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Seed starters: Master Gardeners help second graders plant heirloom tomatoes

In assembly line fashion, second graders filled a plastic cup with soil, received seeds, added another layer of dirt and watered the soil. Maurice Spangler was among the several Master Gardeners who assisted with the project.1 / 5
"I like it when you're not afraid of the dirt," Mabbett told students.2 / 5
Second graders sample grape tomatoes, courtesy of Hubbard County Master Gardeners.3 / 5
Hubbard County Master Gardener Jean Ruzicka drops seeds into each student's cup. (Photos by Shannon Geisen/Enterprise)4 / 5
Did you know there are 3,000 types of heirloom tomatoes? Or that tomatoes can be blue or even striped?Sari Mabbett, a Hubbard County Master Gardener, gave a quick lesson to Century School second graders Thursday.5 / 5

Budding gardeners got a hand from local green thumbs.

Hubbard County Master Gardeners assisted second graders Thursday with planting heirloom tomatoes.

In previous years, the organization has helped Century School students grow native prairie plants to rejuvenate the neighboring prairie. This year was the first time they offered tomato minibels, a sweet and flavorsome bite-sized fruit.

The seeds will germinate in about three to 10 days, flourishing under the light of the "Grow Lab" that has been set up in the second grade pod.

Hubbard County Master Gardener Sari Mabbett reminded students of the essentials: soil, water and sunlight.

She and her "gardening friends" — Jean Ruzicka, Maurice Spangler, Linda Warmbold, Linda Gilsrud and Betty Norlin — helped students "make a nice bed" for the tomato seeds, "give them a blanket of topsoil" and water them.

Second graders must water the plants every day with a spray bottle.

"You don't want them to dry out," Mabbett said.

If all goes well, the ornamental plants will be covered in tasty little tomatoes. They are perfect for container, pots or hanging baskets. The plants grow up to a foot in height, but require no support.

"I always talk to my plants and tell them not to be underachievers," Mabbett recommended.

At the end of the school year, students can bring their plant home, transferring them into an ice cream bucket or into the ground.

"It's a special plant that'll keep producing tomatoes if you give it food and water and bring it in from the cold," Mabbett told students.

Mabbett advised them to cut open a tomato, scoop out its guts, dry the seeds and then replant next spring.

She shared the true story of 800-year-old heirloom seeds in a clay ball discovered at Indian ruins in Wisconsin. The seeds were analyzed and distributed to Native Americans. Winona LaDuke grew a giant squash from the ancient seeds, Mabbett said.