How a Science Experiment Grew a Garden Movement

Judy Sims in the garden

Judy Sims is a former elementary school teacher and garden educator from California who received one of KidsGardening's early Youth Garden Grants many years ago. Now in her retirement, living in Oregon, Judy continues to volunteer her time as a garden educator at her local school and is a regular donor to KidsGardening. Read on to learn how KidsGardening helped her grow her school garden movement, and why she continues to give back today. - Kristen

My third-graders’ classroom science experiment grew into a school garden!

That’s the short version of the story of how I became a garden educator, and why I have been a regular donor to KidsGardening for over 14 years. My third-grade class and I transplanted our pole beans from paper cups into a row of beans along a south facing nearby fence. As the years went on, I found myself infusing my teaching with outdoor education, and the garden area expanded. Garden-based learning became a regular part of our classroom activity, supported in large measure by parents and the community, and with two grants we received from KidsGardening.

It wasn’t until we received our first garden grant from KidsGardening that we were able to buy proper gardening tools and equipment for kids. Oh, the excitement we felt when the boxes of garden grant gifts arrived! Now we had much needed kid-sized tools, a garden cart, vegetable seeds, and more. The local newspaper even highlighted our garden and our grant award. This brought additional support and valuable networking with other school garden leaders.

Miss Judy in the garden with kids
Kids getting their hands dirty with Miss Judy!

We even had a visit from our California State Superintendent of Schools, whose goal was “a garden in every school.” Thanks in large measure to KidsGardening, and the continued development of our garden and food education programs, we found ourselves becoming a model program in what has truly become a school garden movement across America!

In my retirement years, now living in Oregon, I find great joy and purpose in volunteering as a garden educator, and in sharing the benefits of the garden with hundreds of kids each year. I can’t think of anything more important as we educate the next generation. I am only too pleased to be a regular donor to KidsGardening, having received significant support and valuable materials from this great organization, while also maintaining a relationship with people that understand the difference these youth garden programs can make in the lives of kids.

If you, too, have found value in KidsGardening’s hands-on activities, how-to gardening information, or grant programs, I invite you to join me in making a gift of support today. Your donation of any size will help to ensure that KidsGardening is able to continue providing these go-to resources to all of us, and to change the lives of countless kids across the country.

Gardening Resolutions for the New Year

garden resolutions

It’s not even the middle of winter and I’m already thinking about my garden plans for the next growing season. In between mulling over what varieties to plant and daydreaming about simply being outside in a t-shirt and shorts on a warm summer day, I’ve also been putting some thought into the things I want to improve. It seems like every year there are tasks that just slip by and I always end up saying “maybe next season I’ll get around to that.” Considering the new year is fast approaching, I figured I’d compile some of these resolutions into an official list of gardening resolutions:

  • Actually prune the tomatoes: Pretty much every year I’ve managed a school garden I haven’t pruned our tomato plants and they always end up turning into massive viney bushes. This past season I did much better at staying on top of pruning, but we had an incredibly dry summer so our tomato crop was measly at best. This year I’m keeping my fingers crossed for better weather and plan to integrate checking the tomato plants for suckers into my everyday garden routine. If you’re also looking to step up your tomato growing efforts check out our Tomato Growing Guide.
  • Minimize overplanting: I manage two large production gardens for the Burlington School District and almost all our produce goes directly into school cafeterias. And even though our chefs do a fantastic job using our fruits and veggies in meals, sometimes I just end up growing a little more than necessary. Kale, hot peppers, and summer squash tend to be the top culprits. This year I’m planning on consulting my planting records and cutting back on the number of seeds I’m sowing. (See above: that's a lot of hot peppers!)
  • Maintain the raspberry bushes: We have a number of raspberry bushes at one of our gardens and we always make an effort to restring our T-post trellises each spring. That being said, I don’t do the best job of training any new growth so that it’s contained by the lattice system. By the end of the summer most of the raspberry branches have escaped the trellis, defeating the purpose of our original work. Come the growing season I’m aiming to actually put a concerted effort into maintaining our raspberries.
  • Clean out the tool sheds: Both of the production gardens I manage have large sheds chock full of gardening tools. I spent most of last summer telling myself that one day I’d get around to cleaning out these sheds and taking an inventory of all our assorted equipment. Needless to say this cleaning session did not happen and so I’d like to kick off the next season with a big day of cleaning and organizing.
  • Plant some spinach: I love spinach and yet I never really grow it in our school gardens; we tend to shy away from greens in favor of larger crops that can have more of a presence on the lunch line. But for the first time in years I now have a little garden at home and I’m definitely looking forward to planting some spinach there and having it available for fresh salads and stir-fries all summer long.

Do you have any gardening goals for the new year? Feel free to share!

Flower Arranging with Kids

flower arranging with kids

One week into December and whew the holiday race is on. The number of special activities and events for kids crammed into the month of December is really quite ridiculous these days.  I wonder, will they even remember it all? Or will they even remember any of it?

flower arranging with kids
First-grade Abby and her flower arrangement

That being said, I wanted to share with you one of my very favorite holiday activities of all times and one that I am really looking forward to this year.  When my daughter was in first grade, they had a craft day organized by parents and I had the chance to teach her class how to make small flower arrangements.  You can see the results in the above right photo.  It was so much fun!  The kids loved it and they were so proud of their arrangements.  I did not realize until later, but Abby placed her candy canes so that they looked like a heart.  I love this picture so much with her front tooth missing and wearing a cute outfit that there is no way I could get her to wear now. Priceless memories.

My son is in first grade this year and when the email to sign up for craft day came out, I dropped everything and hopped on to my computer to make sure I had the chance to do this activity again.   Fortunately I had written down instructions so I could easily remember how I had organized everything (thank goodness since my memory is not what it use to be). I thought I would share those with you guys in case you might like to try it:

Here is what I did:

  1. To prepare for the activity, I placed wet floral foam in small, plastic cups and added one strip of anchor tape across the top to make sure the arrangements would stay in the cups on the bus ride home. (See above left photo.) I divided up the flowers (red and white mini carnations and baby’s breaths) ahead of time and placed them in disposable drinking cups to make sure that each child got the same number of flowers. As an added decoration, I taped candy canes to floral stakes to be placed in after they arranged the flowers.If you were doing this at home, you could easily have your kids help with all of these prep steps.  I was limited by space and time and I wanted to make sure everyone got equal supplies which is why I had to do this organization ahead of time.
  2. Once in the classroom, I made sure to explain the steps before handing out any of the supplies through a quick demonstration. The basic tips I shared included:
  • I explained how the floral foam helps keep the flowers in place and provides water so they can stay fresh longer.  I emphasized that they did not want to crush it and to try and only place the flowers once so that the flowers could get plenty of water and stay secure.
  • I showed them how to cut the ends of the stems at an angle and remove any leaves as the bottom so the tips slide into the foam cleanly.
  • I demonstrated how to cut leather leaf fern into smaller pieces and then place it on the foam to cover up the mechanics of the design before adding in flowers.
  • I also showed them how to create a skeleton for a basic round design with one flower upright in the middle and another four facing out like a clock at 12, 3, 6 and 9 o’clock.  Then I explained how to go back and fill in around the structure with the remaining flowers.
  1. After the demonstration, we handed out the cups of flowers, the containers, and two pieces of leather leaf fern saving the baby’s breath and candy canes for the end. The first time I did this activity, I thought some of students might rush and place the flowers haphazardly, but every single one of them took their time in considering where to place the flowers. Much to my surprise, some of the arrangements turned out so well that they looked like they came from a florist.* A special note - the kids finished at different times and so we grabbed some paper for the kids who finished quickly to make cards to go with arrangements.  This time around I will ready for card making ahead of time.
  2. After they were done, we carefully placed the arrangements in large lunch bags for the trip home.

An alternative if you don’t want to spend money on cut flowers, you can also harvest evergreen leaves (or even just save the scraps from trimming your tree) and stems with berries on them to make some very festive centerpieces.  Just make sure to check on the toxicity of the plants if you have kids or pets that might be tempted to graze on your arrangements.

So hopefully in a couple of weeks I will have some new pictures and stories to share.  Happy holidays everyone!