvy leaves. Their plants are tall and thriving, so the little stinkers are easy to spot.

Originally, I dreamed each boy would water his garden every day, but that dream has gone by the wayside. Instead, the boys take turns watering. At first, they complained and whined, viewing it as another chore interrupting their special time with action figures. Now, they complain, but they complain less, and I even think they enjoy spraying once they get started. The hose is like a giant squirt gun after all.

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Watch Us Grow! Week 2

Boy, are our boys’ gardens growing!

Boys exclaim about their plants changing. Even without the tape measure, they notice their plants are taller, fuller, and some are blooming.

I asked them what they noticed about their gardens this week. What has changed?

REX June 4 June 11  
Tomato 11-½” 19” (1’7”)
Chili pepper 10” 12”
Chives 7” 9”

 “My peas are growing good. My garden seems more filled with life.” (Rex)

JUDE June 4 June 11  
Tomato 11-½” 12.5”
Bean 2.5” 6.5”
Corn 1” 13”
Eggplant 6-¾” 7.5”
Sage 5-¼” 5.5”

“This week I planted potatoes.” and “My corn is huge!” (J)

MORRIS June 4 June 11  
Tomato 9” 15” (1’3”)
Cabbage 4” 7”
Spinach 5” 8”
Bean 2” 6”  

“It has grew bigger!” (Mo)

Basil for Pool Passes

Our first little harvest was used as a trade for FUN!

We traded Rex’s basil for pool passes to Aunt Heidi’s and Uncle Tommy’s pool. Our three boys swim with their three boys weekly, and man, is fun ever LOUD! The boys play Marco Polo, basketball, a slam dunk jam, and various other raucous activities.

Aunt Heidi loves to use basil in her salads, so when the top leaves of Rex’s basil plant started to get about two inches long and an inch or so wide, we thought some fresh herbs would be a nice gift of gratitude.

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Decorating Our Gardens

I love gardens with a little character. The boys and I like to stroll through a neighborhood garden planted by a group of Master Gardeners. These gardeners let the plants speak for themselves mostly, but they also add touches of character: a fairy house and chairs planted in the middle of succulents, or a gnome peeking out from under a tomato plant.

My boys have lots of character, so I decided I’d give them a $20 budget to decorate their gardens a little. I took each boy to our local grocery store where they have a garden section full of decorative items. They have at least a hundred brightly painted tin sculptures, and Jude selected a large, blue airplane with a spinning propeller and two pots to plant. He begged – I mean begged – to go over-budget (by $20) and spend some of his Christmas and birthday money on a little yellow bird. I couldn’t say no to that.

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Morris picked out a two things. He can be quite decisive when he sees what he likes, and he spotted a double wind-spinner right away. He didn’t even want to consider anything else. As we were checking out, he found a display of ceramic mushrooms. He had to have the blue one, which he keeps shoved deep into his garden with only the top sticking out of the earth.

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Green beans and cabbage are growing, along with Mo’s muscles!

Rex has been uncertain about how to decorate his garden. Uncertain or disinterested, I’m not sure. I purchased a blue gnome awhile ago, which sat on our kitchen counter until I decided to offer it to him. He said, sure, he’d take it, so now it nests in the corner of his garden by his chocolate mint plant.

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As you can tell, the boys bring a lot of their own character to the gardens. 🙂

Measuring Plants and Boys

I thought it might be cool to do a little measuring activity. Just how tall are your baby plants? Then we can measure throughout the growing season and see how they’ve grown.

We took our first measurements one week after planting, on June 4, 2016.

I let each boy hold the tape measure (They love tape measures! The boys usually use them as super spy weapons or flexible swords.) and read the measurement. My four year-old needs a little help, but he can read the numbers separately: one and three. I record all of the information. My plan is to make a growth chart for the boys to fill in every two or three weeks.

Measurements:

REX June 4
Tomato 11-½”
Chili Red Pepper
10”
Chives 7”

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I asked Rex what he thought was the biggest change in his garden

He replied: “My chili red grew a flower.”

JUDE June 4
Tomato 11-½”
Green-Bean 
(Seed-¾”) Plant 2.5”
Corn 1”
Eggplant 6-¾”
Sage 5-¼”

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I asked Jude what had changed about his garden.

He answered: “Yesterday, only one bean was up and today I have three!”

MORRIS June 4
Tomato 9”
Cabbage 4”
Spinach 5”
Bean 2”

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Morris noticed that his tomato plant was growing. When I asked what was different, he said, “The leaves are kinda big…” 

While I’m at it, I thought I might measure the height of my boys, as well. I can see how much they’ve grown during the summer.

Rex: 57” (4 feet, 9 inches)

Jude: 53” (4 feet, 5 inches)

Morris: 42” (3 feet, 6 inches)

Planting!

It’s a little tricky for me to keep my hands off during this part. I love to plant! I really want to dig the little holes, nestle the plants into the earth, and gently cover them back up. Instead, I let my boys have this satisfaction.

We planted our gardens on Sunday, May 29, 2016.

Jude planted his garden first. He wanted to plant each plant by himself, and he carefully selected where they’d go. When I told him to place his tallest plants in the back, his mind quickly calculated what should go where and why. For example, when selecting the spot for his dill, he considered and said, “This (square) would be the worst possible spot for the dill because the corn would block all the sun.” He gets it.

Jude dug all the holes for his plants, took all the extra wrapping off, tore the bottom off the plants with the recyclable pots, placed the plants or seeds into the earth, and carefully covered them up. We saved five squares for potatoes that were coming via mail (Burpee.com), so his planting was done quickly…maybe too quickly for him. He really loved it.

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Morris planted his garden next. At age 4, he wants to do what his brothers do, but his attention span is shorter. With his dad, he dug the hole for his tomato plant, tore off the bottom of the paper pot, carefully placed it in the earth, and covered it up. He continued with the cabbages he wanted, but started to lose interest after that. His brothers were on the trampoline, after all! Reluctantly, he popped pea seeds into the little holes I dug, and then said, “I’m done, Mom. You do the rest.”

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Rex was the last to plant his garden, and he did so with care. As the oldest, he takes responsibility seriously, and he wanted to make sure he did it right: placed plants in good spots, and covered them with enough dirt. To speed the process along, he asked that I help did the holes while he prepared the plants (took off the paper pot bottoms and wrappers) and planted them. He planted his entire garden, and then we were done!

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Three boys. Three gardens planted!

Purchasing Plants

I took our Master Plant List to Lowes (a purple note card), along with all three boys. Granted, I know what I’m in for each time I take the boys there.  And they know, too. They claim we’re always there far longer than we originally promise: they’re right.  I make sure I’m well-rested or well-caffeinated so I can handle the over-stimulation, along with the need to make decisions. On this trip, most of our shopping would take place outside, at the Garden Center, so I figured it might go a little smoother.

Each boy selected which tomato plant he wanted: early girl, big beef, roma, little tomatoes, etc. Each boy selected which cucumber plant looked the strongest, which chive plant looked the fullest, which hot peppers might provide the biggest kick when eaten: chili red or jalapeno? Our shopping cart quickly filled with veggie plants.

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Then, we went inside to purchase some seeds: carrots, corn, beans, peas, and a few herbs.

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All was going smoothly until then, but when the boys started grabbing axes and giant picks – and of course, wielding them as weapons –  I knew our trip to Lowe’s needed to end.

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Picking Plants

Each boy gets to select what vegetables he wants to grow. I love growing herbs – dill and basil – and tomatoes and cucumbers. I dry the dill and make vegetable dip with it all year long. I freeze the basil and add it to soups in the winter. I simply love watching tomatoes and cucumbers grow. Tomatoes have those delicate white flowers, and I get so excited when I see the small, green ball grow from within. The cucumbers hide under their leaves; one day they are a few inches long, and two days later, they are full grown and ready to pick. Both are a summer treat to eat.

Before we bought our plants, I sat with the boys at the computer, and helped them plan what they wanted to grow. I needed a shopping list, and I wanted to make sure we got the right amount of plants and seeds to fill all the garden beds. I created a simple table, separated into 16 sections, that they filled in the squares using a Square Foot Gardening Planting Guide (atlantishydroponics.com). This visual guide showed them what they could grow, and how many of each vegetable could be planted in each square foot. For example, you can plant one tomato plant in one square, four green bean plants in another square, and sixteen carrots in another, and so on.

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The boys made great selections:

REX: Rex, the oldest, is curious by nature. His garden consists of his favorites – chives and carrots – but also some experimental plants he knows nothing about, like bok choy and sage. At age four, Rex would pick chives from our garden and chew on them while playing: a little boy with stinky onion breath. Here’s a list of what he planned for his garden (the numbers note the number of squares dedicated to each plant) : Chives (2), cilantro (1), dill (1), bok choy (1), peas (1), basil (1), potatoes (1), tomatoes (1), green pepper (1), jalapeno (1), chili red pepper (1), carrots (1), onions (1), cucumber (1), lettuce (2).

JUDE: Jude is the most enthusiastic about this little project. If he could, he would plant everything on the list. He is also enthusiastic about potatoes, so five of his squares include tubers. He also wanted cucumbers (2), carrots (1), sage (1), dill (1), cilantro (1), corn (1), egg plant (1), beans (1), tomato (1), and lettuce (1).

“To-ma-toes,” Jude sounds out as he fills in his garden grid. Then he pauses and looks at me seriously, “How do you spell toes?”

MORRIS: Morris knows what he likes, at age 4, and he told me, “I want cabbage, spinach, and carrots…and that’s it.” Okay. So, I helped him fill out his Garden Sheet with plenty of those vegetables, but I added some others I knew he would like to watch grow: carrots (2), cabbage (2), spinach (2), green beans (4), peas (4), tomato (1).

Here’s a little conversation I had with Mo about planting:

“I want apples,” Morris declared as we’re planning his garden.

“Apples grow on trees, so we can’t plant them,” I responded.

He’s not giving up. “No, you still can. Put a seed in it,” He nodded with finality.

It’s as simple as that to him.

I remember selecting plants the first summer I grew a garden. Could I really plant green peppers, tomatoes, and yellow squash in my own back yard? And they would grow and I could eat them?! It amazed me that there was an alternative to the grocery store, as if I didn’t really believe they came from the land…even though I’m a native Iowan.

And then I fell in love with watching a garden grow. If you look carefully, you can truly see a difference in your plants every day. Maybe one squash loses its creamy-orange flower. Maybe one strand of dill shoots taller. Maybe one tomato gets a little redder. The changes are so rewarding to notice.

Could I say the same about watching my boys grow? Well, they seem to grow a little slower, but all of the sudden I’ll notice that their pants are too short, and their big toe is all the way to the tip of their shoes. When did that happen?! It’s as if there was no incremental change, but it happened in a burst. And yet, I know better. They’re growing all the time, and I’m both delighted and melancholy about it. Of course, growing means they’re healthy, but it also means they’re getting older, and I want to hold on to them as long as I can.

Lumbering at Lowe’s and Planter Prep

My three boys traveled with me to Lowe’s to purchase lumber and brackets for their planters. There’s a lot they can do in that store – as you can see – so I try to go when it’s not very busy. That way, boys lounging on piles of lumber or playing tag while the wood is cut, is not distracting (annoying) to other customers.

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I purchased 8 x 10 treated planks, which Lowe’s employees cut in half for me,  a much better option than my husband cutting them. Those long planks are awkward for one man, and it’s an extra step I can take care of.  The garden beds will be four feet by four feet.

I also purchased  L-brackets to help hold the wood together. These don’t do the job alone – lots of long screws are added in random places – but they help in the event that some screws loosen.

Building the boys’ planters requires husband and wife teamwork. Generally, my hubby and I tackle projects pretty well. I hold the four foot boards steady while Ty uses the power drill. The boys dance around the activity and jump on the trampoline.

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BUILDING THE PLANTERS and DIRT WORK

Building the boys’ planters requires teamwork. Generally, my hubby and I tackle projects pretty well. I hold the four foot boards steady while Ty uses the power drill. We move from corner to corner, over and over, until all 16 corners are secured. The boys dance around the activity and jump on the trampoline.

Once the planters are built (one for each boy, one for my husband = 4), there is still a lot of work to be done: mostly dirt work. Dirt is not cheap, even when it’s in abundance all around you. Our neighbor has a skid loader, and he plopped mounds of Iowa soil into the garden beds. I evened out the earth with a shovel and raked out the clots and rocks (not easy!). Then, I added peat moss and potting soil for extra nourishment. These details are quick sentences in my post, but there was a lot of time, shoveling, raking, and sweat involved – all mine – before plants could be planted.

I’ve read a lot about Square Foot Gardening, and I know there is a soil to fertilizer to peat moss ratio, but I didn’t quite follow it. For one, I couldn’t imagine how many bags of each I’d have to buy, haul to the backyard, and dump to fill all the planters. Too many. For two, Iowa dirt has a pretty good track record for making things grow, and I decided I’d bank on it. So, the majority of our planters are filled with soil from home.

My next step was to make a grid, again a tenet of Square Foot Gardening. I measured and marked one foot along each side of the garden bed. Then, I banged a nail into the side every foot. Then, I connected a string of jute from one nail, across the bed to another nail. Finally, a grid: 16, one foot by one foot squares for each planter. I repeated this process for each planter, a total of four times.

The gardens are ready for planting!

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