By Doug Ireland
---- — SANDOWN — Sandown elementary school students have been beating the odds and seeing a lot of green the past few years.
No, they’re not gamblers, just gardeners with green thumbs, a little luck and a knack for growing huge cabbage.
Last year, Natasha Hubley earned a $1,000 savings bond as New Hampshire’s winner of a national cabbage-growing contest. Natasha, the proud producer of a 9-pound vegetable, was chosen from among 2,612 schoolchildren in the state.
Each student was selected for growing the best and biggest cabbage in their grade or school, and entered in the content. The statewide winner is then chosen at random.
This year, another Sandown student has helped the district double its winnings — Julianna Double.
The fourth-grader and her 10-pound cabbage were recently selected as the Granite State’s winner in the contest sponsored by Bonnie Plants.
She was chosen from among 3,455 students at 86 New Hampshire schools, including those in Derry, Kingston, Londonderry, Pelham and Salem. About 1.5 million students participated nationwide.
The Alabama-based company is the largest vegetable and herb producer in North America, according to spokeswoman Joan Casanova.
The program helps youngsters learn about responsibility and the importance of agriculture, she said. Cabbage is the plant of choice because they are hardy and easy for children to grow, Casanova said.
Two years ago, a Montana girl grew a cabbage that topped 65 pounds, she said.
Natasha and Julianna are Sandown Central School students who participated in the contest as third-graders at Sandown North School, where the children’s interest in the program has really grown, according to teacher Justin Bentley-Melle.
“We are very proud of Julianna, as well as all of our students who participated in the program,” he said. “Successfully raising a healthy cabbage plant takes a lot of commitment. It is a great learning experience for the students.”
Like Natasha, Julianna received a $1,000 savings bond to help pay for college someday. Julianna, 10, hesitated for a moment when asked what she wants to do when she grows up.
She developed such a love for growing plants, she’s considering a career in agriculture. But Julianna also likes fashion design.
“I was thinking I might like to be a farmer,” she said. “But I want to be a fashion designer, too.”
Julianna, describing the satisfaction in growing her 2-inch plant into a colossal cabbage, then made up her mind.
“I’ll do them both,” she said.
It’s that type of confidence which helped Julianna battle the blistering sun, summer heat and pesky cabbage worms to grow an awarding-winning plant.
She and her classmates starting growing their cabbage plants in pots in early spring and harvested the results in late summer.
“I liked growing it because I liked to see how big it could get,” Julianna said. “I learned you have to take care of it every day — you just can’t leave it.”
Michelle Double said the contest was a valuable learning experience for her daughter.
“I am very proud,” she said. “She was very dedicated to that little cabbage.”
The key to Julianna’s success was combating the numerous worms that tried to devour her cabbage, the mother said. Keeping the plant watered regularly also made a big difference, she said.
Julianna had a little help along the way — receiving advice and assistance from her mother, father Ken Double and 7-year-old sister, Gabriella.
When it came time to harvest the cabbage, there was no fight at the family dinner table over who would get the largest portion.
“We don’t particularly love cabbage,” Michelle Double said.
So, it was given to her mother, Carol Ducrow, who lives nearby. Ducrow loves coleslaw — and made lots of it and stuffed cabbage stew.
Julianna said she felt a little sad harvesting her cabbage, but didn’t mind giving it to her grandmother.
“I really didn’t want any coleslaw,” she said politely.