Starting Brassicas Early

 Brassicas are plants that belong to the mustard family- Broccoli, Cauliflower, Kale, Cabbage, and Brussels Sprouts are a few belonging in this group. They are a cool weather crop, which means they are usually the first and last thing planted in the garden. They can handle frost and are usually planted about 4 weeks before the last frost in the spring or 6 weeks or so before your first fall frost.

I like to get a head start by planting them indoors 4-6 weeks before I plan on planting them outside. They can be directly sown in the garden too, and I will more than likely plant a few more like that to extend the harvest, but in the past we've had a lot of issues with the cabbage moth caterpillar and I have found that the earlier I get the plants started the more harvest I will get before the bugs do too much damage. Getting started early also means you get a good harvest before warm weather hits and the plant bolts (forming the seed stalk).

We have a good 120 seedlings popping up in the seed trays now. Some are starting to sprout their true leaves. Since all of these plants belong to the same family, their seeds and seedlings look nearly identical (with the exception of the purple cabbage). So be sure to label them in some way in order to tell them apart.

Annika takes the job of watering very seriously. Sometimes a little too seriously and we have to pry the spray bottle from her hands in order to stop her from drowning anything! But do make sure the soil stays moist and water at least once a day. Around here we get so excited about the little green sprouts we check more than once a day just to make sure (and watch them grow!)

Have you ever started Bassicas from seed? What is your experience with them?

This post is linked to the Homestead Barn Hop , The Ultimate Gardening Link Up, and  The Creative HomeAcre Hop


Making Long Term Homeschool Goals

This post can now be found on The Free Range Life. Here is the link to Making Long Term Homeschool Goals.


Garden 2013: Indoor Seed Starting


It's late January and nothing is growing outside. It's winter and it's cold (sort of) but we've been in garden planning mode for a few weeks now. And today we started some of our earliest crops inside. The Brassicas- cauliflower, cabbage, kale and broccoli. Some eggplant, to get them good and strong before transplanting outside in a few months. A few herbs and some really early tomatoes- in hopes that we can get them pretty big by transplanting time and get tomatoes earlier and longer this season.

I have always started my own seeds. It's not as hard as you may think. In terms of simplicity you can buy peat pellets (pictured at the top) and stick your seeds in and make sure they get light (sun or artificial) and keep them watered. That is usually all it takes. If you don't want to make the extra purchase you can make pots out of newspaper or soil blocks and plant your seeds directly in to them. This year I am using what I had left of my peat pellets from last year and some seedling trays reused and refilled with a mixture of potting soil and peat moss.

The main difference this year is that we don't have a good sunny window to place seed trays in anymore. Last year's starts ended up pretty long and straggly. So a few weeks ago Paul and I built a seed-starting shelf. It was made simply out of boards we had laying around. Today we added 3 4-ft shop lights to grow the seeds under and got to planting!

My kids are always part of our garden each year. They take part in most aspects from planting to weeding to harvesting to eating. But this year, Rylan's interest has really spiked. I am not sure if I have mentioned this, but the #1 item on his Christmas list this year was seeds. A gift certificate from Baker Creek to be exact. Today he planted his Purple of Sicily Cauliflower,  Romanesco Italia Broccoli,Thai Yellow Egg Eggplant, and a couple of his tomatoes- White Tomesol and Golden King of Siberia.

 Here's what went in today:

20 Purple of Sicily Cauliflower
20 Snowball Cauliflower
15 Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
17 Waltham 29 Broccoli
16 Romanesco Italia Broccoli
12 Russian Red Kale
10 Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage
10 Copenhagen Market Cabbage
3 each of these Eggplants: Turkish Orange, Thai Yellow Egg, Black Egg, Crystal Apple, Ping Tang and Long Purple
9 Lavender
4 Purple Basil
4 Genovese Basil
3 each of these tomatoes: Golden King of Siberia, Dr. Wyche's, Amish Paste, Super Sioux, Chadwick's Cherry, White Tomesol
2 trays of onions seeds: Wehtersfield Red and Red Torpedo

Now they are happily sitting under their lights, ready to sprout! Have you started this planning/planting this year's garden? What's on your list this year?

linked to the Homestead Barn Hop


SMARTeacher's Prodigy Math Program Review

When I was contacted by SMARTeacher about reviewing their new game, Prodigy, I wanted to take a look at what they were all about and let the boys sample the game before committing to writing a review. I could tell within a few minutes that this game was going to be a big hit with my kids, and I was right.

So what is it? It's a math game. And a really good one at that. One that isn't cheesy or boring or too simple. The creators of this game must have really put a lot of effort into finding out what would really work, keep kids engaged and interested and have them learning all the time. 

If you are of my generation, most likely you are familiar with video game systems such as the original Nintendo, Super Nintendo or Sega- back when the graphics weren't 3-D like they are today. Growing up, Paul and I both loved playing Final Fantasy- we've actually downloaded the early versions of the games for our Wii and the boys love to play it too. My first thought when I saw Prodigy was that it definitely had a Final Fantasy feel to it. To start, you create your avatar, name it, and choose your grade (1st through 6th). The game has all the important video game aspects covered, such as experience points, hit points, magic and a store to buy items. 

Once you are ready you can start the fights. Where you and your pet face off with a monster, casting spells to win the battle. 

But then comes the math part. When you cast a spell, you are asked a question that you must answer correctly in order for your magic to do any damage on your opponent. The questions ranged from simple- months of the year and beginning addition for Lakin- to more complex- high level multiplication and pre-algebra  for Rylan. When the questions get hard, and the kids start to get a little frustrated, that is when a little hint box tends to pop up to help them along. And that is about it- the game continues, they get asked more and more questions moving up in level as they go along. The extras- like earning money to buy things- keep things interesting.

Does it work? I think so. I know holes in math are a big thing, and honestly I haven't come across any math program that covers everything. So games like this are a welcome addition to our homeschool. The boys are getting extra practice on the things they know, they are getting exposed to new things and a few of the gaps that have appeared along the way are getting filled. While watching all 4 of my boys play, I can see them learning. We've done impromptu math lessons on scrap paper in front of the computer- sketching obtuse angles and fraction pieces or lines of symmetry.

But I think one of the best things about this game is the fact that they want to play it. And I mean really want to play it. They have even given up Skylanders a few times to play this instead. Most other math-based games get tolerated. They are better than paper and pencil but that is about it. The creators of this game got it right- they focused on creating a complete game, with math being part of it, instead of creating a game around math as the focal point. The only thing my oldest said he wanted, since most of the material is review for him,  was for it to go to higher grades so he could keep playing!

Parents, or teachers, also have access to progress reports- and I will admit to not spending a lot of time here, but they are pretty detailed reports- and will let you know what types of problems they have been working on and what they understand and what they don't based on the percentages correct.

If you want to see how Prodigy works, their lite membership is completely free- your child can play for 15 minutes a day and access the free items in the game. After that they have various pricing options from monthly to lifetime memberships. There are also options for classroom subscriptions if you are a teacher. It's easy to download and works on both Mac and PC.

{Disclaimer: I received access to the entire game in order to write my review. All opinions are my own.}