I want to kick off the New Year by sharing some of the highlights of the fall 2017 garden at my children’s elementary school in The Woodlands, Texas. Despite challenging weather, we had an amazing growing season this year. We started off in August with 30 inches of rain in one week from Hurricane Harvey and then we experienced higher than normal temperatures and minimal rainfall the rest of the fall (it only rained 4 times between September and Thanksgiving), so there was a lot of time spent watering, especially when our plants were first getting established. There were days when the plants would wilt even when the soil was moist because their young roots just could not take up water as fast as it was being used, but on the up side, the drier weather kept some of the insect and disease problems we have had in the past in check.
First let me start by sharing a picture of our amazing pollinator garden. My kids and I started a tray of pollinator-attracting plants in late summer and thinking I would remember what we planted and be able to recognize the young seedlings, I did not label the rows, so this was also a bit of a surprise garden (because of course I did not actually remember what we planted and had discarded the seed packets without thinking). We ended up with huge cosmos, marigold, and salvia plants in a wide array of colors (I am pretty sure we planted milkweed and coreopsis seeds too, but they apparently did not compete well with the others). Our plants attracted a diversity of bees and butterflies. We had a few young gardeners a little nervous about the number of bees flying around, but they quickly realized that the bees were very focused on the flowers and were not at all interested in the students. We will definitely be re-planting this area again this spring.
Next let me share a photo of our Third Grade gardens. We planted sugar snap pea teepees surrounded by marigolds. The marigolds took hold quickly, but the sugar snap peas really struggled with the hot weather. We planted them in mid-September, but they did not reach the top of our teepees until mid-November. We divided the kids into teams with each team having a different pole of the teepee--- the team whose plants reached the top first got an emoji key ring prize. As soon as the weather cooled down, they quickly made up for lost time though and began blooming up a storm so that all of the gardeners had a chance to snack on the peas before Christmas break.
And last but not least, our Fourth Grade salad gardens were total rock stars this fall. We started the lettuce and kale seeds inside for the first time and it was a huge success– we have never had a better harvest. Within a month of planting outdoors, the kids were able to bring home gallon-sized zip lock bags of kale, lettuce and radishes and they continued to harvest biweekly up to Thanksgiving. As the lettuce was beginning to bolt due to the hot temperatures, the broccoli exploded and took over the beds and the broccoli harvest soon began. We did have one disappointment this fall. Out of all the carrot seeds planted, only one garden plot ended up with harvestable plants. Another plant that also usually performs well for us that did not this season was the green bean. Did you know that green beans are a host plant for the Long-tailed Skipper caterpillar? It was the first time in five years that we have had a problem with them, but for some reason they were in great abundance this year (maybe because of our pollinator garden) and they really, really liked our green bean plants. Even though I think I am ready to give up on the carrots, perhaps we will try green beans again this spring and see if our plants can get some size on them before the caterpillar population can mow them down.
With 2017 behind us, it is now time to start working on our spring garden. I know it may sound early to many of you, but we start planting our spring garden seeds indoors in mid-January for an early March outdoor planting. Our fall garden has set the bar high this year so I am both excited and a bit nervous about what we can cook up for the spring. One of my favorite things about the garden is knowing that as many times as I have done this, I know I will learn something new right along with the students - that is the beauty of working hand in hand with mother nature – it is always an adventure!