Tag Archives: Teaching Children

Planning Your Garden: Part 1

Thank you for a fantastic year! We have wrapped up another season and are preparing for the next even as I pause to write this I am working on our own plans for the upcoming growing season.

Let’s begin with the essentials.
What is your goal in growing your own food?

As we coach others in growing their own food for themselves and their families, I’ve realized that each person has a different reason for growing food. And that’s actually the first thing to sit down and reflect upon… what motivates you to grow food?

I’ll use myself as an example to get the wheels turning for you hopefully…

“I grow food because…”

My spouse and I need to eat more greens and veggies to be our healthiest. Having greens and veggies growing in our home and in our yard brings a convenience that the store just can’t provide. We jokingly say that we “shop” from our own produce aisle right outside our door — and once you get a taste for that kind of freedom there’s no going back. Nurturing those that you love the most is my main motivation!

My main reason for growing our own food is pictured right here — the love of my life and the best of men!


We want our children to learn to eat these same foods so they will develop good healthy habits. We know that children who participate in growing their own food tend to eat that food because they are more connected to it.

Our 8 year-old daughter watering the Sugar Snap Peas. The Extension Office didn’t think we could grow them in the fall in our zone, but we went for it anyway and enjoyed some tasty Sugar Snap Peas through the fall cool season! Growing food alongside your children connects them to their food and they also learn patience, persistence, how to grow that particular food, and healthy habits.


We want to know what is on our food. We had relied on convenience-based foods for too long. Couple that with food grown for mass market and we had those chemicals going into our body. How do I know? Because I was diagnosed with PCOS many years ago and research has shown these chemicals are also hormone disruptors. As we’ve grown our own food and limited chemicals in our environment, PCOS symptoms have decreased. So, if I grow my own food, I know what is literally, going into my body and those that I love. And that brings not only health, but peace-of-mind.

I want my daughter to have a fighting chance when it comes to PCOS. Teaching her now that by doing life a little differently, she can life holistically and be healthy despite the odds against her of also having PCOS.


We want the maximum nutrition from our food. When I realized that the produce I was buying had traveled thousands of miles and was on average 10-days old by the time it hit our plates and mouths, I knew from other studies that the plant was losing nutritional benefits with every day it went from point A to point B and point C. Further, the produce that is mass-marketed is not picked at it’s peak maturation (because travel time to market has to be factored in.) Since it’s picked early, it is not at it’s maximum nutrition. If we grow our own, we can pick at it’s full maturity and consume right away, thereby getting the MOST nutritional benefit from what we are eating.

Have you ever tried home-grown celery? It tastes AMAZING! Much stronger celery taste than in the store-bought celery. Picking a plant at it’s peak maturation has health and taste benefits!


We save money in the long run. Growing your own food does have a cost, (so does eating nutrient deficient food) but when you have a family of seven and five of those eating male adult portions, organic greens, fruits and vegetables quickly add up and end up being more expensive than the effort to grow yourself. One head of organic lettuce goes for about $4 a head in our local grocery store. If instead, I purchase one pack of lettuce seeds, for that $4, I get about 25 pelleted seeds. If I plant a few seeds every week, I would have continuous lettuce and if 20 of those pelleted seeds grow to maturation, I would have saved $40 over the course of time. What could I do with an extra $40 in my pocket? Buy more seed!

The hydroponic aeroponic vertical garden Tower Garden growing system does an amazing job of growing greens. We looked at it as an investment and purchased ours several years ago. They continue to work fantastic and is my preferred method for growing food.


It provides our family with food security. When we went through the Covid Pandemic self-quarantine, we quickly realized what a blessing it is to have the know-how to grow your own food and the tools in place to have that fresh supply of food. It brings peace-of-mind knowing that we could provide food for our family without worrying what other germs might be on the food we were purchasing, who had handled it previously, if it had been cleaned properly, or if there would even be food available. All those concerns others were experiencing, never affected us, because we had already altered our way of living so it was a natural flow to our day and lifestyle. What’s more, any extra in our harvests can be saved for future use through freezing, canning or dehydrating with a little planning. Some call it homesteading. Some call it self-sufficiency. It’s just our new normal and we’ve learned to re-prioritize things in life to accommodate our desire to produce good clean nutritious food.

Yummy cucumber relish!


Growing our own food provides for those in need. Even with a large family, we purposely plan for extra to share with widows and those who may not have as much. We are to treat others the way we would like to be treated. I may not always have extra money to give to someone, but I can certainly share from my harvest to encourage them emotionally as well as meet their physical need of food.

A bag full of green lettuce ready to be delivered. We freeze a recycled soda water liter of water and put it in a medium size cooler and after our greens have chilled down a bit in the refrigerator, we pop the heads of lettuce into the cooled cooler and they transport beautifully to whoever we are giving them to and stay fresh.


It naturally lends itself to grow our family-run Seed Company Business. Seeds can be collected from the food that we grow for our family to utilize. Nothing is wasted. What’s even more important is intentionally choosing a home-based business model that fits our goal of being the primary ones to raise our children which includes at the fore-front educating them. A farm and garden is a great tool for teaching valuable life skills and helps our children grow into healthy adults.


Growing our own food fits into our lifestyle and supports our other food systems. As we prune and process, any excess can be given to our chickens and good green waste given to our worms. The worms provide worm waste which believe it or not provides beneficial bacteria for our plants. It is all interconnected and with a little tweaks to our daily routines, is totally feasible.

Our chickens enjoying a special treat — cilantro! I plant extra just for my hard working girls, because I know they love it and it grows well here in the SE.


Gardening brings enjoyment to life — it helps us try new things and satiates our love of always learning something new. Take for instance our 2020 challenge. My son and I decided to try growing watermelons in the shape of a heart… and it worked! We are tweaking a few things and will try again next season hoping the next watermelon variety will have fewer seeds.

I love a good challenge! I told my son that I wanted to try growing a heart-shaped sugar baby watermelon this past season and we successfully did it! We are currently trying various varieties and my son has figured out some tricks along with way for growing them. Try something new — gardening is fun!

So, before you trying growing your first seed, determine WHY you want to grow food in the first place. This will help direct you in the next step… HOW to determine what to grow (based on your “why”) and your available growing space.

Live your best life today and happy growing!

—Erin

Our Son’s Journey Becoming a Master Gardener

I wanted this space here on Grow Your Health Gardening to be focused on how to grow food for the gardening novice, but today I wanted to pause and just reflect on something (or should I say someone) that is near and dear to my heart.

Last night, our family attended a beautiful catered banquet through our local County Extension Office Master Gardener Organization where our oldest son, Joshua, received his official Master Gardener Certificate and official name badge. He is the youngest Master Gardener in our county of 164,044 people (at the time of writing this post.) It was definitely a proud moment for me, his Mama, having watched him grow (pun intended) over the years in his passion and skills.

Joshua receiving his Master Gardener Certification

Of my five children, Joshua is the one that noticed me saving a seed every now and then. Soon, I was finding other seeds next to my collection and now he is a better seed saver than I am! He gets it. He understands that within that seed is life and the potential to keep giving life-giving food to others he loves.

I sometimes call him “Farmer Josh” out of love because he loves to play in the dirt and grow things. We come from a long line of wheat farmers. Joshua’s middle name is fitting, because he is actually named after his Great Grandfather who was a dry land wheat farmer. (Growing wheat definitely isn’t Joshua’s future because we learned he was allergic to wheat dust one year while helping out with the harvest.) Every summer, my family would help bring in the wheat harvest. My grandmother had a large garden and instilled in me from a young age the value of a garden. My parents continued to teach me through growing our own family garden for years and then the busyness of life demanded the need for convenience over preparedness and the garden fell to the wayside and eventually our plot of dirt became grass and then a garage was built over the location.

copyright 2020 Erin Castillo
Our boys in the wheat field as 2 year olds during harvest. Joshua is pictured on the left and Jason is pictured on the right.

When my twins were three years old, my husband got a consulting job in the Southeast, and we moved 3,000 miles across country to Atlanta, Georgia. Our soil profile changed from grey-ash-like soil to red dirt full of clay. I would put rich compost down into my garden beds only to find them return to hard clay by fall. My growing mojo had come to a screeching halt. (I would later learn what to do to re-build the soil profile thanks to new friends made in Georgia and other Master Gardeners.)

Feeling discouraged, I kept thinking there had to be a better way. That’s when I stumbled across a video of a guy on YouTube who was growing tomatoes hydroponically in Bato Buckets. I was fascinated by his methodology and soon I was pouring myself into any resource I could find about how to grow food hydroponically. It was also about this time, that my oldest two sons were studying the difference between human cells and plant cell structures. Since we were homeschooling, I decided to dive deeper into teaching them more about plant biology (botany) and together we were going to learn about hydroponics and how to grow food. My husband helped me guide the boys in building a Bato Bucket system like the one I saw on YouTube and I went down to my local nursery and bought 10 different tomato plants and we transplanted them into our new system. The boys would monitor the pH level and nutrient level of the plants and write down observations. It was a lab of sorts for us to learn from and boy did we learn!

The following year, my husband had a heart attack. It was then that I realized we were not doing enough about eating wholesome vegetables. In my research the previous years, I had narrowed my next hydroponic system to two options. But when our need became more urgent, I knew I didn’t want a DIY system — I needed something out of the box that would just work. (My last DIY system cost as much as the one out of the box.)  He agreed to getting three Tower Gardens by JuicePlus+. Here was our first year’s crop (pictured below).

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I was amazed at how easy it was to fit it into my busy lifestyle. No weeding. No effort to build up soil. No nematodes to eat my crop. No irrigation system to monitor or standing there day in and day out to water plants for a half hour while our water bill took a hit. I would just watch the reservoir every week and check pH and nutrients — it was right up my alley. I needed low-maintanence gardening. Joshua dove in with me and helped monitor the growing system as well.

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I also learned of our local Master Gardener program through our Extension Office that shared space with 4H. I took the kids to any free program they had to offer on growing things or even one was on bee keeping. In fact, Joshua won the door prize at one of these meetings and he and my youngest son walked away with some free plants! It was around this time (I think Joshua’s Junior year) that I turned to him and planted the seed-thought of him becoming a Master Gardener. He had the time now to make that happen and then could use the skills he learned for the rest of his life instead of waiting to the end of his life when he retired to enjoy it. He was excited by the thought of that idea and inquired only to find that you had to be 18. He wouldn’t be able to do it as his senior year project. But he didn’t give up on the goal.  He applied for the Master Gardener program that was to begin around the time of his 18th birthday.

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What probably many don’t know is that during this time, our family went through a difficult time. My mother, who lived 3,000 miles away, needed help getting through a situation she found herself in and I had to leave for several weeks to help her. This unfortunately coincided with Joshua starting his Master Gardener training. He took an Uber each day and paid $20 out of his own pocket to get to his classes until other arrangements could be made on his behalf.

One of the great things that I love about the Master Gardener program is the wisdom of those who are involved. I’ve tried to teach my children to reach out to those with grey hair as they are a library of untapped resources. Joshua was blessed to have these amazing individuals come along side him and help him. They loved him because with his youth brought much needed muscles! lol I really wish there could be more young people involved because they are missing out on such a great resource. I want to see what can be done to bring these two groups of people together.

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Joshua juggled working his required 50-hours of volunteer hours around with working a job. I saw him increasingly frustrated when he would miss a Master Gardener meeting (often held during the day) because he had to work. But it showed me what he truly enjoyed. Thankfully, he came to realization himself and asked if he could work for me and help me instead of continue in the electrical program he was pursuing. I really needed his help knowing that my own goals included the possibility of growing our crops to the point where we could take it to the local farmer’s market to sell. So here we are today, working on our upcoming growing season and it is such a joy to work alongside my son. He’s smart and helps things get done when I don’t have the bandwidth to get to it. Currently, he’s helping me clear some land to do an herb garden installation. He is put in charge of his younger siblings who help him clear out ivy that has overrun the space we plan to utilize. He also is good at cleaning out Tower Gardens and sanitizing them (as well as our cutting tools). We hope to also propagate some of the beautiful resources on our property to sell at the upcoming Master Gardener event this spring. And his favorite thing to grow indoors — orchids!

Joshua Master Gardener

So, last night’s award dinner was truly special and I felt so proud of him for pursuing what he loved. And I feel so blessed to be his Mama and thankful that we have something in common to share over the years. I am praying for Joshua and that the Lord will continue to direct his steps as one day he will have his own family to provide for (and possibly me in my old age, Lord willing!)

Thanks for letting me share from my heart. And if I can encourage any of you with children… learn together! You don’t have to have all the answers or be an expert to be qualified to teach a child. It’s through the process of learning together about something that your children will come to understand that anything is possible to learn about if you just pursue it.

Happy Growing —

Erin

PS: If you ever read this post, Joshua, know that I am proud of you and can’t wait to see what you do next! Never stop dreaming and learning! Love you, Mom