Sow There! Growing enthusiasm for winter garden lessons Nov. 9, 2018

Tuskan gale, growing nicely last year. (Heather Hacking — Contributed)
November 9, 2018 at 4:30 am

Since you asked … Yes, my students are learning about plants. Some days I am reminded that my enthusiasm is contagious. Weeks ago, I brought a hyacinth vase into the classroom with a dull, gray bulb perched just above the waterline. When I toured the room with the vase, even I was not impressed. The glass container went atop a high shelf, away from the reach of curiosity.

We’re learning about months of the year, days of the week, etc. I couldn’t help but give an overview of the crops that grow in this area and the work farmers do each season.

I spent 17 years writing about local farming, and I’ve toured most local crops during most seasons. It would feel like a shame to let all of that information go to waste.

When I described spring, I talked about the small planes twirling through the sky, flying low above six inches of water. Ripples spread across the smooth surface of the flooded fields; rice scattered like a hard rain. The descriptions of autumn included trees shaken by vehicles that looked like they should be on the moon. I described the lobster-like claw and how nearly every nut falls to the ground in seconds. These kids may not have seen local farming in action, but they certainly saw it in their imaginations.

When we worked on an art project — the life cycle of a sunflower — it was hardly a stretch to revisit the hyacinth bulb, still unimpressive, but now with roots growing into the water.

The children appeared mildly interested, and I tucked the vase away, again in plain view.

One day, one of the boys tugged at my arm with excitement.

“Miss Hacking, Miss Hacking. At lunch you should walk around the room with your vase. The roots have grown!”

I am not certain that any of the other children were impressed, but he and I knew the moment was magical.

If you’re thinking about what to buy me for Christmas … I would like a Costco-sized bag of miniature paperwhite bulbs, and perhaps an amaryllis or two. Throw in several bags of clean pebbles from the dollar store and some shallow planting containers, I might add you to my list of Valentines.

Planting winter veggies

I always try to time the planting of winter greens for the days right before a good rain. Sadly, the rains should have been here by now. Instead, we’ve had days that reached 80 degrees. If I had known the weather would hold, I would have continued to water the mystery squash growing along my fence line.

I still recommend placing seeds of spinach and kale in the ground right about now. The garden books also recommend planting broccoli. However, I’ve had nothing but mediocre luck with this cruciferous vegetable. Broccoli sits in the ground all winter, growing imperceptibly. Then it bolts and makes flowers. Last year I learned you can eat the leaves. This is nice, I suppose. However, I would far prefer to eat Tuscan baby Kale.

This particular seed packet is worth the investigation. If you harvest often in the early spring the leaves keep coming, small and not stringy like the kale you now and hate. When the plants get larger and woody you can go through the rigmarole of massaging the leaves so that the more mature kale is edible.

Two weeks ago, we planted spinach and kale in our school garden. I checked Monday and the sprouts were about an inch high, just in time for our lessons on measurement.

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