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Cabbage patch girl wins growing contest

Alissa Widman Neese • Jan 6, 2014 at 12:03 PM

This girl’s homegrown cabbage is hardly garden-variety.

Elle Whelan, 9, of Sandusky, conquered a statewide cabbage-growing contest this past year. She nurtured a colossal vegetable that tipped the scale at nearly 40 pounds.

The plant bested more than 24,000 other third-graders and earned Elle a $1,000 college scholarship from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, according to a news release.

She is a a fourth-grader at the Regional Center for Advanced Academic Studies, a school for gifted students Sandusky Schools opened this year.    The soft-spoken Elle described the experience this past week with a wide smile and one word: “Awesome”

Bonnie Plants started the nationwide cabbage-growing contest in 2002, with the goal of instilling a love of gardening in thirdgrade students.

The company, the largest producer of vegetable and herb plants in the U.S., randomly selects one student from each state to receive an annual award for growing their school’s best colossal cabbage.

Britt Hageman, Elle’s third-grade teacher at Osborne Elementary School, signs up her class for the program each year. The students receive the seedlings in a small pot, and it’s their responsibility to take them home and raise them into a humongous, award-winning cabbage.

Elle received her cabbage plant in April, while still in Hageman’s class, and nurtured it all summer long.

She lugged watering cans into her backyard garden on Central Avenue, often with the help of her 7-year-old sister, Rylee. She also determined what compost materials would help the plant grow up healthy, and most importantly, extralarge.

“We helped when needed, but tried to make it her responsibility as much as possible,” said Brandy Whelan, her mother. “She pulled the weeds, carried buckets of water, monitored the soil and did nearly everything herself”

After winning the contest, Elle has become a sort of celebrity among Ohio’s gardening community.

She made her radio debut this past month on “In the Garden with Ron Wilson,” a Cincinnati-based radio show, and has also been featured on the official Bonnie Plants website.

The fourth-grader is hardly a gardening newbie. She also won first place for a 4-H gardening project this past year while growing other plants, including beans, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers and squash, in a raised garden bed her father, Conor Whelan, helped her build.

This past year was Elle’s first attempt at growing a cabbage, but it probably won’t be her last.

“It’s fun to watch the leaves spread out as they grow,” she said. “I think I might grow another one next year just to see how big it can get”

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