Thursday, December 10, 2015


You might think this is crazy to think about now, but it won’t be long before the days start getting longerthe Winter Solstice is December 21st. Though there’s still a lot of winter weather ahead, the anticipation of longer days comfortand remind meit won't be long before the seed catalogs will be arriving in the mail and the sap will be flowing!

In anticipation of the next growing season, I want to share a great seed resource for non-profits. Funds are always an issue for most, if not all, of my clients. 
Every little savings makes a difference, so I was excited when I came across a generous offer from The Chas. C Hart Seed Company of Wethersfield, CT. at a landscape industry trade show. Established in 1892, this family owned company is currently run by the fifth generation of Harts. From the very beginning, the Hart family has been involved in supporting the community. And for generations, unsold packets of seed have been sent to those in need at the end of the season. Continuing in this tradition, Nicole and Melissa Hart started an in-house department called, “Families Helping Families” Seed Donation. 

They’ll provide free packets of seed for your community garden, school project, church mission or other charitable organization. The only cost to you is shipping.
Based on availability, they’re willing to fill specific requests for seed varieties.  

Get your orders in early! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


Outdoor gear retailer REI made news this month-they announced they will close their stores on Black Friday. The day after Thanksgiving, now referred to as Black Friday, is one of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season. Unlike other retailers who will open early, REI will be closing all 143 stores and paying their employees to do what they love most-be outside and challenging the rest of us to do the same. By shutting down on Black Friday, REI is bringing attention to their commitment to nature and the “experiences it unlocks in all of us” and reminding the rest of us of the importance of connecting to nature, family and friends.

In a letter to members, 
President and CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote:
We're a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us

I don’t think anyone would argue that most lives, and especially those of children, have become very structured allowing very little free time outdoors. It's  time to break the cycle this November 27 and join the effort to  #optoutside with family and friends. No plans, no agenda, no structure other than finding a place outside instead of fighting the crowds and shopping. We could all use more time to experience the restorative and healing powers of nature. I hope you will decide to join the movement and opt outside. Trust me, you will be glad you did.

  Way to change the status quo REI !!!

Discover More Ways to Connect Children to Nature at:

Children & Nature Network


Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Garlic harvested from my garden
Garlic is the most reliable, useful and satisfying crop that I've planted. It is a perfect addition to any garden especially one for children. Like any spring flowering bulb, garlic is planted in the fall before the ground freezes. The children plant the garlic cloves separated from the bulbs, watch for the beautiful spring green foliage emerging from the ground in the spring and harvest the bulbs in late summer.This is a hands on learning opportunity for children to see for themselves that "like produces like and experience the full cycle of a plant". The big bonus is bringing the garlic home and using it in a recipe! Download this sample lesson plan from EAT THINK GROW.

I recently prepped my garden bed and planted three rows of garlic using bulbs from my current crop and one purchased from the farmer’s market.This is the third season that I have planted garlic and each year I have added another row. I admit,I get a little greedy for more as the fresh strong flavor is far superior to anything purchased in a store. I've also discovered easy and delicious ways of using the sculptural green scapes such as in a pesto paste. 

Keep in mind: if you're looking for garlic bulbs to plant do not use the ones from the grocery store as they are treated with a growth inhibitor. Any agricultural supply store like Blue Seal has bulbs if the farmer's market near you has closed for the season. You can find out more about planting and harvesting garlic from UNH Cooperative Extension.

Sculptural garlic scapes in June
If the ship has sailed for this endeavor, make a note for next year's to-do list. Garlic is a great addition to a garden with the added benefit of a curriculum connection. And don't forget to  look for garlic scapes at your local farmers market next summer!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


A few weeks ago I noticed some “critter” (who will remain nameless) activity, small holes poking into the sides of my potato tower. Early in the season I noticed that something was devouring the string bean, zucchini and lettuce sprouts, a problem I had never encountered. Not sure if it was a rabbit, vole or chipmunk, but there was evidence of small tunnels interspersed in the garden. This new development prompted me to tip over the tower sooner than expected. It was like a treasure hunt digging through the loam looking for the various sized and colored potatoes.

I could only image the excitement and wide-eyed wonder of children doing the same soon after returning to school. This was a first for me and there is nothing like it. As an experiment and learning experience I was not disappointed but thankful I was not feeding a family of six for the winter!  

For the most part I was pleased with my harvest. I am still picking swiss chard, tomatoes, green peppers and chinese eggplant. These vegetables have always been reliable and are ready to be harvested at the beginning of the school year, an ideal time to bring learning outside. What better place than a garden for children to learn about how plants grow,where food comes from, and healthy eating.

I am already thinking of my 2016 garden and will start by adding more compost this fall. I will also make a note in my calendar to plant my potato seedlings a bit earlier in the season, give the them more space and hope for the best. For now, I am looking forward to mid-October and planting some garlic. This is another great crop with huge rewards for the school or home garden.
Freshly Dug Garlic Bulbs


New additions!

Nature Works Everywhere Garden Grants

The Nature Works Everywhere program (presented by the Nature Conservancy) is currently accepting applications for garden grants during the 2015–16 school year. Grants will be given in the amount of $1,000–$2,000 dependent upon the needs of the project. Funds may be used to support the building, amendment, or revitalization of gardens on school campuses, with preference given to rain, pollinator, native habitat, and other natural infrastructure projects. 
Food gardens will also be funded.

Apply online by October 28, 2015

This grant is also funded by Lowe's

Captain Planet Foundation 


Eco-Tech grants are back! Sixteen (16) $2500 grants will be awarded to schools or non-profits organizations for the purpose of engaging children in inquiry-based projects in STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) that use innovation,biomimicry / nature-based design, or new uses for technology to address environmental problems in their communities. 
See more at:

ECOTECH Grant Round Opens October 15, 2015 and closes March 15, 2016

Lowe's Toolbox for Education Grant

Fall Cycle Open / Closed October 16,2015

Whole Kids Foundation

Opens September 1, 2015 / Closed October 31, 2015 

Created in partnership with FoodCorps ( ,  the School Garden Grant program provides a $2,000 monetary grant to a K-12 school, or a nonprofit working in partnership with a K-12 school, to support a new or existing edible garden on school grounds.

Project Learning Tree GreenWorks!

The deadline to apply is September 30, 2015

PLT offers grants for service learning projects that improve schools or restore natural habitats.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015


The first four weeks after planting     produced healthy, green, leafy growth
as seen in these June 16 photos. 

At this stage, the plants had reached about 8”-10”. As expected, I did need reassurance from my expert gardener, Mindy, to undertake the next step. I covered the stem and some leaves with more soil.Over the next few weeks as the plants grew, I continued to bury them when they reached about 8”-10”.

As of July 14, I had added soil two more times and the tower was about two-thirds filled. The plants are now producing flower buds. I added soil one more time. The mounds that I planted in the ground nearby have already started to flower so I have stopped adding more soil.They are still looking healthy and strong. 

July 14

     Still cautiously optimistic!

Potato Flowers 

While the potato plants have been doing their thing with minimal involvement from me, I have been doing my thing! Finding great ideas for schoolyard gardens and funding sources to support them. More on that later!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


In the February post “The Gift of Gold Begins with Quarters and Eyes to the Sky” my colleague, Mindy Beltramo, shared how growing potatoes with children is not only a great learning moment but also fun, rewarding and relatively easy.  I decided to give it a try in my own garden. After doing more research I chose to grow my potatoes in a “tower”. The tower approach could be a way for schools with limited space to plant potatoes as well. Another benefit is that the growing medium can be replaced every year which cuts down on diseases (potato blight) and pest problems (potato beetle). 

Check out the UNH Cooperative Extension publication for more information on growing potatoes. The Maine Potato Lady is a great resource for tips and if you are interested in growing certified organic seed potatoes.

Green sprouting potato seed
I bought a variety (6 total) of blue, red and yellow  seed  potatoes at  my local farmers supply store about two weeks before planting and left them on a bright windowsill to allow the eyes to “green-sprout” before planting.The aim of green sprouting is to develop very short, strong sprouts that emerge and grow rapidly when planted. 

Just before Memorial Day I made my tower using 2 x 4 galvanized heavy duty fence  in a roll that was 36” high and 50 feet long. This is available at most farming supply stores like Tractor Supply. I wrapped a section around a trash can to make the form and overlapped the wire ends to secure it in place.

Ready to plant!

The potatoes had sprouted and I cut them into sections with 3- 4 eyes on each. I located the tower in a corner of my garden. I decided to use the method of lining the sides with straw. This keeps the soil contained in the wire tower. After lining the sides with straw I filled the bottom with about 4” of loam mixed with the composted manure. 

Potato sections with "eyes to the sky" before covering with soil 

I was lucky to have a source of Llama manure (thanks Mindy!). I set the sections in the bed with the “eyes to the sky”, added more straw to the sides and added another 4-6” of soil on top. I didn't have room for all the sections so I popped them in the ground nearby to see what happens. I did not add any fertilizer because of the nutrients from the manure. I watered well and walked away.  It is now 2 weeks later and the leafy sprouts have emerged!  

During the growing phase more soil is added to cover the leafy foliage. I am sure I will be calling more experienced gardeners for reassurance when I get to that phase.

I will keep you posted!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


It is hard to believe that Memorial Day is finally upon us, the soil is warming up and trees have leafed out. Gardens are ready to be planted...time to get your hands dirty!
It is easier at this time of year to really start looking at potential locations for the school garden now that the ground is bare and the sun is higher in the sky. Whether your location is more urban where there is limited space or one that has acres of open space, you will need to find the right site for your garden. If the only space available is on asphalt, you can use containers or raised beds right on top. If space allows, you can plant directly in the ground or in raised beds. When figuring out where the garden should be located considers these key factors:

  • Look for a level area that receives at least 6 hours of full sun a day. Stay away from trees and shrubs that could shade the garden
  • A water source should be nearby
  • Location should be visible, accessible for delivery of materials and close to the building
  • If planting in the ground have the soil tested for overall quality and composition as well as contaminates such as lead
  • Check that there are no conflicts with utilities, wells, septic systems or in ground tanks
  • Space for composting
  • Potential need for fencing to define and protect space
  • Area for shed or nearby storage for tools and supplies
Take a walk around the grounds with an aerial view of your site. Keep these key factors in mind and make notes of potential locations. There will be a location that rises to the top of the list. No matter what kind of situation you have: urban, rural, large or small there is a way you can make a garden that will expose children to the wonder and beauty of growing things and connect them to the natural world. The longest journey begins with the first step so…take that step!


Gardens to Grow In

Edible Schoolyard Project

National Gardening Association/Kids Gardening

Monday, May 4, 2015


I attended the In Bloom in Boston conference in March.This conference,co-sponsored by Antioch University and
Mass Audubon, is held in four different locations: the first was in Boston;New Haven Connecticut on April 25
Keene, NH on May 14;
and Shelburne, VT on June 10. 
Each conference has unique and nationally recognized keynote speakers and workshops lead by local practitioners.
The Boston conference was held at the 
Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary which is  on the grounds of the former Boston State Hospital. The sessions were held in the George Robert White Environmental Conservation Center, the first “green” municipal building in Boston, a perfect venue with lots of natural light and views of the landscape. 

I learned much more about the nature preschool and forest kindergarten concepts in early childhood education now sprouting up in our communities but have been in Scandinavia, the United Kingdom and Europe since the 1960’s. Of particular interest to me, because of the work I do, was the keynote speaker Ken Finch, president and founder of Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood.  His session, "Nature Play: Risky Business”, focused on facts and misconceptions of risk in nature based play. Safety is always an issue with parents and administrators when incorporating nature based play and learning opportunities for children.  Did you know that:

"nearly 90,000 U.S. children are injured annually on stairways. In fact, a U.S. child under
five is treated in an emergency room for stair related injuries every six minutes!" 

So,are stairs prohibited in homes because of these injuries?
It all comes down to perspective. If you are interested in more information about this topic download his paper “Risk and Reward in Nature Play". 

I left this conference with an even deeper appreciation and understanding of what is possible in offering nature based early childhood education opportunities in our communities. This knowledge will help make the environments I design for children more responsive to their needs. The educational and health benefits of children being outside in nature cannot be denied.
Nature is the true natural playground!

There is still time to attend this conference. I hope that you will take some time to look at what is still being offered this year. If you can't fit it in this year put it on your radar for 2016. 

Back to "Planning Your School Garden" 

later this month...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


Today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Earth Day 1970,founded by Gaylord Nelson, then U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, city slickers and farmers, tycoons and labor leaders. The first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts. Although only a teenager, I was in New York City where there was one of many coast to coast rallies calling attention to environmental concerns.
It changed my life. Children are the future stewards of this blue planet. They will learn to nurture and protect the natural world around them from us. Let's all lead by example and take care of this planet. What are you going to do in celebration of Earth day?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Gift of Gold Begins with Quarters and Eyes to the Sky!!!

Be it in a pot or bed, a potato planting can offer many curriculum opportunities. From an adjective lesson to an art project, mass and volume, to fractions,using the ubiquitous tater as a lesson prompt is valuable for any age. Did you know, the average American consumes 140 pounds of potatoes a year; mashed, baked, fried, chipped, or flaked? The list goes on!  But yet, most of our kiddos do not know from where a spud comes.
    “A tree?”  
    “I know, they come from a potato bush.” 
    “The store!”
Each year, the fourth grade students at my school give the gift of gold, Yukon Gold that is, to the next years class. It’s a great end of year project for students as well as a team building activity in the fall. Worried about a planting container? A bed, pot, bag, or earthly plot all work well. The local farm stores have the contemporary “potato bag” that will hold enough soil and potato “seeds” to get you started. Or, using chicken wire, you can make a potato tower by bending it around a trash can, cramping the ends to secure the circle shape. 
Potato Tower
You can also plant in a raised bed of well amended soil or if you have ground that doesn't like to grow rocks, plant directly in the soil. An internet search for“potato towers” will direct you to lots of planting ideas that are most appropriate for your space.Taters are tough, but they like rich, loose, well-drained, but moisture retentive soil that is slightly acidic (pH of 5.8-6.5) is best. Being very adaptable makes them one of my favorite full proof kid crops. According to Organic Gardening-101  “a month to 6 weeks before you plan to plant (2 to 3 weeks before the last expected frost date),loosen up the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Since potato plants are heavy feeders add at  least 3 to 4 inches of well-rotted compost and complete organic fertilizer". The kids will love the heavy work of shoveling and turning the soil. Don’t forget to give your students REAL tools rather than the plastic kids tool. Younger children can use hand trowels if you don’t want them using short shovels.

Now, what kind of potato should be planted?  With fourth graders, I would offer it up to the class to decide. Let students explore the attributes of the potatoes and their required growing season. They might choose by color, season of readiness, or a combination. The The Maine Potato Lady  offers a great selection of organic potatoes and fantastic descriptions for the students to research. The Yukon Gold, with its yellow-flesh and great flavor, offers a medium sized plant with light violet flowers, stores well,and is a favorite! Or, you might try a patriotic potato bed; planting red, white and blue potato seeds. Rule of thumb: One pound of potato seed will plant 5-8 foot row feet. For our 4 x 10 foot beds, I usually proved three pounds of potatoes. 

So you have your potatoes and are nearly ready to plant. The soil temp has finally warmed to 50-70 degrees. But first, why not have your students explore their taters. With magnifying lenses, kids can really see the potato eyes that will look to the skies and provide green shoots of leaves. Let them count and compare eyes. How about those adjectives? How do they feel, smell, and look?  A poem you say?  A haiku or limerick?  Research the history of the potato chip or share a favorite recipe. How about just a fun read?

Students can cut (plastic knives will work) their potato into quarters making sure there are 3-4 eyes in each. Then out to the bed you go, precious potatoes in hand, with the good will of gift and hope for what will come. You can make rows, but our students are a little less exact and find the perfect “home” for their seed, dig the hole 4-6 inches deep, drop the seed with "eyes to the sky", and cover with 2-4 inches of soil. They carefully tuck the seed into the soil, then offer some words of wisdom and water and realize they have just planted a gift . It doesn't really look like much now, but by the end of summer you will be looking at a crop of gold!.

The tater seeds are planted. Letters of welcome to the next class of students have been written. Books like Tommie DePaola’s Jamie O’Rourke and the Big Potato have been shared and the satisfaction of doing hard work is evident through dirty hands. With a little tending, next year’s students will be digging for gold 60 days after your plants blossom all the way to the dying back of the last stem.

So this year,may the Leprechauns bring a bit of gold to your students!