Invent Your Own Salad

Ahh, we’re enjoying more variety from the garden every day!  In the past few weeks we’ve enjoyed our first fennel, kohlrabi, beets, baby carrots, cucumbers, basil, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, edible flowers… the list grows and grows.  With such a large variety of fresh crunchy delicious items, I need to be increasingly creative to turn the day’s harvest into a meal.  My solution: “invent your own salad!”

Hmmm... how can this all go together in a tasty way?

Hmmm… how can this all go together in a tasty way?

Salads come in all shapes, sizes, and mixtures.  They’re flexible, and can include almost anything your garden grows.  They can be leafy and green, or crunchy with rainbow colors.  Here are the things I keep in mind when inventing a salad.

  • Don’t add EVERYTHING.  Feature 3-6 different items so that each flavor isn’t lost in the mix.
  • Start by thinking about what you have.  Then decide what other items might taste good with that flavor.
  • Consider briefly blanching (and then quickly cooling) certain items like broccoli, green beans, or beets before adding them into a salad along with raw veggies.  This brings our their sweetness and can make them easier to digest.
  • edible-flower-harvestGrow edible flowers.  They’re fun to eat, attract pollinators to your garden, and add color to your plate!
  • Pair veggie flavors with dressings.  I love beets with balsamic vinegar, asparagus or peas with creamy dijon dressing, basil and tomatoes with oil and vinegar, and cucumbers with soy or miso dressing.  Taste test and discover your favorite combinations.
  • When concocting a dressing, follow this simple equation: sour + flavor + salt + fat.  For example, balsamic vinegar + garlic + salt + olive oil.  Or lemon juice + garlic + mustard + salt + olive oil.   Make sure to include some fat in your dressings so that you can absorb the fat-soluble vitamins from your veggies.  And of course, always take time to adjust to taste.
  • Do you naturally ferment or pickle veggies?  Try using your leftover brine as a starting point for your next salad dressing.
  • Love it?  Write it down!  This can be especially fun with kids.  They can invent their own recipes and collect recipe cards in their own recipe box.  Salads are very flexible, so they’re a great place to start.

Here’s a recent crunchy salad we enjoyed, inspired by the recent arrival of early stem and root crops from the garden:

  • Cut several carrots, 1 beet, and 1 kohlrabi into match stick sized pieces
  • Finely chop up several fennel fronds
  • Add 1/4 c. balsamic vinegar, 1/4 c. olive oil, a splash of maple syrup, and a dash of salt
  • Mix everything together and adjust to taste
  • Crumble feta cheese on top

crunchy-july-saladWant more information or ideas?  Here’s our garlicky dijon dressing recipe, cilantro lime dressing recipe, parts of plant coleslaw recipe, and my thoughts on edible flowers.

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Fun in the Sun

When I was in seventh grade, we were given the choice to  study anything we wanted.  Most classmates picked their favorite athlete, hobby, or food.  I picked Time.  Whew, that was a challenge to put into a paper and presentation!

This week at camp, we’re making sure to have fun in the sun.  When working with children, I still think it is fascinating to notice how the rotation of our earth and the sun are linked to the rhythms of seasons and time.    There are great legends from many cultures that can be read to explain the sun’s journey across the sky, the change in seasons, and the passage of time.  This week my campers created a human sun dial and shadow circus (photos and explanations below).  More important than understanding the physics and astronomy, I think these activities help us observe our surroundings and consider the other living things in our ecosystem in a new and interesting way.

human-sun-dial

sun-dialHuman Sun Dial: Stand on black top in the morning and trace your feet.  Every hour, draw a line under the shadow that your body is making.  The next day, stand in your foot prints, look at your shadow, and find out what time it is!  How does your shadow change over the course of the day?

chalk-drawingsShadow Circus: Have a friend trace your shadow.  Add silly clothes, awesome hair-dos, fun pets, and more!  Notice how your shadow is a giant in the morning and in the evening and a midget in the middle of the day.  What does this tell you about the path of the sun?

 

sunny-cucumbersEarly July Recipes: Meanwhile, the garden is loving the sun!  Our weather has been great for growing this year.  Check out these links to past posts for in-season recipe ideas:

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Cloud Spotting with Kids

No matter where you live, you can count on clouds overhead when playing outside.  Clouds can inspire beautiful art, spark the imagination, help predict the weather, and more!  Toady at summer camp, I told the following stories as we lay on our backs, staring up at the sky.   Afterward, we shared the shapes we saw: a house, a duck, a butterfly, and a guy with fire streaming up from his head.  What a fun combination of science and sillies!

clouds2

 The Cloud Family:

Poor Uncle STRATUS is always gloomy and lays down his dark cloak over the land.  With him comes rain and drizzle.

Aunt CUMULUS dresses up in puffy billowy cotton-ball dresses and loves to come out in fine weather to sunbathe in the blue sky.

The CIRRUS cousins look thin and wispy – they all come out to play before bad weather.  They run so fast across the sky that all you can see are the white streaks they leave behind.

clouds1

Which cloud would you want to play with?  If you were in the cloud family, who would you be?

clouds3

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Campers Dig Green Thumbs Camp!

first-dayEight bright-eyed campers arrived at the Charlotte Central School Garden on Monday morning ready for Green Thumbs Garden Camp.  The cool grass was still wet with dew, but the strong sunlight promised a warm summery day. Though few of the campers knew each other, we joined together for our welcoming circle, inventing garden names we would use for the rest of the week.

garden-journal-2Fast friendships and a thriving garden grew from a week that included a balanced mixture of garden work, harvesting, tasting, cooking, storytelling, art, free play, and watering (ourselves and the plants).   We were especially excited by animal visitors, including garter snakes, barn swallows, and plenty of creepy crawly compost creatures.

garden-journalBy Friday, it was impossible to know that many campers had met each other just a few days before.   When we said goodbye on our last day, many campers eagerly exchanged information so they could play with each other again soon.  Campers themselves were transformed – tentative eaters discovered new flavors and food preferences, and each of us deepened our gardening expertise.  The school garden underwent a similarly remarkable transformation.  All twelve raised beds were carefully weeded and planted, newly woven trellises stood tall for our climbing veggies, colorfully illustrated signs labeled each garden patch, painted pots were planted with climbing flowers stood in a row – ready to decorate the side of the new compost shed, and many of the plants had grown noticeably taller!

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Green Thumbs Camp was lucky to have several community members enrich our experience.  Susan Raber of Springhouse Pottery taught us how to weave willow trellises for our climbing plants.  Vera Simon-Nobes and Michael Haulenbeek of Fifth Fence Farm welcomed us to their farm for a wonderful field trip.  There, we petted sheep, carded wool, spun our own bracelets, and gently held baby chicks!  Deirdre Holmes, Abby Foulk, and CCS Administrators welcomed us to the school and ensured that we had everything we needed for a great week of camp.

Space still remains in August’s camp session!  Green Thumbs Gardening Camp will run for a second week from August 4th through 8th.   Parents of rising 1st through 5th graders are encouraged to find out more by clicking on the poster to the right or at http://www.charlottevt.org/ (click on “recreation,” then “summer camps”).  Questions can be emailed to Tai and Stacy at ccsgreenthumbs@gmail.com.  Read on for some great camper quotes and photos!

I had a good time at garden camp.  I got to learn how to plant things.  I learned a new way to water.  I also got to make awesome garden crafts.  I made new friends, which was fun.  It was great! Maddie, age 10

“I had a good time at garden camp. I got to learn how to plant things. I learned a new way to water. I also got to make awesome garden crafts. I made new friends, which was fun. It was great!”   Maddie, age 10

Garden camp was good because we played in the sprinkler.  We got to dig and weed.  I liked planting. Liam, age 5

“Garden camp was good because we played in the sprinkler. We got to dig and weed. I liked planting.”
Liam, age 5

"Camp was fun! We made different art projects. Most of them were for the garden. I like how we got to have a snack that we made from the garden. We harvested our snack! I liked learning how to plant and weed. I’m going to use the strategies I learned in my own garden. I liked that on the first day I made new friends."

“Camp was fun! We made different art projects. Most of them were for the garden. I like how we got to have a snack that we made from the garden. We harvested our snack! I liked learning how to plant and weed. I’m going to use the strategies I learned in my own garden. I liked that on the first day I made new friends.”

We made signs for the garden and we painted pots.  We read books about the garden.  I liked that.  We also did a lot of planting and made trellises.  That’s good for the garden because the plants can climb up them.  Shana, age 7

“We made signs for the garden and we painted pots. We read books about the garden. I liked that. We also did a lot of planting and made trellises. That’s good for the garden because the plants can climb up them.” Shana, age 7

I liked Garden Camp.  I invented mud balls.  We planted flowers and we had water play. Even though I go here for school I recognized some new things in the garden.  There are trellises to block off the bunnies. We built them! Henry, age 6

“I liked Garden Camp. I invented mud balls. We planted flowers and we had water play. Even though I go here for school I recognized some new things in the garden. There are trellises to block off the bunnies. We built them!” Henry, age 6

Thanks to all the community members who helped enrich camp!

Thanks to all the community members who helped enrich camp!

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Garden Mysteries

Early summer gardens provide numerous opportunities for solving mysteries.  It’s often fun and rewarding to engage children in the careful observation, brainstorming, research, and problem solving required to keep your plants strong and healthy.  Who nibbled that lettuce?  Why didn’t those beans germinate in certain spots?

Row covers can help keep insects, rabbits, deer, and/or cats out of the garden if one specific row or crop is being targeted.

Row covers can help keep insects, rabbits, deer, and/or cats out of the garden if one specific row or crop is being targeted.

The range of possibilities – from little bugs to large mammals to disease – is often surprising.  In the past few weeks, we have had a lot of excitement as we attempt to identify a few destructive mysterious four-legged visitors to our gardens.  Continue reading to hear about this season’s garden detective work.   To learn more about controlling insect pests in your garden, check out this past post.

“Let Us Grow Lettuce!”  My attempts to grow lettuce in our school garden this spring were mysteriously challenged as the school year drew to a close.  The kid-transplanted seedlings had suffered a bit of a shock after being planted on a sunny afternoon, but they were finally looking more established with a new set of chartreuse leaves springing from the ground.

And then, one night, there was a garden visitor.  Leaves were nibbled and a swath of seedlings were completely gone in an area that looked like an hopping animal had run through.  Knowing about our local rabbit population, I spread some of the school’s domestic rabbits’ pellets around the garden hoping to discourage Nibbles, Harley, and Mother’s wild relatives from coming back.

eaten-eggs-and-holeThe next morning, I arrived to a scene of death and destruction.  A  hole had been dug in the center of the lettuce bed and dead seedlings lay unearthed on the ground.  Turtle eggshells, rolled up and dried out, were scattered among the dead plants.  With recent reports of skunk and snapping turtle sightings, I was able to more accurately identify the range of animals who had visited the garden and prevented my little lettuce babies from thriving.

eaten-eggs-and-lettuceThe night before a snapping turtle had visited our garden to lay her eggs.  After burying up her nest, she nibbled some tender young lettuce as she made her way back to the river.  The next night, a skunk had a feast.  Yummy fresh eggs were unearthed and slurped up.  Mr. Skunk even came back again the next night to make sure he had gotten all of the eggs, digging up the garden once again!  I’m hoping that our garden may now be left alone, giving new seeds a chance to sprout and thrive in our school’s vibrant backyard ecosystem.

nibbled-carrot-tops“Carrots Topped”  At my house, it turns out, rabbits were the culprits.  The tell-tale sign of nibbled carrot tops gave them away.  After discovering this clue, we realized that the rabbits may have been the reason behind our peas’ poor germination, the missing patches of beans in an otherwise perfectly germinated row, and the seemingly vast appetites of this year’s generation of cabbage loopers.

nibbled-beansKnowing what a great diet of organic greens these rabbits had been eating, my dad “harvested” two adults with his pistol!  Using YouTube videos as a resource, he gutted and skinned them.  We enjoyed a delicious rabbit stew for dinner (recipe here), thinking that our garden might finally be left alone that night.  This morning, we chased another healthy adult rabbit away.  It seems we may get a few more chances to test out that recipe!

Rabbit-stew-ingredientsrabbit-stew

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Early Summer Garden Greens

Yes!  It’s finally that time of year when our family of four can eat as much lettuce as possible without making a dent in the supply growing in the garden.  Each day the heads grow larger, making it hard to see signs of past harvest.  Add spinach, cilantro, dill, chives, and sorrel into that mix, and a salad lover’s dreams can be realized.

cilantro-saladAt our house, we always have some of our favorite garlic dijon dressing in the fridge.  Craving some variety, I made a cilantro lime dressing that turned out GREAT!

cilantro-salad-dressingCilantro Lime Dressing ~  Use an immersion blender in a bowl with high sides to liquify the following ingredients.  Adjust to taste.  If you like cilantro, but not in huge quantities, start with less and then add more if desired.

1 can (12 oz.) coconut milk
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1 bunch of cilantro
a few dashes of salt

early-greens-stir-fryOf course, another way to use a surplus of greens is to cook them.  Make a yummy stir fry with these veggies plus a splash of soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice vinegar.  Pictured, from 12 o’clock clockwise are spring onions, asparagus, spinach, nettles, and lamb’s quarters.

Now that it’s finally the harvest season, I can’t wait to get my fill of the current bountiful veggie while looking forward to what’s next.  Sugar snap peas… I can’t wait!

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Green Thumbs Summer Camp

green-thumbs-logo

Families near Charlotte, VT: Check out the camp I’ll be running this summer in Charlotte School Gardens.  Slots still remain – sign up or help spread the word now!

5-year-olders through 5th graders: Your thumbs will turn green after a week in Charlotte’s school gardens this summer! Play and work with friends to deepen knowledge and boost excitement about vegetables, fruits, seeds, pollination, decomposition, and garden ecosystems. Become an animal lover during our walking field trip to visit sheep at nearby Fifth Fence Farm. Each afternoon, transform into a chef to prepare a daily snack using ingredients just harvested from the garden.   Don’t forget to save some energy for playing on the playground, creating garden-themed art, exploring around the base of Pease Mountain, and making discoveries in and out of the gardens!

Camp Directors Tai Dinnan and Stacy Carter have extensive experience gardening with children and can’t wait to get their hands dirty at CCS.

More information & Registration Form at www.charlottevt.org (click on “Recreation” in the menu on the left), or email ccsgreenthumbs@gmail.com

CCS-Garden-Camp-Poster-long

 

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