Gardening 101



If you are thinking about planting a garden and you haven’t tried it before, there are a few tips that could help your garden be more successful. This is just the basics for gardening. There are many ways of gardening that are right. I will have much more specific information in future posts, but here is a place to start.
1. Soil-This is the most important part of gardening. Your soil needs to hold moisture and also drain well. Dig up a shovel full of dirt and hold a little in your hand and smash it. If it molds like clay and won’t break apart, you have too much clay and it’s not going to drain well enough. If it won’t hold together at all, it’s not going to retain enough moisture. Good soil will hold together in the shape of your hand but you will be able to crumble the shape apart. If you have a result other than that, consider container gardening or raised beds. If you want to use your existing soil, that’s fine, but you’re going to have to amend it.
2. Sun-This is the second most important requirement. The spot that you choose should have 6-8 hours of sunlight a day. Check your spot throughout the year because the sun changes positions over time. Just because it’s sunny there in the winter, doesn’t mean it will be in the summer when you are growing food.
3. Water-Make sure your garden spot has access to water. If it’s difficult to water it, you’re less likely to keep up with it in the heat of summer. I live in Eastern Oklahoma and many days of the summer it’s very hot. You need to have your water system in place before you start. I water before 10 am to keep down evaporation from the heat of the day.
Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

Mulching will help your soil retain water and keep weeds down, so be prepared with shredded leaves, straw, or some other type of mulch to make your gardening easier.
Each plant has needs for root space, so read those tags or seed packets and draw out a chart of what you’re growing before you start planting to make sure you have room for what you want to plant. Decide whether you want to plant long straight rows of plants or mix your plants together before you make your chart. I love the look of several kinds of plants integrated together. Some plants thrive together and improve each other and others don’t like each other, so do a bit of research on that as well. I have a tendency to try to poke too many things into the beds and it is not as successful as it would be if my plants had plenty of room. I’m finally learning to let each plant have it’s space.
Remember to start small and grow what you love! Get ready for the most amazing experience of your life! You will be AMAZED at how much you love it! Happy Gardening!
Summer Squash

Summer Squash


Summer Time!

School’s out for summer! At Little Sprouts that means some of my little kids leave for the summer and my school age kids are here every day. Obviously it takes a different finesse to teach and entertain a 10 or 11 year old than it does a 2 year old, right? Over the years of keeping older kids in the summer, I have tried every different strategy I could think of. But I always know the number one thing I have to do is my golden rule for child care of any age child. Keep them busy or they will keep you busy, and I don’t mean good busy. Basically you can give the kids something to do, or they will find mischief to get into, hard and fast rule of nature like the law of gravity. It’s going to happen. Now after 19+ years in child care, I have not had one single day go by where a problem of some sort didn’t arise. That’s just life, into each day some rain must fall, right? The kids are here for 10 hours a day, that’s a lot of time to fill. But here are a few tried and true things that we do here that help us!
Summer programs. I see all of these summer activities for kids, so I decided to make up some of my own. My husband is a personal fitness trainer and on Mondays he goes into work at noon, so we have physical education class every Monday morning. He teaches the kids sports techniques for football, basketball, soccer, and baseball. They think it’s fun. At the end of summer, we give out awards. We also made up our own summer reading program. The library had one, so we made our own and we have incentives for the big kids to help the little kids reach their goals by reading to them. It improves their reading skills, gives them confidence and teaches their younger counterparts. It’s a win-win. We give awards for that as well. Last year I had a couple of boys who were interested in outdoor survival techniques so we did a 10 week survivalism training program. I don’t have any expertise in that, so I bought some books. Then I divided up the info into 10 segments and every week I taught the kids how to do something to improve their safety. For DHS regulation purposes I skipped teaching them to use knives and make fire, but we all learned a lot. At the end of the summer I had them bring old back packs from home and I filled them with ponchos, flashlights, whistles and other things for surviving in the wilderness. You could do your own vacation Bible school, movie club, scout camp, or art camp. There is plenty of information available to help you teach the kids yourself, and you will have a great summer!
You can invite people to your home to do activities with the kids such as library story time. A police car, a fire truck, or an ambulance could be brought. Someone could bring an animal to teach the kids about. The OSU extension, health department and Cherokee Nation has programs in my area they can bring such as healthy eating, dental hygiene, exercise, Cherokee traditions, etc. We have had many special visitors here and the kids love it!
Obviously our gardening takes up a lot of our time in the summer, so that helps a lot. Even when we are not “gardening” as a group, the kids like to explore and look around the garden. They might want to look for bugs, measure the tiny fruits on a plant, or even use a camera to do some photography. Some kids just like to sit in the garden and think because it’s so peaceful.
We always have a loose structure for the activities of the day. This year we have PE on Mondays, gardening on Tuesdays, art on Wednesdays, science on Thursdays, and games on Fridays. We plan water parties on a few days. The kids wear their bathing suits and run through the sprinkler or slide down a “water” slide we make with the hose. We also have other special events such as show and tell, art parties, or pajama days where they can bring sleeping bags or pillows and have an all-day “sleepover” atmosphere. We do a lot of cooking as well. Kids LOVE to cook! Another great idea is to let the kids plan an open house of some kind for their parents. They spend a lot of time preparing and they get so excited. We are having a garden open house this summer. The kids LOVED having it last summer and were so excited when their parents came to see what they had done!
DSCN5342 (2)
At the end of school or the beginning of summer, I always ask the older kids for ideas of things they are interested in doing and I try to plan how we could do them. This year we are trying an idea I have used before where the kids pick activities, and I write them on calendar squares so we get all their ideas in. My oldest wants to teach the younger kids the activities we chose, so he is going to. It makes the summer more exciting for him and the little kids love it to. Let your older kids take the lead on some of your summer plans, they are more interested in it if they are invested in it. Plan a lot and then be flexible with how your plans turn out. If you’ve been working with kids for any time at all, you KNOW that nothing ever turns out exactly as you planned it. But that’s okay! Happy Summer Ya’ll!

Gardening with Very Young Kids

I provide care for kids ages 1-11, and teaching school age kids planting and harvesting is a little simpler than teaching younger kids. Of course, their motor skills are more developed as well as their critical thinking skills, so there is more logic involved. But even an infant can learn in and enjoy the garden!
One time we were planting a tray of broccoli in succession, which means we wanted to harvest it at different times so we had our seed tray set up and every two weeks we put in a row of seeds. We had some seedlings that were two weeks old and some that were four weeks old and we were putting in row number three. I had a new child that week and when it was their turn, they saw the rows of baby broccoli plants, and instantly started grabbing the tops and pulling out the largest seedlings one at a time, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck, pluck! AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! The shock and horror! We had been babying those things for a month and now they were all laying on the table. What can we do when tragedy strikes? What would they learn if I would have freaked out on the outside like I was on the inside? I’m sure they would not have gotten a positive image of gardening. I did react, I’m only human. But then I rallied and told them that we want the seedlings to stay in the dirt. I put them all back in the tray as carefully as I could and then we talked about how careful we have to be. We proceeded with their turn to plant seeds. Crisis mostly averted. And we went on to plant many things together after that. By the way, all of the seedlings recovered just fine to my surprise, and we learned something.
Several weeks ago, and a few days after we planted our okra seeds outside, I found two little sweeties at the okra bed poking their little fingers in the ground all over the dirt. These two have done this many times, and I’ve asked them many times not to, so it’s hard to stay patient. They had poked about 30 or so holes in the bed while the other kids and I were picking weeds in another spot. I told them when you plant seeds, and the baby seedlings are trying to come up through the soil, they are very fragile and if you poke them, it will hurt them and we won’t get to eat okra. They stopped and a week or so later when all of our okra was up and the section where their finger holes were had nothing growing, I showed them how it made the plants go away. They understood it better and have not done it since.
This week we were picking some very ripe radishes that grew up huge while my family and I were on vacation. On the edge of the radish bed, we have a row of onions. This is the first time we’ve had any success growing onions and the bulbs are visible on the top. We are so excited, but I want us to have full grown onions, so when the kids keep asking to pick the onions, I keep saying they are not ready yet. Each person was taking turns getting a big old radish when I turn around and see someone with an onion in their hand. Look I got a radish! (Ah, that’s the onion I just told you not to pick when you asked me two seconds ago.) Oh sweetie, that’s an onion, see, smell it, let’s find you a radish to pick. It’s a process of learning that things cannot be perfect and my suggestions is to plant extra so mistakes can be made and you can still have something to eat. Even for the bigger kids it’s tough to leave the plants alone long enough to get a harvest. It’s hard for any of us to wait!
Realize that a lot of the time in your gardening, you and the kids might look like an episode with Lucy and Ethel, but with 7 of them and 1 of us, we can’t make sure everyone is doing the best things for the garden every second. I don’t think any child should be made to garden if they are not interested. So for our situation, we got a couple of sets of big plastic animals and moved a table and chairs into the garden, so the kids who don’t want to garden have something to play with besides baby plants. That helped a lot. I do want them to be able to play in the dirt and experience the garden in many ways, not just my way.
I have a few tips that have helped me to help the kids be successful. I taught the kids what their knuckles were and what they do for our fingers. I tell them to plant a seed one knuckle keep or two knuckles or whatever is appropriate for that seed according to the package. The older kids of course are bigger, so I tell them a different number, but when we are all planting, it works well. Even the littlest one year olds do fairly well with the knuckle instructions.
With the littlest kids, try to let them plant the larger seeds. When I let them plant carrots and lettuce, it’s pretty much all in one spot, but that’s okay. If you want a better harvest, you can mix them with sand and let them sprinkle them out of a salt shaker or something like that. But if you give them larger seeds such as corn, beans, or squash, it’s easier for them to get them close to the right place. A good method that worked for us this year was an older child or I would place the seeds all over the bed where we wanted the plants to grow and then we invited all the younger kids over to help us push them in one or two knuckles deep, whatever the seed calls for. We found when planting a lot of seeds, as we did this year because our garden is pretty big now, it is very effective.
Don’t be discouraged because over time, the kids do get better at knowing what a good thing is and what is not so good to do in the garden. Planting some super quick growing stuff helps the kids not lose interest in the garden. For instance not many kids like to eat radishes, a few do, but they are not a favorite, but they grow from seed to ready to eat in about 25 days. There is more instant gratification in something that you get to taste sooner. Also, radishes can be planted as early as February in Oklahoma, much earlier than a lot of things. They can see radishes coming up out of the ground while they are still waiting to see anything happen with the carrots or green beans. Radishes are pretty fool proof as well. Throw the seeds, and you’ll get radishes. They move each other if they need more room, no need to thin them and every seed seems to grow no matter how you plant them. I gave some seeds to my kids to take home and one little girl spilled her radishes in the car so mom threw them out on the driveway while she was cleaning her seat out. Earlier this week she sent me a message that they had radishes growing in their gravel driveway. Radishes will survive! Squash grows fast in the garden and okra does once it gets hot, so those are great to plant with the kids as well.
Make sure when you are gardening with the kids to keep it fun. They will want to garden if they see that you want to. Also, make sure to have your stuff organized before the kids come so you will have more chances for success. Don’t get them all out there and then think of where you keep your seeds.
Have a plan, work in small bits at a time, and don’t try to take on too big of a garden to start with. See how it goes before you add more. Remember you have to be willing to work the garden in your time off to help them. Kids love to plant and harvest, but picking weeds, not so much. A lot of the building and maintenance of the garden will be up to you when the kids are gone. Make sure you can see your garden spot from your play area so you can pick weeds a little longer after the kids get bored. They can run off and swing or slide and you can work a little longer and still watch them.
Have fun in the learning process. I am VERY type A and when we were first growing, I wanted all the rows straight and each seed to sprout and everything to be perfect. That isn’t going to happen. So enjoy the chaos, and the garden will teach you many things if you let it.

Why Garden with Kids?

The excitement of harvesting!

The excitement of harvesting!

At Little Sprouts, we spend a lot of time in the garden. What’s the point? Why go to all the trouble? Well, for me, the main reason is that it’s fun. But there are so many other important reasons. I believe that our food supply is getting way too scary. Our grocery store food is so full of chemicals, pesticides, and so genetically modified that our dinner is more like a science experiment than a meal. And what is that doing to our children’s bodies? I don’t even want to think about it. But how can I serve food I feel is safe? The best way is to grow it myself.
A big harvest!

A big harvest!

Obesity is running rampant in our country with childhood obesity rates climbing in epic proportions. And we know exercise and plenty of fruits and vegetables in our diet helps control obesity, right? The garden is just that, a place full of healthy things to eat and lots of opportunity for movement. Other diseases are on the rise for children as well and it’s been proven in study after study that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk for many illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart problems. But it’s not always easy to get children to eat fruits and vegetables. For me, this is especially true if I have a day care child that eats mostly highly processed foods at home. Processed foods are not only full of chemicals, but they are very high in salt and sugar which dull the taste buds of the people who consume them. So fruits and vegetables may not taste strongly enough for those children to enjoy eating them. But children are 80% more likely to try a food they grew themselves. And they are even more likely to want to try something they helped prepare or cook. So growing our own food and letting the kids help cook it is the best way to get kids to try something new they wouldn’t otherwise. Hands on is the best way for people to learn anything, so it makes sense that the more hands on the kid’s meals are, the more they will be interested in them.
Another reason growing food with the kids will help improve their diet is the flavor. The flavor of freshly picked produce far exceeds that of produce that was picked across the country or world and shipped to our grocery stores. The time it sits in boxes in the truck traveling is time that it’s loosing nutrition and flavor. In addition, the kinds of veggies and fruits that will ship well aren’t always the variety that is tastiest. Here, we don’t have to worry how our heirloom tomatoes will ship, we just have to worry about carrying them into the kitchen 50 feet away.
I have seen kids each year we’ve been growing food come in as a new student in the fall and not eat much of anything I serve, but by Christmas time they are trying many new things. And usually by the time they leave here they eat far more variety of healthy choices. You have to be patient with them and let them try at their own pace though. Don’t badger them to try it, just offer it and see what happens. A new food must be introduced 11 times before it is no longer new, so be prepared to continue to offer it and don’t give up. Their good health is worth it!
So besides making their bodies healthier when they eat healthy produce and get the physical activity working in the garden provides, what other benefits are there to gardening with kids? The garden is an amazing place full of learning for all of us. I could never list them all. There are a myriad of sensory experiences in the garden. Think about the way a tomato plant smells, or a fresh cantaloupe. Obviously there are a diversity of flavors that come from the garden. The feel of a prickly okra plant or a soft leaf of an herb. Listening in the garden brings a multitude of amazing sounds. You can hear birds chirping, the wind blowing through the leaves and stems of the plants. It’s almost overwhelming to think of all the colors, shapes, and interesting things there are to see in the garden. The more our senses are stimulated the more we learn, even as adults.
We learn math in the garden. We count seeds, and veggies, we measure how tall our plants are, or how much water they need. We measure how close together seeds need to be or how deep they should be planted. We sort seeds by size and color and shape. We count how many peas are in a pod or seeds in a tomato. We read seed packets, make garden markers and learn a plethora of vocabulary including entomology, botany, germination, metamorphosis, life cycle, and the list goes on and on. The science in the garden is immeasurable. We learn how a seed germinates, how strong a seedling can be, how insects and wind pollinate. And we watch caterpillars hatch and grow and change into butterflies, we learn about beneficial and harmful insects. We learn about what animals do in the garden. We learn about animal and insect habitats and life cycles.
Yummy peas!

Yummy peas!

I am amazed every day at what I personally learn in the garden, and teaching the kids these things is one of my greatest pleasures. Plus I know I am teaching them skills they can use throughout life. I have heard countless stories from my day care parents about how the kids were identifying butterfly species for them at home or how they showed them which plants should be planted with other plants to keep bugs away from their crops, or how they identified a beneficial insect in the garden. It’s a great feeling to know I am teaching whole families and a future generations these things. And everything we do is 100% organic in our garden, so those organic methods are being shared as well.
It would certainly be easier to grow the garden without the kids. Things would look neater, and be more precise, but taking the time to teach them how to do it correctly is so worth the time. I’ve learned a lot of patience throughout the process and I can even see the older kids learning patience as they see the younger kids doing things that frustrate them. But we are all learning together and it’s making the world a better place.
If you work with kids in any way, I encourage you to try growing something with them. Even if you just have a five gallon bucket with a tomato plant growing in it, you will be surprised at how much you can learn and teach with just that. It is worth your time and effort, I promise!

Why I do Childcare

Every child deserves a great place to be. That’s why I have kept teaching kids for over 19 years. I firmly believe that if we are going to take care of children, we should give it our 110%. There is nothing more important than how a provider spends their day. Now some days my 110% is not that great, and some days I knock it out of the park. I am human, I am not claiming to be perfect. I make mistakes, I make parents mad, and I do things that are annoying. But I know that the parents who bring their kids to me are bringing me the most precious thing in their life. They are not leaving their really great kids at home and bringing me their second string. These children are their family’s most precious resource, and they are our world’s most precious resource. So the value of what providers do is immeasurable!
When I set out to start my day, I remind myself to give lots of smiles, hugs, and eye contact. I put on a positive attitude and get ready to face the day. This job is HARD! It’s messy, super long hours, and exhausting for very little monetary gain. But it’s not money that makes the job. It’s seeing that teenager that you kept years before and seeing their eyes light up when they meet yours. It’s being able to make a hard day a little better for a precious little one, or helping a child accomplish something they’ve been trying to do like taking first steps, mastering the potty, getting their own shoes on, or learning to pump their legs and make the swing go. It’s seeing a child’s face as they discover and explore the wonders of nature. It’s teaching them how to plant a seed the right way and watching kids even as young as one be able to do it on their own with just a few words of advice. Then watching their awe and wonder as that seed germinates. It’s seeing them taste a fresh picked fruit or vegetable for the first time that they grew themselves. It’s teaching them to wash and prepare food for their own meals and seeing the pride on their faces. It’s knowing that they trust you and can come to you for help. It’s teaching them the skills they need to succeed when they leave you, like math, science, reading, and especially social skills that they will need to survive in our world. We are teaching by example, so we need to choose our words and actions carefully. Kids need to know that it’s okay not to be perfect and they need to know that there is good in them.
I love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else with my time. In 1995 when my husband and daughter and I moved to town, we didn’t know a soul. So I decided to stay home with our daughter. A few months later the neighbor asked me to watch her baby boy while she went to her new job. After a few days I realized that what he did at my house all day was super important. So I bought some books and did some studying about how I could be a great child care provider. I put my business plans in place and got a state license. As I got a few more kids, I started to work on my CDA (Child Development Associate) so I could understand how to be the best provider that I could be. By the way it made me a better mother too. And here I am today, still doing it because I love it so much. I have kept over 70 kids and each one holds a special place in my heart. But it all started with one baby boy and a calling by God to be my own unique kind of provider. The truth is, the kids are the gift to me. They have taught me and changed me and made me a better person.

Peace in the Garden

Baby Tomatoes

Baby Tomatoes

The kids come back tomorrow. I’ve been off work for a 17 day vacation, the longest I’ve ever been off in my life. Today is Memorial Day, so my mind is full of the chaos in my life right now and my great appreciation for those who gave their lives for my freedom. I’ve been home from our trip for 5 days and I’ve gone out each morning to make some progress on the encroaching weeds that tried to take over while we were gone. But today is different. Today it’s not hot. Today I’m not rushed. Today I stop to discover the amazingness that is the garden and I remember why I love it here. I remember what I’m growing it for. And I remember the joy I find here. I know there are a load of radishes that need to be picked, but I’m waiting for tomorrow so the kids can pick them. I know they’ll be so excited. I also notice several crowns of broccoli at the ready so I’m imagining broccoli and radishes as side dishes for lunch tomorrow. They will love that. It’s also cheese quesadilla day and my cheese quesadillas are world famous in the daycare set around here. So lunch is planned and everyone will love it. I miss my kids. I miss their smiles and their faces and their personalities. Caring for kids is what I was born for and it makes my soul complete.

As I’m making my way from weed to weed and thinking about the seed heads of grass that are hanging over my beds in the fence line, quickly drying out and getting ready to spill their pretty little seeds into my dirt so they can grow. It feels like they are trying to get me. But I stop thinking about the satisfaction their extinction would bring to me and instead look at the progress that my little garden has made even in these last 5 days. I notice that squashes are flowering, tomato plants have baby fruits on them, and my flowers are starting to flower. I have missed the wonder of this when I could only see the big picture and all the work there was to be done. So I stop weeding and sit down. My cat walks over and brushes against me with quiet tenderness. She calms me even more. I stop to listen to the soft breeze that is blowing through the leaves, and I hear the cooing of a dove in the trees across the way. And my soul starts to hear what the garden is saying. Listen it says, just listen. Within a minute or two I hear the voice of God whispering quietly in my soul. Tears come to my eyes. Questions I’ve been asking God are being answered. Peace washes over me. I am comforted.   I notice myself breathing deeper and more slowly. I notice my senses more as the worry that dulls them fades away. There are some HUGE changes going on in my life right now and frankly they are terrifying, but I know one thing is truer than true. God loves me and He has my back. He’s holding my hand. He’s walking with me. And He has a plan for something good for me.

He’s a good God and as I tell Him that in my heart, the blue heron that lives along the creek flies right over the top of my head about 10 feet above. It’s a wink from my Savior letting me know that He loves me. And that everything is going to be