A new semester recently started at Green Chimneys and with that a new group of students. Coming back after a month’s absence (a two week vacation and two hurricanes) its time to get into the fall chores and get to learn about a new group of students. This fall’s group will be bittersweet, like the season, as I will only be working with them through Thanksgiving. After that I will be taking a break until the spring and then hopefully back with the kids.
But until then there is lots to do in the garden. Today should be spent taking down the tomato plants, which have given up the ghost to leaf spot and weather conditions that vacillated between desert and flood. One of my new charges, Ben, was happy to have gotten the job and wanted to be a good worker.
“I will be a good worker for you, Mr. Keller. That way I can earn my money.”
So we started slow, cutting the stalks off the diseased plants. I showed Ben two different examples of tomatoes: one that had a healthy vine and the other with one that was diseased. At first he couldn’t articulate the differences but a bit of prodding got him on the right track.
My next student, Bill, was more observant but he told me he had never eaten a tomato before. “Bill you must have eaten tomatoes before in some form. Do you like Italian food?”
“I love spaghetti,” he replied. “Well tomatoes are often used in the sauce,” I said. I then picked up a basil leaf that we plant in between the tomato plants and rubbed the basil under his nose. “Do you know this smell?”
“I think so but I don’t know from where,” he said. “How about pizza?” I then told him to rub the basil under his nose and eat a cherry tomato at the same time. He looked at me strangely but then ate the fruit. He started to smile and agreed that it tasted like pizza and the tomatoes were really good. (I felt as if I was having a “Green Eggs and Ham,” moment with him.") I told Bill that he could eat as many of the cherry tomatoes that he wanted to. With that incentive he started to prune with greater urgency, taking a tomato every time he cut off a stalk and placed it into a garbage bag (we throw out all diseased plants rather than put them into the compost heap.)
My next student was off at a special meeting so I walked back to the garden. When I got there a pack of pre-schoolers were walking around with their teachers looking at the garden. I asked them if they would like to do something special and they all said yes.
I walked them around one of the corners of the herb garden by our large patch of wooly thyme. I then told them to take both of their hands, rub the thyme and then smell their fingers. They first couldn’t get enough of rubbing as the soft, wool-like plant tickled their fingers. Then they smelled their fingers and started to giggle.
Next to the wooly thyme is our mint patch so I broke off a stem and gave a leaf to each child and told them to smell it. “It smells like gum,” said one. “Yeah, can we eat it?” asked another.
I told them that they could and then I broke off a small branch and started to tickle each of their noses. “Tickle my nose again!” insisted a small, bespeckled girl. I have never had such a receptive audience. I then showed them sunflowers, one that was pollinated and the other that was not, and explained how seeds were make. I cut open each flower showing them the difference between the two.
“You see each of these holes? Each used to hold a seed as was a little bed. Each seed could grow into a plant that was this tall, “ I said pointing as some of our sunflowers that were 10 feet high. The children were amazed that such a tiny seed could grow into a much larger plant. I gave each child a seed and told them to put it into the ground next spring. Each held out a tiny hand wanting a seed. I placed one in each hand and hoped that it was not the only seed that would bear fruit in the future.