I had the chance to walk with Chris Strand through the KidsGrow children’s garden last week. I was fascinated to see an ornamental cotton in bloom and in seed.Here’s a follow-up to Chris’ August article about what is planted in the KidsGrow garden near the Brown Horticulture Learning Center. http://gardenblog.winterthur.org/2012/08/02/whats-flowering-in-the-kids-garden-this-year/ Note: some of these plants will be cleaned up on September 27 in anticipation of next week’s Truck & Tractor Day.
This year, in an effort to broaden the types of things the kids are growing in our kids garden, we added some ‘agronomic’ crops and some edibles that the children might not be familiar with.
Cotton is such an interesting plant; it is a member of the hibiscus family so it has attractive flowers and there are so many different varieties available. This year we grew three different varieties of cotton. Black cotton has deep purple leaves and claret colored flowers. The nearly black fruits have just started opening to show the white cotton fibres and seeds within. We also grew ‘red-leaved’ cotton which is really more of a pinkish color and a variety called ‘green lint’ which is supposed to have greenish tinted cotton fibre in its bolls. In some states it is illegal to grow cotton for personal use, but since Delaware isn’t a cotton-producing state we can grow it for fun (by the way, I found a newspaper article from 1929 that recalled how “65 years ago” most farmers in Delaware grew their own flax and cotton for fibre).
Yes, this year we grew peanuts and looks as though we have successfully produced a crop. The peanut is unusual because, although it is a legume (like a pea or been plant), the pods are found underground. The yellow pea flowers are pollinated above ground, but then push their way underground before pollination is complete and the legume fruit develops. We have pulled a couple of stems up and found fully developed peanuts on them.
This year we grew two varieties of okra; silver queen and ruby. Ruby is red as you would expect, and silver queen is whitish green. Like cotton, okra is in the hibiscus family and is grown for its pod. The pod is tender when small and can be cooked any number of ways. It is particularly good for thickening soups and stews (or gumbos). We harvest the pods when they are mature and dry them for decoration.
Another legume we grew this year is soybean. You have seen the soybean ripening in local fields I am sure. I thought it would be fun for the kids to see the process up close and notice how the small flowers are pollinated and develop into the smallish pods.
We grew several varieties of heirloom and ‘landrace’ corn. We grew a hopi blue variety, a type called ‘Seneca Red Stalker’, a oaxacan green variety, the original bantam variety, and a very primitive corn ancestor called ‘teosinte’. Most of the varieties have flowered and produced corn which was ravenously consumed by our local raccoons. The teosinte is just starting to flower and will be interesting to watch – it is fun watching a plant grow that was cultivated and developed by humans more than 6,000 years ago.
Last fall I planted a couple of blackberries that have an unusual characteristic – they flower on 1-year-old and 2-year-old wood. These so called primocane blackberries are very easy to manage because of this characteristic. If you leave them alone they will produce 2 crops of berries, one in the spring and another in the fall. If you want to keep them neat and tidy and decide to cut them back in the fall or winter then they will still produce a fall crop of berries. This flexibility makes them easy to manage and fun to grow with kids.