Last growing season we cultivated various crops for some of the animals on our farm (see a previous post on herbal gardening for our horses). In this assortment, we grew a bumper crop of catnip with Twix, our resident farm cat in mind. Although he’s only been a part of the Green Chimneys farm for a year or so, this feline has quickly made a name for himself here on campus. At any given moment, Twix might be in any number of places. You may spot him showing off his agility by prancing past classroom windows in a low crouch on the thin ledge that surrounds the outside of the education buildings. Sometimes you’ll find him hunting mice or voles, on high alert in the garden, tail straight as a rod reaching into the air like an antennae. (Or taking a break from his hunting, by feverishly rolling around in the mountains of catnip.) Once he used his powers of stealthiness to gain entrance to one of the school buildings, bringing amazement to unsuspecting students working on their lessons. In a nutshell, he’s a small cat with a big personality.
Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is a member of the mint family, which like its cousins, grows quite easily. We started ours from seed last spring and by midsummer, the plants had formed into full mounds of herbal wonder. The essential oil in catnip, nepetalactone, is what cats respond to. It has various effects on animals, from sleep-inducing to ecstasy producing! According to The Humane Society of the United States, “Researchers aren’t sure what the neurological explanation is, but it’s thought that catnip mimics feline ‘happy’ pheromones and stimulates the receptors in the brain that respond to those pheromones.” It’s interesting to note that when humans drink tea made with catnip, it is quite calming and a good way to alleviate anxiety. Needless to say, we add catnip to many of our own herbal brews!
Since we ended up harvesting and drying so much catnip, I knew special projects were in order. What better way to spend winter class time in the greenhouse then making cat toys? The students that worked on this project loved the idea of making a toy for their own cat or a cat they know. Those that didn’t have a cat in their life donated their creation to our resident feline, Twix.
Older students designed their own shapes, while younger students chose from a selection of pre-cut shapes, complete with dots showing them where to place their stitches.
Crafting during the winter months is a great way to not only work on fine motor skills, express our creativity , build our patience and expand our repertoire, but most simply, it’s a great way to demonstrate to our students how we can grow a lot more than food when gardening. For me, it also adds another layer of challenge to planning our garden. While much of what we grow will be enjoyed during the summer and fall, many things like gourds, herbs and dried botanicals are grown for use in winter.