Living Columns & Blogs

Garden projects for kids: Mushroom-growing kits, bean teepees

Oyster mushrooms sprout from a do-it-yourself mushroom kit made by local business Cascadia Mushrooms onMarch 29, 2014. Buy at kit at the Bellingham Farmers Market held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, then have your kids grow the mushrooms as a project.
Oyster mushrooms sprout from a do-it-yourself mushroom kit made by local business Cascadia Mushrooms onMarch 29, 2014. Buy at kit at the Bellingham Farmers Market held 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays, then have your kids grow the mushrooms as a project. The Bellingham Herald

QUESTION: I’m looking for a fun growing project that my kids would enjoy and learn from. Do you have any sure-fire ideas that work? I hope they’re easy.

ANSWER: A couple come to mind.

We’re lucky in Whatcom County to have a small but growing company that specializes in growing mushrooms of all types. Cascadia Mushrooms is a fascinating place, and if you ever get the chance to visit and tour, I highly recommend it.

But in the meantime, purchase one of their grow-your-own mushroom kits. You can get shiitake, oyster, Lions mane and Pioppino mushrooms. Once you’ve got the kit at home (they can be purchased at the Bellingham Farmers Market on Saturdays) you soak the mushroom block, then tent it, find a good location in your house or heated garage, and sit back to wait for the emergence of your very own home-grown mushrooms.

The block needs humidity, which is achieved by misting it a couple of times a day. The kids can do this; create a calendar showing who is responsible for which days. When the mushroom start emerging, have the kids do a spreadsheet — how many, when, how big, how fast the growth, etc.

The best news is that very often those picky eaters will at least attempt to taste something they’ve grown. And along with your kit comes the choice of several delicious recipes using your mushrooms.

Another fun outdoor activity for kids is growing a bean teepee. It’s quite easy to do. You’ll need six 2-by-2-by-8 feet pieces of lumber, some gardening twine and some climbing bean seeds. It’s best to wait a few weeks until the weather settles into late spring-early summer, though now you can clear a space approximately 8 feet in diameter where you’ll build the teepee.

Construction is easy. You place the wood upright, pretty much evenly spaced, into a teepee shape, and tie the tops together. You’ll need to sink the wood into the ground so it’s stable, about 4-5 inches.

When this is complete, you’ll spiral the string around the wood, working from the bottom to the top, spacing it about every 8 inches. Leave one distance between the wood uprights for an entrance. Keep the twine taut.

Plant the bean seeds, placing them every 4 inches or so around the outside base of the teepee. Then begins the waiting game, largely dependent on what weather we’ll have. Keep the beans watered, but don’t drown them. Again, this kid activity can be enhanced with a little math: measuring, charting sprouting and then growth of the plants, etc.

Your kids’ teachers will love you! And maybe yours will learn that math has a place in the real world!

QUESTION: Last year, much to my dismay, I grew cucumbers that were a huge disappointment. They looked great, they grew well, but they were bitter. What am I doing wrong? This has never happened to me before, and I’m without a clue to what’s going on.

ANSWER: Cucumbers have a defense, just like most animals and humans. Theirs is a defense against insects, fungi, those that might eat them, and environmental stresses.

If temperatures vary more than 20 degrees, or there is too little or too much moisture, they are likely to become bitter. Luckily, however, the bitterness is mostly concentrated near the stem and just under the skin, so not all is lost.

Be sure to plant your cucumbers in full sun and to water and fertilize them regularly and well. And while we’re on the subject of cucumbers, if you haven’t tried lemon cucumbers, you’ve missed a good thing. It isn’t too late: seeds are still available. Once you grow these, however, they’ll become part of your essential crops.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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