Easy and Interesting Kit Gardening

By Susan Littlefield

While there is nothing like getting out into the garden, feeling the warm earth between your fingers, carefully tucking seeds and transplants into dark loamy soil, there is something to be said for the ease and fun of gardening from a kit. It is a great opportunity to try something new and different and an enjoyable way to introduce gardening to kids.

Fun with Fungi

While we may grow and eat them like plants, mushrooms and other fungi are in a category all of their own, neither plants nor animals. Rather, in the taxonomic organization of organisms, they have their own realm, the Kingdom Fungi.

Unlike green plants that manufacture food using the energy of the sun, mushrooms lack chlorophyll and are what are called saprophytes, organisms that absorb the nutrients they need from the organic material in which they live.

When we eat a mushroom we are eating the ″fruit″ of the fungus, the part of the organism that produces the spores that assure its reproduction. But there is a lot more to a mushroom than what we see above ground. The body of the mushroom, called the mycelium, consists of a web of tiny filaments called hyphae that secrete acids and enzymes that break down organic matter into compounds that the fungus can absorb. This network of hyphae is hidden in the soil, wood, or other food source in which the fungus is growing.

Mushrooms have been enjoyed as food for thousands of years. The French were among the first Westerners to begin cultivating mushrooms (as opposed to gathering them from the wild). In fact, around the time of King Louis XIV they were grown in special caves near Paris -- for unlike green plants, a mushroom crop needs no light for photosynthesis.

While they taste delicious, what do mushroom offer in the way of nutrition? Quite a bit, as it turns out. In addition to being low in calories, they are rich in nutrients such as B vitamins and minerals such as selenium, copper, and potassium. Additionally, many mushrooms contain compounds called beta-glucans that have been shown to stimulate immunity. And mushrooms are the only type of produce that are a source of Vitamin D, a nutrient that scientists are learning is beneficial in more ways than previously thought.

So why not try your hand at growing this tasty crop with our easy to use mushroom farms? All you need to do is add water and in 3 to 4 weeks you'll have 6 to 9 pounds of fabulous fungi to enjoy! Kits are shipped October 1 through May 1 only.

Portabella Mushroom Farm — These large brown mushrooms are delicious grilled, roasted, sauteed, or stuffed and baked.

Shiitake Mushroom Farm —Cultivated in China and Japan for thousands of years, shiitakes have a rich, buttery, meaty flavor.

White Button Classic Mushroom Farm —These familiar mushrooms have a mild, earthy flavor that works well in many dishes.

Strawberries — No Fields Needed

If you hanker for the taste of fresh berries, but don't have a spot for a berry patch, don't despair! All you need is a sunny spot on a wall or fence and you can harvest a crop of these luscious fruits from your own hanging garden. Our kit includes everything you need to be picking sun-ripened berries. And the lush foliage makes an eye-catching decorative accent all summer long.

Gardening in a Jiffy with Kids

Children are fascinated by the wonder of poking a small seed into the soil and seeing an entire plant grow up from it. Even better when they can harvest and eat the fruits of this endeavor. It's easy to help kids experience the wonder of growing plants with Jiffy Kid's Cups, which include all that's needed to grow a bean, pumpkin, sunflower, or watermelon plant. Once the plants are big enough, they can be moved to the garden where the fun of tending and harvesting awaits. You just might inspire a lifetime of gardening with one little cup!

Question of the Month: Early Spring Crops

Q: Although it's still cold where I live, I can't wait to get gardening again as soon as the weather starts to warm. What are some of the hardiest crops that can be planted outdoors in early spring?

A: Peas and spinach are two of the most cold hardy crops. But before you do any planting you want to make sure your soil is dry enough to be digging in. If you work the soil when it is too wet, especially if it's clay soil, you can destroy its structure and leave it a compacted mess. Test if soil is ready for planting by squeezing a handful. If it sticks together in a tight ball, it needs to dry out some more. If the ball of soil crumbles when poked lightly with your finger, then it's time to get growing. The soil in raised beds dries out faster than that than ground-level beds, so you may want to consider constructing some in your garden to facilitate early planting.

Peas can go in the ground 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. If you are using untreated seed (that hasn't been coated with fungicide to prevent rotting in cool, wet soil), it's a good idea to pre-germinate your pea seeds indoors before planting them in the ground. Spinach seeds germinate well in cool soil and can be planted as soon as the ground is dry enough for planting.

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