Children’s Vegetable Garden Spring Session 2023

by Tom Neckar, Bexar County Master Gardener Intern

July 2023

Families hard at work in the garden

As we wrap up our 40th year spring session for the Children’s Vegetable Garden program (CVG) located at the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT), it has been a very interesting time. We had 47 families register to participate this season.  The spring weather was fairly cooperative.  Cool temperatures prevailed with only two sessions being canceled due to severe thunderstorms and lightning.  The garden was also the recipient of lots of rain showers, and only during the last few weeks did warm weather arrive.

A big thank you goes out to Mary Fernandez, BCMG Children’s Garden Lead, for arranging the weekly volunteer meetings and giving planting instructions and tips for the day to pass on to the families. Thanks also go to Olivia Roybal, SABOT Youth and Family Programs Coordinator, and her staff for registering the families, keeping up with all the administrative paperwork, and preparing a weekly email for the families and volunteers regarding weekend events. She also assisted Mary with our 7:30 a.m. weekly volunteer meetings that provided insight into what was happening in and around the Botanical Garden.

At the start of each weekly session, the section lead would demonstrate planting procedures, spacing, and location within their plot and discuss any maintenance, weed issues, and watering needs. A garden vocabulary word of the week was also shared with the families.

The first week the families met the section leaders and volunteers, received a welcome and orientation about the history of the CVG and safety procedures in the garden, and were led on a tour of their section and tool shed.  They finished the day by preparing the soil, removing weeds, checking the irrigation system, cleaning tools, and returning them to the tool shed.

Planting season started with the families preparing the plots and planting potatoes and cole crops (broccoli and cauliflower), tomato plants and eggplant. The families were instructed on the importance of watering to keep the plants healthy and free from insects.  With the lower temperature at night and some strong winds, the tomato plants were kept covered with a frost cloth wrap for several weeks.

‘Pantheon’ zucchini squash

The following week, children were introduced to seed planting. Included were ‘Provider’ bush beans, ‘Yellow Crookneck’ squash, ‘Pantheon’ zucchini squash, ‘Dasher II’ cucumber, ‘Rubypak F1’ carrot, and ‘KossakF1’ kohlrabi.

Thunderstorms and lightning again prevailed and forced a delay in the weekly schedule. Planting resumed with the planting of jalapeno and banana peppers. Marigolds were also planted to attract pollinators, a hardy deterrent to some pests, and to provide beauty. Next, children were given ribbons to decorate the tomato cages for Fiesta and to deter the birds from eating the tomatoes.

During the next 4 weeks, families concentrated on plot maintenance and early harvesting. Also during this time, the families received ladybugs to be released in their plots.  Educational sessions were presented as well.  The families enjoyed ‘What’s Bugging You?’ by Susan Porr, BCMG; ‘Soil and Compost’ with Bill Swantner, BCMG; and ‘Purple Martins’ with John Henry, weekend birder and naturalist.

Participants worked diligently to ensure plots were well-maintained and weed-free

Families were invited to two events at the SABOT after the weekly garden sessions. The first was ‘Viva Botanica.’ a Fiesta event to explore the 38 acres of nature in the Garden, with hands-on activities and performances by San Antonio Dance Group.  Next, they were invited to ‘Celebrate Imagination,’ larger-than-life plant sculptures of Imaginary World on display at the Garden.

Leading up to a May 16th visit from Cameron County AgriLife Extension, families and volunteers cleaned up surrounding areas and spread mulch. The volunteers from Cameron County were very interested in starting a children’s garden and our Bexar County Master Gardeners were on hand to answer any questions.

Produce gathered for the Vegetable Show

The Children’s Vegetable Show was the culmination of all the families’ hard work during the spring session.  Each family arranged their vegetables for presentation and judging with ribbons for first, second and third place in several categories given to each family.  Each child also received a junior gardener certificate of completion.  Overall judging was awarded for best of show, second, and third place.

The final week resulted in a cleanup effort to remove all plants from the individual plots and deposit them in the compost pile. This allows the beds to be ready for tilling and the start of the fall Children’s Garden.

The Bexar County AgriLife Extension Program through partnerships with the San Antonio Botanical Garden and Phil Hardberger Park has Children’s Vegetable Garden Programs at both locations. To learn more about these programs, click here.

All photos by Author