A group of tweens discovered playing in the dirt can be educational as well as fun.
Ten elementary and middle school students took part in the fourth annual Playin’ in the Dirt 4-H Day Camp last month at the Olin Tatum Agricultural Building in downtown Cartersville and learned all about gardening through a variety of fun projects.
The two-day camp, conducted by the Bartow County Master Gardener Extension volunteers, introduced the 4-H’ers to such things as hydroponics and aquaponics, herbs and pollinators.
“The Playin’ in the Dirt 4-H Day Camp is always a fun and successful two days for all involved,” Master Gardener and camp Coordinator Dian Green said. “We Master Gardeners are a volunteer organization assisting our UGA Extension agent Paul Pugliese in educating the community in gardening projects. This day camp is for our future gardeners, and we hope to pass along the joy and excitement that comes with playing in the dirt and watching your hard work and learning experiences grow and have fun at the same time.”
Ten-year-old Emma Faye Howard said she wanted to attend the camp for the first time “because I like plants and gardening and participating in anything 4-H.”
“We have wild asparagus, mint, pecan and walnut trees that grow around my house,” she said. “I like foraging and learning how things grow and produce in nature.”
Master Gardener volunteers taught the budding gardeners some of the finer points of creating and caring for a garden through creative projects and novel snacks.
“Campers learned working in their garden and creating creative ornaments for their yard can be fun,” Green said. “They learned the correct way to plant and water their plants and how to maintain healthy plants. They learned to be creative in their arrangements and garden accessories. They learned how they can actually use what they grow when preparing their foods and where some of their foods come from. We ground wheat [for] flour for the pizza crust [for lunch], and the campers were fascinated. Hopefully, we whetted their appetite for gardening.”
One of their projects was creating miniature fairy and herb gardens.
“Before each camper planted their miniature herb garden of basil, oregano and chives, they had a session in the extension kitchen to learn about and taste-test the herbs and then build their own pizza, adding herbs to their creation,” Green said. “Of course, they had pizza for lunch, and mint-flavored water to drink was tried as well. All the campers went home with fresh mint.”
“Probably planting the three different herbs — purple basil, oregano and chives — in one planter” was Emma Faye’s favorite activity during the camp.
“It was my favorite because I liked learning about and identifying the different herbs,” she said.
The campers also learned about and created pollinators in one project.
“Pollinators are so important to our gardens,” Green said. “The campers made origami bees [and] painted pollinators on canvas. They were so creative with their birds and butterflies, bees, insects and flowers. We have painted with acrylics every year because the campers have asked for it every year. The campers made birdhouses out of dried gourds and added their own Zentangle artwork.”
Two of the projects helped the 4-H’ers learn about gardening methods that are growing in popularity.
“We also had a hydroponics project — planting basil in quart jars filled with water — and an aquaponics project with goldfish and a peace lily in a fish bowl,” Green said. “Of course, we explained the hows and whys and answered questions. Always questions. This is something that the present generation will see more of in their future. Conserving water is going to be a prime concern in their future.”
Emma Faye, a fifth-grader at Cartersville Elementary, said she learned about hydroponics and “how a fish can actually help a plant grow.”
“I even got to bring home my own goldfish,” she said. “His name is Nemo. I also learned how to plant but also how to care for it, like how much water and sunlight it needs.”
Not all the projects were made to last. The campers created their own dirt pudding to enjoy as a snack, Green said.
“Always fun to make dirt pudding,” the Cartersville resident said. “They whipped up batches of chocolate pudding [and] added worms. Every healthy garden has a healthy supply of worms — ours were gummy worms. They topped their pudding cups with ground-up dirt — Oreo cookies — then a sprig of an herb for added flavor. Campers and volunteers enjoyed working and playing together on the project.”
The campers also made wind chimes out of cutlery and beads and flowers out of pine cones.
Green said she and her fellow Master Gardeners were “absolutely” pleased with how this year’s camp went.
“This was our fourth year for this camp, and several of the middle schoolers have attended all four years,” she said. “It's awesome helping budding gardeners expand their knowledge and interest in creative gardening. These young people are so creative and willing to try new ideas and projects we introduce.”
The camp also helps both generations participating in it get to know each other better “and have a great time doing so,” Green said.
“Something very special happens when we adult volunteers sit with these budding gardeners and work on projects together and share experiences and talk and laugh together,” she said. “It's good for both generations.”
Emma Faye said she “really enjoyed this camp and all of the fun things we got to do.”
“Making birdhouses and fairy gardens was new and fun,” she said. “I had a lot of fun, learned a lot and made new friends. I hope we have this camp next year.”
Green said 14 Master Gardeners volunteered to take part in the camp as project leaders, “helping hands” and snack preparers.
“A table of snacks was always available to the campers,” she said. “The snack committee created such snacks as caterpillars made from skewered green grapes, Rice Krispies, watermelon wedges [and] ladybug cupcakes, to name a few. Everyone worked together to fill whatever need came up. All worked together well, as did the campers.”
Green said her job as the coordinator was “the easy part” of camp.
“I just weave together the two days of projects and activities the Master Gardener project leaders plan,” she said. “And the projects they come up with always amaze me. They work so diligently to be ready for the camp, and they have fun at the same time.”
In fact, some of them are already planning for next year’s event.
“Already I’ve had project leaders call to excitedly say they know what they want to do next year and have begun working on their project plans,” Green said. “It's fun playing in the dirt.”
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