Archive for the ‘garden’ Category


Five-year-olds don’t always want to eat their vegetables. But when they’ve spent time exploring a schoolyard garden and picking their own, eating vegetables is suddenly exciting. Call it a “Salad Celebration,” and orders for a “double-double black magic kale” start rolling in.


More than 160 children and parents a week enjoyed summer activities hosted by Green Thumbs this year at Winchester and Lord Dufferin Public Schools. Celebrating local food in our downtown eastside community meant trying new textures and flavours as part of learning how to identify edible plants and understand what makes them healthy for us. “I am a carrot,” said one 6-year-old, when told that he is what he eats. “I can always find this type of root in my fridge!”

Ecosystem learning


Healthy food grows best in a healthy ecosystem, where biodiversity can thrive. Investigating worms and insects and how they build their homes in the Green Thumbs gardens was another popular summer activity. “I am certain that we are growing little green thumbs and a healthy community that appreciates the local environment,” said Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. “I believe we are raising the next generation to solve environmental problems.”


“I hope we can do the same program again next year,” one teacher wrote following a day in the garden. But one  child said it best: “I would like to stay with Green Thumbs forever!”

Green Thumbs is deeply grateful to our 2014-2015 Food and Garden Educator, Ivanna Prots. As a Master of Science in Botany and Zoology with 10+ years of experience working with students of all ages and learning styles, Ms. Prots brought a respectful and empathetic teaching style and broad-based knowledge of environmental issues relating to soil, plants, animals, and insects to our garden and greenhouse programs. Experienced in both curriculum design and delivery for large and small groups, she is particularly gifted in using garden-and-art-based learning to open windows for students with special needs, including those with Autism Spectrum Disorders.

Ivanna Prots is off on new adventures, and we wish her the very best!


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Call for Division! Native Plant Divisions for our Biodiversity Corner

This fall, Green Thumbs is setting roots in Regent Park. In October, we will run our BiodiverCity Program in a new greenhouse and a new green space. With the help of Grade 6 students, we want to improve the biodiversity in the park by creating the Biodiversity Corner. We also need your help to transform the turf into a native plant garden. If you have native plants in your garden and feel like sharing, bring us some of your divisions! We are looking for seven specific species:

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

monardaWild Bergamot has violet flowers, dented leaves, and square stems.

New England Aster (Symphyotricum novae-angliae)

AsterNew England Aster has small bright purple petals, skinny pointy leaves, and a dark stem.

Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

butterfly weed Butterfly Milkweed has multiple bright orange flowers, hairy large leaves, and a long hairy stem.

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

echinacea Purple Coneflower has big pink petals, large pointy leaves, and sturdy stems.

Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

mountain mint Virginia Mountain Mint has small light purple flowers, long narrow leaves, and wiry green square stems.

Black –eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)


Black-eyed Susan has yellow petals, large coarse leaves, and sturdy stems.

Orange Daylily (Hemerocalis fulva)

daylily Orange Daylily has six orange petals, long narrow leaves, and a long stem.

If you have divisions of any of these species to donate, please label them, and bring them to Winchester School-Community Garden at the corner of Winchester St. and Rose Ave., Cabbagetown, or contact us at programs (at) kidsgrowing.ca. Please do not donate other varieties without contacting us first!

Thank you very much for your generosity and your contribution to our Biodiversity Corner!

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GTGG promo flyerOur new social enterprise – check out the amazing skills and knowledge now available for your home garden! visit http://www.kidsgrowing.ca/what-we-do/garden-care for more details. Email gardencare@kidsgrowing.ca to book a consultation.

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In June, our co-op students Prushodhj Niranjan and Pantha Azmee finished up at GTGK. They were superstars! And we will miss them.

Prushodhj and Pantha, both students in the Environmental Specialist High Skills Majors program at (school name), diligently took on a variety of tasks: leading workshops and teaching young children about vermicomposting, rebalancing and managing multiple composting sites; setting up and taking a leadership role in children’s and youth garden programs; garden maintenance—building beds, repairing a composter, planting, watering and caring for seedlings, and conditioning strawbales for an experimental garden bed. They really did it all, which is what they liked best about the co-op placement. (They said besides themselves only one other student in their class liked their coop placement and felt like they were getting something out of it–they looked at me and said happily, “we do something different all the time.”)

When Prushodhj and Pantha first came to GTGK, the school compost bins were suffering a lack of attention – we left our partner schools alone with the task and learned that they were not ready for that. The composts were all, to varying degrees, suffering from lack of turning, lack of proper browns, excesses of plastic and well, they stank, which a well-managed pile should not. Without complaint, Proshudhj and Pantha took on the compost project. They did independent research to find out the science of compost and then visited FoodShare for some instruction in mid-scale systems with Master Composter Mike Nevin. Back at Green Thumbs, they built up some muscles shoveling out the mass from the bins, and expertly shifted the balance to make healthy nutrient-rich humus by adding a combination of leaves, mulch, woodchips and wood shavings at three different sites. Then they turned the compost weekly. Now, all three sites are heating up and smelling earthy–they had become alchemists, turning food waste into gardener’s gold. Through it all, they learned not only about composting, but how to succeed in solving problems, and how to work with other youth and children, sharing their passion for the environment.

Huge gratitude to them, and all the best in whatever they pursue!

– Leslie


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It’s an exciting time for school gardens – please join us physically and metaphysically in our celebrations of a new season of growth and beauty! First up, today is May 24 — The First Annual School Garden Day, brought to life by our collaboration with EcoSource and the Ontario Edible Education Network. There’s a survey to fill out to help us all better understand school food gardens and gardeners, (as well as other children & youth food programs).

Next week on Wednesday May 29 is the Fairmount Park Farmers’ Market, adjacent to a school yard where a gardening project is underway. We’ll be selling some pea shoots and talking about how easy to do and nutritious they are, as well as just providing a fun activity for kids. Erin Temple, our newly minted practicum student from Ryerson University’s Masters of Health Science, Nutrition Communications will help make this event memorable.

Coming up Saturday June 1 is Rawlinson Community School’s Urban Farm Fun Fair, and we’re excited to have a table there. We’ve been working with Rawlinson’s amazing kindergarten teachers on our kinder-GARDEN pilot project, and this year the whole school has planned their Fun Fair to celebrate urban agriculture and highlight their school gardens!

On Wednesday June 19, we’ll get together with our eight Kinder-GARDEN pilot project teachers to go over the project and look at the spring season to date. This will form the beginning of a new resource guide, suited to Toronto climate and Ontario curriculum, for school food gardeners working with Kindergarteners. This project is supported by a grant from the Community Environment Fund of Earth Day Canada.

Then, Friday June 21, we’ll be offering a workshop at the Jane-Finch area Frontier College Connecting Communities Conference, where program leaders attend a free day of workshops and networking, gaining a better understanding of summer programs that meet the needs of children and youth. We’re excited to participate in the desire to support literacy – including environmental and food literacy – and detailing how the school garden can be a strong summertime asset to the community.

Meantime, the Urban Roots Youth project is deepening, and the youth involved are gaining confidence and knowledge about food growing, food systems and starting to tell their own stories. Two more summer jobs (in addition to two jobs through TDSB’s Focus on Youth) will be available and will be posted soon on our website. Funding for this program’s co-ordination has been generously provided by Telus Community Board and by the City of Toronto Recreation Grants.

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We are very pleased to announce that the funding received by us on behalf of gardens at Sprucecourt PS and Rose Ave. PS was well spent this year. Over 800 people were directly served by this grant, in meaningful ways that promote urban agriculture, healthy eating, and learning about our environment.

Rose Ave. PS

At Rose Ave. PS, a new garden bed was built that is now in process of becoming a Hugelkultur bed. A Huge Wha-a-a-t? you ask? Hugelkultur uses wood, massive amounts, in a garden bed. What happens is that the wood fibers break down into cellulose, a porous mass that holds enormous amounts of water, and releases it to plant roots as they need it, watering from below. Water conservation methods like this are going to be more and more important as climate change causes unpredictability in supply of rainwater and even municipal water systems. In the first photo below, a Grade 6 team is filling the bed with topsoil, following a layer of fresh manure on top of the logs. In the next photo you can see the logs, and the lovely decorating done with kindergarteners, with the help of the Branksome Hall Service Learning team.

Sprucecourt PS

At Sprucecourt PS, a whole Grade 7 class is engaged with the school composting project, learning all about the science and art of well-planned rot. They’ve even taken responsibility for training the younger students! And thanks to teachers David Cunningham and Liz Bristoll, students are blogging about their experiences in the garden and weaving literacy and numeracy projects into their food focus. Students also mapped and drew the garden, to support all of the classes to use the garden with a map and calendar of activities.

Throughout the summer, Green Thumbs held weekly drop-ins at both schools that nourished whole families with garden produce and recipe-sharing, and ran day camp programs in the gardens. Over four hundred people joined in the summer garden drop ins and daytime programs in the two schools. In September and October, 400 students between Kindergarten and Grade 7 visited their school gardens at Rose Ave. PS and Sprucecourt PS, and carried out harvesting, fall planting, composting and building activities. The garden programs were supervised by Green Thumbs Growing Kids’ Garden Educator Extraordinaire Kryslyn Mohan, with the able support of many volunteers. Ten secondary school youth came for a four-day service learning project and worked with teachers and students in the gardens, supervised by Green Thumbs.

Thanks to Whole Kids Foundation for this enabling grant!

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On Aug. 18, seven participants in the Urban Agriculture Summit, hailing from as far away as Oregon, attended a Green Thumbs Growing Kids garden build. We used Compressed Earth Blocks, made by Henry Weirsma of Fifth Wind Farms. Here’s the location – it’s like a small town of 20,000 people, in 10 city blocks full of highrises. The site will be shaded by a building to the south for 3 hours  in midday – actually could end up helping to conserve water.


Henry showed up with about 100 Earth Blocks. His farm is a little over an hour away in Cobourg Ontario. He makes the blocks from his local clay, and adds 5-8% cement. The blocks are 1/10 of the carbon footprint of a cement block. They contain far less cement and are air-dried rather than kiln-dried. While they won’t last as long as cement blocks, they are comparable to wood for longevity, and using them thus leaves more trees alive and breathing. By growing more food and composting food waste close to home, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Further reductions are obtained by organic practices that do not use fossil fuels for fertilizer. Each bed this size will reduce GHGe by between 1.13 and 1.38T.

Here’s the crew making sure the bed will be 1m away from the fence for kid safety, levelling the ground for the first course.


And the Earth Blocks look sharp, too. After the bed is built, we will coat the blocks with a low-VOC sealer and then let kids paint on the exterior. Raised beds warm up faster in spring and cool down slower in fall, adding length to the growing season. The thermal mass of the blocks moderates temperatures and protects the plants from extremes. You can add a plastic row cover under which Bloomsdale spinach will grow all winter.


Henry (left) and Brad, a workshop participant.

The first course takes the longest.


After the first course is laid all nice and square and levelled up with sand, the work goes pretty fast. We used a low-VOC adhesive between courses and between block sides. Four courses are planned. The build takes a little less than 4 hours, including introductions and lots of chatting.


Here’s Marie laying in the last block.


Here’s the finished bed. The dimensions are about 4′ x 9′, which is not too wide for little people to reach into the middle. The length is not so long that kids are tempted to jump onto the bed to get to the other side. It will happen, for sure – but less of the time. A few little chunks of Earth Block came off during the build – but each block is 4″ deep and 7″ wide so it doesn’t matter too much. Extra blocks are piled inside the bed, hoping they don’t wander too far before we get another delivery and build the next bed with students!


Finally, here’s the group, with me on the left – not pictured are Joe (taking the shot) and Anita (staff – cleaning up!) I barely broke a sweat with all the help. It was a great day, and Rose Ave. PS kids are going to be excited to continue building this new garden area. For all the photos, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/46538862@N03/


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