Playtime’s Over!

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Just let the poor kid play!

Playtime’s over, kids! Bossy adults have all but killed it, replacing traditional free play with organized sports, extracurricular activities, and myriad ‘teachable moments’ designed to build a better child.

Over the past fifty years, the time kids spend in free play has declined dramatically, with the greatest losses occurring in the past few decades. From 1981 to 1997, playtime decreased more than 7 hours a week. Kids lost another 2 hours between 1997 to 2003. Overall, these losses added up to more than 12 hours a week over the past 25 years. Much of that time was stolen by what adults see as more ‘productive’ pursuits, such as schoolwork and team sports. But a growing body of research–piles and piles of it!– shows that kids learn best when left to what they do best: play.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP): “play…is essential to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth.” Play is so important to optimal child development that the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights recognizes it as a right of every child. Classical educator Christopher Perrin notes that the ancient Greeks saw play as so fundamental to children that the word pazein (to play) is related to the word for child, pais. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates recognizes the wisdom of letting children learn through play: “Don’t use force in training children in the studies but rather play. In that way you can better discern what each child is natural directed towards.”

What is play?

Not all children’s activities qualify as play. Most serious scholars of play (and there are many, odd as that may seem) don’t even group organized activities like sports in the same category. Anthropologist David Lancy, author of the highly-acclaimed (and very readable) text, The Anthropology of Childhood, views the idea that “adults might intervene to structure or control children’s play” as a “contradiction in terms” because for those who study play in culture around the world, the very definition includes attributes like “voluntary”, “purposeless”, “child-centered” “autonomous” and “autotelic” (= an end in itself). That is, “play” structured by adults isn’t play at all and fails to provide the myriad essential benefits that children and other mammals can only get from free play. According to Boston College psychology professor, Peter Gray, “free play refers to activity that is freely chosen and directed by the participants and undertaken for its own sake, not consciously pursued to achieve ends that are distinct from the activity itself. Thus, adult-directed sports and games for children do not fall into the category of free play.”

The benefits of free play

Decades of research compiled by the AAP strongly suggests that undirected, unstructured play, or free play “allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills.” When play is child-driven, children have the opportunity to “practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.” By contrast, “when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.” A robust study led by Dr. Jane E. Barker of the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Colorado Boulder found that “[t]he more time that children spent in less-structured activities, the better their self-directed executive functioning. The opposite was true of structured activities, which predicted poorer self-directed executive functioning.” (Executive functioning encompasses those skills that help people gets things done, such as plan, focus, manage time, and control behavior).

Dr. Sergio Pellis, a neuroscientist at University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, thinks “the function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.” His research has shown that play leads to changes in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is most highly developed in humans and is responsible for executive functioning. But only free play produced this kind of brain development—play without adult intervention, coaches or rulebooks. It appears that the negotiation and problem-solving involved in even the simplest children’s games build the circuits in the brain that are essential for navigating the many complex social interactions and challenges that are part of human life.

If play is so critical to developing bodies and minds, why do kids get so little of it these days? What attitudes and activities have contributed to the loss of free play and what can we do to reverse those trends? I’ll examine these questions and more later in the week. In the meantime, check out the fun video I made with the kids about child’s play, a spoof on that Disney song, called ‘Let Them Go!’

What are your memories of playing as a child? Were you allowed (or expected) to entertain yourself or did you spend time in organzied activities? What do you think about the state of children’s play today? Let us know in the comments below! 

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Danielle Meitiv is a scientist, writer, and mother of kids who roam.  She loves to talk about kids, parents, and society on Facebook and Twitter. She’s a passionate and opinionated public speaker and is represented by Louise Fury of The Bent Agency.

 

 

Avoiding Risk Can Be Hazardous to Your Kid’s Health

In last week’s blog post, Parenting is Risky Business, I wrote about the dangers of using “risk” as a criterion for determining child neglect: risk is subjective, and parenting involves weighing and taking risks all the time. Of course, parents want to shield their children from harm. But in the past few decades, has this desire morphed into an obsessive drive to shield them from all risk – one which does far more harm than good?

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From birth until 18…

Many American parents fear the risk of allowing their children too much freedom, but rarely consider the risk of giving them too little. There is a growing sense of “surplus safety;” that everything potentially dangerous must be avoided. However, it is impossible to truly avoid all danger, and the attempt to do so would lead to a dreary life.

Excessive avoidance of risk may even hinder a child’s development. The girl testing her limits on the monkey bars and the boy begging to explore his neighborhood out of his parent’s sight are not reckless children out for meaningless kicks (or to give their parents heart attacks). They are engaging in ‘risky play,’ activities that carry the possibility of physical injury or getting lost, which Norwegian evolutionary psychologist Ellen Beate Hansen Sandseter believes are developmentally necessary to combat debilitating phobias later in life.

The ‘non-associative model of fear acquisition’ suggests that people don’t develop phobias through exposure to or ‘association’ with scary situations or objects, like heights or snakes. Instead, infants are born with instinctive fears of situations that they are not physically or emotionally equipped to handle, such as the fears of strangers, dangerous animals, and the dark. As they grow, the exhilaration that comes from playful risk-taking allows them to confront and reprogram their reactions to these threats. Such play also allows children to rehearse handling the risks they may face as adults.

Children who are denied such opportunities to challenge themselves may have a higher incidence of mental illness as adults. According to Boston College psychologist Peter Gray, the sharp decline in opportunities for unstructured, unsupervised play, which often involves risky play, has contributed to an equally dramatic rise in anxiety, depression, narcissism, feeling of helplessness, and suicide among children, adolescents, and young adults.

Helping children learn to handle risk doesn’t mean tossing them out into the world to fend for themselves. Kids can develop the necessary skills gradually, by taking on progressively greater physical challenges or expanding the area in which they can roam without adults. Our kids started with unsupervised play in our front yard, and progressed to walks and bike rides around the block, to local stores, and to the library. (And up taller and taller trees).

We Americans once prided ourselves on our courage and willingness to take risks. Most of us descend from people who risked everything to leave their homelands and make a new life in this country. Every day, we decide which risks to take and which to avoid. By trying to avoid unlikely or minor threats, we may expose our children to far greater risks: The risk of growing up anxious, inept, or unable to take care of themselves. The risk of not developing resilience or the ability to judge the appropriateness of different kinds of behavior. What we risk most of all is raising children unprepared to meet the challenges essential to creating rich, rewarding lives; challenges Americans have proudly met for generations.

What do you think? Is it worth it to let kids take risks? 

Where have all the children gone?

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Signs of a different time. 

When I was growing up, and for nearly every generation before mine, kids were expected to entertain themselves in their free time without adult supervision. The idea that two children couldn’t walk in their own neighborhood without an adult—either because they were incapable or it was unsafe—would have been laughable. Kids were kicked out of the house and told to “be home by dinner.”

But no longer.

The world is different today—it’s much, much safer than when I was a kid. So why are American parents paranoid about letting their kids out of their sight? German reporter Clemens Wergin, Washington Bureau Chief for the German newspaper Die Welt, wrote in the New York Times about the contrast between parenting in Berlin and suburban Maryland. Back home, it wasn’t unusual for his girls, ages 8 and 11, to take the metro alone, go to the playground, or walk a mile to a piano lesson without parental supervision. But when he suggested that practice to American parents, many were “horrified.” In hundreds of emails, messages, and tweets, people from France, Israel, Australia, The Netherlands, New Zealand and elsewhere have shared with me stories of the freedom and responsibility given to children in their cultures.

Why not here? The American situation is even more confusing because such freedom was the norm for children and parents in this country not too long ago.

According to Boston College psychologist Peter Gray, children are less free today than any time in human history, with the exception of periods of slavery or intense child labor. But his research, as well as that of many others in his field, demonstrates that kids need time on their own, away from adults. Time to explore the world at their own pace and make sense of it in their own ways. By supervising kids at all times and controlling their activities, American parents, and society as a whole, reveal a disturbing lack of faith in children’s intelligence and competency. They also deny kids opportunities to experience classic adolescent milestones, such as learning to navigate their neighborhoods, going on sleepovers, getting paid jobs, and attending overnight camps—actives that social work professor and family therapist Dr. Michael Ungar sees as critical rites of passage that have aided the maturation process for generations.

Over the past year, I have heard stories from American adults who grew up “free-range” —what comedian Bill Maher notes was just called “parenting” back then—and have read many nostalgic accounts of childhood adventures. Author Mitch Albom put it best when he said that his parents would have been in jail if today’s over-protective standards had been applied when he was growing up.

Ironically, as children’s freedom outdoors has been severely curtailed, their privilege within the family has grown dramatically. Journalist Elizabeth Kolbert notes that, with the exception of ancient royal heirs, American kids may be the most overindulged brats in history. They have little to no responsibility, and are raised with fewer limits than in the past. Chores and part-time jobs are seen as wastes of time. Set bedtimes and mealtimes are quaint relics from the past. Few restrictions are set on TV and videos games, and even parents who can ill-afford to do so spoil their kids with toys, clothing, and other purchases. Behaviors that were considered non-negotiable in the past, like civility and basic respect for adults, are seen as optional or even a hindrance to parents who aim to be their kids’ best friends.

So…in spite of the reduction in crime over the past generation, AND expert agreement on the importance of structure, limits, and accountability for children, it seems that the only real boundary many modern parents enforce is the front door.

Parenting is Risky Business

[Yesterday, I was invited to testify before the Maryland House Judiciary Committee on a bill related to Child Protective Services. The sponsor pulled the bill from consideration while I was en route – this post is adapted from the comments I prepared for that hearing].

My name is Danielle Meitiv. I am a Maryland resident and mother of two children: Rafi, 11, and, Dvora 7. From October 2014 to June 2015, my husband and I were subjected to three neglect investigations by Child Protective Services (CPS) of Montgomery County, Maryland. In the first incident, we allowed our children, then ages 10 and 6, to play at a park one block from our house without adult supervision. In the other two instances, we allowed them to play at a park one-mile from our home and walk back, again without an adult. In all three investigations, my husband and I were cleared of any wrongdoing.

“Being wrongly investigated and indicated for inadequate supervision is more harmful to families than it may seem to the general public,” says Diane Redleaf of the Family Defense Center.

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The U.S. Supreme Court recognizes parents’ rights – shouldn’t CPS? 

Some people might think that it is better to investigate innocent families than to risk missing actual abuse or neglect. This ignores the harm that wrongful  investigations inflict on children and their families. Our children were pulled from their classrooms, interrogated and frightened by a CPS caseworker, lied to, and held against their will for hours in the back of a police car without access to food or a bathroom. We were not notified that the children had been  into custody until almost three hours after the fact, and they were not returned to us for two more hours. My son later told me that he thought he was going to an orphanage and would never see me again, and both children still want to hide when they see the police.

Children can be deeply traumatized by these forcible, unwarranted separations and their parents are left to pick up the pieces, with little or no help or apology from the authorities. Our family can certainly attest to that – we sought therapy to help our children deal with the post-traumatic stress induced by their ordeal, and it was a full month before we were all able to sleep without nightmares. Because most people assume that CPS only intervenes or removes children in cases where there is a clear threat of serious harm, “there have been few consequences for child welfare authors who indicate parents of neglect or remove a child from the home without evidence,” according to a 2015 report by the Family Defense Center.

Our children are not the only ones who have suffered. According to a report published by the federal Department of Health and Human Services in 2012, from 2008 to 2012, the number of referrals to CPS agencies nationwide increased by 8.3% to 6.3 million children, the while overall rates of actual child victimization declined by 3.3%. That means that over this period, the rate of wrongful investigation increased significantly. These wrongful investigations wasted government resources, which would have been better spent on children and families who actually needed intervention and support.

Nationwide and in the State of Maryland, a root cause of the increase in wrongful investigationsis the vague and inappropriate definition of child neglect. Maryland law 5-701 includes under the definition of neglect “the leaving of a child unattended…under circumstances that indicate… that the child’s health or welfare is harmed or placed at substantial risk of harm.” The use of “risk” as a criterion is a serious problem because it is subjective and fails to take into account the risk management decisions that are an essential aspect of parenting. Every parenting action entails a level of risk, whether it is allowing your child to play football, ride in a car, walk home from the park unattended, or sit in front of the television all day.

This criterion also infringes on the rights of parents to make those decisions. As recently as 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court reffirmed that “it cannot now be doubted that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children”. [Troxel v. Granville, 530 U.S. 57 (2000)]

The child welfare policies and practices of most states, including Maryland, directly violate these rights. In June of 2015, the Maryland Department of Health and Human Services announced a “clarification” of their guidelines, stating that an unattended child would not automatically trigger an investigation for neglect. This is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. The laws that govern child neglect in Maryland, and every state nationwide, must change to recognize the Constitutional rights of parents to raise their children, without risking government intrusion or harassment. The U.S. Supreme Court has recognized that fathers – and mothers – know best. State laws must recognize this as well.

Just the Facts

Fact: According to the FBI, the United States today is as safe, or safer, than it has been in more than forty years.

blog_violent_crime_six_large_cities_2According to the New York Times:

The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years. In all regions, the country appears to be safer. The odds of being murdered or robbed are now less than half of what they were in the early 1990s, when violent crime peaked in the United States. Small towns, especially, are seeing far fewer murders: In cities with populations under 10,000, the number plunged by more than 25 percent last year.

Fact: Just one generation ago, when todays parents were kids, children were given much greater freedom and responsibility than they are allowed today.

Author Mitch Albom describes a childhood much like that which I, and the majority of today’s parent, enjoyed:

I walked half a mile to school as a 6-year-old, rode a subway and two buses to school when I was 11 and was told by my mother, repeatedly, “Go outside and play somewhere. Anywhere!

Fact: In most places in the world, childhood independence and freedom are still the norm.

As Clemens Wergin, Washington bureau chief for Die Welt, explains:

…Germany is generally much more accepting of letting children take some risks. To this German parent, it seems that America’s middle class has taken overprotective parenting to a new level, with the government acting as a super nanny.

So, why do American parents think that their kids are incapable of handling the same level of independence they enjoyed when they were kids?

Why do they believe that their kids are less competent than their peers in other countries and in earlier times?

And if today’s kids are in fact less competent, whose fault is that?

 

 

Danielle Meitiv is a scientist, writer, “free-range” mom, and very passionate, opinionated person. She is currently working on a book called “Fighting For the Future: A Parent’s Rebellion.” You can find her on Twitter:  @DanielleMeitiv , Facebook: Danielle Meitiv, and YouTube: Danielle Luttenberg Meitiv. She lives with her husband and her two famous, free-range kids in Silver Spring, MD.

When letting your kids out of your sight becomes a crime – The Washington Post

When letting your kids out of your sight becomes a crime - The Washington Post

    When letting your kids out of your sight becomes a crime – The Washington Post.

February 13, 2015

Danielle Meitiv lives in Silver Spring.

We all want what is best for our children. We want them to be happy and successful, and we want to protect them from harm. But what if we are protecting them from extremely remote threats while ignoring the things that most endanger their well-being? What if police and child welfare officials, the experts whom we empower to protect our children, are pursuing phantom problems while neglecting those who are truly at risk?

One recent Saturday afternoon, six police officers and five patrol cars came to my home in Silver Spring. They demanded identification from my husband and entered our home despite not having a warrant to do so. The reason for this show of force? We had allowed our children to walk home from a neighborhood park by themselves.

A few hours later, a Montgomery County Child Protective Services (CPS) social worker coerced my husband into signing a “temporary safety plan” for our children by threatening to take the children “right now” — a threat she backed up with a call to the police. In the weeks that followed, another worker from the agency appeared at our door with the police and insisted that he did not need a warrant to enter our home. He also interviewed our children at school without our knowledge or permission.

When did Americans decide that allowing our kids to be out of sight was a crime?

Not everyone is comfortable with the idea of young children being outside without adult supervision. We’re not always comfortable with it, either. We think, however, that giving them an opportunity to learn to make their way in the world independently is the best way to prepare them for adulthood — and that it is safe for them to do so.

Although our fears may tell us one thing about the world, the facts say something quite different. Crime rates across the United States are as low as they’ve been in my lifetime. Stranger abduction, the bogeyman of most parental fears, has always been exceedingly rare. Far more hazardous are the obesity risks and idleness we subject children to if we do not allow them to run outside and play.

Fear, too, takes a toll. I wasn’t there when the police brought my children home in a patrol car, but my 10-year-old called me, sobbing that “Daddy is getting arrested.” The incident gave my daughter nightmares. My son told us that the social worker who questioned him asked, “What would you do if someone grabbed you?,” and suggested that he tell us that he doesn’t want to go off on his own anymore because it’s dangerous and that there are “bad guys waiting to grab you.” This is how adults teach children to be afraid even when they are not in danger.

We are not the only parents in this position. Last summer, Debra Harrell of North Augusta, S.C., spent 17 days in jail because she let her 9-year-old daughter play at a park while she was working. In Port St. Lucie, Fla.,Nicole Gainey was arrested and charged with neglect because her 7-year-old was playing unsupervised at a nearby playground, and Ashley Richardson of Winter Haven, Fla., was jailed when she left her four kids, ages 6 to 8, to play at a park while she shopped at the local food bank.

The problem with these cases, and ours, was not that police stopped to check on the children involved; that’s what we want officers to do if they have concerns about a child’s welfare. The problem is that, once it was determined that involved parents had already judged their children to be safe, the authorities didn’t move along. Instead they turned to heavyhanded legal and bureaucratic remedies that did far more harm than good.

Nationwide, providers of social services are burdened with overflowing workloads and backlogs of hundreds of cases. So why are they wasting time with us? Even if CPS is mandated to follow up on every call, why aren’t there objective, rational criteria to determine which situations warrant attention? As long as the trigger for an investigation is “child left unsupervised,” these workers will run themselves ragged and waste precious resources investigating families like ours while neglecting children who really need their help.

CPS’s work is vital and necessary, but the pendulum has swung too far. We need to take back the streets and parks for our children. We need to refuse to allow ourselves to be ruled by fear or allow our government to overrule decisions that parents make about what is best for their children. Overpolicing parents in this way does not make children safer; it disrupts families and makes our kids fearful, anxious and unhealthy. We also need to support groups such as the National Association of Parents, which fights for the constitutional rights of parents to raise their children as they see fit, as long as the children are not harmed.

 And whether through the legislatures or the courts, neglect laws need to be redefined to safeguard parents’ discretion to make reasonable risk-management judgments for their children, including the decision to allow them the freedom and independence that was the norm a generation ago and is still essential to their development and well-being.

Get in the Garden, Already!

Happy Spring!

Last week, we celebrated the vernal or spring equinox, when the Earth leans neither towards (summer) nor away (winter) from the sun. On that day, the hours of daylight and darkness were exactly equal.

What does that mean for us gardeners? Time to get out there and dig in the dirt – summer’s coming!

If you’re like me (impatient and congenitally unable to follow rules or even “guidelines”), you’ve already been playing out there for weeks now. Especially if you live in a region like the mid-Atlantic, where winter hardly showed up this year and the spring weather started sometime in February.

So what’s happened in the barefoot garden so far?

Asparagus!

After two years of waiting (I can be patient when necessary) we harvested the first tender spears of our own asparagus. Delicious! Asparagus is one of the few common vegetables that are perennial, meaning that a little patience up front will be rewarded for years to come.

If you’re so inclined, now is the time to plant the crowns (small rooted plants). Pick a sunny spot that you are willing to dedicate to asparagus forever; the plants can last produce for 15-20 years! For the first two years you must force yourself to let the tender, tempting shoots grow into tall fern-like fronds, allowing the roots to develop fully. Then in year two you can snip the first two weeks of shoots, in year three: three weeks, etc.

We harvested three or four meals worth. Now we’ll let the spears grow into tall fern-like fronds, to feed the roots developing below ground. They’re quite beautiful, so I don’t mind giving up the tasty spears.

Fall Winter Spring Greens

I’m a big fan of fall and winter gardening. When temperatures and light levels drop, plants grow more slowly but that doesn’t mean the growing season is over. Eliot Coleman, garden guru extraordinaire runs a CSA in Maine that produces greens and other tasties year-round! If he can do it, so can we.

Here’s the plot that I planted back sometime in October. It’s been producing all winter long and with the advent of warmer weather it’s taken off! Last week I harvested these two baskets of greens and that’s probably only ten percent of what we’ve eaten from this plot so far.

I’ve scattered some lettuce and spinach seeds in there to fill out the spots where we were over-zealous in our harvesting and expect this bed to continue to produce until June. Then I’ll clear it out and plant sweet potatoes.

What Can I Plant Now?

Even if freezing temperatures are threatening your area tonight (I’m looking at you, mid-Atlantic!), there are still many seeds you can sow now to get  a jump on the growing season.  In fact many of my favorite veggies prefer the cooler temperatures of spring to the roast ’em and toast ’em summer. These include:

  • most leafy veggies: lettuce, spinach, corn salad and all of the lovely cabbage-family greens like collards, kale, mizuna, arugula and mustard.
  • cabbage-family root and “head” veggies: radishes, turnips, cabbage broccoli, cauliflower
  • peas – snow and sweet
  • white potatoes.

All of the above can be sown directly into the garden. Red radishes and lettuce are are super fast; plant them today and you’ll be eating them by Mother’s Day!

For great info on four-season gardening check out Eliot Coleman’s book, Four-Season Harvest: Organic Vegetables from Your Garden All Year Long. You can find links to more of my favorite gardening books on the Gardening Authors and Experts Page.
Happy growing and eating!  — Danielle

I’m Diggin’ Friday: Wilting and the Seventh-Month Slump

Welcome to I’m Diggin’ Friday, a weekly feature here at Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog that explores the ins and outs of Barefoot Gardening, a fun, family-friendly, low-stress way to grow fresh produce right at home!

The temperature hit 102 degrees today – too hot to even think about gardening. But with the A/C and the ceiling fan working hard, I can blog about it.  At least a short post. 🙂

Wilting pumpkin vines.
Wilting pumpkin vines I know how they feel.

I watered yesterday but these poor pumpkins are still wilting. I know how they feel. (Don’t worry, the water is on as we speak. They obviously need some more).

The good news is the wilting allowed me to find a few more pumpkins amid all that foliage – there were seven, including a cool green and orange-striped one that I harvested this afternoon.

Why do plants wilt?

Herbaceous plants – those without woody stems – rely on water pressure to keep them upright. Like a hose, they can only stand straight when their cells have sufficient water. Not enough H2O and they flop over or wilt.

The cure? Give ’em a drink!

However, not all leaf-curling is wilting. Plants lose water from their leaves through a evaporation – a process known as transpiration. When it’s really hot, transpiration increases. To avoid losing too much water some plants curl their leaves, thereby reducing the amount of surface exposed to the sun.

So, if your tomato plants are otherwise healthy and well-watered, but their leaves are curling up, they’re just protecting themselves from the heat.

The Seventh-Month Slump

It’s official: I’ve hit the mid-summer gardening slump. Veggies are ripening, beds need watering and the temperature is climbing. And yet, while summer is still going strong, now is the time to start planning for fall veggie gardening.

Yes, now is the time to start those long-growing veggies, the cabbage family crops that 4-EVER to ripen. Every year I have great plans to start them as seedlings indoors in July. And every year I hit the slump.

This year I will embrace my laziness and decide upfront (instead of accepting the inevitable later) that there will be no broccoli, Brussels sprouts or other time-hogs in my garden come fall.

Instead I will enjoy the lazy days of tomatoes and cukes and plant lettuce, spinach and other quick and easy crops in September and October – when the beans have come up and my energy has returned.

The return will still be great. I’ll be harvesting THOSE greens all winter – and into the spring, too! More on that in a future post

BONUS: July Poster Giveaway

This month’s special giveaway is this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the end of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. She’s currently writing a series of short erotic romances. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

I’m Diggin’ Friday: We’re Growing Steady

Welcome to I’m Diggin’ Friday, a weekly feature here at Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog that explores the ins and outs of Barefoot Gardening, a fun, family-friendly, low-stress way to grow fresh produce right at home!

Things are growing steadily in the barefoot garden. I’m also embarrassed to admit that I haven’t done much out there in the last couple of weeks. Not even watering, as Mother Nature has taken care of that with a trio of well-timed thunderstorms.

We’ve harvested the last of the in-ground potatoes and will see if the potato bin experiment was a success when I return home from my business trip next week.  The cucumbers are ripening nicely, as are the cherry tomatoes.

The Great Pumpkin

Cucumber patch
The cucumber patch. We've already harvested a half-dozen "Boothby Blond" yellow cukes.

The pumpkins are completely insane and one is ready to harvest. My brother suggested pinching off all the other flowers and seeing how big it could grow, but I think this variety is bred to produce smallish pumpkin. (I have no idea because all of the pumpkins were volunteers – more on that in this post).

I’ve been reminded that The Great Pumpkin will only visit a sincere pumpkin patch  – I think an enthusiastic, all-volunteer patch qualifies, don’t you?

Asian eggplant
The first tiny Asian eggplant. A few more weeks and yum!

Eggplants, Pole Beans, and Bamboo – Oh My!

The eggplants are starting to grow, although only two of the four plants have fruit. I can’t eat Italian or globe eggplants (allergic reaction) but have no problem with Asian eggplants, so I grow them every year.

Well, now I do, since I live in a warm enough climate for them. Boston’s summers just weren’t long enough but Maryland is just right!

We planted pole beans in the patch where the garlic had been and they’re coming up nicely.  Strangely, the vines haven’t been winding themselves up the poles. Instead they’ve been winding around each other and trailing on the ground so I have to untangle them and coax them up the poles.

As you can see in the cuke photo above, bamboo is my favorite pole and trellis material. We just cut in from vacant lots or friends’ backyards. In the DC-area is grows like a weed!

Asparagus is desperate need of weeding. Planted last year - ready to eat NEXT year.

The Value of Patience

This fuzzy patch is one of two asparagus beds planted last summer. Asparagus is a hardy perennial that is very easy to grow, but it requires patience!  You plant the crowns in the early spring and then leave them alone – no harvesting, no nibbling – for the next TWO summers. After that, however, you can have fresh asparagus for a decade or TWO!

Now there’s a plant that personifies (botanifies?) the barefoot gardening approach. You give it a little care up front and it pays you back in spades for YEARS to come. More on using perennials in the vegetable garden in a future post.

Feeling Fruity – Berries and Figs

It’s not all veggies around here. A few weeks ago I blogged about strawberries. In the berry realm, we also have raspberries, blackberries, and currants. I planted two goji berry bushes but one died and the other’s not looking too hot- I may try to transplant it to a better spot.

Figs
We're gonna have an awesome fig harvest come September!

But those aren’t the only fruit we have. One of the reasons I LOVED our house on sight – or I should say four of the reasons – were the mature fig trees growing on both sides of the house. Until then I had assumed that figs needed a Mediterranean climate, like olive and apricots. But they grow wonderfully here.

Oooo – Pretty! (And Yum!)

I’m not big into planting flowers – I want food for my efforts – but the woman who lived her before me did such an amazing job planting bulbs and perennials that I still benefit from her labors. In the spring we eagerly anticipate the emergence of the crocuses and daffodils followed by the tulips and irises.

But nothing pleases me more than the hibiscus that pop up amidst all the lilies across from my office window. And did you know hibiscus flowers are good in herbal teas?  In fact, if you’ve ever had one of Celestial Seasonings “zinger” teas, you’ve tasted it. The citrusy taste is from hibiscus.

Hibiscus
Hibiscus flowers: beautiful, huge (dinner-plate sized), and yummy in herbal tea.

My son loves it so this year we’re going to harvest and dry some of he flowers ourselves.

…in an Itsy Bitsy Gardening Space

I have to clear up a common misconception.  I don’t live on a farm. I don’t live on a huge lot in a distant exurb. I don’t have a huge community garden plot or allotment (to use the English term).

I live on a normal-sized lot with grass, flowers, shrubs and a driveway. All the veggies and fruit bushes and trees that I’ve described to you grow in small patches. The biggest is maybe 8 x 10 feet.

In a future post (yes, I know I promise that a lot – I mean it!) I’ll focus on how to garden in tiny places – like balconies and containers – as well as where to garden when you have absolutely no space of your own.

In the meantime, grow green – and barefoot!

How does YOUR garden grow?

How are your tomatoes, cukes or pumpkins? Got any bean coming up – or veggies ready to harvest?  Have bugs got you down or is drought drying you up?

Share, kvetch or commiserate – in the comments below!

BONUS: July Poster Giveaway

This month’s special giveaway is this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the end of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. She’s currently writing a series of short erotic romances. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.

 

I’m Diggin Friday: Squash Happens (a lot!)

Welcome to I’m Diggin’ Friday, a weekly feature here at Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog that explores the ins and outs of Barefoot Gardening, a fun, family-friendly, low-stress way to grow fresh produce right at home!

As any home veggie gardener knows, when squash happens, it REALLY happens. That is to say, unlike eggplants or bell peppers, which produce in modest amounts, when you plant squash you almost always get more that you bargained for.

Pumpkin on the walkway
Pumpkin plants spilling onto the path and the first orange pumpkin of the year.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Barefoot gardening is all about getting the most food and fun out of the least amount of effort. Squash definitely fits the bill, especially summer squash. They’re easy to grow from seed and have relatively few pests.

(I’ve had problems with squash vine borers wiping out my plants in August, but I got a good harvest before then).

Squash are members of the cucurbit family, which includes cucumbers, cantelopes and melons. There are two basic types of squash: summer and winter. They’re named not for when they grow – both types need warm summer weather to grow and ripen – but for when you eat them.

Summertime – and the squash is prolific

Summer squash include the “soft” squashes like zucchini, patty pan and yellow crookneck. These kinds don’t store well unless you freeze them. They are super easy to grow and VERY prolific.

Let me repeat that for those of you who are tempted to rush out and plant two or more plants: they are VERY prolific.  Even a family of dedicated veggie-eaters couldn’t eat the number of zucchinis that 3+ plants would provide. Ratatouille, zucchini bread, stir fries and the like are nice – but everyday???

Sweet potato and summer squash foliage
The really large leaves closest to the hose and rain barrel are summer squash plants. (The rest are sweet potato vines).

Also, they grow so fast that the cute 2″ long zucchini you admired last week will be a 18″ long club as thick as your calf if you so much as look away. So whatever you do, don’t blink!

(Bonus points to the geeks who can ID that reference).

That said, I planted some in my garden this year, after swearing that I wouldn’t because I get dozens from our two CSA shares every summer. They grow so fast and produce so much they make you feel like a freaking gardening genius!

(More on CSAs or community-supported agriculture in a future post. Summary: They’re AMAZING!)

Squash for fair weather OR foul

Winter squash are the hard-skinned varieties, which can be stored for months. There are dozens of varieties including : butternut, acorn, delicata, spaghetti and of course pumpkins.

Four pumpkins hiding
Can you spot the four pumpkins in this picture?

These guys take a lot longer to grow and are usually not as prolific as their summer cousins, but their still pretty easy and totally worth it if you have the space – they’re vines tend to spread out, unless you plant a variety that is specifically bred to stay contained.

Come Halloween, what could be more fun than decorating a pumpkin you grew yourself?!

I did not plant ANY pumpkins this year.  I planted a few butternut and delicata seeds, but I knowing that pumpkins took up more room than I was willing to give them, I held off.

This morning I counted seven soccerball-sized pumpkins in various shades of green and orange and at least half-dozen tiny ones. They’re growing beneath platter-sized leaves on vines a half-dozen feet long or more in two different beds.

Clearly, it was not up to me.

The eggplant and potato beds
On the right: volunteer squash (and tomatoes) taking over the potato beds. Luckily the last spuds are ready for harvest.

No, my family did not sneak out in the middle of the night and sprinkle pumpkins seeds liberally throughout the garden.  They’re ALL volunteers – plants that came up on their own because their seeds were dropped on the ground sometime between last fall and this summer.

These particular seeds came from a pumpkin that my son brought home from a school trip to a you-pick farm last fall.  We kept it on the porch until it started to get soft, then tossed it in the compost pile.

Now its progeny are taking over my yard. I even found one climbing up a weigela bush and it’s already set a little pumpkin

A pumpkin plant on a bush
A pumpkin plant growing up a bush! Note the little pumpkin already forming at the base of the flower.

The vine won’t be able to support a full-sized pumpkin, but I’ve read about fashioning a sling from an onion bag or an old pair of stockings. (I’ll let you know how that goes).

I’m not really a big fan of pumpkin pie, so what am I going to do with all these pumpkins?

The ones that are babies now will be perfect size for carving come October.

The others? We’ll eat them, of course, but since they store well, we can do so over a number of months. Whew!

When they think “pumpkin”, most people think of only sweet dishes. But pumpkin and other winter squash because a favored part of my diet when I had an Afghani dish that features pumpkin cooked in olive oil, garlic and salt.

My husband also makes a great millet and pumpkin dish.

Basically, pumpkin can be used in any recipe that calls for squash. Try it in a pureed curried squash soup. Delish!

How does your garden grow?

Confession time: have you ever gone crazy with the squash? Had so many you were dropping them on your neighbors porches in the dead of night, slipping them into open car windows? Or maybe you’ve had the opposite problem: vine borers or some other pest doing away with your crop before the first zucchini could make an appearance.

Let us know – in the comments below!

I’m also open to any all and garden questions. If I don’t know the answer I’ll try to find someone who does. Those also go in the comments below.

A hardy thanks to all the folks who have piped up so far – keep those questions and blog topic suggestions coming!

BONUS: July Poster Giveaway

This month’s special giveaway is this fabulous out-of-print NOAA poster, Marine Mammals of the Western Hemisphere. Everyone who leaves a comment between now and the middle of July gets one entry in the drawing. Link to this site on your blog and get two entries. Get your comments in now!

Danielle Meitiv is a writer, marine science geek, gardener and mother who goes barefoot whenever possible. Danielle is also a huge fan and sales affiliate for Holly Lisle’s online courses: How to Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers, and How to Revise Your Novel. Follow @Danielle_Meitiv on Twitter, and on Facebook: Danielle Meitiv’s Barefoot Blog, and Danielle Meitiv.