MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
GARDENING FOR MARY AND MATTHEW
On Saturday I promised to send out information about beginning gardening for two children, Mary and Matthew, who are being home-schooled. Then I got two requests for information about the efficacy of the Word. In both cases individual members of the Wisconsin Synod had reason to ask for data supporting the efficacy of the Word alone.
Gardening and the efficacy of the Word are natural combinations. I think my gardening methods are more influenced by the Sower and the Seed (Matthew 13, Mark 4, Luke 8) than by Rodale Press. It is fun to plant seed carelessly and see remarkable results. KJV 2 Corinthians 9:6 But this I say, He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.
Two other comparisons in the New Testament make it clear that God—rather than man—
should be glorified.
KJV 1 Peter 1:23 Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.
KJV 1 Corinthians 3:6 I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. KJV 1 Corinthians 3:7 So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.
Beginning garden should be relatively simple and free from the demands of heavy work and elaborate planning. For instance, the mother of the two children sent me plans for a compost area, printed by some helpful agency. One needed a truckload of lumber. The other used masonry blocks. I could see a contractor saying, “Yup, we can do that for $5,000.” That’s the hard way. It made me wonder how God managed to compost without all the structures. I said, “Get some chicken wire or something a little heavier, form a circle to hold the organic matter, and place it in a shady spot in the yard.” My first compost bin was some stray fencing that I formed in a circle under some pine trees. The diameter of the bin should be four feet or more, but not too gigantic. One person made a huge compost bin and filled it with grass. The stench was incredible. A good compost bin does not smell, but a ton of grass will make the neighbors curse your name.
Compost is great for kids, because they get to see the soil organisms at work. The Rodale Press compost book is great for this. As I said before in a sermon, molds form and attract mold eating life. High nitrogen matter is needed for the bacteria that heat up and break down the pile. Moisture nourishes all the compost creatures. Kids will see millipedes, centipedes, sowbugs, pillbugs, springtails, earthworms and more in the compost. Soil layers can be used to eliminate any odors. I have used lots of food garbage in the past and you can guess how that smelled. I use coffee grounds, orange and banana peels, manure, weeds and leaves. When I see a stand of healthy weeds, I say, “There’s a pile of nitrogen, moisture, and globs of soil on the roots.” The soil creatures stuck to the roots soon say, “Where am I? Is this heaven? It’s cool, moist, and food without end, Amen.”
If children pile up the grass, leaves, and weeds in the compost bin, they will be shocked at how much the mass will shrink in a few days. I like wire bins, because they let in air and allow the gardener to pull compost from the bottom, to some extent. Any bin resting on soil will gather all the soil creatures needed for the reduction process. Birds will gather around it to feed on earthworms and insects.
If the compost stinks, say from a huge amount of grass, throw a layer of soil on top and show children how well it works as a disinfectant. In this way God the Creator designed a way to destroy disease organisms when animals and people die from illnesses.
Cold Weather Gardens
The first garden to be planted should feature cold tolerant plants. My favorites are:
1. Edible pod peas. Plant on Ash Wednesday, if possible.
4. The cabbage family.
The second garden should be heat loving plants. Some easy ones to grow are:
1. Sweet corn. (Wait until you can sit on the ground and be comfortable.)
2. Beans. Bush beans in wide rows are fun to harvest. Lots of pods are hidden away.
3. Scarlet runner beans. Humming birds love the small red flowers.
4. Cherry tomatoes. Children love them more than ordinary nightshades. They volunteer easily and they are sweet.
5. Dill. Buy a huge package and spread it all over. You will never need to buy dill again.
6. Potatoes. They can be planted in a bale of hay, watered, and harvested easily. Get at them early to show how God stores energy in the form of starch in the tubers. Baby potatoes are very, very good. Home grown potatoes are exceptionally good.
7. Buy one potted rose bush and have the children prune and water it.
8. Get a pound of sunflower seeds and plant them for a border with lots of sunshine. Kids and adults enjoy looking at the composite flower turning into a super spirograph seed pod.
9. Borage loves sun and water. It produces an abundance of pink and blue flowers, great for salads. It also seeds itself, a good lesson for children. Borage is so popular with bees that it is called bee bread.
Hosta grows well in the shade. So does goutweed or false snow-on-the-mountain. If you are tired of those staples, the following will work well.
1. Cucumbers need shade and support.
2. Violets need shade. They are great to fill in under a clump of trees. Johnnie Jump Ups are a colorful form. One can buy many types of violets. The flowers can be eaten in salads.
3. On the north side of the house, plant a huge number of impatiens. Humming birds and hawk moths love the blooms. Impatiens will bloom in the shade all summer.
4. When it is getting warmer, spinach and lettuce will prefer some shade. Both respond negatively to too much heat and sun.
The following plants are good for having some extra fun.
1. Mangels. They are a type of beet. Huge. Give them to your cow or compost them. Kids are in awe of them.
2. Warty gourds. They love to climb and fruit all over the place. One good place is near a border of bushes. They will climb into the bushes and fruit, using the bushes as support. First they are green. Then they turn colors. When picked and dried out, their seeds rattle. They can be varnished and used for art projects.
3. Pumpkins. I like the ultra-expensive but gigantic Atlantic Giant variety. They grow well between corn rows. Or get another variety. Some are white. Some are plump. Others are very large but look a little deflated (cow pumpkins).
4. Blue hubbard squash. This is another winter squash. The Phoenix members did not know what to do with the gourds, which are the best form of squash you can grow. The leaves are green-blue and the squash looks like a blue water balloon.
I would not try everything at once, but get large amounts of a few types of seed. Then it is easy to plant in various locations to learn what works in your yard. Vinca minor is wonderful under trees and in the shade, but does not belong in other places. Sunflowers are especially adaptable. They will volunteer early from bird feed and grow a seed head two feet tall. Or a skinny plant. Or a giant plant under the right circumstances. A sunflower height contest is fun with mammoth (or Russian, or striped) sunflowers. Or try a variety of sunflowers.
Pull a dandelion have the children look at its structure. Compare how it spreads with chives (a mass of roots spreading) or mint (a root spreader).
Children can enjoy the smells of the garden. Soil has an earthy smell from one type of beneficial bacteria. Mint and dill have distinctive aromas. Sunflowers have a heavy honey smell. Basil has a wonderful sweet smell. Various herbs have aromas to enjoy outside and in food. Jill-over-ground (with many other names, such as Creeping Charlie) is a mint. Have the children pull some up, look at the square stems, and smell the minty aroma.
I planted lamb’s ears in one area and watered them well. The two tiny plants turned into two large clumps. I divided them with a shovel and planted them all over the yard. Lamb’s ears are a mint and will probably not survive in many of the spots I picked, but they will thrive where I water more consistently. Lamb’s ears are soft and fuzzy.
I am feeling a little smug about my garden right now. I knew a real storm was coming on Saturday. I went outside and planted various types of seed all around the yard. I wanted to get gourds and moonflowers going, plus some butterfly plants. The sunflowers and zinnias were already germinated and out of the ground, except where Agent Orange (our dog, superb at defoliation) attacked.
I guessed that Agent Orange dug up a big clump of lamb’s ears. I showed the dead clump to her. She laid her ears back, sank to the ground, and rolled over as if ready to die. The act of contrition was so funny that she escaped any consequences beyond a whispered warning holding back laughter.
Saturday night it started raining. It is Super Tuesday and still drippy. The long slow rain has been great for the baby sunflowers, zinnias, lamb’s ears, and the newly planted seed. My roses are all looking strong and cheerful.
Children should water their newly planted seed every day until they are well established. That is often neglected by gardeners. Or, plant on the day of a full moon. It almost always rains after a full moon in the Midwest and East. The night of a full moon is the most likely evening for a frost, since the sky is usually cloudless. It is almost always a high pressure zone, where the air flows down. If the following days are rainy, then frost is no longer a threat and the newly planted seed will thrive.
I would also arrange the yard for birds and butterflies. Children will enjoy participating in the effort. Some things to benefit birds or butterflies are:
1. Composting, since soil creatures become easy to reach and number in the billions.
2. Leaving grass, weeds, or herbs (comfrey) tall and trashy, for shelter, insect life, and perches for birds. Dead sunflowers and logs are favorite bird benches.
3. Creating not only one birdbath, but many birdbaths, shallow pools, and muddy areas for birds and butterflies.
4. Building a basket of nest materials for birds: feathers, string, dryer lint, and other material. Mud will be used for adhesive material and spackle.
5. Vines are favorite shelters for birds and insects, often full of food.
We can never learn too much about God’s Creation. It is fun to realize that the air is filled with nitrogen, that God arranges for the nitrogen to feed the plants that feed animal life. When we eat meat, we eat a lot of nitrogen compounds. All animals give the nitrogen back to the soil in the form of waste.
Children love to learn about God’s Creation by the Word. It is a good way to teach them how we are New Creations by the Word as well.