Pea Shoots and Microgreens

One of the hardest things about gardening with kids is that there is no real “immediate gratification” for their work. Plants take time. While it’s a great life lesson to learn, it can be a challenge. Sometimes, I like to give classes a quick win, and microgreens are perfect for just that.

Microgreens are just the tender young shoots from certain plants. My favorite microgreens are black oil sunflower shoots. They’re nutty and interesting and pack a nutritional punch. Micro-cilantro is also delicious.

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I worked with a third grade class last week to plant pea shoots. I ordered field peas bred specifically for shoots from Johnny’s. After they arrived, I poured them into a clean bucket and let them soak in water for 24 hours before the girls were scheduled to plant. When the girls got to my classroom, they scooped a few shovels full of an organic potting soil into flat greenhouse trays, making sure that the soil was level and breaking up any clumps that they saw. Finally, they took handfuls of soaked peas and spread them out in a thick layer over the soil.

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A week later, and voila! We have pea shoots. They taste bright and fresh, like someone injected the flavor of snap peas into a crisp spring lettuce. My favorite way to eat pea shoots (other than straight out of the trays) is with pasta. I mix the shoots into the pasta with shredded Parmesan cheese and lemon juice.

I like to harvest them when they have several sets of open leaves. They weren’t quite there this morning, but spring break begins tomorrow, so I wanted the girls to have an opportunity to sample their hard work. They ate their pea shoots my favorite way… straight out of the tray.

These kinds of projects are a great way to bring a little gardening indoors during the cold, winter months. (Or any time!) It’s also perfect for a classroom setting, because students can observe the growing process and quickly see the results, even if you don’t have access to an outdoor garden space.

Have you ever tried microgreens? What are some of your favorites?

Tasting Tuesday

A Tasting Tuesday harvest of Japanese turnips waiting to go to the dining hall

A Tasting Tuesday harvest of Japanese turnips waiting to go to the dining hall

Kids can learn all kinds of things from gardening. I truly believe that gardening isn’t the end-point of a lesson, but rather a lens for learning all kinds of other things in any subject on the planet. We use the school farm at Hutchison to teach history, foreign languages, geometry, engineering, poetry, and many other topics seemingly unrelated to the mechanics of making a seed grow. We also use the farm to teach our younger girls about bravery and being open to new things.

When kids take part in growing a vegetable, or any plant for that matter, they become emotionally connected to it. Growing food gives them ownership. They grew it. They harvested it. They want to know what is going to happen to it, and they definitely want a say in it.

Me on Tasting Tuesday

Me on Tasting Tuesday

At Hutchison, I developed a program called Tasting Tuesday. It gives girls in pre-K through 4th grade an opportunity to bring their crops from farm to table. Most weeks, girls help harvest one of our garden crops and deliver it to the dining hall where our chef turns it into something delicious. On Tuesdays, I take that culinary creation around the dining hall during lunch time, where the girls have the opportunity to try it.

Every single week, I see the pickiest of eaters try new vegetables, because it came out of the garden. I see girls who normally wouldn’t touch something green with a ten foot pole excitedly tell girls in other classes that their class helped grow this food so everyone better eat it. I can’t tell you how many parents have come up to me and said something like, “My daughter doesn’t eat vegetables, but because of Tasting Tuesday, she now eats kale.”

When kids have the opportunity to become invested in their food, and when they have a say in what’s done with it, they are usually far more open to trying it.

The girls at Hutchison take their role in feedback just as seriously as their role in harvesting. Every Tasting Tuesday, the girls who try the featured dish let me know if they like it or not. I celebrate with them when they find a new vegetable that they enjoy. When they tell me that they don’t like something, I always tell them that it’s okay, and I am just so proud of them for trying something new. Often, when a girl at a lunch table tries something and enjoys it, her reaction is enough to get the other girls to try it, too. Bravery is contagious. The love of good food is contagious.

They may not get tested on this subject, but learning to be open to new experiences is one of the best lessons that a kid can get. I love that every single week, the girls get to use food from the farm to learn a little more about themselves.

A Tasting Tuesday delivery of kohlrabi on its way to the dining hall!

A Tasting Tuesday delivery of kohlrabi on its way to the dining hall!

The girls LOVE telling Chef exactly what they think should happen with their harvests. This crate of kohlrabi became a giant bowl of kohlrabi cole slaw.

The girls LOVE telling Chef exactly what they think should happen with their harvests. This crate of kohlrabi became a giant bowl of kohlrabi cole slaw.

The Cheeseburger Challenge

Third grade girls at Hutchison School study map skills. They also love lunchtime. We combined these two activities for a cool project to teach about where our food comes from.

First, we examined the lunch menu, and we chose a meal to research. Cheeseburgers are a perennial favorite, so I tried to track down every step that the ingredients of a cheeseburger took before it got to our plates.

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First of all, it’s harder than you might think to find out where our food comes from. I tracked down sources for as many ingredients as I could, and for some of them, I just had to use my best guess. During this process, the girls learned that most ingredients don’t go straight from a farm to their lunch plate. They make stops at processing plants, wholesalers, distribution centers. They stop to get washed, packaged, labeled, and sometimes they make another stop to get re-packaged and re-labeled.

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The girls added up the miles for all of these different stops that I discovered. We found that a plain cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato likely traveled over 13,000 miles before it got to us. We then tried to see what 13,000 looked like in a smaller scale. Using their map skills, they tied together pieces of yarn that represented the different legs of their lunch’s journey. Even when one inch of yarn represented twenty miles, their string went out my classroom door, and up, down, and around our hallways. We then examined the pieces of yarn that were cut to represent potential miles traveled in a local food system. All stretched out, the yarn didn’t even leave my classroom.

The great thing about this project is that it led to more questions. We debriefed for over thirty minutes as the girls had dozens of questions about how their food system works, and now I wonder where the girls will take these questions next.

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Hello again!

Hey friends!

I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been over a year since I’ve posted anything. I’ve been busy doing things like having a baby and trying to catch up on some sweet, precious, elusive sleep. However, I’ve got a calendar of posts coming your way soon. Until then, check out this video of yours truly showing off our wonderful school garden at Hutchison School.

Happy growing,

Mary Riddle

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Solar Powered Girl Power

Have you ever been so bowled over by the brilliance of a teen that it leaves you speechless?

This past fall, I was busily tucking tiny kale seeds in to the warm soil of the Hutchison farm, when a freshman girl wandered in through the gate. 

"Hi, Mrs. Riddle! My name is Elizabeth. I've designed a solar-powered vegetable wash station that will allow us to capture the gray water from the sink into a cylindrical chamber that will clean the water using a small motor and a UV filtration system. Would you like to see it?"

Me: [blink, blink]

"I've created a budget for it and preliminary blueprints."

Me: [jaw falls slightly agape.]

Pulling myself together, I ask her which class this is for, and who's giving her credit for this.

"Oh no," she says, "I'm doing this just for fun."

For fun, I later find out, in between her classes, quiz bowl competitions, and running tech for two school plays, but I digress.

Working with our director of facilities, Elizabeth fine-tuned her idea and got her plan and budget approved. This week, she's coming out to campus (during her summer vacation!) to build her brainchild. I'll show y'all the completed project once she's finished, but I was too excited to keep the lid on this for any longer. 

Here's to brilliant young women! 

 

 

Installing New Bees (In a Kid-Friendly Apiary)

The girls at Hutchison School love their bees. Not only is it their mascot, but the school's resident honeybees play an integral role in the academic programs. Harvesting honey is everyone's highlight, and the girls are fascinated by the intricacies of bee colony life. 

When I started at Hutchison, there were just two hives. The boxes were starting to fall apart, and the bees were showing signs of aggression. I knew I wanted to expand the apiary, help calm some of the bee aggression, and update the bee's lodgings to make it more kid-friendly, but I wasn't sure of the best way to do this. Luckily, my dear friends Rita and Richard Underhill of Peace Bee Farm are bee experts and consultants. Richard is a Master Beekeeper. They came over to Memphis a few weeks back to help me come up with a plan. 

First, we decided to get rid of the ten-frame medium hives and switch the existing colonies over to eight-frame medium hives. Each medium frame of honey weighs about six pounds, so the smaller and lighter we can make our equipment, the better it is for our kid-beekeepers. We also decided to get two new packages of bees, and we ordered eight-frame equipment for them, too. 

The hives arrived first, and one of our third grade classes signed up to come help put the hives together. The girls installed beeswax-coated plastic foundations into wooden frames and painted the hives. 

Next, the bees. We ordered two three-pound packages of Italian honeybees from Bemis Honey Bee Farm in Little Rock, Arkansas. Last Saturday, we drove to Little Rock to go pick them up.

When you order bee packages, they usually come in a small box, like you see below. There's a little cell inside for the queen and her attendants, and a can of corn syrup with holes punctured into it to slowly feed the bees during their journey to their new homes. 

On Sunday, Richard and Rita met me at Hutchison to help install the bee packages and try to diagnose what was going on with those aggressive bees. (More on that later.) Richard also moved the frames from the existing ten-frame hives into the eight-frame hives. 

Here's how we installed the bee packages:

First, we placed the bottom boards of the hives on their platform and then put one box on top of that. We sprayed down six of the frames with a spray bottle containing sugar water, then placed them in the box, leaving a gap in the middle.

Richard spraying new foundation with sugar water

Richard spraying new foundation with sugar water

Leaving a gap to install the bee package

Leaving a gap to install the bee package

Next, we turned our attention to the queen. She was in a little wooden and mesh wire box with a sugar candy plug, topped with a cork. She was definitely sending off some strong pheromones, because her little cage was covered with layers of attendants. We pushed them aside gently to make sure she was okay. She was plump and marked with a yellow dot. 

Richard inspecting the queen cell (covered with attendants!)

Richard inspecting the queen cell (covered with attendants!)

Then, Richard showed me how to place the queen cage in the new hive. We took the cork out of the end of the cage that had the sugar candy plug. We gently probed the candy to make sure that it was soft and pliable enough for the bees to chew through it. Then we placed the cell snugly in between two of the frames at an angle, with the candy facing up. Richard explained that you keep it facing up so that if an attendant bee dies, it doesn't fall down and block the queen's exit from the cage. 

Installing the queen cell at an angle

Installing the queen cell at an angle

Richard removing the sugar can

Richard removing the sugar can

Shaking three pounds of bees into the new hives.

Shaking three pounds of bees into the new hives.

Once the queen was safely ensconced in the hive, we took the syrup can out of the bee package, turned it upside down over the gap in the hive, and shook it like a bottle of Heinz 57 ketchup. The bees came tumbling out into the hive. It took several good shakes!

Then we placed the final two frames into the hives and placed a feeder on top of the hive. We filled the feeder with sugar water to help nourish them while they expend lots of energy building out their new honeycomb. We placed plastic mesh floaters in the sugar water to help the bees access the syrup without drowning, then placed the inner and outer covers directly on top of the feeders. And voila! A new hive is born. 

I'll feed them once a week until they've drawn out their comb. Over the next few weeks, I'll add another brood box, then a queen excluder and a honey super. I opened up the hives today to check and make sure they got the queens out. They did. I noticed an unusually high population of small hive beetles in one of the hives, so I'm keeping an eye on that as well. 

Do any of you keep bees with kids or students? What do you do to make it kid-friendly? 

Happy growing, 

Mary Riddle

Richard Underhill, Master Beekeeper, and the Hutchison Apiary

Richard Underhill, Master Beekeeper, and the Hutchison Apiary

Blini Two Ways

A few weeks ago, an upper school teacher happened to ask me in passing, "Do you know anything about Russia or Russian food?" She was wrapping up a unit in her Comparative Governments class about Russian agriculture, and she wanted to celebrate by making some kind of Russian dish with her students. 

A buttery, fluffy, airy, delectable blin. 

A buttery, fluffy, airy, delectable blin. 

She came to the right person! I studied Russian in a past life, and one of my favorite high school memories is the time our Russian class made blini for Maslenitsa. Maslenitsa is kind of like Russian Orthodox Mardi Gras. It's the time just before Lent when Russians eat all of the butter, eggs, and milk in their homes, because (theoretically) they won't be eating animal products until Easter. Blini are the perfect way to use up those ingredients. They're thin, buttery crepes that are delicious vehicles for equally delicious fillings. I could eat my weight in blini. They're divine. (Note: "blini" is plural. Just one is a "blin.")

The timing of her request was perfect. We spent Thursday afternoon during Maslenitsa week making delicious blini and talking about various Russian Orthodox traditions. 

Well, this teacher's Human Geography class got wind of her Comparative Government's blini celebration, and they were jealous. They wanted to make blini, too. The Human Geography girls weren't studying Russia, but they just so happened to be in their modern agriculture unit and were learning about farm subsidies. Making blini provided a great opportunity to talk about that.

Blini has five ingredients (flour, eggs, sugar, butter, and milk), and they're all heavily subsidized commodities. We worked out the price of the blini batter we made, and it came out to about $7. If you took away farm subsidies, though, the cost of the same bowl of batter jumped to about $22. That's a huge increase!

We made a platter full of blini and sat down to a table of different fillings, both savory and sweet: smoked salmon, sour cream, jams, and honey from our school apiary. Over our meal, we discussed the pros and cons of farm subsidies. Some of the girls came from families that owned farms, and they provided personal perspectives. They noted how subsidies help keep farm families stable and therefore helps regulate our national food supply.

Other perspectives were offered, too. Some girls didn't agree with how farm subsidies were distributed and didn't like that their tax dollars supported that. We also talked about how in a global food marketplace, our system of subsidies makes our food cheaper than food from farms in other countries. That can lead to food insecurity and systemic poverty in already unstable regions of the globe. I love how food can be a catalyst for a variety of conversations and learning experiences.

If you want to make blini with your family, the original recipe from my high school blini making days is below.

Ingredients

2.5 cups flour

4-5 eggs

1/2 cup sugar

14 Tbsp. butter, melted

3-4 cups milk

Directions

Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Stir sugar into the egg yolks, then add milk slowly while stirring. Add a dash of salt and melted hot butter. Add flour very slowly while stirring the mixture and smoothing the batter. Whisk egg whites until they're airy and fluffy, but not stiff. Fold them into the batter. Add about 1/3 cup of the batter to a hot frying pan and circle the pan around to spread the batter evenly over the surface. When the edges appear golden and small bubbles appear in the middle, flip it over and cook another minute or so. No need to add oil to the pan. There is plenty of butter in the batter. 

Serve with smoked salmon, sour cream, and dill for a savory dish, or jam and sour cream for a sweet option. 

Whipping egg whites by hand for true Russian street cred.

Whipping egg whites by hand for true Russian street cred.