This Saturday, the Carrboro Farmers' Market will hold one of its big programs - the seventh annual kids' seedling event.
Starting at 8:30 a.m., the market will give away farmer-grown tomato seedlings, which come in all sorts of varieties, to kids. Fifth Season Gardening Company will provide organic potting soil for the pots as well as growing tips and other information for new gardeners. Kids can decorate their own seedling with plant labels provided by Kidzu Children's Museum.
In past years, the market has given away nearly 400 seedlings to kids at the event, which is held during the same weekend as the Carolina Farm Stewardship Piedmont Farm Tour, another great opportunity to teach kids where their food comes from.
“There is nothing better than seeing the big smiles of our smallest market goers as they walk away as proud owners of their new plants," said Sarah Blacklin, the market's manager.
We've always had a garden in our backyard. My kids have grown up plucking grape tomatoes off the vine, munching on fresh basil while they play in the backyard and watching to see how big a watermelon will grow.
I checked in with market staff, which provided some great tips for kids on tomato planting. Here's what they recommend:
- If you are using compost to fertilize, now is the time to add it to the soil where you are planting your seedling. If you are using a commercial fertilizer, follow directions on the label.
- Try to plant in partial to full sun. Tomatoes really like a lot of sun.
- Dig a hole deep enough so you can cover the bottom of the seedling up to 1 inch below the bottom leaf.
- Water when planted. Then water every other day the first week and then twice a week from then on. Keep in mind it is better to water gently yet thoroughly, say with a watering can or a drip hose than with a blast of water. Also, don’t over water because it can cause rot and dilute the flavor of your tomatoes, especially once your plant has started to fruit.
- At about four weeks, you can stake your tomato plant if you think it needs support.
- Pick weeds that come up around your tomato plant. Weeds may stunt your plant’s growth. You can put down newspaper or mulch to also keep the weeds at bay.
- Follow the watering instructions above.
- Your tomatoes are ripe when they are in full color (red for cherries and sweet 100s, orange for sungolds, yellow for plum and pear.)
- Pick the tomatoes by bending back the fruit at the notch of the stem.
And a couple of the market's farmers offered these bits of wisdom:
Kevin Meehan of Turtle Run swears that, "the secret to starting your plants off right is to sing them a nice little song as you put them into the ground. It makes all the difference."
And not all insects are bad, Meehan said.
"When it comes to your garden, ladybugs are your best friend," he said. "They are a great defense against other pests."
And Besty Hitt of Peregrine Farm advises that, "Sometimes you can love your plants too much. Be careful not to over-water or to touch too much."
My pieces of advice, especially if you're growing cherry or grape tomatoes: Make sure you actually get to taste some of those tomatoes before your kids pick them all and eat them!