Sprouting Success

Growing gardens one plot at a time through the Idaho Falls Community Garden Association

Published in the March 2015 Issue Published online: Mar 24, 2015 Family Fun Guide, Home And Garden
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Gardening is a patient teacher.

Gardeners can spend their whole lives learning how to grow a garden and still be surprised by what gardening can teach them.

Perhaps this concept of perpetual learning is why master gardener Kristi Appelhans started a new program for the youngest gardeners in 1998.

The seven- to 9-year old “Sprouts,” as they are called, began their gardening education at the Eastside Community Garden near Hitt Road and John Adams Parkway. In the 17 years since its beginning, the Sprouts’ gardens grew and became more uniform and fertile.

As the program grew (pun intended) and the original Sprouts grew up, Appelhans added another gardening class for older kids and teenagers. The Spud Buds program, open to kids 10 and up, started in 2001 and gets into more advanced gardening theory and techniques. The program was a logical next step for those who were too old and/or experienced for the Sprouts program.

According to the group's website, the Sprouts program includes lessons and hands-on experience with everything from planting to harvesting: vegetable and flower varieties, garden planning, watering, weed and insect identification, composting, nutrition, safe tool use and much more.

Students care for their own garden plot as well as the common gardens where specialty crops are grown.


Planting Seed

Appelhans and all the other teachers involved in the program are volunteers, meaning they don’t get paid for what they do.

Many people would ask why someone would be willing to try to teach a dozen kids during the summer without at least getting something for it.

The answer is easy for Appelhans. She does get something for it. It can’t be measured financially, but it’s something she feels. “I guess my teaching genes get excited by it,” she said. “My background is in special education.”

It was while she was working with the Development Workshop Inc. that the seed for the Sprouts program was planted. For a couple of years she contracted with the Workshop to do work for her business, SeedSafe. The clients of the Workshop made seed caddies for her. The thought occurred to her that the clients might actually like to plant the seeds rather than just make something to hold them. As a master gardener, she was the one who would have to start the program.

She worked with some clients on a small scale, “and we saw fantastic results,” she said.

After the first community garden was started in 1995 on Workshop property (there are now three community gardens: Rollandet, Eastside and Westside), the thought was always at the back of her mind to start a children’s gardening program. Knowing she would have to be the one to take the initiative to start it, she formed the Sprouts in 1998 and with the help of many dedicated volunteers has improved upon it every year.


Able Volunteers

Besides Appelhans, the Sprouts and Spud Buds have three other regular teachers, Betty Anderl and Rich and Sharon Kearsley. All are experienced gardeners.

But the class involves a lot more people than the four main instructors. First, parents are expected to take an active role in the class. It is their responsibility to make sure their kids water on days the class isn’t in session. They also must help the Sprouts prepare their plots for the season and ready them for the winter after everything has been harvested.

The classes also involve tours or field trips to local nurseries, where the children are exposed to even more plants and ideas about gardening by those who are in the gardening business.

Invaluable help also comes from other master gardeners.

“The Bonneville County Master Gardeners have been central to our ability to guide these kids in growing beautiful gardens,” Appelhans said. “We have at least two volunteers at the garden every week.”

Because the program is entirely volunteer, Appelhans is always looking for anyone knowledgeable about some aspect of gardening to teach a class and share their knowledge. Various businesses and local nurseries also provide time, facilities and supplies like seeds, topsoil and manure for the Sprouts.


The Garden’s Gardens

Besides each student’s individual plot, the garden has several “common” gardens the students work together to produce. These gardens contain some of the larger crops like corn, squash and sunflowers.

There is a butterfly garden, a sunflower garden, a few fruit trees, a pumpkin/squash garden, a popcorn garden, a bean teepee, a peanut bed, a Three Sisters garden growing beans, corn and squash together, a wheat garden, a rice paddy and a pizza garden.

At the end of the summer the Sprouts and Spud Buds have a harvest party where they get to eat all the things they’ve grown. That’s what the pizza garden is for. In the pizza garden are tomatoes, peppers, herbs (oregano, basil, thyme), onions, leeks, garlic, and even celery and wheat.

At the harvest party the ingredients are used to make pizza sauce and toppings. The students use some of the flour they ground from the wheat they have grown to make the crust, and then the pizza is baked in a wood-burning mud oven the gardeners built right at the garden site.

Bread is made from their wheat, soup is made from just about everything, there are relish trays, and all the food is not only grown by the students, but washed, cut, prepared and arranged by them also.

The Harvest Festival is a time to bring family and friends and show them what the students have done. It’s the Sprouts and Spud Buds version of Thanksgiving.


More Opportunities

Appelhans says there is community support for more Sprouts, but there are never enough volunteers. She envisions a day when she teaches about 25 students in Sprouts and Spud Buds combined and at least that many at the other community gardens.

But in order to give that opportunity to more children, people need to come forward and be willing to teach.

Appelhans said, “If you like to garden and enjoy working with children we would welcome your involvement. There are few opportunities to do so much good while having such fun!”

For more information on the Sprouts and Spud Buds or to donate or volunteer, call 524-0383.

(Archived source material and reporting by Ryan Peacock, Idaho Falls magazine)

March IFCGA Calendar

Visit for details


March 7

Seed Matters

How to save seed and why it matters.

10 a.m. - 12 p.m.


March 7

Seedy Saturday Seed Swap

12 p.m. - 2 p.m.


March 13

Seeding the Future of Food

A free talk by Bill McDorman.

7 p.m.


March 14

Seed School in a Day

A daylong seminar with Idaho seedsman Bill McDorman.

9 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.


March 28

Garden Registration

Learn about the community gardens, register for your own garden spot, meet the other gardeners and take a “Quick and Dirty Guide to Organic Gardening” mini-class.

9 a.m.


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