Tag Archives: Gardening

Garden Produce

Yes, yet another post that I’ve been slow to write – there is snow on the ground and I’m writing about the garden… Well, actually, I’m writing about stuff leftover from the garden. I just used our last tomato so we have no more ‘food’ from our garden but our garden provides some wonderful loose parts that we will continue to use.

This year our sunflowers grew very well – I wrote about them already. We didn’t just get seeds and flowers though, we also got to use the big sunflower stalks in our construction area;

Sunflower stalks are very light for their size so the toddlers feel super strong carrying them about. They make good bridges and paths;

Other popular loose parts we get from the garden are the beans. We usually grow several different varieties of beans. Some of course are grown to eat but the scarlet runner beans we grow for fun. This year there were some pretty impressive beans;

Taking the seeds from the pods is a very popular activity – partly because many of the toddlers love disassembling stuff (disconnecting schema) but it is also great for developing fine motor skills.

We were surprised to discover that the biggest pods did NOT contain the biggest seeds. The variety of seed colours and sizes is also very interesting.

These ones we brought inside to add to our seed collection to plant in the spring. We have many more out in the yard – they get used as ‘ingredients’ for potions, sorting by size and shape, transporting in pails and trucks, land art, and so much more. Sometimes we even discover bean plants growing in random spots outside of the garden. Wonder how that happened? 🙂

Sunflowers & Squirrels

Squash, peas, beans and sunflower seeds are large enough that the toddlers can plant them independently so we plan to grow them in our garden every year. We always grow a little bit of wheat so we can grind it into flour and bake something with it. Tomatoes are a staple in our garden too but we usually purchase seedlings to ensure we get plenty of tomatoes. Each year we also try some different things for variety – this year it was dill, radicchio, and carrots.

The weather was crazy this summer – most of our plants did OK but not great. All four types of squash failed to produce any usable fruit. The wheat and radicchio started off nicely and then fizzled and died – first time we’ve ever had a complete wheat crop failure. We had a fair number of tomatoes and a few beans and carrots but would have liked more. The sunflowers grew very well – almost taking over the whole garden.

We had planted two different types of sunflower seeds but there seemed to be more than two varieties of sunflowers – many different sizes and colours, some stalks with just a single flower, others with multiple flowers, some with few seeds and others that were mostly seeds. These fancy ones were my favourites;

The sunflowers created a lot of interest in the garden. Butterflies and bees were plentiful all summer long.

Squirrels were also frequent visitors in our garden – and they were not overly concerned about sharing the yard with toddlers.

The cats were entranced – probably wished they were allowed outside too instead of just watching through the window.

The squirrels were very messy – leaving piles of discarded shells and debris all over the yard.

They also left our sunflowers looking like this;

Luckily we still managed to collect some seeds to plant next year – and we discovered that the seeds from those fancy sunflowers turn your fingers bright purple!

Even without seeds the sunflowers made wonderful loose parts for outdoor play. The biggest one was a whopping sixteen inches wide!

Both squirrels and sunflowers were welcome attractions in our yard this summer.

From Beginning to End

The project began last fall when we saved some of the seeds from the pie pumpkin that came in our Wild Earth Farms CSA bin.  I think it is important to not only know where your food comes from but also where your seeds come from.  Most of the plants we grow in our garden start as seeds we collect from plants we have grown or food we have eaten.

In the early spring we started some of our seeds indoors – the seedlings really liked the box window location.  The preschool table is located in front of this window so the children got to see the progress of seedlings every day.

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Once it got warm enough outside we moved all the seedling to our outdoor gardening space.  The various squash plants got planted a block away in my daughter’s back yard – she doesn’t use her outdoor space and we don’t have enough room for those sprawling plants.

Throughout the summer we often stopped by her yard when we were out for a walk.  We are supposed to do some weeding and yard work when we go but mostly all the plants are ‘wild’ and just grow however and wherever they want.  Between the squash plants and the weeds there are so many prickly things but the children are still excited to explore every time we visit.

By the end of September her yard looked more like a jungle than a garden.  The children enjoyed searching for things to harvest.

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We found quite a few on this trip over – had trouble carrying them all back.  All the drivers were smiling as they watched our little parade cross the street.

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When we got back we examined the various produce and discussed what we would do with them.

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The flowers were added to our spaghetti at lunch that day.  The zucchini was used in a stir fry the following week.The rest were displayed as decorations until the end of October when all the pumpkins had turned orange.  Then we cut open the pumpkins and scooped out the innards.

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Then I roasted the pumpkin halves to prepare them for the next phase.

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The following day the children took turns mashing the cooked pumpkin.

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We added the other ingredients – everyone got to smell and even taste some of them before we mixed them in.

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Almost done;

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We poured them in to pie shells and baked them in the oven. Afternoon snack on Friday – perfect end to a busy week;

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There were comments like “This is better than birthday cake”.  Some of the children recognized the taste or smell of the various spices – savoring every bit to pick out the individual flavours.

A year long project from beginning to end – but, its not really the end, is it;

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Cucumbers and Zucchini

Cucumbers are technically a type of fruit but because they are more savory than sweet they tend to be referred to as vegetables.  They are definitely the most popular ‘vegetable’ around here – almost all the past/present children love them.  Even the really picky eaters will usually eat cucumbers.  Salad haters will often eat the bits of cucumber from a salad and leave the rest.  Cucumbers are soft compared to other raw ‘veggies’ so toddlers find them easier to eat.

Zucchini – also technically a fruit – has proved to be a difficult ‘veggie’ to get the children to eat raw.  Personally I much prefer raw zucchini over cucumbers mostly because they have a very mild flavour.  I’ve wondered if that is why the children don’t like zucchini.  When served both zucchini and cucumber slices I’ve noticed that they eat all the cucumber but all the zucchini slices are discarded after just one bite.  Were they disappointed by the (lack of) flavour?  Did they think it was a ‘bad’ cucumber?

Of course all the children love it when I bake zucchini in a loaf, muffin or brownie yet cucumber cookies failed miserably.  I wonder if the cucumber’s stronger flavour makes it less appealing in baked recipes than mild zucchini.  Some children will eat zucchini in a casserole or stir fry but many do not like any cooked veggies.  Raw is usually preferred and ‘from our own garden’ is the best 🙂

In the past we have grown both cucumbers and zucchini in our garden but they use a lot of space.  Luckily we get plenty of both in our CSA share from Wild Earth Farms.  A few weeks ago when we were having a picnic lunch I included both zucchini and cucumber slices in the raw vegetable assortment that accompanied our turkey sandwiches.  The children raved about how great the ‘yellow’ vegetable was.  I told them it was zucchini – a yellow zucchini – and watched as they devoured it all and asked for more.

I wondered if I finally had a group of children that liked zucchini or if it was just the thrill of having lunch outside that made it more appealing.  I have given them zucchini several times since then and they still love the yellow ones.  The green ones remain on the ‘dislike’ list – sometimes they get eaten reluctantly but most of the time they get discarded after the first nibble to determine if it is a cucumber or zucchini.  Apparently colour makes a difference when feeding zucchini to preschoolers.

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Reuse, Recycle

Warning – I think this might be a long post but I don’t want to try to break it up into two or three smaller posts.  Persevere through the rambling history – it will be worth it, I promise…

 

Often my husband complains people comment that I am always building/making something but really I am always moving/changing something.  Inside and outside my childcare home I create the furnishings, equipment, lofts, storage units etc to fit a specific space or purpose to suit the interests/needs of the group of children enrolled at that time. Sometimes there are items in stores or catalogues that I like but the dimensions or features are wrong for my application so I draw a plan and make one that will work.

Sometimes I feel my projects may seem incomplete/unfinished – maybe I didn’t have enough time to complete my vision due to inclement weather or other delays.  Possibly the project has several phases or there was something I forgot to take in to consideration when I made the plan.  I’ve taken down shelf units and discovered that the wall behind them was a color that is no longer on any other wall in the house and I have had neither the time nor any extra paint to fix it.  That’s OK because for me everything is really just temporary – it may not be long before I devise another plan that will require another change and that wall will be covered again.  The original project may even be abandoned entirely in favor of a better idea.

When I remove something from the play space I rarely discard any of the pieces – there may be another use for them at another time.  Sometimes I’ve even secretly dug a piece or two of scraps from the cut off bin that I felt were too valuable to have been put there.  It drives me crazy to watch those home renovation shows when they take a sledge hammer to the place and destroy perfectly usable parts. Go ahead, label me a ‘hoarder’ but I can’t count the number of times I’ve said something like “You know what I need here… wait…  I’ve got something in the basement/shed/bin that just might work”.  Occasionally I even ‘attach’ items that are not really needed at the time but it is easier than finding a place to store the extra pieces.  It is better for the environment if I can reuse something.  Besides, I find shopping for new stuff is so time consuming, often stressful and definitely more expensive.

This spring/summer I have changed at least a portion of every part of our indoor and outdoor play spaces.  In fact, I just looked at the slideshow on my homepage and realized that NONE of the spaces pictured there exist anymore!  Yet, for all my recent projects and changes I estimate the total cost of supplies to be less than $300 – that is a small price tag for a fairly major renovation.  Of course, that doesn’t cover what labour costs might be if I didn’t consider renovating to be an exciting recreational activity – I’d rather be in the midst of a construction project than traveling or laying on a beach any day!  That comment now leads perfectly to the real topic of this post;

‘What I Did on My Vacation – 2016 Edition’.

This year the bulk of the work was done to the outdoor play space – hooray, plenty of outdoor time!  There were several preliminary projects that were done earlier in the spring.  The biggest of those involved moving the garden – this couldn’t wait until vacation time because our seedlings needed to be planted earlier than mid-July so the garden phase was started in May.  For a while the old and new garden spaces were only partially finished and had to wait for other project phases to be done.  The most noticeable change took place during the first week of July – the removal of what was left of the shed.

Here is a little shed history.  The original 8 x 10 backyard shed was built a long time ago – I’m not even certain of the exact year but I’m going to estimate that it was about 1999.  My husband designed it and the entire space belonged to him – the children and I used only the 12’x30′ ground level deck, the gravel area and a small storage shed beside the upper deck.  In 2009 when I wanted to plant a garden we disassembled the entire shed and then reassembled it on top of the deck adjacent to my little shed.  This enabled me to use the ground space where my husband’s shed had been in exchange for a portion of the deck that we rarely used.

That worked for several years until 2013 when we moved half the big shed to the side yard.  The side yard shed contained the tools and allowed my husband to work in his separate side yard space at the same time as the children and I were playing in the back yard. There wasn’t room for the whole shed in the side yard so we left half of it on the back deck.  Last summer we put windows in remaining section of the backyard shed thinking maybe it would make a good playhouse type space.  However, it was only used maybe three or four times in the past year and I felt the open deck space would be more beneficial so down it came.  Of course I’ve safely stored the windows and all the other usable parts too.

Throughout all these shed projects the only time we purchased new wood was when we didn’t have old pieces that were long enough.  Consequently there was a lot of nostalgia as the shed was disassembled.  I found grey boards from the original shed, green and purple boards from the old wooden play structure, white boards from the old fence, black pieces from the old wooden wagon and even a couple dark brown stained pieces that may have even been from the shed at our old house!

So, I bet you are wondering what the ‘new’ back yard looks like.  You’re probably getting tired of just words so how about a bunch of pictures with just a few words.  Here is the view of the gravel area from the ‘new’ entrance;

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And a closer view of the tipi corner;

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This is where the entrance to the gravel area used to be – I always had to trim the willow back so we could get by.  Now I can let it grow and it makes such a cozy seating area (you can hardly see the benches in the corner).  The cinder block ‘chalk wall’ was extended too;

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Here’s another view of that corner;

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This is the new little ‘bridge’ entrance to the gravel area;

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The entrance to the gravel area was moved to make way for the new garden space so all these projects were done in May.  This is what our new garden looked like in June – peas, beans, corn, peppers, tomatoes, wheat and flax;

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And in July;

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From the other side;

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Here’s the new seating/play area where the old garden had been.  The children call this the ‘trampoline’ because the thick layer of mulch is spongy to walk/run on.  Part of the old garden is still here – Milkweed and herbs.

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Here is what you see if you sit on the benches and look toward the gravel area;

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This is Frank – a friend I made when we first began the shed demo.  I kept moving him to safer places so he didn’t accidentally get squished.

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So beautiful and friendly.  Kept distracting me.  Almost forgot to take the ‘before demo’ picture.  Here’s an ‘already started but still mostly there’ picture;

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The new open, freshly painted deck space after shed demo – all this space was under the shed in 2009 and half in 2013;

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Combination wooden bench/balance beam/toddler table/moveable space divider and also a fun little fold-up/down table (extra parts).  This is the same camera angle as the ‘before demo’ picture.

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View of new space from the gravel area;

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Wood, gravel, garden, mulch – texture everywhere 🙂

 

 

 

Mud and More

June 29th is International Mud Day – something we celebrate every year.  This year the school-age children were thrilled that there was no school so they were able to join in the day’s activities.  I had the water table set up full of dirt – it was up to the children to add the water and make the mud;

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I also put out another bin with plain water for hand washing but some of the children enjoyed making repeated trips from mud to hand washing and back so really there were TWO mud bins.  I cleaned the hand washing bin and added fresh water several times but it always looked like this;

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Because of this;

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We were outside all morning and the children took breaks from mud play to build bridges;

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play tag, and capture things like this;

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There was a five minute downpour which was very exciting after I reassured the children that we would NOT have to go back inside.  We do often play in the rain but because we didn’t have raincoats and boots some of the children were concerned that we were not properly dressed for the weather.  However, it was Mud Day and everyone had clean clothes waiting inside so  all that rain was just a bonus 🙂 It created some muddy puddles and the tarp became a slip and slide;

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and the mud table got soupier;

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Then, one of the children notice that the first tomato has begun to grow.  Three of the children decided to ‘watch’ it for nearly 20 minutes ‘waiting for it to turn red’.

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I think maybe it will be ready when they return in two weeks – after my vacation.  I wonder if they will remember to check, or will they be too interested in exploring all the other new things – my ‘vacation to-do list’ is two pages long.  I love vacation time but the return of the children is so exciting too!

Spiders

I think most young children are fascinated by insects, caterpillars, worms etc.  I recently had an Early Childhood Education student here to do her practicum. She was required to plan activities based on the children’s interests and she noted that insects were definitely popular with my little group – as they have been with all my groups.

Spring is always the peak insect love season – I assume because they are rarely seen over winter and  so they are ‘new and exciting’ when they emerge in abundance in the spring.  Of course I always encourage it further by bringing out the insect toys and puppets too.  One of the toddlers was repeatedly dropping this little stuffed spider through the tube – as they like to do with all small toys.

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I didn’t think much about it until I heard him very quietly singing the Itsy Bitsy Spider song too 🙂

Admittedly there are some creepy crawlies that I am not particularly fond of because of the damage they do to our garden  yet I am careful not to instill in the children any fear or hatred towards even the ‘bad’ bugs.  It is simply another learning opportunity –  we may not want them in our garden but we can find appropriate ways to coexist.  We also include bugs in our many discussions about ‘bullies’ – great big humans picking on little bitty bugs usually because they don’t understand their purpose.

Many children are fearful of spiders – I believe this is a learned fear – one that I spend a lot of time discussing with the children.  With every fear, like or dislike I always ask the children ‘why’.  I’ll admit that I have often been startled by spiders – they are speedy little critters, but startled by and afraid of are two entirely different things.  Spiders are good – they are very welcome in my garden and even in my house.

I noticed that the youngest of the toddlers seemed to be afraid of my very favourite spider puppet – never touching it and always giving it a wide berth if someone else left it on the floor.

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What was even more interesting was how quickly the other two toddlers – who had previously liked this toy – now picked up on this ‘fear’.  Upon arrival each of them would timidly survey the playroom to ensure they knew the spider’s location so they didn’t come across it unexpectedly.

So, for several days I carried and played with the spider puppet.  I talked about how cute I thought he was – how much I liked his little beady eyes and his fluffy hair.  Then even the timid children took turns talking to and petting the spider puppet.  Soon the spider’s fan club got bigger and several of the children ‘begged’ to have the spider walk up their arm and tickle their neck.

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Loving or hating things that are ‘different’ begins with something as small as a spider.  It is important to understand why we don’t like something or someone – is it the color, texture, or something else?  What are some appropriate ways to address those fears or dislikes? Should you build walls and avoid contact or spend some time learning to understand and accept the differences and the benefits.  You don’t have to love them but what can you do before the fear becomes hate.

Hope this year we are lucky enough to find some more cat faced spiders in the yard – they are my favourite ‘real’ spiders.   I don’t enjoy the sensation of having any insect crawl on me but that is not their fault and I can still enjoy the benefits of having them around.

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