Tips from a Teenage Gardener
Photo courtesy of Katie's Krops
Early on in her garden, Katie Stagliano confronted a menace that frustrates many gardeners: deer. But Katie’s situation was a bit unusual.
Then, she was a 9-year-old South Carolina student who had planted a tiny cabbage seedling and was excited to watch it grow. A neighbor told her that deer had been spotted in the neighborhood eating plants.
Once she tackled her deer problem in an unusual way (read how in the Q&A below), her one plant got bigger and bigger, weighing 40 pounds. When she donated the cabbage to a local soup kitchen in 2009, it helped feed more than 275 people.
Now, her nonprofit organization, Katie’s Krops, has given grants to 80 kid and teen vegetable gardens at schools, parks, churches and community facilities, and even in backyards and on city rooftops. Hundreds of kids and teens from around the nation are involved in the gardens, which in 2013 grew and donated 18,250 pounds of food to hungry people in their communities.
The nearly $1,000 grants include $500 gift cards to garden stores, a camera to document their garden and advice (a Master Gardener works with Katie’s Krops). Every year, Katie’s Krops takes applications for grants, from Oct. 1-Dec. 31. Kids ages 9-16 can apply and must donate what they harvest to people in need, from food banks and homeless shelters to classmates and neighbors.
Katie, now 16 and chief executive gardener for Katie’s Krops, chatted about her deer solution and tips for getting teens involved in gardening.
Q: When you were growing the cabbage, why were you concerned about the deer?
A: I had grown attached to my cabbage and wanted to protect it. I was weeding around it and watering it every day.
Q: What did you do?
A: I ended up doing something that some people may think is weird. We ended up building a cage around my cabbage. It protected us from the deer and any other animal that would want to have a snack.
Q: You have a garden at your house and at your school. Why have you continued to garden as you have gotten into your teens?
A: I’ve kind of grown up gardening. It’s become a part of my life. It’s something that I’ve grown to love doing. I’ve really gotten a lot of my friends involved with me as well.
Q: How do your friends garden with you?
A: They have been gardening with me for several years now. I enjoy going out with them, talking to them, hanging out with them in the garden. If you make it a project with your friends, it can make everything so much more fun. A lot of teens are interested in cooking. Produce always tastes much better when it comes from your own garden and backyard.
Q: What’s one of your favorite recipes from your garden?
A: We take Japanese eggplant and make it into tiny little eggplant marinaras. We bread it and fry it in olive oil. Then make fresh marinara sauce with tomatoes from the garden.
Q: When you’re with your friends, what do they like doing in the garden?
A: They like planting and harvesting the most. I haven’t found too many people who enjoy weeding. Sometimes we’ll have big mulch piles. The boys will like putting the mulch into the wheelbarrows or putting [it in the garden]. Or watering, because they’ll play with the hoses sometimes. A lot of them also enjoy the dinners [a local church takes the food they grow and feeds 100-200 people a month]. They enjoy seeing full circle and seeing the people that it’s helping.
Q: What’s your best tip for getting teens involved in gardening?
A: Start small. Start with simple things. I always suggest tomatoes and peppers. I know those are fairly easy to grow.
Q: What creative ideas have you seen from some of the Katie’s Krops gardens?
A: One did a farmers' market. They would take all of their produce and put it at all these stands and invite anyone in need to come and take the produce for free. They had their garden at a park, so a lot of families and people would come by.
One used kiddie pools [for] their gardening beds. It was something that was inexpensive and that a lot of people have.
Q: Do you do competitions with your friends?
A: When I first had my cabbage, that was a fun competition between my friends to see whose seedling would grow bigger. I think since we all work in the garden together it’s like a collaborative effort. I think it would be fun sometimes to see who could grow the bigger tomato plant.