Spring growing season is near, and third graders from around the country are invited to participate in the 16th annual Bonnie Plant Cabbage Program for an opportunity to learn how to grow a colossal cabbage—even if they’ve never grown anything before.
Each spring, the folks at Bonnie Plants distribute nearly 1.5 million free Mega-Cabbage seedlings to third-grade students throughout the country with instructions on how to grow an impressive plant. After 10 to 12 weeks, once the plants have matured, the students weigh and measure their cabbages, and each of the participating schools selects a school winner based on size and overall appearance. The winning student from each school is entered into a state drawing to become champion cabbage grower, a title that earns them a $1,000 savings bond and bragging rights for a job well done.
The Mega-Cabbage, a hybrid cabbage variety, is the focus of the competition because of its hardiness and ability to grow to an enormous size—sometimes up to 40 pounds—in most regions. Kids learn how to care for their plant from a tiny seedling to a brassica behemoth and gain an appreciation for where their food comes from.
Kelly Blaz, a third-grade teacher at Rossiter Elementary in Helena, Mont., participated in the Bonnie Cabbage Plant Program with her students for the first time in 2010. Roughly 75 Rossiter students received the cabbage plants, and for many, this was their first gardening experience.
“(Bonnie) actually had two representatives come out to the school and deliver the plants,” Blaz says. They gave the students tips on growing the cabbage, but from there, the teachers had to maintain the gardening motivation.
A month after receiving their seedlings, the students at Rossiter Elementary transplanted their cabbage into larger pots. By the end of the school year, Blaz and two other teachers determined the school’s winner, Audrey Bloomquist, based on the size and condition of her cabbage.
“This is the first time I planted something by myself,” says Bloomquist. “I got it in a cup and transplanted it to a bigger pot.”
She ultimately planted it in the raised-bed garden her dad built in the backyard.
“I fed it fertilizer and watered it every three days,” she notes.
She and her dad also had to be on hail watch, as Helena was battered by several severe storms last summer. If hail threatened, they dashed out to cover the precious plant.
Her efforts resulted in a 17-pound cabbage, measuring 42 inches in circumference, that became the Montana winner.
There are many rewards starting with a tiny plant. As a bit of a joke, Bloomquist’s mother presented Blaz with a jar of sauerkraut at the end of the very successful first season.
And Bloomquist’s gardening isn’t ending with the competition.
“I’m going to help my mom (in the garden),” she says. “We might plant different vegetables.”
To enter the 2011 contest, teachers need to fill out the registration form on the Bonnie Plants website to receive plants for all of their students. The deadline to order for southern states is March 15, while northern gardeners have until April 15. There’s also information on the website concerning the basics of growing prodigious cabbage, whether you have a large backyard garden or need to raise it in a container on a balcony.