First Outdoor Planting @ Stanley

Yesterday was the perfect occasion to start our outdoor garden work; the weather was mild and sunny, and the kids could hardly wait to fill up some of our empty garden beds with new plant life. But first, we checked on our indoor trays, which are sprouting up nicely. We even have some true leaves on a few varieties!

Once outside, we turned our hands into instant cultivators, gently swirling our fingers in the garden beds to loosen or aerate (add air to) the soil. We then interplanted (planted more than one crop in the same row or bed) some Easter Egg radishes with Mokum carrots. We decided to plant the radishes and carrots together since we know the radishes will mature (be ready for harvesting) long before the carrots. In about a month we’ll pull out the radishes, giving the carrots extra space as they grow.

We also filled a bed with Sugar Ann snap peas, a favorite early crop amongst the kids. To help increase our snap pea yield (the amount we harvest) and promote soil fertility (the ability of the soil to provide nutrients to the plants), we inoculated our peas with a powdery bacteria called rhizobium (pronounced “rye-zoh-bee-um”). Together, the rhizobium and peas create a mutualistic relationship, which simply means they help each other out. In this case, the peas get nitrogen from the bacteria, held in nodules on the pea roots, while the bacteria get starch (food for the rhizobium) from the pea roots. Even better, whatever nitrogen the peas don’t use up is left in the garden bed for other crops planted later in the season.

The Nitrogen Cycle

The diagram above shows how nitrogen moves between the atmosphere and the earth. Volcanic eruptions and pollution release nitrogen gas into the air that must be “fixed” by lightning or bacteria in the soil; once deposited in the ground by rain and snow, this nitrogen is converted into inorganic nitrogen compounds like ammonia and ammonium. The plants are then able to use these new forms of nitrogen to create protein to be eaten by animals (don’t forget, humans are animals, too!), providing them with amino acids needed for many bodily processes. Nitrogen is also deposited into soil by the decomposition or breakdown of organic plant and animal wastes and released back into the atmosphere by denitrifying bacteria.

Opening up to the warmer weather

Before we left for the evening, a few of the kids stuck around to help Cece and I replant broccoli since our original “broccoli” trays are actually full of Chinese cabbage sprouts. With a whole tray filled up, we should have no shortage of these little green trees come late spring.

Next week, we’ll start eggplant, beet, and pepper seeds indoors for transplanting later this spring.


The Nitrogen Cycle diagram was created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and used via Wikipedia (“Nitrogen Cycle”). All other images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

Searching for Signs of Spring

Caring for our newly-sprouted dicots (plants with two embryonic leaves)

This is a very exciting time of the year for any New Englander with a green thumb, including some of our city’s youngest gardeners found at Stanley Elementary. With most of the snow melted away, a walk around our garden beds quickly tells us that Old Man Winter has left behind beautiful, moist earth that will soon become home to many seeds and transplants.¬† Furthering our excitement was the discovery of tiny sprouts in our Chinese cabbage*, Brussels sprouts, and kohlrabi trays this past Tuesday, just one week after planting them!

To get reacquainted with our garden space, Cece and I took the kids outside for a bit of exploration. Using our five senses- sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell- the children discovered signs of new life and remnants of last fall’s harvest.

Kids roamed the space freely, hearing the calls of birds, the crunching of dry grasses below our feet, and the passing of rush-hour trains shuttling workers out of the city and back home to the suburbs. The scent of damp earth- a sweet, grassy smell- filled our noses and reminded us of the need to soon prepare our beds for planting.

We felt the softness of Lamb’s ear and vibrant green and brown mosses scattered around the marsh.

We saw evidence of last year’s bounty, including the dried leaves, flowers and seed pods¬† of hydrangea bushes (we also saw signs of new life- buds, seen above), Brussels sprout stalks, and the papery, yellow aftermath of unharvested cherry tomatoes.

So it seems easy enough to see, hear, touch, and smell the signs of spring, but how did we taste life, you ask? Students had no trouble finding both spicy chives and flavorful thyme (above, right) to sample!

Perhaps most telling of spring’s arrival was our discovery of purple and white crocuses beside the garden beds!

While we’ll continue to look for the tell-tale signs of spring in the garden, this activity can continue just about anywhere outside. What signs of spring have you seen in your yard and neighborhood?


*We received mislabeled seeds; what we thought was broccoli was actually Chinese cabbage! We will plant some broccoli next week but keep the cabbage, too.

Images by Rebekah Carter (2011).

Creamy Cole Slaw @ the Chill Zone

Shredding, grating, and stirring away

Cabbage and carrots tossed in a creamy and tangy dressing were the feature of last weekend’s Chill Zone session. Cece and I helped kids shred cabbage, grate carrots and onion, and measure and mix ingredients for this no-cook side dish. Everyone tried at least a taste of the finished slaw, and some kids took a pint home to share with family. While we prepped, we discussed why cabbage and its relatives are called “cruciferous” vegetables and quizzed kids on what parts of plants (i.e. leaf, flower, fruit, seed, bark, stem, root) we use as particular spices and herbs in cooking.

Making this slaw at home is as easy as combining the ingredients below:

Creamy Cole Slaw

  • 1 head of green cabbage, shredded
  • 2 large carrots, grated

To be tossed in this sauce (mix all ingredients thoroughly):

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 tbsp sour cream
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1-2 tbsp onion, grated*
  • 1-2 tbsp sugar*
  • 1 tbsp dijon mustard*
  • 1 tbsp celery seed, or to taste*
  • salt to taste

*Adjustments made by Healthy Waltham

After cooking and cleaning, a couple of kids stuck around to help plant seeds for our windowsill herb garden, featuring dill, basil, cilantro, chives, and parsley. These plants will be living in my kitchen window until we can move them into our Healthy Waltham office, which is conveniently located in the same building as the Chill Zone. Hopefully we will begin to see sprouts in the coming days!



Saturday, March 12th, 2011 from 1-3PM

—–> Vegetable Stir Fry

Images by Rebekah Carter (2011). Recipe courtesy of Bobby Flay from the Food Network. For more information on the Chill Zone or how to get involved, please visit their website or contact Recreation Supervisor Kathy Gross.

Waltham Butternut Squash Soup

As part of our participation in Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! initiative, Healthy Waltham and Northeast Elementary School students worked together to create a delicious soup recipe for the Recipes for Healthy Kids Challenge, now posted on its website. To submit a recipe into the competition, students had to create a nutritious dish featuring one of three specific food groups: whole grains, dark green or orange vegetables, or dried beans and peas. Home to the well-known and very-orange Waltham Butternut Squash, the final decision on what to cook up was a no-brainer!

Photo by Maria DiMaggio (2010).

Keep your eyes peeled for more healthy recipes on our blog in the coming weeks!


The Recipes for Healthy Kids banner image used via their website:

Are Worms Sensitive to Light?

Last week at McDevitt Middle School, students in Mrs. Murray’s science Cluster Challenge designed simple experiments to find out if worms are sensitive to light. Students worked alone and in groups to develop a hypothesis (a predicted result), an experimental procedure (a means of testing a hypothesis), and a conclusion (what was observed during the experiment and possible causes of the result).

Students used classroom materials such as empty boxes, black and brown construction paper, and flashlights to see what happens when worms are placed in light or dark conditions but given the option to move between the two constructed environments. Each experiment used a sample size (the number of things being observed or tested in a scientific study) of 6-10 different worms in order to ensure results that better represent typical behavior of the general red wiggler population (the total number of organisms for a defined area or group; can be very specific, like 4th grade students at Northeast Elementary, or very broad, like all Waltham students under the age of 18).

After trying several techniques to see if the worms liked or disliked being exposed to light, students concluded that worms are definitely sensitive to light. They almost always tried to slither into darkness when under the flashlight! Even when they were simply sitting on a table, the worms tried whatever they could to escape light, as you can see in the picture below.

Why might worms be so sensitive to light? Since we know that worms need their skin to stay nice and moist so they can breathe, it makes sense that worms feel threatened by light exposure that could potentially heat them up and dry them out. Their reaction (to slither into darkness) is a survival mechanism, or a behavior intended to protect themselves against predators or threatening aspects of their natural environment, such as sunlight.


Why do you think they are wrapping around each other in the petri (pronounced "pee-tree") dish?

Despite annoying them for a little while, no worms were harmed in our experiment. Images by Rebekah Carter (2011).