Archive for the ‘gardening’ Category

Had a beautiful day today so the kids and I went outside to start garden seeds in the seed starting trays.  It is still too early yet to plant in the ground but this will give us a head start.

Little Miss planted some corn and pumpkin.  She hopes to get enough pumpkins to sell some next autumn as a fund raiser for a church camp she attends.  She also planted sugar pod peas, which we love to snack on.

Pookie helped me to plant various types of squash, cucumbers, tomatoes for canning, and some grape tomatoes for salads and snacking.

After we were done, Little Miss found a few flower pots to plant marigolds, morning glory, and lavender into. 

Having the kids helping to plant the seeds was a fun project.  I intend to transplant a sugar pod pea and grape tomato plant in their yard for them to enjoy.  As soon as the weather is warm enough, we will plant some climbing green bean plants as well in their yard and maybe a strawberry patch.  I remember as a kid, going over to the family garden and picking a handful of green beans, peas, or some other treat to snack on.  Having a mini garden in their yard will encourage the fun and healthy snacking.

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With spring in the air, it is only natural here on the homestead to start thinking about gardening.  Being homeschoolers, this is also the perfect time to start a unit study about plants.  The unit study is mainly covering science only, with a bit of art and reading thrown in.  I have added this onto our current Heart of Dakota curriculum.

The main resources that we are using are:

Ecology for Every Kid by Jan Van Cleave

Organic Gardening for Kids by Elizabeth Scholl

Sprouting Seed Science Projects by Ann Benbow & Colin Mably

Kids Pumpkin Projects by Deanna F. Cook

Discovering Science Plants workbook by Franklin Schaffer Publications


Our first project is to soak about 4 seeds each from 4 vegetable varieties.  We chose pumpkin, sugar peas, corn, and green beans.  The seeds are soaking overnight so that tomorrow Little Miss can dissect a seed from each variety to compare them.  Some seeds are monocot, meaning that they have 1 first leaf.  Others are dicot, meaning that there are 2 first leaves.  She will be charting which seeds are monocot and which are dicot.  Her are project will be to draw the cross-section of a seed showing it’s various parts.  Pookie is also doing the project but will be coloring a picture of a sprouting seed that I drew for him today.

Jan Van Cleave’s book has activities that demonstrate the connection between animals and plant life through habitats.  She also has a section on the definition of a weed and what use they are in nature.

Organic Gardening for Kids teaches children about composting and basic garden skills.  There are many terms that the children will learn as well as how organic gardening benefits us.

Sprouting Seed Science Projects contains 10 chapters that go through the entire process of how seeds are scattered, growing conditions, and the process of how they sprout & grow.  Each chapter has it’s own science experiment to go along with it.  All look fun and very educational.

Discovering Science Plants workbook is an actual unit study complete with the worksheets to go along with the lessons.  I happened upon this gem at a used book store.  The front of the book has the lessons, which are all very short, with the worksheets following.  It is rated for Primary Grades.

Kids Pumpkin Projects is the book I was so excited about last year.  We found it at the library, but sadly it was too late in the growing season to reap the most benefit from the book.  It starts out in spring with kids planning out their pumpkin patch and goes through the growing season from the planning stages through harvest.  Throughout the book, there are recipes and activities that are both educational and fun for the kids and mom!  Little Miss is wanting to grow her own patch of pumpkins to sell next autumn.  This is the perfect book to help turn her “cash crop” into a homeschool project.

Little Miss is especially excited about this unit.  She is still doing the science lessons in her Heart of Dakota curriculum, but wanted to do this additional one.  Her proud moment today was learning about monocots & dicots.  She is making a poster using plant pictures to classify them as a monocot or dicot.

On a side note, Little Miss is also using this time to work on her plant color wheel that she wanted to do earlier.  The color wheel is based upon the various color families that vegetables & fruits belong to.  Each color family provides specific nutrients to our diet.  She is making a wheel that shows which family each of the fruits & vegetables we eat belong to and what nutrients they provide.

This is one of the reasons why we love homeschooling.  While she is getting a sound education through her curriculum, we also have the freedom to pursue these other areas that interest her the most.  By giving her that ability, we are able to teach her far more than if we made her “stick to the program” and not allow her to reach out to other things.


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This week, we are continuing the unit studies that we have been working on.  The kids are loving the autumn themed units especially.  I am expanding the units a bit to include more science and hands-on.  One worksheet that I am setting up for Little Miss is a leaf identification sheet.  I am finding pictures of various leaves online and placing them onto a page in my word processor program, then adding a space under each for her to write the name of each leaf.  For Pookie, I will have leaf color sheets printed from the Internet.  I am having fun (as they are also) in finding little extras to add to their workboxes.

With the amount of fun they are having in learning about autumn and the changes it brings, I am thinking ahead to pumpkins.  Both kids enjoy most the subjects that are nature related.  Recently, Little Miss started asking to learn more about pumpkins.  How can I say no to that?  It is near time for me to buy the pumpkins for canning and to make pies with for Thanksgiving.  Seems like a great time to start teaching about the pumpkins.

I found a really neat book at the library.  “Kids Pumpkin Projects: Planting & Harvest Fun” by Deanna F. Cook, is filled with great activities for young children.  each activity is designed to teach children about pumpkins in a way that is meaningful to them.  First, they make a pumpkin journal in which to record their observations as they plant, grow, and harvest their own pumpkins.  Throughout the book, the children are learning about pumpkins in a way that makes it exciting and fun.  From planning their pumpkin patch, seed shopping, and planting, the children learn what a pumpkin plant needs to grow properly.  During the growing season, they are making notes in their journals as well as other activities.  A simple one that is very educational is making a pumpkin family tree.  They learn that a pumpkin family includes all types of squash and gourds, which are broken down further into groups according to type.  The book includes crafts and recipes to use with your harvested pumpkins.  It is such a fun book, that I am going to be ordering ourselves a copy this week.

I will be starting some of the activities out of order.  I already have organic pumpkin seeds.  We like to save seed from one harvest to plant the next season.  Among the seeds are some gourds and various types of summer, autumn, and winter squash also.  We can start by making a seed chart comparing the seeds. Later on this winter, we can follow the book more closely and start our seeds in late February in little cups indoors to transplant when frost has passed us by in spring.  Little Miss becomes so excited about watching her own garden plants grow.  This will be a great long-term project for her.  Even Pookie may enjoy it!


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If you have a child who is picky about eating vegetables, here is a solution that worked with our family. I started making fritters using shredded or grated vegetables. The second solution was to alter a zucchini or banana bread recipe and add a variety of shredded veggies to it.

Veggie Fritters
(Makes about 30 fritters)

The fritters are a no-measuring style of recipe, one of my favorite types! I take an assortment of vegetables and shred them. One of our favorite combination of veggies is 2 zucchini, 2 yellow squash, 1 large sweet potato, 1 medium onion, and 3-4 carrots. Shred all of the veggies into a large bowl. Stir well to blend them. Stir in enough flour to lightly coat all of the vegetables. Add enough eggs to moisten the vegetables. For the amount of veggies that I listed here, I used about 3/4 cup of flour and 5 eggs. The amount will vary depending on the volume of vegetables that you have.

Heat a skillet and spritz with a non-stick spray. Drop mixture by spoonfuls onto the hot skillet and flatten slightly. Reduce heat to about medium low. Cook on one side until the fritter is very firm and golden brown. Flip over and repeat with other side. Cooking over a medium low heat will allow the inside of the fritter to fully cook before the outside becomes browned.

If you wanted, you can add a bit of protein powder to the mixture along with the flour. Milled flax seed is another option to add also. These will increase the nutritional value of the fritters even more. Having picky eaters, this is one area that I try to address daily.

Veggie Cake

I really have no true “recipe” for this. It is simply an alteration of your favorite zucchini or banana bread. Make the bread batter as you typically would. Next add a good sized handful of the shredded vegetables you have on hand. Some really good ones to include are a variety of squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots. I mix in enough that the batter looks like more vegetables than the actual flour batter mixture. Bake according to your recipe’s directions.

Either of these ideas are fully adaptable to whatever you may have on hand. If you garden, then you have a ready supply of fresh produce to choose from. If the kids get to help pick out garden seeds and grow them, often they will be more likely to try eating them. As for our family, hiding the veggies in things like the cake or making them into fritters will get the kids more than willing to eat their veggies.

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On Tuesday, the kids and I started a “He is Risen” garden. This is based on an idea that I saw on a facebook homeschool group. The project is a simple one but will be pretty at Easter. I also love that the kids will be able to watch as the seeds sprout and grow. If you would like to make one for Easter season with your little ones, start soon as it takes about 10-14 days for grass to grow from seed.

Pic that was shared on the message board of a finished garden.

For the garden, you need a large saucer like those used for potted plants, a small flower pot, soil, grass seed, small twigs, dental floss or thread, large flat rock, and a spray bottle of water. We used soil from our yard for this project so that we could better form the shape of the garden landscape.

To begin, place a small layer of soil in the saucer. Lay the Small flower pot on it’s side. Finish filling the saucer with soil, mounting it over the flower pot to form a hill. Be sure to keep the inside of the flower pot empty. After the kids formed the landscape, they next will spray the soil with water to make it easier for the grass seed to stick to it. Scatter the grass seed over the soil. The kids went a bit nuts in this and left no soil showing! LOL After scattering the seeds, mist again with water to dampen the seeds. Place in a sunny location. Have the little ones spray the garden with water several times a day to keep seeds moist.

Do you think the kids scattered enough grass seed on the garden? LOL


Over the next couple of weeks we will be adding the rock in front of the tomb (empty flower pot) and making 3 crosses from the twigs and thread. We are going to be working on a devotional about the Easter story. The kids will be placing the 3 crosses on the hill behind the tomb. It will make a nice visual of the garden scene.

On a science note: the kids will be able to watch the growth of the grass from seed. Every couple of days, as they take turn watering the seeds, they can observe the changes. If I were to do this project again, I might consider using an old spice bottle with shaker lid to sprinkle on the grass seed. It would be less messy and the kids would use far less seeds.

After the garden was set in the sun, the kids had fun scattering the leftover grass seed over the thin spots in their play yard. They have looked forward to this project and getting to toss seeds across the yard was an extra bit of fun for them.


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I have been collecting lapbook ideas, worksheets, and little booklets for the kids on the topic of a plant life cycle. With the garden season quickly approaching, it is time to begin the unit. Here are some easy activities that we will be doing.

1. Starting a couple of seeds in a baggie with a damp paper: Hung in a sunny window, the kids can watch as the seed sprouts. They are able to observe the growth of the roots and stem.

2. Planting seeds in 2 different conditions: In 2 little cups, plant a seed. Water one and do not water the other. Place both cups in a dark area and see what happens. In 2 more cups, plant a seed. Water one and leave the other dry. Place these in a sunny window. After the first plant begins to grow, take all of the plant cups and compare the differences. What difference did light and water make in the seeds’ growth?

3. Make a lapbook of the life cycle of a plant. Have a picture of a plant with it’s parts labeled. Include a little booklet showing the various parts of a plant with its function (i.e. roots draw nutrients from the soil to the plant) recorded in the booklet.

4. Using a white carnation, split the long stem in half along it’s length. Using food coloring, color water in 2 glasses red and blue (or two other colors of your choice) and place one half of the carnation stem in each glass. The children get a great lesson in how the stem draws nutrients up like a straw from the roots to the flower. The results is that one portion of the white carnation will turn red and the other will turn blue. It is an excellent illustration that they will remember for a long time.

5. Make homemade seed paper: Make homemade paper using torn up paper scraps that have soaked in water overnight to soften. Be sure to use plain paper or a paper that has soy ink and not a chemical ink. Toilet paper or paper towels works great! If you happen to use a clothes dryer, you can add dryer link to make the paper stronger. Using a piece of netting fabric stretched on an embroidery hoop, pick up the paper from the slurry (paper pulp & water mixture) in the bowl. Let drain. Press out as much water as possible using a sponge. Gently remove the paper from the netting by placing it on a towel and peeling back the netting. While the paper is still damp, sprinkle on a few wildflower seeds. Let the paper dry. Once dried, the paper can be used to make a card or can be planted into the garden soil. The paper is biodegradable and will break down, the seeds will sprout and grow.

6. Make a carrot window planter: Using 2 pieces of plexiglass and some 1″ x 2″ wood strips, make a little planter. The wood strips make 3 sides of the frame. Place a strip of the wood along the 2 short edges and 1 long edge of a piece of plexiglass. Glue into place to hold it together. Add the second piece of plexiglass to the other side. Clamp together and let dry. Make “legs” for the bottom on each end with scraps of wood. leaving the open end of the planter facing up. Fill the planter with potting soil. Plant a few carrot seeds, parsnip seeds, or radish seeds (or a combination of these) along the planter. The kids can watch the root vegetables grow through the “window” of plexiglass.

7. Growing sweet potatoes: I have written about this process before. You cut a sweet potato in half and place cut side down in a tray of water. The sweet potato will grow sprouts. When the sprouts are about 5 inches tall, carefully snap them off at the potato. Place the sprouts in a jar of water to take root. Once they are well rooted, you can plant these “sweet potato slips” in soil and grow your own sweet potatoes. The kids will be planting the slips into large buckets of soil to grow their own sweet potatoes for autumn harvest.

Along the way, as we work on this science unit, I will be taking pictures for adding to the lapbook. At this point, the lapbook will look more like a small nature journal. It will be a lengthy project that will last for several months. For the kids, it will also be a lesson in how to have patience and see a project through.

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Sweet Potatoes

We love sweet potatoes more than regular russet varieties. So, with that in mind, I am going to buy a few sweet potatoes to grow into slips for the garden. Growing your own sweet potato slips (the little plants that you later will transplant in to your garden) are simple to grow. You can cut sweet potatoes in half and place them cut side down into a tray of water. Allow the sweet potatoes to sprout in a sunny window. When the sprouts are about 4-5 inches tall, carefully break them off of the sweet potato and place in a jar of water to take root. These are called “slips” and are the little plant starts that you have to buy to grow sweet potatoes.

I am going to let the kids grow their own sweet potatoes this season. Each will have their own little slips that they have watched over all winter. When the slips have grown enough roots to be planted, we will plant them into 5-gallon sized buckets. When harvest time comes along, the kids will get to empty their bucket and see how many sweet potatoes they have grown. I will be growing some myself in the family garden also! It will be fun for the kids to see where their sweet potatoes come from.

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We have been in the Catskills area of New York visiting family for the past week.  What a fun time it has been.  My Father-in-law is feeling better now that they have increased his medication dosages.  Yesterday, he felt so good that he took me for our much anticipated ride on his motorcycle.  What fun! 

It has been a trip that has me reflecting much about our chosen lifestyle.  The more that I see how the economy’s effects on family and others, I am becoming more convinced that we are being wise in our decision. 

Prices are going up.  There is no indication that they will go down again anytime soon.  I am convinced that our Grandparents and earlier generations were right.  Having the ability to grow our own food and be as self-reliant as possible is a path of freedom.

In any area of our life that we become dependent on outside sources for our needs, we fall into bondage to those sources.  If you doubt this, try going without electricity.  How would you manage?   Take a look at everything that you have in your home that requires electricity.  Appliances, lighting, heat, air conditioning, fans, computers, clocks, radio, and TV all require electricity.  How would you store your food?  How would you prepare it for your meals?  Pretty basic, but a necessity.  Now, here is where the bondage comes in.  Unless you are able to get solar, wind, or some other alternative source for your electricity you are stuck with having to buy your electricity from a single source.  You can’t shop around and compare prices with other power companies.  You are forced to buy from the local company.  This is a form of bondage.  Not the slavery of old, but whenever you have a loss of basic freedoms to choose for yourself you are in a type of bondage.

Joe and I are trying to be as self-reliant as possible.  This gives us the freedom to do things our way.  We don’t have to pay the higher costs, because we have the freedon to choose what and where we buy what we need.

It is heartbreaking to see others struggle, working full-time but still barely making ends meet.  Having to make choices between groceries or heating bill is a decision that no one should have to make.  The hard part is when they make more than the limit for getting aid, but not enough to make ends meet.  They fall through the cracks.  Many are renting their home/apartment in the city to be close to work.  Because of renting, they are unable to garden and grown their food.  Housing costs and other basic expenses are higher due to the presumed convenience of living in the city.  Yet, their income does not match the cost of living rate.  Why don’t they move to a cheaper area?  If you don’t have the money to meet your basic needs, how can you afford to move?  They are stuck.

I am so grateful that we live where we do and have the ability to live a lifestyle that allows us to be self-reliant in as many areas as possible.  Yes, it is more work, but the blessing and peace of knowing that we are able to meet our family’s needs without depending on others makes the work worth it.

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Family Garden

In days gone by, it was the norm for families to raise a large garden each year.  The garden would be planted in spring and most of the harvest would be preserved in some form to supply the family with food throughout the upcoming winter.  Families knew that if they did not do this, it would have a major affect on the family’s abilty to survive the winter.  Buying all of your food in a store was not always an option.  So, each family would grow all that they could to store away in the root cellar.

Today, we are facing hard economic times.  Some believe that this in only the beginning and that harder times are ahead.  Families who have not grown a garden in years are suddenly going back to gardening as a way to suppliment their family’s grocery budget.

We have had ( or at least attempted to have) a garden each year.  Some were better than others.  This year, with my oldest daughter, her husband, and my grandson living on the homestead we are working together to grow a large garden to support both families.

Having a large garden means that either you have to weed the garden daily to keep up with it or you have to take steps to reduce the amount of upkeep the garden will need.  We are going about it a smart way.  I bought several rolls of a weed barrier cloth that allows water to seep through but prevents weeds from growing.  The cloth is a dark charcoal color which prevents light from filtering through and stimulating weed growth.  I have used this cloth before with wonderful results.  You literally have to make a hole for your plant to grow through.  Unless there is a hole, nothing will grow.

The only things that are planted where no cloth is laid down is the garlic and onions which were already planted.  or everything else, I have to cut an X into the cloth and then transplant the plants in that hole.  For seeds I am going to be cutting a narrow strip where the row of seeds are to be planted.  By cutting out a narrow strip, the seeds will have enough of an opening to grow through.  There is still plenty of the cloth covering the soil to prevent the weed growth.

Another advantage to using the cloth is that the ground gets too warm for insects that commonly go after the plants.  I have had far less insects to worry about when using the weed barrier cloth.

I am looking forward to canning or dehydrating the harvest.   I am ordering a new canner this week in preparation.  My old waterbath canner got a leak in it.  I am replacing it with a steam canner.  These canners can only be used for fruits and tomatoes, just as the waterbath canners.  The advantage however is that you use far less water, which can save time.  The canner base can be used as a roaster pan and the top can be turned upside down and used as a large stockpot. 

Tomorrow is going to be a big day.  Going to get the rest of the garden prepared.  May even plant a fwe rows of seed.  I am looking forward to watching the garden grow & canning it all.  What a blessing it is to watch the pantry shelves fill up with enough food for winter!

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This week has been a busy one.  The weather here has turned warm enough that we are getting work done on the garden.  The onions sets that I had put out are already growing tall green leaves that average anywhere from 1-4 inches tall. 

We planted the tomato plants – nearly 2 dozen of them!  A few looked a bit wilted when I bought them, but all are growing very well now that they are in the ground.

The kids have been watching some sugar peas and sweet corn seeds sprout in the window.  We soaked the seeds overnight to soften them.  The next day, a damp paper napkin was placed in a baggie.  On the napkin, a few of each seed variety was placed before sealing the bag.  We taped these up in a window.  Over the next few days, the kids were able to watch as each seed sprouted.  They were able to see the growth of roots and stem.  It was interesting to see the reaction when they noticed that the seed split in two.  These seeds are being planted in little cups until they are big enough to transplant into their own little garden space.

I have been thinking on how to best approach teaching Micah.  I bought him a small i-pod to use for the educational apps only.  He loves playing with the apps on his speech therapist’s i-phone, so this ended up being a good choice. In recognition of April being Autism Awareness month, the ABA apps by Kindergarten.com are being offered for free.  I don’t know how much these would cost normally, but we have 22 of them currently that we downloaded free.  Some of these are flashcards that use actual photos instead of the drawn pictures or clipart.

I am getting next term organized already.  We are going to our first homeschool convention in a couple of weeks.  I am planning out what I am wanting to teach the kids so that I can plan accordingly for when I buy the curriculum.

I decided to combine 2 ways of record keeping.  I found a binder record keeping system online called The Master Planner.  It is available in 3 formats: a pdf download, a CD-rom, and in a hard copy of one master copy of each form that you can make additional copies of.  For tracking the workboxes, I found free charts online.  The second is the free basic version of the computer program Homeschool Tracker.  The binder will be my daily working copy and the computer program will be my more permanent record.  I will explain more on why I am doing it this way in a later post.

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