By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
“Who are you?” Dolly Ballard asked the group of students gathered in the cafeteria at Pinetta Elementary School.
“Teenagers! Kids! Aliens!” All these, and more, were some of the enthusiastic replies.
“You’re supposed to say ‘Youth Gardeners of Madison!’” Ballard laughed.
The Youth Gardeners of Madison and 4-H Club is off to an energetic start this year with Ballard again at the helm, assisted by John Fine, Louanna Farmer and Ann Paquette, teaching gardening and farming techniques in a learn-by-doing process. The children are planting their own vegetable garden at the school and raising their own individual potted flowering plants to enter in the North Florida Fair in Tallahassee.
In reference to the fair, Ballard reminded the children to please bring their plants to school on Friday, Oct. 28, so she could pick them up and take them to the Tallahassee fairgrounds to be entered.
“I want 100 percent participation,” she told them.
For the children’s winter vegetable garden, Ballard had ordered four kinds of seeds, along with cabbage, broccoli and collard plants, all expected to arrive in a few days. The children will start planting them in the patch of soil in the corner of the playground, a patch that had been turned and prepared earlier by Wally Davis.
Guest speaker and beekeeper Kelsey Vann, 17, talked to the children about the life cycle of bees and explained their importance to the children’s agricultural efforts; without bees, there would be no crops, she told them, not to mention, no honey. Vann, herself a long-time member of 4-H, became interested in bees several years ago because a neighboring farmer kept them. Soon she was keeping them herself. Her presentation reflected her long-time study and work with bees, and included several large, spectacular photographs of the insects in their hives, in swarms and in protective clusters around their queen. She followed up with a question-and-answer session, and little hands went up all over the room. How many times can a honeybee sting? What happens when the queen dies?
Then it was time to get down to brass tacks; weighing the pumpkins the children had grown over the summer.
At the last Youth Gardener’s meeting in May, at the end of the school year, Ballard had passed out seeds for variety of giant pumpkin, which the children had planned to grow over the summer; however, it turned out that the instructions that came with the seeds had been written for summers in Ohio, not Florida.
“I guess I gave them bad information,” said Ballard, when she discovered it. “This is another one of those ‘learn-by-doing’ situations.”
The especially brutal heat this summer thwarted many of the children’s growing efforts, and meant that there weren’t enough entries to award all three prizes ($25, $15 and $10) for the three biggest pumpkins.
Instead, the third place winner would be determined by a contest in which the children would guess the weight of a large pumpkin sitting on one of the tables.
Noah Blanton, 10, whose parents (C.J and Joy Blanton) were chosen Madison County Farm Family of the Year by the Florida Farm Bureau last month, waited until August to plant his seeds and managed to grow a 62-pound gourd with a girth of 56 inches, for the first-place prize of $25. Ginger Oro took home the $15 second prize.
Blanton had also brought in another pumpkin, just to show everyone, but he couldn’t enter it in the contest, because the rules limited each child to one pumpkin. He knew how much his contest-winning pumpkin weighed, but not the weight of the second one; his parents had never told him.
So, for third prize, the children were asked to guess the weight of that second pumpkin, and their guesses were written down on a list beside their names. Six of them guessed the correct weight, so their names were put into a bowl.
County Extension Agent Dan Fenneman drew the winning name, and Reed Morse went home with the third prize, ten dollars richer.
Soon, they’ll begin planting their winter vegetable garden and tending the plants. In another week or two, they’ll find out whose flowering plants won prizes at the North Florida Fair.
It’s looking like another great year for the Madison Youth Gardeners and 4-H Club.