I didn't plant vegetables this summer, because I am still recovering from past veggie-patch disasters. But next spring I'm going for the edibles again, big time. When I need advice about how to avoid humiliation in my vegetable garden, I plan to consult a group I think of as The Green-Thumbed Seven. These children and their moms have turned two bare plots of dirt into thriving vegetable beds at the Moscow Community Garden on F Street.
The Green-Thumbed Seven include three Wappett children - Meridian, 10, Isabelle, 8, and Elias, 6 - and four Johnsons - Madeleine, 10, Corey, 7, Chloe, 4, and Ruby, 1. The older kids are students at Moscow Charter School, located across the street from the community garden. The children's mothers are Lianne Wappett, adviser to the Moscow Charter School Garden Club, and Hannah Johnson. A few other families and teachers fill in on garden duties as needed.
When I arrived for a morning interview, the seven were already at work in their vegetable patch. Corey and Elias were weeding, and often came running to display the tall weeds, including roots, they had captured. Meridian (in a stylish crochet shrug and matching cap), Isabelle (who wants to be a paleontologist or a surgeon) and Madeleine (wearing her favorite lacy ballet flats) were busy with trowels and rakes.Chloe was engaged in a fierce battle with an oversized pair of garden gloves. Ruby's role as project manager involved sitting on a blanket in the shade and flashing her adorable smile. Her favorite part of the garden project? "Dirt," the older children said.
Last spring, their school's garden club paid $100 to rent two 20' by 20' garden plots in the Community Garden for the growing season. The week after school ended in June, the children and parents began their commitment to planting, weeding and watering every two days.
The moms decided what to plant and bought all the seeds from the Moscow Co-op. Five varieties of pumpkins, including jack-o-lanterns and heritage Cinderellas, grow in one patch with watermelons nearby.
Another bed holds decorative gourds, which will become birdhouses this fall. Along the garden's north line, Tuscan Sun and giant sunflowers, taller than the children, turn their faces to the sunshine. The kids hope some of the sunflowers grow tall enough to be entered in the Latah County Fair.
The children have developed a relay system for watering. Each hoists a portion of the long hose above the garden bed, while Lianne Wappett waters the plants at their roots. As the watering continued, the gardeners' green thumbs grew less visible, replaced with thick layers of mud. "Look!" Elias waved his mud-covered hands, and Corey soon joined him.
The gardeners will plant carrots this fall and maybe peas. "I'm good at eating carrots," Isabelle said. Madeleine, a tomato fan, "eats them like apples," and reminds us that tomatoes are fruits, not vegetables.
As the fall term begins at Moscow Charter School, these veggie-growers are making plans to sell part of their harvest to pay for the rental on next spring's garden If they keep the garden project going, they would love to grow corn, tomatoes and other vegetables for school lunches.
The star of their harvest sale could be the son (or daughter) of Bubba, the gigantic pumpkin grown last year in Lewiston by the son of Rick Tousley, sixth-grade teacher at MCS. After the big orange gourd had been displayed at Moscow Charter School and before it was turned into pumpkin pie, its seeds were saved.
The Green-Thumbed Seven planted Bubba's seeds in their garden this year and are hoping for a big honkin' offspring to sell or raffle.
The children offered this advice for making a good vegetable garden.
"Water every other day," Isabelle advised. "If you overwater, your plants will die."
"If your ground's too hard, you need to till it," said Corey, who has his own "huge" patch of strawberries at home. "In the fall, when your plants start to die, just let 'em be, then put them back in, and they'll come back to life."
"Talk to your plant like it's a person," Madeleine said.
All the children said they like to shop at the Moscow Farmers Market and the Co-op. Elias said gardening is good "because you don't have to buy as much stuff in the store."
"If you grow a sunflower, get a big stick to hold it up," Isabelle said. "And weeding is like you're fighting a war against weeds - and you always win! And wear gloves if you're pulling poky weeds." Sometimes, though, she added, "you wear gloves just to look cool."
"Have little girls plant your pumpkin seeds," said Marie Axman, their principal at Moscow Charter School. "They have the magic touch."
Most important to an impetuous gardener who has no fondness for reptiles: If you find a garter snake in your garden, beware. "I picked up a garter snake at home in our garden, and it peed on me, "Isabelle reported. "It's their secret weapon."
"And it stinks," Madeleine added.
So next spring, I plan to post a "No Peeing Snakes Allowed" sign in my vegetable garden and to remember the Green-Thumbed Seven's rules for gardening success. As Isabelle said: "Kid power!"
WHAT'S BLOOMING AT THE ARBORETUM
Paul Warnick, horticulturist at the University of Idaho Arboretum & Botanical Garden, writes, "Big plants always impress me, especially plants that are able to grow big in a single growing season.
There are four examples worth seeing in the Arboretum now. The first one, Giant Coltsfoot (Petasites japonica var. gigantea) has huge round leaves (2-3' across) atop 4' tall stalks. It is growing along the Hosta Walk in the northwest corner of the Arboretum. Giant Fountain Grass (Miscanthus x giganteus) lives up to the name. Our older specimen reaches up to 12' tall by the end of the season. It is growing along the stream between the two big ponds in the Asian Ornamental Grasses collection.
There are also seven clumps planted in the new planting on the slope above the Asian pergola. Joe Pye Weed, (Eupatorium purpureum), is a showy Midwestern U.S. native that grows 6-8' tall with big, flat clusters of purple flowers blooming from now until frost. It is growing in a bed of other wildflowers along the stream toward the bottom of the Arboretum. Cup Plant (Silphium perfoliatum) is another Great Plains native wildflower, whose opposite leaves clasp the main stem, forming cups that catch rainwater and channel it down to the roots. (This feature is much more valuable in its native habitat than in Moscow's dry summers.)
The clumps in the Xeriscape Garden are over 8' tall, with lots of bright yellow 'sunflower' type blooms."
Sydney Craft Rozen lives in Moscow and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.