Fall finally made it to Texas (this is the first week that our day time temperatures have not been in the 90s) and our gardens are rejoicing.  In spite of the summer that just would not quit, we kicked off our fall planting the first Friday of October and we have had some unhappy plants the last few weeks including lettuce seed that has just refused to grow.  Honestly, I was tired of being outside too. We are all happy about the cooler temperatures!

For those of you new to the blog, in addition to my work at KidsGardening, I also help coordinate the gardens at my son’s elementary school.  This school year we are trying a few new things while also keeping a few fan favorites, so I thought I would share our line up with you.  

school garden pictures
Sugar snap pea races

First up, we started our annual Sugar Snap Pea races with our third graders.  Each class divided into four teams and each team planted sugar snap peas at the base of one of the poles of their class teepee.  The kids picked out team names and the team whose plants get to the top first will win a small prize (last year it was a bookmark).  In addition to garden planting, we also made plant pals this year (homemade “chia” pets with panty hose, soil and grass seed) and that activity was such a hit.  The whole school now wants one (teachers and parents included). We ring our sugar snap pea beds with blooming annuals and also talk about pollinators and companion planting. We did very similar plantings with our PreK classes (although without the contest portion and with a more informal lesson structure).

We are also trying two new things this school year.  With our second grade classes, we are working on the Cabot Pollinator Patch Program.  Created through a partnership with the great folks at Cabot Creamery Co-operative, this program provides a series of activities designed to promote and build awareness around the importance of protecting pollinators.

Pollinator garden at school
Pollinator garden

In the garden, the second graders planted a variety of blooming annuals along with sowing spring flowering wildflower seeds.  The kids placed small butterfly decorations where the wildflower seeds are planted in anticipation of the butterflies to come next spring (and also so everyone remembers that we did plant something there so the new sprouts do not get accidentally “weeded”). We also played many rousing rounds of the “Be the Bee” game to teach kids about some of the reasons why bees and other pollinator populations are declining.  We are going to follow it up in the coming weeks with additional activities from the program to hopefully firmly plant a love for pollinators in our young gardeners.

And last but not least, our fourth grade classes are getting a look at farming of the future as we explore hydroponics. KidsGardening is working with The National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation to help support their Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project through the development of a guide to help elementary educators introduce students to hydroponic gardening.  Although not an official pilot site, our fourth grade classes are getting a chance to give hydroponics a try (and also play guinea pig on the new lessons). In addition to learning the basics of hydroponics through videos and activities, we have planted lettuce 3 different ways so that they can see the differences first hand. We have planted lettuce in an AeroGarden Farm hydroponic unit, in pots placed under grow lights and also out in raised garden beds. The photos I am sharing with you were taken after 2 weeks of growth.  Due to our extreme heat, the hydroponic and grow light lettuce plants are out pacing our outdoor plants by leaps and bounds. The students are definitely getting to see the benefits of being able to control environmental conditions like temperature and moisture. As the weather cools (and hopefully those outdoor plants will start growing), I know we will have lots of other opportunities for comparison like leaf color and thickness, pest problems and water usage. I promise to share more as our experiment continues. (Grow outdoor lettuce! Grow!).

The last few weeks have been busy and demanding, but as always, getting back into the garden reminds me why I do what I do.  The garden is the perfect hands-on tool for teaching kids about science in a fun way while also connecting them to their environment and helping them gain an appreciation for our food system.  Digging in the soil and watching the seeds and plants grow, is an experience that can not be replaced through virtual reality and it is an opportunity that every child everywhere needs.  

Lettuce under grow lights

Hydroponic lettuce

Lettuce sprouts outside in the hot Texas fall

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