Sow There!: History of garden science through children’s books, Aug. 17, 2018

A collection of books, mostly acquired through the Chico library Saturday morning book sales, awaits third-grade students. (Photo by Heather Hacking)
PUBLISHED: August 17, 2018 at 4:04 am | UPDATED: August 17, 2018 at 2:14 pm

For a year or more I’ve been hoarding children’s books. The Friends of the Library holds an amazing book sale every Saturday, (except holidays) 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. at the Chico library. If you want to see what I look like without my hat, you might spot me there.

Until recently I wasn’t sure what grade level I would be teaching, so I bought everything I loved reading as a child, had always wanted to read as a child or had watched children reading in third grade last year. The books are a quarter, so I kept buying. This summer I started reading them.

When I was 8, 9, 10 and well into my teens, I was that kid with the flashlight under my comforter, reading into the wee hours. I bumped into things because I read while I walked. I used big words I had recently learned in print, pronouncing those words so poorly it sounded like I was speaking gibberish.

As I turned pages this summer I realized it was not simply nostalgic memories. Children’s books really are well-written. They’re sweet and usually turn out happily at the end. I read most of “Where the Red Fern Grows,” but decided not to finish it. I know how it ends.

Other page-turners at my bedside included “The Lyon, the Witch and Wardrobe,” “Heidi,” “The Little Princess” and several books that won Newbery awards. I saw other worlds through the imagination of Avi (a children’s author) and lapped up the pastoral poetry in “Esperanza Rising.” Most recently I read “Farmer Boy,” which we’ll read in my third grade class this year.

Another full bookshelf includes many childhood favorites. (Photo by Heather Hacking)

Giant pumpkins

In Farmer Boy, little Almanzo (Laura Ingalls’ future husband), is growing a pumpkin in hopes of winning a prize at the fair. Many gardeners know the giant pumpkin trick is to trim off all but one vine on the plant, and to trim all but one flower. When the pumpkin pumps all its energy to one orange orb, that pumpkin is a potential prize-winner.

Almanzo’s “trick” is to cut a small slit in the vine and attach a wick, which provides a steady flow of milk to the vine. Garden writer Jane Goodwin  highly recommends using a mason jar, never letting the milk go dry and bandaging the wound.

Where do we get traditions like giant pumpkins? Farmer Boy and Almanzo’s pumpkin adventure took place about the same time Henry David Thoreau grew seeds of the Mammoth pumpkin, which are believed to be descendants of giant squash. The giant squash likely made nice snacks for oversized sloth and giant elephant-like creatures that became extinct 12,000 years ago. (Read more by the Smithsonian.) Thoreau was mighty with his pen, and wrote about his big beauty, which weighed 123 pounds — not much in these days of oversized orange fruit.

I like the idea of playing with our food, especially when this play results in pumpkins the size of a Mini Cooper.

Big ideas

Yet, why stop at pumpkins? Why not giant zucchini contests? Is it because Thoreau did not champion the cause? If allowed to grow to maturity, zucchini will grow to a natural size of one meter. I think mine could reach that point in about a week. We think of zucchini as the size of a banana because we pick them in their infant stage.

What if we selectively bred zucchini, rather than holding them back? Could we carve giant zucchini into canoes and paddle a green tub around Black Butte Lake? What about an organic, edible zucchini summer sunshade, made from thin planks of sliced giant zucchini? At the end of the day at the beach, build a bonfire and sprinkle with jalapeno-flavored olive oil and dust with crushed red pepper.

Likely, I’ll bring zucchini from my home garden to school this year and offer them to my students. School begins next week, and I am over-the-moon excited.

Yet, for now I will harvest one zucchini a day and force myself to eat one zucchini a day.

About this time of year, I usually research zucchini recipes. However, our newspaper’s lovely Nancy Lindahl recently wrote about splendid ways to serve zucchini large or small.

Check out her great ideas for zucchini pancakes or brownies,

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