BELFAST, Maine — Last spring, Belfast third-grader Tanner Carson brought home from school a small cabbage seedling that appeared to be on its last legs, and planted the sad-looking specimen in his mother’s garden.
What happened next was epic.
Tanner’s sickly seedling — “it was really practically dead,” he said — came back to life with a vengeance. The 9-year-old watered it carefully and marveled as it grew, and grew, and grew some more. By late August, the huge green cabbage had taken over an entire bed of the garden, and when the family harvested it, the head alone weighed a massive 28 pounds.
Although the vast quantities of coleslaw and soup provided by the cabbage are now just a memory, Tanner recently was thrilled to learn that he is being recognized for being a crackerjack young gardener. At the end of the growing season, he was selected by teachers at the Captain Albert Stevens Elementary School in Belfast for having grown the best cabbage in the third grade. Then, his name was entered in a statewide drawing, and was randomly selected by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to be the state winner for Bonnie Plants’ national cabbage program, and will receive a $1,000 savings bond from the plant company as a prize.
“When I heard the news I jumped into my happy dance,” Tanner said.
In addition to the money, Tanner and his mother agree that he gained something else important from the cabbage experience: a real appreciation of gardening.
“I’ve never seen a kid so proud,” Salmon-Carson said of her son and his cabbage. “It’s definitely sparked his interest.”
Bonnie Plants, based in Union Springs, Alabama, is one of the largest producers of vegetable and herb plants in North America. For 13 years, the company has brought free oversized O.S. Cross cabbage plants to third-grade classrooms across the country whose teachers have signed up for the Cabbage Program. Last year, more than 1.5 million kids in 48 states tried their hand at growing a colossal cabbage, including Tanner’s class. The company is seeking out more participants for the free program.
“The Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program is a wonderful way to engage children’s interest in agriculture,” Stan Cope, president of Bonnie Plants, said in a news release issued by the company. “We’re pleased and proud of our Maine state winner, Tanner Carson!”
Tanner, who would like to assure folks that he did not add anything special to the water he gave to his cabbage, said that at times last summer he wondered when the growth would stop.
“It was just really weird, how it grew so big,” he said, and remembers thinking “if it keeps growing at this rate, it will get bigger than the house.”
This summer, he intends to continue working in the garden. He loves eating fresh-picked peas, he said, and likes the other vegetables the family grows.
“I think gardening is really, really fun,” he said.