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).

And so the seeding begins!

Taking in some morning sunshine

Though winds blew briskly Tuesday afternoon, thoughts of early spring warmed our inner green thumb during the garden club kickoff at Stanley Elementary’s after school program. With the eager assistance of several students from grades 2-5, Cece and I helped participants plant our first crops of the growing season. Children took turns filling trays with rich, crumbly soil, then carefully placed the tiny seeds of vegetables such as broccoli and kohlrabi (the green, alien-looking plant pictured at the very top of this blog) and herbs like chives and dill into shallow holes made by the gentle push of a finger.

All seeded!

Also in the planting mix were some Brussels sprouts, giant parsley, and cilantro. These seeds were a bit bigger than those of the broccoli and kohlrabi, but still pretty small, requiring careful holding and placement into the soil. Seeded trays were watered and labeled by the students, then placed on a growing rack set beside the large, south-facing windows of the school’s cafeteria, which will allow warm rays of sunshine to fall upon the soil and baby leaves of young plants.

Loading the plant stand

When the weather warms up enough to begin planting crops outdoors, we will transplant the vegetables into the garden beds so they will have plenty of room to spread their roots and grow up into strong, bountiful plants. With our wet soil conditions from this past winter’s snowstorms, we don’t expect to harvest much of anything before May. But with all the hard work that goes into preparing and maintaining the garden will come many super fresh, homegrown rewards!


Images by Rebekah Carter (2011). For this year’s growing season, we will be using seeds purchased from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Fedco Co-op Garden Supplies.