What Does Our Garden Grow?

what does your garden grow

This year our school garden is growing “tops,” “bottoms,” and “middles” and we have a new resident bear and hare family.

The hare

For the first time at our school, the second grade classes are taking on the role of gardeners and so we wanted to find a theme that would be engaging, fun, and a good fit for the required curriculum. After brainstorming, we decided to base the garden around the delightful book Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens.  If you have not read it, the book tells the tale of a crafty Hare who tricks a lazy Bear into letting his family plant and harvest crops on Bear’s land. They split the crops into tops, bottoms, or middles and the students learn about different parts of the plant we eat (and that it does not pay to be lazy).

garden grows
The bear

We kicked off the garden season by reading the book and talking about all of the different parts of the plant and the life cycle of plants from a broad perspective. We then planted the garden with each class either planting a “top” (lettuce or kale), a “bottom” (carrots, radishes and beets), or a “middle” (corn – this is an experiment for us, I am hoping we have enough time in the school year to see the ears develop). We also planted a pollinator patch of flowers for our Bear to sun bathe in while he watches the Hare family hard at work.

We are following up our planting with a few classes to introduce our young gardeners to plant parts in a more in depth way and specifically talk about how different adaptations of the various parts help plants survive in their environment (this is our link back to the required curriculum).  So far we have talked about the differences between tap and fibrous roots and woody and herbaceous stems.  Future lesson plans include exploring how flowers characteristics help attract pollinators and how fruits and seeds are adapted to allow plants to spread their populations.

As with any new venture, we are learning as we go, but so far so good.  In addition to our Tops and Bottoms garden, we also planted a larger pollinator garden, a rainbow garden with our Head Start classes, and our traditional tomato recipe gardens with our third grade classes.  Whew! It has been a busy spring and with the to do list a mile long, I try to frequently remember that in our school garden the plants are not really the stars of the show.  One of my favorite school garden mantras is “The most important thing we can grow in the garden is our kids.”  Although our garden certainly won’t land on any magazine covers and our harvest will probably be small, it is the smiles on the faces of the kids, the new knowledge in their heads, and the joy in their hearts that I am hoping to reap from our spring garden season.

So what do you grow in your garden?

April is Kids Garden Month, and to celebrate we’re encouraging kids to share what grows in their garden! From beans to zinnias, love to cooperation, or food for a hungry friend; kid gardeners, we want to know what grows in your garden!  Each week an entry will be chosen to win a prize. We can't wait to see what your kids come up with.

Nightshades and Brassicas and Alliums Oh My

nightshades brassicas alliums

nightshadesEach year around mid-to-late March I work with a group of high school students to start seeds for most of the gardens in the Burlington School District. This is one of my favorite aspects of the growing season! I love spending time in the greenhouse whether it be seed starting, watering, or potting up plants that have gotten too big for their original growing flats.

Yesterday, on the first day of spring, we gathered to do our first round of seeding. For folks in similar growing climates—or plant hardiness zones—this may seem a little late, but that’s because we generally use June 1st as our transplant date (also a little late) to be able to work with a group of students participating in some end of year programming focused on urban agriculture.

Yesterday’s seed starting was focused on some crops that take the longest to mature, an assortment of nightshades (peppers and eggplants), alliums (onions, leeks, etc.), brassicas (cabbage and kohlrabi), and herbs.

nightshadesWhile I love alliums, peppers are probably my favorite thing to grow, especially the hot ones. Not only do I enjoy using hot peppers in a lot of my cooking (as do many of the older students I work with), I also really like to experiment with making different types of hot sauce. My favorite pepper that I recommend to just about everyone, is the Shishito, a mild Japanese variety that’s particularly delicious when pan-fried with a little bit of coarse salt.

Our next round of planting will happen in approximately two weeks, by which time we’ll probably start to see a few sprouts! Until then, we’ll simply focus on keeping our many growing flats well-watered.

Prickly Palace Part Two

cactus from seed

cactus from seed
They are really tiny! Paperclip for scale.

Many months ago, I shared our office planting experiment - the Prickly Palace! To catch you up, we started growing cactus from seed over a year ago. (Has it been that long?!) Ever so slowly, the cactus keep growing.

At least we think they're growing. Honestly, they are so slow that it's hard to tell. But looking back to the image from my blog post ten months ago, they've changed, so that's a good sign. Here's what we've done to help them along since our last post, in case you are looking to try this project in your home or classroom.

Our seedlings are in a windowsill. We live in Vermont, and this winter has been very, very cold. So we put a heat mat under the seedlings just to keep them from getting too chilled.

cactus from seed
Cactus food.

We water 2-3 times a week. The soil gets dry really fast with the heat mat on. In the last month or so, we started using some liquid plant food in a spray bottle, and now that's what we use to water each time. The cactus are responding well! It seems like a few of them have grown tiny arms (maybe they are arms, we can't tell what kind of cactus they are yet!), which is a very exciting development.

prickly palace cactus from seed
A particularly odd looking baby cactus. Do you know what it will grow up to be?

They aren't yet big enough to move into their own pots, but maybe after a summer of growth we will have some repotting to do. Their pots will be so tiny! Let us know if you have any questions, or even better, some advice! If you've done this before we'd love to hear from you.