Monday, July 14, 2014

Gardening Fun with Kids: The Harvest



Back in March, my little guy and I planted seeds for our garden. He was very excited for the plants to grow and even more so in the fact that he would be able to EAT these plants (he loves to eat:). He asked if they were ready to be eaten almost everyday from the day we planted them, and of course they were not, so it opened up the opportunity for me to help him learn about the way plants grow. We read books about seeds and vegetable plants and daily watered our little seedlings and took care of them together. He was thrilled when they started sprouting!


We planted zucchini, yellow squash, watermelon, spinach, lettuce and eggplant seeds, and when they started sprouting we transplanted them into the little raised garden bed my husband made out of some landscaping timbers we had. My little guy jumped right in to help with the garden bed and the transplanting of the seeds. After I showed him how to dig the right sized hole for the transplant, he did a great job of it by himself and was so proud to work along beside us in the garden! 


We discovered our first zucchini flower on Earth Day, which was super cool and my little guy was so excited about it. I told him how the zucchini would grow out of the flower and how all of his patience would pay off when he was able to pick it. Eventually, the bloom finally sprouted into the zucchini and the day came when he was able to pick it! Oh, happy day!


Not only was he excited to pick it, I had to go in and cook it up right away! He had been patiently waiting for that first vegetable and he was not going to wait a minute more to get it in his belly. 

Overall, we harvested about 12 very large zucchini from the garden. We had the squash sprout, but they became rotten before they were large enough to eat, and nothing else produced well except for a bit of lettuce. I'm still super thrilled at our first real attempt at gardening and we will be planting another one in the fall (too hot in Florida for a summer garden.) We learned alot and my little guy got his fill of zucchini (ironically, he won't eat them if I get them at the grocery store or farmer's market) and we had a fun experience together. There's no better way to show kids where their food comes from and to teach them how it grows than to grow it together!





Monday, July 7, 2014

Exploring in the Ocala National Forest


The Ocala National National Forest is an amazing place to explore. With more than 383,000 acres consisting of wilderness and water resources, including rivers, lakes and springs, there are more than enough activities to enjoy. On our trip to the forest this past weekend, we had fun hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and swimming. Our first stop was an off the beaten path hike to Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail. We drove down a long clay road to get to our destination, going deeper into the forest with every mile. When we reached our hiking destinination, we chose our trail (the shortest, since my little guy gets bored after a half mile each way) and off we went, battling banana spiders and mosquitos every step of the way. The sinkhole was basically a huge hole in the ground that was grown in with trees and plants, and we took the 119 steps down into it. It was pretty interesting, especially since when they first built the steps to the trail, there were 188 steps. Apparently, sinkholes get smaller and smaller and most likely fill in over time!



After our hike, we drove to Alexander Springs, where we kayaked down the river. The river was so crystal clear running down from the spring that we could perfectly see the fish and turtles swimming around us. As we went down the river, we saw alligators sunning on the river bank and more turtles happily perched on the branches coming up out of the water. 


After our river run, we dropped our kayaks off and headed over to the spring. The constant 72 degree temperature of the water was a treat for us after the hiking and kayaking. My daughter and I grabbed our snorkels and made our way to the heart of the spring, which flows at an impressive 80 million gallons a day! It was a beautiful site to behold, with the water flowing through many different sized rock formations.

After our swim, we decided to hike the trail which runs along the spring named after the Timucuan Indians that made there home here a thousand years ago. The Timucuan Trail is a one mile hike along a boardwalk, with stops that overlook the spring. It is a beautiful trail lined with tall sabal palms, magnificent Atlantic white cedar trees, which the Timucuans would hollow out and make canoes from, and the scrub palmetto, from which the Florida scrub jays make their home and from which the Timucuans used for food and medicine. My little guy was in awe of the cedar tree and could not believe that people made canoes from them! He asked one hundred questions, many that I couldn't answer, so we will be reading books and searching the internet for more information about it and the Timucuans. It was an enjoyable and educational hike for both my kiddos and myself! 


I'm so glad that we ventured out for the day to the Ocala National Forest. We had a wonderful learning experience and learning about nature in nature is the best (and most fun) way to learn! It was a great day in nature and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy it with my family. We will definitely be making another trip back to explore more of the forest in the near future!

FUN FACTS ABOUT THE OCALA NATIONAL FOREST

-It is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and the second largest in Florida

-Contains more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs in it's 383,000 acres

-Protects the world's largest contiguous sand pine forest and is known as "The Big Scrub" because of it's dense Florida scrub vegetation

-Established in 1908, it is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River

-Is home to the highest concentration of Florida Black Bears and to the highest population of the endangered Florida scrub jay

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