School Garden Retrospective

school garden retrospective

This past Monday we got over a half a foot of snow here in Burlington. The majority of our school gardens have already been put to bed though there were still a couple of chores to be done here and there, but with the snow it seems that the growing season is officially over whether we wanted it to be or not. Time for a school garden retrospective!

At the end of the season, I always like to think back over the past year and take stock of how things went in the school garden. Below are some of the questions I like to tackle with the gardening committees at the schools I work with.

  • Were we happy with what we grew and was there a use for our produce? It’s always important to think about what you’re growing in a school garden and why. In particular, I’ve found that if you have a garden focused on a food project, it’s good to revisit how/if produce was harvested in a timely manner and and how/if it was utilized (whether that be in a classroom cooking activity or donated to a local food pantry). If you ended up with a lot of wasted produce, it might be sensible to dial back your growing efforts next season. Or you might realize that certain crops were extra popular with students and it might be worth the effort to grow more of that in the future.

  • What were our basic management needs and were they met? Who shouldered most of the work? Did we have enough volunteers or do we need to cultivate a wider network to support watering, weeding, and harvesting? It might be beneficial to break this question down into multiple timeframes—end of the school year (planting time for many folks in northern climates), summer break, start of the school year.

  • Do we need to adjust our growing practices? The answer to this question will likely be informed by the discussions you have about the two previous topics. If you struggle with getting volunteers during the summer does it make sense to have high yield crops like summer squash and cucumbers that were left to rot on the vine? Was your school cafeteria really excited to use all the kale you grew? If so, maybe you grow more next year to provide a more consistent supply to the food service staff.

  • How much money did we spend last year on garden supplies and projects? Do we foresee similar spending this coming year? Having a solid grasp of your budget is always helpful, in particular if you’re making any asks of your PTOs or PTAs.

  • Do we need anything to improve our programming next year? This could refer to physical infrastructure and equipment that might make gardening easier or more accessible for students or it could refer to trainings and resources for staff to feel more comfortable teaching in the garden.

What are your strategies for looking back at the last growing season and synthesizing your garden accomplishments? Do you have your own school garden retrospective? How do you plan for the coming year ahead? Feel free to share your tips and thoughts; we’d love to hear from you!

Turning Trash into Garden Treasure

garden treasure

As we enter into the winter holiday season, I don’t know about you, but I find myself surrounded by more stuff and unfortunately, I also find that I am generating more waste too. Between preparing extra meals and treats for special events and visiting guests, gift exchanges, craft days, and my sad attempts at decorating, it seems like the paper, plastic, and cardboard especially in my life seems to grow exponentially. Although recycling is good, I think we are all quickly realizing that a better solution is to find ways to reuse products ourselves rather than having them enter the waste management stream at all.

So today, I thought I would share some of the articles and activities we have on KidsGardening for reusing and repurposing items to use in the garden. Perhaps some of these ideas will inspire you to stop and take a look at things before dropping them in the trash can or recycling bin this holiday season.

Carton 2 Garden Contest
The 2019-2020 Carton 2 Garden Contest is now underway. Schools can enter to win prizes for projects that come up with creative ways to re-purpose milk and juice cartons to either build or enhance their school garden. For inspiration, you can view projects from past winners or you can also receive a set of special lesson plans for using cartons by registering your interest in this year’s contest. Cartons can be from school or from home, so what better way to use all those extra juice and milk cartons you purchased for holiday guests. [Header image above is from a past year Carton 2 Garden winner.]

Reducing, Reusing and Recycling in the Garden
An awesome set of ideas from Annie Warmke, a former KidsGardening Advisory Board member, this article provides ideas for reusing jar lids, tin cans, campaign signs (another product of the month of November), baby food jars, metal baskets, plastic sandwich bags, soda bottles, grocery store bags, and much, much more.

Homemade Botanical Paper
Make paper out of paper and turn them into bookmarks, ornaments, stationary and other handmade gifts. You can also throw in a few seeds and the paper can later be planted in the spring to kick of your garden.

Garden Art Boxes
Boxes everywhere right? Turn them into activity kits that will help your young gardeners explore.

Compost Bins and Worm Compost Bins
Finally, don’t forget about all that food waste. You can turn extra food scraps into garden gold by composting them.  If your weather is not ideal for starting an outdoor compost bin, explore ways to construct a worm compost bin which can be (and in most cases should be) located indoors.

Apple Taste Test

apple taste test

As stick season quickly approaches, we're trying to soak up every last bit of fall here in Vermont. And what's more quintessentially autumn than fresh apples?

apple taste test
The heirloom apples at City Market in Burlington, VT

Earlier this week, my 4-year old and I couldn't resist the amazing heirloom apple selection at City Market, our local co-op. I mean, could you?! We decided to stick with small apples, because miniature things are cute, and chose six varieties for an apple taste test.

I was inspired to try this activity from the latest KidsGardening newsletter offer, the Activity E-Kit. Have you seen it? Each month, KidsGardening will send seasonal activities with a list of items to gather to complete the activities, and you and the kids in your life are set for a few fun activities! (Hint hint, you can sign up to get the Activity E-kit here.)

Since time is always scarce at our house, we incorporated our apple taste test into dinner earlier this week. In addition to apple slices, I offered a baguette, cheddar cheese, mustard, kale chips, roasted almonds, and a few other random leftovers from the fridge that rounded out the meal. Do you ever do dinners like this? I just started, and they are always a huge hit.

Of our six apples, we had four that everyone loved, one that everyone disliked, and one that was ok. We learned that our whole family likes apples with rough skin. While the kiddos (age 4 and 8) mostly gave tasting notes such as "yum," "crunchy!," or "tastes like bananas," the grown-ups were able to be a little more distinctive with words like mild, tart, tannic, floral. The biggest hit with the kids was the Hidden Rose - it's pink on the inside! The adults liked the Ananas Reinette. I'm looking forward to trying a few more in the next couple of weeks.

If you also want a fun snack / dinner / escape from all the Halloween candy, check out the Celebrating Apples activity. Let us know your favorites!