a peek inside the fishbowl

15 Mar, 2015

How do you grow pickles? (a guest post)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|Fishbowl patrons|Guest postings

Hello Fishies, I’m doing something a little different on the blog this week and I’m really excited about it. I’ve asked six individuals – all blog patrons – to write a post on a topic that is important to the parenting community. First up, Derek Rhodenizer, Assistant Head of Joan of Arc Academy is kindly sharing this post about pickles… although it’s about more than just pickles. Read on! 

When March rolls around I get excited for the upcoming spring. I suppose I don’t really need to spell out why, most of us in Ottawa can’t wait to shake off the frigid remains of winter and embrace a warm spring. However, it isn’t the lack of snow or salt crust on my car that is at the forefront of my mind. For me it means that it is almost gardening season.

I am an educator, and 10 years ago I had a grade 8 student ask me, “how do you grow pickles?” I figured the best way to answer this question was to guide my students through the complete process. I did not realize how disconnected to gardening we are. That year we grew cucumbers from seed in my class, and transplanted them to a tiny guerilla style “garden plot” we dug up. We grew them, harvested them, and jarred them. The next year that student came back from high school and tasted the pickles we had grown. It was the most pure learning experience I had ever seen, and I was hooked. It only cost me 99 cents for a pack of cucumber seeds!

How does your garden grow?

I have been a school garden educator ever since. I am into my second gardening season as the Assistant Head at Joan of Arc Academy, and we have a great set of innovative gardens that we started last year using some very exciting permaculture techniques. It provides a number of rich learning experiences for our students.

School gardens can provide some challenges: they often get overgrown in the summer, sometimes they get mowed over by the lawn care staff, and I have even had a pumpkin get stolen and smashed on the street. If you are going to steal food from the garden, please eat it!  All that being said, the good outweighs the bad, and the garden is very forgiving. The garden is a great way to learn by making mistakes.  If the lettuces were too crowded and underproduced, we simply adjust it next year. However, in the meantime, we still have lettuce!

Gardens are inexpensive to start and to keep going. Students can see growth from start to finish in just a few months. The experience of learning how to grow our own food should never be overlooked. The look on a student’s face when you eat a nasturtium (an edible flower), or when they see that a broccoli plant is actually quite tall and full of leaves, or when they dig for potatoes (consider it nature’s easter egg hunt), is always priceless.

The best thing about a garden as a learning tool is that it can be as small or as large as you like. You can have a small pot, or a box garden on any surface. You can also create small microclimates that show students how to boost production using advanced permaculture techniques.

I have begun thinking about our school garden this spring, and my four-year-old and I have already begun discussing what will be in our own backyard garden. Gardens are a great learning experience. Even a failure is a success!

Hopefully, you will take the plunge and get your hands dirty this spring, as there is so much to be learned for everyone. There are so many great tricks to be learned, from the simple to the complex. At Joan of Arc we use hugelkultur techniques, burying logs under the garden to retain moisture and feed the plants. For something a little simpler, you can also test out “companion gardening,” in which one plant helps another. Put a few basil plants in a large pot with a tomato plant, and you will get fewer pests on your tomatoes. If you are looking for guaranteed results for the novice gardener, start some zucchini. It will grow fast and strong with high production, and zucchini chocolate cake is amazing!

Happy gardening!

Thanks Derek!

p.s. You can read other guest posts right here!


1 Response to "How do you grow pickles? (a guest post)"

1 | Mathew

November 13th, 2016 at 7:04 am

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Inspiring story there. What happened after? Goodd luck!

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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