Silas Nahan: KidsGarden Month 2017 Winner

Silas and potatoes
Silas Nahan, 2017 KidsGarden Month winner, with his crop of potatoes.

Last April, KidsGardening asked gardeners —young and old, beginners and old hands — to help us celebrate Kids Garden Month by posting videos to our Facebook page in which they shared how gardening changed their lives. We received lots of wonderful videos showing how important gardening is in the lives of so many. But two of the videos stood out and were selected as winners to receive prizes of gardening gear. We’d like to introduce you here to the young gardener who was the grand prize winner of our video contest, 13-year old Silas Nahan. (Watch his video here.)

Silas came to love gardening in spite of the challenges of an unpromising city backyard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He had been introduced to growing things at his elementary school garden, but his interest really took off when his mom, Monica Velgos, happened to bring home a few packets of seeds  in May 2016 for Silas and his sister to plant in a couple of containers in the backyard. As his mom says, “The carrots sprouted, the wildflowers grew, and he got excited. He wanted to grow more.”

More pots were purchased (lightweight fabric pots that are easy to store), online gardening videos watched, gardening books borrowed from the library, tomatoes and other plants planted —and a dedicated, curious, and enthusiastic young gardener was born!  “I started mainly because I wanted to find a way to be semi-self-sustainable. Gardening has helped me find a hidden passion that I would not have found otherwise. It has also helped me make heathier choices and learn about agriculture,” says Silas.

Silas’s parents have been very encouraging of his gardening interests. That first garden season his mother found that the local CitySprouts middle school gardening program still had openings in its late summer season. Silas joined and gardened on the grounds of the school he’d be attending in the fall and got to go on field trips to soup kitchens, restaurants, and his favorite, a large working farm. And his father, Jesse Nahan, spends time with Silas in the yard each evening after work while Silas harvests ingredients for dinner and tells him his garden plans.

Silas and his parents attended lectures at the library on tree and flower gardening and a garden conference at Northeastern University where they learned about seed sprouting, container growing, and composting, as well as biochar, Hugelkultur, and no-till agriculture, piquing Silas’s interest in the science of soils.

Silas finds gardening so engaging because, as he says, “There is always something to learn from in the garden.” He gives the cranberry plants he’s growing as an example. “My cranberry plants need very specific soil requirements (low pH, very high in organic matter, etc.) And that helps me learn more of the science behind soils.”

Silas’s garden has continued to expand and thrive. Raised beds, a cold frame, and additional pots have been added.  This season his tomatoes, cucumbers, husk cherries, tomatillos, and kale have been the most prolific. But, he notes, “The least prolific is probably my zucchini, since they are extremely diseased.” That doesn’t discourage him; instead he sees it as learning challenge. “Silas is unfazed by the failures he’s had, and in a way considers each of them a step toward his authenticity as a gardener,” says his mom.

The garden has also become a great way to connect with family and community. Silas keeps both his grandmothers regularly updated on his garden projects by phone. His sister is very interested in native species and has her own garden area with native flowering plants to attract bees and birds. According to his mom, “The garden has become our second living room. When one of us goes down there, others follow, because it’s pleasant.” The yard abuts a city park and people walking by often stop to chat. “One fellow who didn’t speak much English saw us and the garden, left, and returned and gave us a dahlia in a pot!”

Silas has lots of plans for his future garden —and his future as a gardener. He’d like to try growing different varieties of potatoes, some more unusual herbs like epazote, and perhaps some Jerusalem artichokes. But he also has lots of ideas for ways to grow as a gardener, including possible work for the nonprofit Food Project on their farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts in coming summers and high school courses in plant biology and food systems. We here at KidsGardening are happy that we can help support Silas’s inspiring and ongoing journey of growth and learning in his garden.

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