First Journalist Report


Saturday in the Garden
by Talya Klinger

Saturday, September 26, was a big day for Dirt to Dinner and for a particular Green June Beetle (Cotinis Nitida), who was the day’s initially Unidentifiable Bug Talking Object.

Seed_FloatThe pea seed carrier competition was on. Everyone worked hard to make seed carriers that could float on water for 5 minutes, move 2 feet horizontally on their own, and fly from the top of the play structure.  A popular creation idea for floating seeds was to press peas into Styrofoam balls, and then release them into the competition buckets.  Movement and flight were typically accomplished simultaneously with one creation serving two purposes. Many participants’ creations were balloons filled with air , but left untied, so the seeds could easily release. To disperse the peas, people let their creations fly from the top of the play structure.  Others let their balloons explode, enabling their seeds to disperse with a blast.

Seedy_GranolaIn the kitchen, kids were making seedy granola.  Nuts, seeds, dried fruit (but not raisins fortunately enough!), and maple syrup were combined and baked. As a result, many of us are enjoying delicious homemade granola for breakfast and snacks this week.

PepperSeedsJuli was also cooking up a storm, along with some other parents. Lunch was a spicy pasta with veggies in it and cheese  on top. Tomatoes and peppers had to be harvested to make the sauce. Fortunately, we had learned a whole lot about pepper seeds earlier in the morning, thanks to S. Almost as soon as she arrived, she began  counting pepper seeds. She estimated that the pepper plant in the backyard has 852 seeds on it, using the seeds of one pepper and some multiplication. However many seeds it has, it sure made for a delicious lunch!

AmaranthPasta wasn’t the only grain product to rule the day. Actually, the official grain of the day was amaranth, a grain domesticated in Central America. The Aztecs called it Huautli. Mackenzie boiled some up, giving us honey to drizzle over it.

RecycledTomatoPlantsAnd if you think the day was just about seeds and grains, then you didn’t notice the dead tomato plant removal going on at the back of the garden just after lunch. Because of a lot of cutting, pulling, and hauling, the big pink wheelbarrow was filled with the stalks of summer’s tomato crop. The bed is now ready for winter’s spinach. If anybody has any spinach salad recipes, we should be ready to sample them in a couple of months.

Our first Dirt to Dinner of Fall 2009 was the perfect recipe of sunshine, friends, songs, bugs, dirt, worms, seeds, plants, and food!

Inside A Seed

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Broad Bean Seed and Almond Nut

Broad Bean Seed and Almond Nut

Today in Open Garden time we dissected Broad Bean seeds and almonds to examine the structures you can find inside a seed. Here’s a quick rundown of the process for those of you who weren’t able to be with us today.

We used:

  • Several pods of Broad Beans
  • Almonds
  • Magnifers
  • Food dye
  • Towels for blotting dye
  • Tweezers

We first slit open the pods to examine the structures that hold and protect the seeds. You can see a picture of an almond “fruit” that would hold the almond “seed” you are familiar with here.

Inside a Broad Bean

Inside a Broad Bean

We examined the outer casing of the seed and the nut, called the “seed coat,” noting the differences, then carefully slit the seed coat on the long side of the seed or nut. That allowed us to carefully pry apart both the bean and the almond.

Here’s what we found inside the Broad Bean. One side came away clean and the other side has the plant embryo attached to it.

Embryonic Leaves Inside the Broad Bean Seed

Embryonic Leaves Inside the Broad Bean Seed

It wasn’t as easy to see things as we had hoped so we added a little bit of food dye to bring out the contrast. (Thanks for the tip, Mary!)

Look carefully. Can you see the tiny “seed leaves” folded up at the tip of the seed?

Embryonic Almond Bits

Embryonic Almond Bits

Here’s what the almond looked like.

Most of what you see is the cotyledon, the food stored inside the seed for the emerging plant to live on. That’s what makes seeds such nutritious food.

Which ones will you compare?

Which ones will you compare?

You can experiment at home with different kinds of seeds and see which ones give you the best view of their internal workings. If you’d like to share your results here on the blog, you can do that too.

Opening the Fall Program

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Squirrel o' Lantern

Squirrel o' Lantern

Today was the Open House for the new Fall 09 Dirt to Dinner program. We focused on three things. Getting to know one another and the garden. A chance to get more familiar with the different responsibilities we’ll each be taking on in the garden this session. And an exploration of some of the seeds that are available in the garden and that we will use this Fall to plant both here and at home.

During today’s Seed Hunt, kids spotted seeds in the garden including onion, celery, edamame, green bean, pumpkin, corn, grass, dandelion, lettuce, potato, lemon, cucumber, watermelon, tuscan melon, tomato, tomatillo, pepper, squash, pea, sunflower and “bird seed.” How many of them could you identify? We’ll be saving seed from many of these varieties to use again next year. I’ve already planted some of the celery seed we saved and hope to see it sprouting this week.

Many of the kids planted seeds to take home with them, made seed jars to watch sprout and tried several varieties of cucumber and melons–while noticing that their seeds all look very much the same. Sometimes it’s easier to tell which plants belong to the same family by looking at their seeds than it is by looking at the finished fruits.

Chard Seeds?

Chard Seeds?

One enterprising student matched up a number of the seeds by plant family and noticed that it’s almost impossible to tell the difference between seeds for chard and seeds for beets. In fact, Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking says “Chard is the name given to varieties of the beet, Beta vulgaris, that have been selected for thick, meaty leaf stalks (subspecies cicla) rather than their roots.”

One of my highlights of the day was hunting through the finished compost pile with one new young gardener intent on checking out the various bugs we found there. I was also impressed with the spontaneous way the kids joined in the potato harvest. We’ll be saving many of the potatoes they planted today through the winter to be used as seed potatoes in the early spring.

Fall Starts


I started some new seedlings for the Dirt to Dinner participants to plant in their home gardens, if they are doing them this Fall. I started a mix of three different varieties of Broccoli and had a heck of a time getting any Early Dell Celery or Snowball Cauliflower to come up. But we went through a heat wave right after I planted, so that may have been the problem. It’s worth trying agin.

Tonight I started:

KaleA Japanese spinach called “Oriental Giant,”
“Bloomsdale” spinach,
Orange Fantasia” chard, which came up beautifully in the Spring and was promptly devoured down to it’s last root by squirrels,
A specialty salad green called “Gala” mache (never tried this one, let me know if it does well for you),
Something the kids would call ‘Dinosaur’ kale that says “Covolo Laciniato Nero Di Toscana Precoce” which I think means “Curly black kale from Tuscany,” but that’s just a guess,
Some more standard looking kale called “True Siberian,”
More Snowball cauliflower,
And the rest of the seed I had for the “Early Dell” celery.

It was luxurious having fresh celery available all Winter long last year and I actually saved seed from the plants we grew. I tried starting some of that along with the Early Dell. I have no idea if it will do well. I found the plant label from last year and it just says “Celery” so no idea if it is a hybrid that might not breed true. Put that one under the category of Experiment! :-)

In the garden we have:

some carrots tucked here and there trying to hide from the creatures that come in the night and dig them up,
some peas just starting,
turnips that could really stand to be thinned,
drying beans for soups this Winter,
sunflowers waiting for us to dry and husk the heads,
onions that still need to be pulled,
blue potatoes that are about ready to come out,
melons, pumpkins and gourds that have been growing all summer
and still more tomatoes!

End of the Season

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Ready-to-GrowThe garden is quiet now that the last session of the Spring 09 Dirt to Dinner project is done.

Real-World Wide Web

Real-World Wide Web

We explored the interconnectedness of the food webs we participate in every day. Latecomers spent part of the afternoon asking why we all had on nametages that said things like “Flowers,” “Oak Tree,” “Earthworms” and “Cougar.”

We also dug the potatoes that have been growing in the black nursery cloth circles since the start of the program. The plants had long ago bloomed and were mostly ready for us.

Washing the Dirt Off Dinner

Washing the Dirt Off Dinner

There were lots of the red-skinned potatoes with a blush color inside. I hope the folks at Common Ground know what they were because we liked them and they might work for next year’s Red White and Blue Potato Salad. They kept their color and held up nicely when we cooked them for the Balsamic Green Beans and Potatoes.

Some of the kids chose to pull the plants with their *many* green tomatoes and take them home to hang for ripening.

Roma Tomato Prepped for Dry Hanging

Roma Tomato Prepped for Dry Hanging

We are experimenting with three or four different ways to ripen green tomatoes and I’m curious to see what works best. Right now my favorite is to put them into a paper bag with a ripe apple or tomato and to let them redden that way. We are testing the plant hanging method, sunny window sills, newspaper wrapping and apple-in-a-bag. We’ll let you know how it comes out!

We also stabilized the gourd trellis and planted the gourds, picked the Principe Borghese and Costaluto Genovese tomatoes that were ready and explored the Ice Box watermelon ripening that has happened so far. (Not there yet, but close and already quite tasty!)

Everyone Loves the Eating Part!

Everyone Loves the Eating Part!

Today’s lunch included Balsamic Green Beans and Potaotes, Red White and Blue Potato Salad, Spinach Salad with Goat Cheese, Egg Salad, Tomato Basil Mozzarella, Roasted Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa.

Thank you to everyone who made this year’s program possible, including our generous donors at Seeds of Change, The National Gardening Association Seed Donation Program, the generous and helpful folks at Bauer Lumber and Mark Lassen at Lassen Construction.