By B.C. Manion
Peggy Fortner is out in the garden most Friday afternoons, working with a group of eager children at Bright Beginnings, a preschool and daycare center in Zephyrhills.
Fortner, a master gardener with the Pasco County Extension Office, volunteers her time to help cultivate a love of gardening among the children.
One of the youngsters happens to be Sarah Luke, her 7-year-old granddaughter.
It seems only natural that Fortner would want to share her love for the earth and the bounty it can produce with a new generation of gardeners. After all, it was her grandmother who introduced her to the joy of gardening.
So, every Friday, she and the kids at Bright Beginnings, 5905 Craig Lane, spend part of their day, tilling or planting, weeding or watering, feeding or harvesting a small patch of ground.
They have grown all sorts of vegetables, including tomatoes, squash, onions, green beans, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower and spinach.
Soon, they’ll be staging a plant sale, where they hope to raise money to perpetuate and expand their gardening efforts. The sale will be from 1-3 p.m. on April 30 at New River Public Library, 34043 SR 54 in Zephyrhills.
In addition to selling plants, Fortner will be demonstrating how to make an earth bucket, and the kids will be handing out some freebies.
Beverly Petrini, owner of Bright Beginnings, said the childcare center started its garden a couple of years ago when her son-in-law, Clyde Bracknell, began it for one of the center’s summer camps.
When Fortner’s granddaughter began coming to the center, the master gardener offered to share her knowledge with the youngsters and Petrini took Fortner up on the offer.
Petrini is delighted that Fortner is there to teach the youngsters and to help them develop an understanding of how vegetables grow.
Fortner also has been instrumental in getting items donated to support the children’s gardening efforts, Petrini said.
The program gives children a wonderful exposure to gardening, Petrini said.
“So many of them probably don’t have a garden. People don’t have time for gardens anymore,” Petrini said.
In at least one case, the school’s garden has inspired a family to create a garden of its own, she added.
Children have a natural curiosity that should be nurtured, Petrini said. And youngsters can also be a source of inspiration for adults, she added. “We learn more from them, I think, than they learn from us.”
Bracknell, who initiated the school’s first garden, said the children appear to enjoy working out in the patch. “They seem to have a lot of fun.”
Last week, the kids spent part of the day learning about suckers — shoots on a tomato plant that some gardeners prune because they rob nutrients from other parts of the plant and can cause the plant to get top-heavy.
“Look at this thing growing up here. That is called a sucker. We’ve got to check all of these plants. You know what we do? We lop it off. It doesn’t help the plant at all,” Fortner said.
“Miss Peggy, there’s one over here that’s growing,” a little girl proudly reports.
Other kids are poking around, in search of offending suckers.
Some spot them and get permission to pull them off. Others don’t quite get concept and want to snap off stems with tomatoes.
Fortner gently corrects them, and they move on.
It’s obvious that the kids are having fun, despite the blazing heat.
“It’s really fun,” said 5-year-old Rebecca Fardella. “I get to plant some plants. Miss Peggy helps us.”
Bayleigh Kirby also enjoys the Friday afternoon sessions. “Everyone helps in the garden,” the 10-year-old said.
“It’s fun to be out in the sun,” said Malachi Varro, 7.
Zack Stevens, 8, loves digging into the work: “I like getting dirty and planting and helping Miss Peggy.”
If you go
Bright Beginnings plant sale
1-3 p.m. April 30
New River Library, 34043 SR 54 in Zephyrhills
Plants on sale will include tomato, squash and onion plants, crepe myrtle and lemongrass.
A demonstration on how to create an earth bucket will be given. And, there will be some items for event goers.
How to make an Earth Bucket
What you will need to assemble the bucket:
1 5-gallon sized bucket
1 6-quart or 7-quart colander
1 piece of 2-inch fill pipe. Cut into a piece as long as the bucket is deep, plus 3 inches
1 plastic drinking straw or similar to a quarter-inch diameter tubing
How to assemble the bucket:
Trim the rim of the colander. Cut a hole in the bottom of the colander, which is where the 2-inch diameter fill pipe will go. Cut the bottom end of the fill pipe at a roughly 45-degree angle. Insert the colander face down into the bucket. If should fit tightly. Insert the fill pipe, slotted end down into hole in colander.
Drill a small hole about 4.5 inches from the bottom of the bucket. Insert the straw or small tube into the hole in the bucket, pushing about 1-inch of the straw into the colander, just under the top side of the inverted colander. You may have to drill a hole in the colander.
What you will need for the filling:
Using a potting mix designed for use in containers, fill around the side of the colander, packing tightly. This will work as a wick to move water up.
Do not pack the mix once you are above the colander level. Fill the bucket about half-full with mix. Water gently. Stop watering when the water begins to flow throughout the drain tube (straw). Finish filling with mix and water again. Allow the filled bucket to stand overnight.
Put in your plants, gently water them in by pouring a cup of water around the plant. Check the water level regularly by pouring water into the fill pipe until the water runs out the overflow tube.