Kids Garden

This spring the kids and Eric planted a little mini garden in the front near the house. Rose was heavily invested in all the planning work that went into it, being the sort of nerdy kid who loves making lists and grids and so on.

All through the spring and summer the kids visited their garden daily and watched its progress. Help with weeding and maintenance was less enthusiastic, but they did get involved to a small degree. In total they planted 8 veggies plus a small corn field which you can see in the tall grass behind them.

You can also see the dry, dead grass all around the little garden, which is typical of what everything in this area looks like thanks to the severe drought conditions we're experiencing this summer. You couldn't tell just from this photo but the tall grass in the back hasn't been mowed all season which is very unusual as we typically need to bush hog it at least once before mid-summer or it grows out of control.

Of course the best part of a veggie garden is harvesting! My favorite part is the look of pride on Rose's face.

Hot Harvest Day with a Helper

It's a swelteringly humid day. Despite the heavy rain this morning, things didn't cool off much.

The end of a long day is brightened by a little helper who takes on the task of bringing in the harvest extras to our kitchen. Normally I try to keep the kids out of Eric's way on his busiest day of the week, but today Sylvia asks for a special chance to help out.

And help she did. You know Sylvia's growing up when she does more direction-following than climbing, jumping or randomly hitting objects with sticks she's picked up off the ground.

Now I just have to figure out what to do with all these tomatoes...

Garden School: Year Two

Garden school is back again this year.  Last year, it was mostly about bringing activities to the garden for Rose to do while I worked. This year, there has been quite a bit more interest from her in actually helping out, so I needed an activity that she could do. I got her started on some hand weeding as in my mind that seemed like a good fit for her. Grabbing and pulling something out of its original place and then throwing it somewhere else - is that not a natural kid activity?

Having grown up a city boy I don't have any background in raising a farm child, so I'm totally guessing much of the time. Unfortunately, hand weeding quickly grew monotonous and tiring for Rose, and the whining began in short order. I happened to be hoeing at the time and Rose wanted to try it, so I gave her my lightest hoe, which turned out to be just right for small hands.

She happily (and effectively) hoed an entire row of zucchini all by herself and then we did a row of lettuce together. So great was her enthusiasm that I promised I would save some hoeing for her for our next Garden School day.

Over the years I've often thought about a particular John Updike poem while hoeing, and have considered posting it many times. My day with Rose brought it to mind again but with an added perspective.


I sometimes fear the younger generation will be deprived
    of the pleasures of hoeing;
    there is no knowing
how many souls have been formed by this simple exercise.

The dry earth like a great scab breaks, revealing
    moist-dark loam—
    the pea-root's home,
a fertile wound perpetually healing.

How neatly the green weeds go under!
    The blade chops the earth new.
    Ignorant the wise boy who
has never rendered thus the world fecunder.

Seeing Rose take so quickly and naturally to hoeing gives another meaning to Updike's "younger generation" that I had never before considered. I had assumed before that he was simply writing about the paradigm shift in farming that happened in the first half of the 20th century, with increasing mechanization and the decline of hand tools like the hoe.

Now I wonder if hoeing was in fact a common child's activity on the farm, an introductory task that got the little ones out and involved in the farm family's primary economy. The era of massive farms controlled by fewer and fewer groups is relatively new, before that and stretching back thousands of years farming was a small scale family business, one that every member of the family participated in as soon as they were physically able. Was hoeing one of the early tasks of a farm kid?

I would be happy to hear from any historians (or grown up farm kids) who might know the answer, but to me it certainly seems like a great activity for the "younger generation" to do, both as an introduction to life on the farm, and as the meditative exercise in nature that Updike eulogizes.

Garden School

With school out, our childcare arrangements have gotten a bit more complicated. Sylvia is in daycare part-time to cover some of Michelle's work schedule, but alternating Fridays have left a gap this summer, with both Michelle and me working, but only one of two kids being looked after. The solution: those Fridays become take your daughter to work day. The first time we tried it I was quite apprehensive, but as we packed Rose's backpack with activities and snacks she said (with a huge smile), "this is just like going to school!" And so "Garden School" was born.

After a bit of helping (picking beans, pulling weeds, etc), she settles into her little chair and pulls out some puzzles or drawing materials from her bag. Then there's usually a break for a snack and some garden exploring (Are there any cherry tomatoes yet? How tall is the corn? What plant is that?), all while talking my ear off in classic Rose fashion.

Garden School set up: kiddie Muskoka chair and travel activity table (from the car). Good for reading, drawing and snacking.

It makes for a very slow day overall as I can't fully concentrate on my tasks and try my best to avoid trips back to the house or the barn (which would involve walking at Rose dawdle speed, the slowest walking know to humankind) , but they have been some of my most enjoyable times in the garden.

Rose has been my little garden buddy for years now, ever since I used to pop her in a sling and tend to the container garden on the back deck of our Toronto apartment. We would chat about the various plants I was watering and she would reach out and grab little snacks for herself like a bean or basil leaf.

My garden helper in our Toronto days, circa 2010.

Our work and childcare schedules feel like they're always in flux, as the kids grow older and Michelle and I adjust (and mostly increase) our respective work loads. I'm not sure if Garden School will be part of the plan next summer, as from a practical point of view Michelle working Fridays means I typically work one of the days of the weekend to make up the lost time, and that can be exhausting for both of us. Still, what started out as a inefficient, make-shift solution to a scheduling problem has become a lovely way to spend the day in my favorite place with one of my favorite people.

Potatoes: A Family Affair

Last spring we planted a test patch of potatoes and it turned into a lovely family afternoon out in the garden, teaching Rose how to carefully place the cut and prepped potatoes in the ground to sprout and teaching Sylvia... how not to trample things. This year Eric said, "I really want to turn this into a family tradition," which sounded like a great idea.

Put the camera away, Mom, can't you see we're trying to fight over who gets to drive this thing?.

Not quite the fun family activity we were hoping for. Instead Sylvia continued her singular toddler quest to find the most dangerous activity at any given moment and Rose was mostly annoyed at me for trying to capture the magic on camera.

Good times aside, the work still had to get done. Props to Eric and Rose for getting every last potato planted while I chased Sylvia around.

Rose was happier not to have to share the mower.

Good job Team BarnCo!

Potatoes are in!


Seedlings are outgrowing their seed trays and graduating to the field.

Broccoli and lettuce, ready to be transplanted.

The toddler who ran roughshod through the garden last year is now learning to gently put the seedlings into the soil. Hopefully this year we'll have another enthusiastic little helper along with her big sister.

Learning how to transplant the lettuce.