Dig­gin’ In: Gar­den­ing in the cab­bage patch

The Progress-Index - At Home - - News - BY KATHY VAN MULLEKOM

Kids may turn up their noses at the smell of cab­bage cook­ing in the kitchen, but thou­sands of young­sters na­tion­wide take pride in grow­ing the big­gest cab­bages they can.

Their gar­den­ing skills show up in the an­nual Bon­nie Plants Cab­bage Pro­gram, which earns them schol­ar­ships and hand­son lessons in the garden. In 2012, more than 1.5 mil­lion third-graders in 48 states tended to cab­bages, hop­ing to win “best in state” and $1,000 in ed­u­ca­tional money.

“The pro­gram is a won­der­ful way to en­gage chil­dren’s in­ter­est in agri­cul­ture, while teach­ing them not only the ba­sics of gar­den­ing, but the im­por­tance of our food sys­tems and grow­ing our own,” says Stan Cope, pres­i­dent of Bon­nie Plants.

In Vir­ginia, Evan Jus­tus, a third-grader at Elk Garden Ele­men­tary in Rosedale, took home the state’s ti­tle with a cab­bage that looks al­most as big as he is and weighed more than 14 pounds. Some kids have grown cab­bages that tipped the scales at 40 pounds, ac­cord­ing to Bon­nie Plants.

The big­gest cab­bage ev­ery grown in the his­tory of the pro­gram was a 65 pounder by the Mon­tana state win­ner in 2011.

Launched na­tion­ally in 2002, the pro­gram awards a $1,000 schol­ar­ship to one stu­dent in each par­tic­i­pat­ing state. At the end of the sea­son, teach­ers from each class se­lect the stu­dent who has grown the “best” cab­bage, based on size and ap­pear­ance. A dig­i­tal im­age of the cab­bage and stu­dent is submitted on­line at http://www.bon­nieplants.com/. That stu­dent’s name is then en­tered in a statewide draw­ing. State win­ners are ran­domly se­lected by the com­mis­sioner of agri­cul­ture in each state.

Why a cab­bage-grow­ing con­test? Cab­bages were the first suc­cess­ful crop for Bon­nie Plants in 1918. Cab­bages used for the third­grade pro­gram are OS Cross, or an over­sized one, that’s known for pro­duc­ing gi­ant heads, thereby mak­ing the process more ex­cit­ing for kids, says a Bon­nie Plants spokesper­son. The pro­gram is free, geared specif­i­cally to third-graders and is open to

home-schooled stu­dents.

To test your own cab­bage-grow­ing skills, fol­low th­ese tips:

Cab­bages, which like to grow in cool weather, need at least six hours of full sun­light, more if pos­si­ble.

Bon­nie O.S. cab­bages need at least three feet on each side to spread out. If you don’t have that much space, use a large con­tainer.

Work some com­post into the soil _ cab­bages love nu­tri­ent-rich soil.

Start your cab­bage off right with an allpur­pose veg­etable fer­til­izer, then fer­til­ize it ev­ery 10 days to keep it grow­ing strong.

Your cab­bage needs at least one inch of rain­fall each week. If it doesn’t rain, use a wa­ter­ing can or garden hose to gen­tly water your plant at soil level.

Keep weeds out of the cab­bage patch _ they com­pete for the food and water your cab­bage needs. Be on the look­out for brown or white moths _ th­ese come from worms that love to munch on cab­bage. If you see any, get rid of them right away. Cold weather can dam­age your cab­bage. If the weather gets be­low 32 de­grees, cover your cab­bage with a bucket or cloth cov­er­ing.

In just 10 to 12 weeks, you should have a huge head of cab­bage you can be proud of.

To see all the 2012 win­ners and learn more about how you can get cab­bage seedlings for your third-graders for the 2013 con­test, visit http://www.bon­nieplants.com/.

• Kathy Van Mullekom is gar­den­ing and home colum­nist for the Daily Press, New­port News, Va.; e-mail her at kvan­mullekom@aol. com; fol­low her at roomand­yard.com/dig­gin, Face­book.com/kathy­van­mullekom, Pin­ter­est.com/dig­ginin and Twit­ter.com/dig­gindirt.

MCT PHOTO

Mon­tana’s 2011 state win­ner Meadow Ze­lenitz with her 65-pound cab­bage; it’s the largest ever grown in the pro­gram’s his­tory.

Third-grade teach­ers and home-schooled stu­dents can ap­ply to get cab­bage seedlings for the 2013 Bon­nie Plants Cab­bage Pro­gram.

MCT PHOTO

Third-grade class­rooms have fun dis­cussing their starter cab­bage plants be­fore the con­test be­gins.

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