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County’s Master Gardeners award children learning to sow and grow

The growing fields belonging to Hagerman Farms for the past 100 years on Loyalist Parkway, just outside Picton, seemed an appropriate location to announce the winners of this year’s Children’s Garden Award.

Located across the road from the iconic farm stand, it’s an area few get to see, excepting the many farm workers who tend the sprawling acres of fields.

Jody Hagerman

Jody Hagerman explained how it was the original part of the farm that began in 1905, then added to over the years.

Organized by the Prince Edward County Master Gardeners, a not-for-profit volunteer community organization, the annual award, which began in 2018 and now in its fourth year, has been growing strong ever since, even with skipping a year in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even more poignant in this ‘Year of the Garden’, the idea behind the free-to-enter contest is to create and plant a garden which must be maintained through the growing season by each participating child. While the children can ask for advice from parents, friends, the master gardeners or other sources, they are all required to do the work themselves.

The contest, which is intended to be a fun and enjoyable experience, is intended to help foster engagement with the natural world, but also to encourage the youngest members of the community to get involved in growing and to learn an appreciation for all it entails.

From planting in the spring to harvesting in fall, and all the stages and challenges in between, it is hoped the experience is an educational one bringing many teachable moments, such as responsibility, organization and patience, as well as achieving a sense of accomplishment for the young ones.

From left, Master Gardener Colette McKinnon, Jody Hagerman, with Master Gardeners Diane McDonald and Susan Warrack.

On a mild, early autumnal Saturday morning, it was all smiles and excitement as family and friends gathered in anticipation of the announced prize winners, where all contest participants were recognized for their significant effort.

Mabel Ray Richens, 12, was the overall trophy winner. Dad Mike Farrell shares this photograph noting it was taken in her garden, in the midst of their native species-focused meadow.

The 2022 Children’s Garden Award trophy was awarded to Mabel Ray Richens, age 12 (she will turn 13 this month). Engraved with her name, alongside previous winners, it will be on permanent display at the Picton Public Library. First prize also includes $100.

While Mabel Ray was unable to attend in person due to a prior commitment, the trophy was joyfully accepted in her absence by her seven-year-old sister, Sawyer Farrell, along with an equally joyful dad, Mike Farrell.

“I didn’t expect she would win, I can’t believe it,” exclaimed Mike. “She will be so thrilled because she doesn’t know.”

While Sawyer proudly hung onto the trophy while photos were taken, noting how heavy it was, she was excited for her sister’s achievement.

“Mabel Ray’s reaction to gardening encapsulates the spirit of wonder that we would like to foster in everyone,” said master gardener, and event emcee, Colette McKinnon. “She is blown away that a seed turns into something wonderful.”

McKinnon noted that she was meticulous in her gardening practice and journal, where she made a table of tips and tricks explaining the role of straw mulch and compost.

“She noted that love, which she described as attention, care and patience, was fundamental to her success.”

Countylive reached out to Mabel Ray afterward where the Grade 8 Sophiasburgh Central School student said, “After growing a garden of my own, I feel a great sense of accomplishment and am very proud.”

McKinnon noted how hard everybody had worked to get through the long gardening season.

“It’s a long time, and to keep that sustained effort is special when you are little,” she said.

2022 Children’s Garden Award winners, from left, include: Josephine Jaskulski (3rd place-junior); Abbigail Wemyss (2nd place-junior); Simon Hill and Oliver Hill (2nd place-senior); Adelaide Voskamp (3rd place-senior), with Sawyer Farrell with the trophy, standing in for her sister, overall winner Mabel Ray Richens.

This year again, there was two age categories: the junior category for those aged six to nine, and a senior category for ages 10 to 12. Each category had a first, second and third prize winner, plus an overall trophy winner.

First prize recipient in the junior category was Payden Guernsey, age nine.

Payden was also not in attendance due to a prior commitment, but McKinnon noted he grew very big pumpkins.

“What impressed us so much was what he knew in terms of how to get the pumpkins to be big in terms of pollination, even teaching the master gardeners here something about that,” she said, also noting Payden had problems with the squash bug.

“What impressed us is that he learned about this bug, and he is now an expert on how to grow pumpkins, and also all about the squash bug,” added McKinnon. “Despite having a failure, he made something of it and he learned.”

Second prize comes with $50 in cash and was awarded to eight-year-old Abbigail Wemyss (junior category), along with 10-year-old twins Simon Hill and Oliver Hill (senior category) who tied for the spot and will each receive $50.

The Hill brothers won last year’s contest, and when comparing this year’s growing season to last year, both agreed last year was better in their experience, but they both also said it was lots of fun.

“This year was a little bit better for the plants not to be eaten by the critters,” noted Simon. “This year, the beginning was bad, it just wasn’t the best idea with earwigs and it started early on when my plants were just starting to grow.”

“It was a good year in general for gardening, with a bit of a drought at the beginning and a massive flood at the end, but my plants made it.”

Noting their two years of growing achievement, Oliver proudly added, “We got first and second now for two years.”

Oliver had notable success with his honey melon because he was careful with regular watering, especially during the dry spell.

“He enjoyed sharing these fruits with his family and his journal recorded the stages of growth of his plants, and when he added mulch, and lessons he learned along the way,” McKinnon said.

Simon was interested in improving his soil and incorporating organic matter, where he was successful with growing eggplant, nasturtium, and the white currant tomato.

Growing pickling cucumbers and pickling them with help from her mum was part of Abbigail Wemyss’s gardening season. She also won second prize in the junior category last year.

“She was also pleased with her zinnias and sunflowers, but had challenges with rabbits eating the stems of her carrots, but despite this, she didn’t give up.”

Josephine Jaskulski, age eight (junior category), and 10-year-old Adelaide Voskamp (senior category) received third place honours with a $25 cash prize each.

McKinnon said Josephine was showing the makings of a great steward for the environment.

“One of the highlights from Josephine’s garden was a huge cabbage, and she loved her cucumbers,” noted McKinnon. “In her journal, she described the role of bees and pollination very well, and she showed an awareness of, and a concern for, nature.”

Entering the contest for the first time, Adelaide Voskamp was most proud of her peppers, and plans to grow more next year. She also grew tomatoes, parsley, thyme, basil, sunflowers and zinnias.

“Adelaide learned about the tomato hornworm and knew to remedy this by picking them off her plant if she saw them,” McKinnon said. “She observed birds eating seed from her sunflowers, and enjoyed using the produce from her garden for salads and in cooking.”

After the prize winners were announced and the trophy, certificates and plaques handed out, there were generous helpings of cake to dig into.

Hagerman Farms provided a wagon ride around the property for those who were interested in seeing the vast fields and to learn about how it all works, including the crops that still need to be harvested, such as the pumpkins, something Hagerman’s are known for.

It all started with dairy at the farm, together with tomatoes, potatoes and a little bit of corn, Jody Hagerman explained.

“My grandparents were married and they took their honeymoon to Florida. My grandmother loved soft-serve ice cream, and she stopped at every spot on the way down, and on the way back,” explained Hagerman. “When she came home, she told my grandfather that she wanted to open a dairy dip.”

The Dairy Dip, located at the Hagerman Farms farm stand on Loyalist Parkway, is the original building where it all started.

“They did it all; they did the Dairy Dip, they did the farm and milking, and they had a stand at the Dairy Dip with their tomatoes and more.”

Hagerman said they continued to milk until about 11 years ago.

“The vegetable stand just kept growing and getting bigger; it started as a little stand and it’s eventually grown to what it is now.”

Hagerman Farms has about 500 to 600 acres, with around 60 to 70 acres devoted to vegetables, with the rest as cash crops, and there are also woodlands.

“It’s full-time, all the time, no breaks, starting with asparagus in April until Oct. 31 when we shut the stand down, although it’s still self-serve.”

The full list of this year’s participants to the Prince Edward County Master Gardeners Children’s Garden Award include Charlotte Bogora, Adelaide Voskamp, Nellie Kuijpers, Marcella Jaskulski, Cleio Haspeck, Calum Campbell, Russell Courneyea, Mabel Ray Richens, Nathan Bogora, Simon Hill, Payden Guernsey, Bentley Shantz, Hendrik Kuijpers, Abbigail Wemyss, Oliver Hill, Josephine Jaskulski, Virgil McLuhan and Alex Courneyea.

Each of the 18 children, aged between six and 12, who took up the gardening challenge to participate in this year’s gardening contest received a participation certificate to acknowledge their efforts, together with a gift certificate from Lockyer’s Country Gardens, with the winners also receiving an engraved plaque.

Participants can grow whatever they choose, whether it’s flowers, vegetables, herbs or anything else, on any size of plot, where they can be grown from seeds or seedlings. Each child is required to keep a journal, written or illustrated, about the garden overall, the plants grown, observations and what was involved, along with any notable successes and disappointments during the exercise.

McKinnon noted how Alex Courneyea had a huge garden where he harvested tons of produce, as well as helping his mum with preserving, where his challenge was cucumber beetles.

“He enjoyed using his toy trucks to move soil about, especially his rake to rake the weeds which he turned over into the soil,” noted McKinnon.

Marcella Jaskulski grew large water melons, Cleio Haspeck learned about the tomato hornworm, and Bentley Shantz kept a good journal with his own artwork decorating the pages, enthused McKinnon.

Hendrik Kuijpers grew sunflowers which won second prize at the Milford Fair for the largest sunflower, and he plans to use the seeds to grow more next year.

Taking on the garden challenge for the first time was Virgil McLuhan who just turned six years old.

“He was most interested in collecting seeds and could identify and harvest seeds from a flower head very diligently,” noted McKinnon. “He took care of weeding and watering his garden, and he also had to adjust when there was less water in the hot spell in the summer.”

Find out more about The Prince Edward County Master Gardeners, their programs and services, at pecmastergardeners.ca.

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