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DECATUR - Last year, participants in the school-age program at Wee Folk picked the vegetables they grew and got to take some produce home as well.

"They also used the produce in the kitchen," recalled Megan Medina, "to teach nutrition."

"I took plates and a knife out, and we cut watermelon right in the patch," Medina said.

But there was also at least one difficulty with the garden plot the young people were managing. It's often hard to tell a weed from a growing plant, so sometimes the vegetables got stepped on and broken.

However, after attending a conference where she was introduced to the EarthBox, Jennifer Schultz Nelson knew that problem was solved. So this year, Nelson, University of Illinois Extension Macon County horticulture educator, and Medina, a Master Gardener, assisted the children in planting in the EarthBoxes.

The planters, Medina said, are self-contained. They have a screen, watering tube and cover.

"After you fertilize, you put a cover on, and you don't have to weed. If weeds can't get sun, they die," she said.

And EarthBoxes are mobile.

"It's an advantage to being mobile," Medina said. "You can't move tomatoes in the garden, but you can move these."

The mobility enables an EarthBox to be placed most anywhere.

"There aren't many limitations. You can plant anything in them you can plant in the garden," Medina said.

At Wee Folk, the students planted squash, tomatoes and peppers. But Nelson said even sweet corn can be planted in the containers, which measure 29 by 13½ inches and are only 11 inches high.

The children respond to being able to garden, said Marsha Petts, school age director at Wee Folk. The young people move the boxes each day during the week so the grass under them doesn't die. And so far, she said, the plants look really healthy.

Arlene Mannlein can be reached at amannlein@herald-review.com or at 421-6976.

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