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St. Teresa students grow cabbage seedlings into an abundant product

Harmony Quinn of Ross Township, a student at St. Teresa of Avila School in Ross, grew a cabbage weighing 19 and a half pounds as part of the Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program. She received a tiny cabbage seedling in May 2013 when she was a third-grader and nurtured the plant throughout her summer break.

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By Laurie Rees
Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Last May, St. Teresa of Avila School teacher Patrice Trettel sent her third-grade students home from school with some unusual homework — a cabbage plant.

Over the course of 14 weeks, Harmony Quinn, 9, nurtured her 2.5-inch seedling into a 19 12 pound cabbage.

According to her mother, Caitlin, it was so big, Quinn's burly great-grandfather had to saw the stem back and forth with a butcher knife to cut it free from the ground.

What was her secret to growing such a gargantuan cabbage?

“I learned that you really need to keep the cabbage safe by keeping frost and bugs off of it,” Harmony said.

She kept the cabbage in a glass-roofed hot house until the threat of frost was over, which allowed the seedling to get a good start. Once it was big enough to plant in the backyard garden of her Ross Township home, her great-grandfather and great-uncle helped her build a fence around the cabbage to keep the rabbits away.

“The best part of the project was watching the cabbage grow and grow,” she said.

Trettel, a third-grade science teacher at St. Teresa of Avila School in Ross Township, saw pictures of the colossal cabbages that third-graders around the country were growing as part of the Bonnie Plants Cabbage Program and jumped at the chance to get her own students involved.

“I thought it would be a great way to teach kids to care for living things and see the end result,” said Trettel, 54, of McCandless. “I wanted them to see what they're capable of doing.”

In the spring, Bonnie Plants delivered free OS Cross variety cabbage seedlings for each of Trettel's 23 students to take home and cultivate during their summer break. This variety is known for producing giant, oversized heads, which makes the process even more exciting for kids.

Trettel said the instructions were simple: Keep the seedling indoors and in sunlight until late May or early June; then plant it in the ground; applying fertilizer is optional; perform whatever magic you can dream of to help the plant grow.

Bonnie Plants, a provider of vegetable and herb garden plants, started the 3rd Grade Cabbage Program in 2002 with a mission to inspire a love of vegetable gardening in young people. Each year, the company distributes more than 1 million free cabbage plants to third-grade classrooms across the country.

As part of the program, Bonnie Plants also awards a $1,000 educational scholarship to one student in each state. Teachers submit the name of their class winner, and one child is chosen via random drawing by each state's top agriculture official.

Harmony's cabbage, the largest in her class, earned her an entry in the scholarship contest that will be held in the coming months. “Her enthusiasm over this project was also a big factor in her being named the class winner,” Trettel said.

Harmony said she likes cabbage, but if she had a choice, she would have preferred growing a strawberry plant.

“I would have liked a 19 12-pound strawberry better,” she said.

Laurie Rees is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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