Cabbage-growing contest teaches children important lessons

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Family Features
IMPRESSIVE: Brittany Grigg was among the past winners of Bonnie Plants’ Third Grade Cabbage Program, cultivating a formidable entry in Idaho.

A na­tional cabbage-growing contest illustrates the best form of teaching, making learning fun and exciting. It gives third-graders enjoyable lessons on plants, patience and perseverance as they try to grow the biggest cabbage in their state.

A giant, leafy lesson

In the Bonnie Plants’ Third Grade Cabbage Program, students from participating classes­ across the country receive a free Bonnie O.S. Cross – an “oversized” cabbage plant – to cultivate, nurture and grow. The veggies often grow bigger than a basketball and can weigh more than 40 pounds.

At the end of the season, teachers from each class select the student who has grown the best cabbage, based on size and appearance. A picture of the cabbage and the student entry is submitted to Bonnie Plants by mail or online. That student’s name is then included in a statewide drawing to receive a $1,000 scholarship toward education. The winner of each statewide drawing is chosen by the Commission of Agriculture by a random drawing.

Last year, 1.5 million students participated in 45 states.

“It’s good for the students to get out there and grow their own plants,” said Melody Witt, principal of Alto (Texas) Elementary School. “It helps them learn about nature, soil composition and the parts of plants, but it also shows them where things come from. So many young people take for granted the fact that we can walk into the store and buy whatever we want. It’s a good history lesson for them to learn that it wasn’t always like that, even in this country.”

Getting things growing

Growing a giant cabbage may seem like a big undertaking for little children, but it’s easier than you may think. To get started, children need:

• Sunshine: Cabbages need at least six hours of full sunlight per day – more, if possible.

• Space: The Bonnie O.S. cabbages need at least three feet on each side to spread out. If that much garden space isn’t available, a large planter can be used.

• Soil: Some compost should be worked into the soil – cabbages love nutrient-rich soil.

• Food: An all-purpose vegetable fertilizer will provide a good start for a cabbage. Then it should be fertilized every 10 days to keep it growing strong.

• Water: Cabbage needs at least an inch of rainfall each week. No rain? A watering can or garden hose with a sprinkler can gently give the plant the water it needs.

• TLC: Weeds must be kept out of the cabbage patch – they compete for the food and water cabbages needs. Brown or white moths are also unwanted guests – they come from worms that love to munch on cabbage. Young gardeners need to get rid of them right away if spotted.

• Time: In 10 to 12 weeks, children should have a huge head of cabbage.

Green thumbs can pay off, providing participating children with pride, a humongous cabbage, and, for the lucky state winner, the beginning of an educational fund for college. To see the 2008 winners and learn more about the 2009 contest, visit www.BonniePlants.com.