Autumn Aliens

We visited a farm in Penwp-image-1536863450jpg.jpgnsylvania to pick some pumpkins and gourds to bring home.   My son was intrigued by their funny shapes and bright colors.  They reminded me of the silly monsters he draws – cute alien creatures with round or oval bodies filled in by swirls or dots and topped with one to three eyes; each creature has a name like,  Dingle, Yugi, Ygug, Hithy, Hicamawiks, Hallywak and Dotty-Spot.  They make us laugh.

These alien-like squashes make us smile, too.  Any names come to mind for them?  I will ask my son, he will have some ideas.

Can you guess who he named, Backhoe, Emerald,  and Pouty?

Outdoor Work and Play

wpid-img_20150525_144745266_hdr.jpg Several hot and dry days over the long Memorial Day weekend gave us a chance for outdoor work and play together. We finally stained our new deck. My 10 year old son was thrilled to paint with us. His constant chattering about his thoughts, feelings, school, Minecraft and best techniques to paint, made the work fun. I smiled when he told me his cure for his sore throat. He said, “Mama, my throat does not hurt anymore. I guess I just needed to ‘talk it off’, get it? Like ‘walk it off’.” He certainly did.wpid-img_20150526_163558458.jpg

Tuesday, my husband and I picked up our son from school and we all went to Patapsco State Park.  We walked/jogged on the Grist Mill Trail.  My son had to get close to the water, to feel it on his feet and make it splash with rocks and sticks.  My husband joined my son in stone skipping.  I never knew my husband could get a stone to hop on the water 4 times in one throw. My son begged to swim across the creek and climb a huge rock. It was bold for him to put his whole body into a murky creek filled with unknown critters.

When we explore and work in the outdoors together we discover more about nature, but even more about each other.

Another Gardening Season Begins

firstdayplanting2

The first week in April, we started our fourth season in our community garden plot.  My son helped me break up the soil with a rake and hammer.  He likes to pound things, so he was content to whack and crush clods of dirt with a hammer.  Despite his destructive fun, this was the first year he carefully planted seedlings almost completely on his own.  He planted seedlings of kale, lettuce and brussel sprouts.openingday2

The worms and microbes were busy working in our garden plot already because the soil looks very healthy.  It is a deep rich brown and feels light and loose.  Almost every shovel full of dirt we turned had at least one fat worm.  We were careful not to over work the soil and disturb the worms.  We planted seeds of carrots, parsnip, turnips, beets and lettuce and seedlings of kale, lettuce, broccoli, cabbage (at least 12 plants of differing varieties), brussel sprouts, cauliflower and sugar snap peas.

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Gardening is a labor of love to produce fresh organic food for our family, friends and community and to spend time together as a family working on a common goal with others in a community.  May all our gardens thrive this season not only with food, but with joy and hope!

My son took this photo of the clouds above our garden plot on opening day of the 2013 growing season.  Use your imagination. Can you see the word “LOVE” ?

Lego Garden

Legos

We all have a dream garden. For my son, it is a room full of Legos! Several weeks ago we visited the Lego exhibit: Towering Ambition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. It was amazing to see Lego models of some of the most famous buildings in the world, including the Empire State Building, St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, the White House and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater.  My son stayed busy for a couple of hours creating in the free play area. He built a house and added pieces to existing structures until one grew into the tallest building in the free play area. Yes, this could be my son’s garden. It certainly fits one definition of a garden…. a fertile and delightful spot.

An Indoor Nature Birthday Party

Last weekend we had a birthday party for the ever growing sprout in our garden plot – my seven year old son. These days, most kids have their birthday parties outside the home at facilities like JumpZone and PumpItUp. Those places are fun, but expensive so we decided to be adventurous and have a nature party in our home. The kids made bird feeders, searched for animal tracks, threw snowballs inside our house and found their own chirping bird to bring home.

Pinecone Bird Feeder
Moose, Polar Bear, Duck, Dog, Wolf and more...
birds in paper origami nests

They made the bird feeders by spreading a mixture of vegetable shortening, cornmeal and oatmeal onto a pine cone, then rolling the coated pine cone in safflower seeds. Before the party we tied string around the top of the pine cones.  After each child finished their feeder, we wrapped it in saran wrap and placed it in their goodie bag.  After the bird feeder activity, the kids guessed how many gummies were in the jars…one for gummy worms and one for gummy bears.

Next, they all searched for animal tracks scattered throughout the house. Each child had a list of the 15 animals who left their tracks in our house, along with stickers to place next to the animal’s name after they found its tracks. The kids had fun scurrying up and down the stairs hunting.  The most difficult tracks to find were the bird tracks since I had placed some of them on a shelf (birds can fly, you know).

My husband led the kids in snowball throwing games in the basement while I prepared the kitchen table upstairs for the pizza and cupcakes. I was not worried, the snowballs were soft pom poms I made with white yarn (I made 20). They held up well, only a few white yarn strands fell onto the carpet.

The party concluded with each child finding their own chirping bird in a paper nest (an origami box).    The kids were thrilled to bring home their own bird.  All the birds were local varieties they may see come to their feeders.

My son enjoyed his day with his friends and all the activities. He felt a bit like a king. “Wait! I need my crown!” he shouted, just before the cupcakes, candles and the happy birthday song.

I’d love to hear your in-home kid birthday party ideas.

Moving Day for Tadpoles

scooping up the tadpoles

Howard County Conservancy gives my son a big backyard where he can freely explore a creek, run in a field, study wildlife, feed a goat, grow a garden, hold a wiggling tadpole and observe its eyes under a magnifying glass and simply learn to value our beautiful natural world.

tadpoles' crowded home in stone pond

Last weekend, our family worked at the Howard County Conservancy. While my husband mowed the grass between the plots in the  community garden,  my son and I assisted with an Earth Day project.  The stone waterfall in the Honors Garden was temporarily turned off because thousands of tadpoles were living in it.

Our assignment, help relocate the tadpoles to a nearby creek in the Conservancy. A patient and knowledgeable Conservancy volunteer guided my son.  She helped him gather tadpoles in a net and place them in a container with water.  Then he carried the little oval-body-tailed swimmers about a 10 minute walk to the creek. We stepped through mud, rocks and weeds to get to the edge of the creek. My son slowly poured hundreds of tadpoles into the quiet creek.

tadpoles' new home

We watched the tadpoles adjust to their new home. The strong swimmers tried to swim upstream until they found a pocket of still water between some rocks. Others just let the stream carry them to the calm water.  We imagined the creek filled with frogs this summer.  We will look for them in June.   The meandering creek gives them plenty of space to thrive.

The frog population in urban communities is threatened by the commercial use of pesticides to maintain lawns.  We want to help frogs and toads thrive. They are good because they eat garden pests and insects that can harm plants and vegetables. How are you helping frogs and toads thrive in your garden?

Our Polite Mourning Doves

PLEASE, YOU eat first.
This pair of doves visit our feeder regularly early in the morning or afternoon. They are a gracious couple. They seem to wait their turn at the feeder. House and purple finches, chickadees, starlings, woodpeckers and tufted titmice come to our feeder for a frenzied quick nibble then they disappear. The mourning doves don’t eat and fly away, instead they hang out for awhile before and after they eat. Sometimes they will even sit on the feeder tray or on our deck railing, tuck their heads between their shoulders and take a nap. Their soft song of cooOOoo-woo-woo-woooo, reminds us to check if our feeder needs more safflower seeds. There are benefits to being present, patient and polite!

(Note: we use safflower seeds because squirrels do not like its bitter taste)

Our Garden Plot Dreams for 2011

My son's garden dreams include bugs and three suns (can you see them at the top right?)
Who says you can't dream big?
My husband, my son and I share our garden dreams before we start planning and ordering seeds for the new growing season. Every year our son dreams of growing tall gigantic sunflowers. This year he also wants cucumbers, tomatoes, bugs and more visits to the goats and the snowball stand near our community garden at the Howard County Conservancy.

My husband dreams of installing a drip system so we can work in the garden (and visit the goats and snowball stand) while the plants are being watered. He also wants to combine the garden beds, reduce the walking paths and cover more plants with row covers so the plot has intensive plantings thus more produce and less bug damage.

I dream of a longer growing season so I can cook from our garden harvest all year. I want to plant new types of veggies and make a cold frame. For additional crops in early summer and late fall I would like to try planting leeks, shallots and peas and Asian greens, broccoli and kohlrabi along with our regular crops of tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, zucchini, sweet potatoes, white potatoes, carrots, beans, spinach, turnips, greens and herbs. But, my biggest garden dream for 2011 is that our family has fun together with each other and other gardener friends in our community garden.

What are some of your garden dreams for 2011?

Our Christmas Tree

This week I brought home carrots and radishes from our garden plot. We still have carrots, spinach and turnips growing under row covers. Today we did not visit our garden plot, but searched for a Christmas tree.

Our son found our Christmas tree today at a local Christmas tree stand.  He insisted on bringing home a particular lopsided and thin fraser fir tree that  fell on him.  The unsteady tree gently fell as my son quickly weaved through the maze of Christmas trees standing at their posts.  Immediately after the tree toppled, my son figured the tree picked him and wanted to come home with us.  My husband and I continued to look for a fuller and more conical shaped tree. But our son did not give up.  He demanded we bring home the 6 foot tree that tried to catch and tickle him.  We could not find a better tree to fit in our home.   The lopsided tree now stands steady as it shines bright with white lights and cherished ornaments.

our tree holding my favorite ornament