successful year in the school garden

I mentioned in my last blog that our school garden program was going to try something new this year by starting seeds under our grow lights for our fall garden, both to jumpstart our gardens and hopefully, save some money. Our fourth grade classes planted kale, dill and a variety of lettuce seeds. Our third grade classes planted marigolds. So, reporting back, I can tell you that planting seeds was a fun time and a great kick-off activity. I felt like the kids were more excited on planting day because they had already started thinking about the garden. Unfortunately, we had mixed results on the production side, experiencing both success and complete failure in our venture.

A week after seed planting our school closed because of Hurricane Harvey, and so no one was able to get in to water them for 10 days. Fortunately, the humidity trays had not been removed yet and the lights were on a timer (and the school did not lose electricity during the storm) or else we surely would have come back to trays of dead plants.

Amazingly enough, the lettuce, kale and dill performed like champs. By September 15 when the fourth graders planted their gardens, the plants looked very healthy. We divide up our fourth grade gardens into small plots, and the kids partner up and get to plan their own salad gardens (Click here to see our plant list and planning graphs). Since we have relied on starting the plants from seed, usually the beds do not look that different at the end of planting day. This year, though, since we started seeds indoors we had “instant”gardens. (We still planted some seeds too, of course.) It was rewarding for both the kids and the volunteers who showed up to help on our outrageously hot planting day—94 degrees! The picture at the top of the blog was taken about one week after planting day and it looks like we are going to have lettuce to harvest at the end of this week after only 3 weeks in the garden. So, success!

The marigolds did not fare as well with the neglect. Trapped under the humidity chamber, one of the varieties ended up very leggy. The stems were weak and tangled together, and most broke as the kids try to plant them (although a few have made it). The second variety we planted did not come up at all. A new garden experience for me – complete seed failure! Admittedly, the seeds were from 2015, so I was not expecting 100% germination, but I honestly have never planted seeds where not even one seed sprouted from a packet before. I was given the seeds last spring and I am not sure where they had been kept prior to that. Perhaps they were stored in conditions that were too warm or moist, but regardless, seed planting ended up being a bit of a downer for the third graders.

On planting day, we purchased flats of already blooming marigolds to plant in their beds. Our third graders engage in a sugar snap pea race each fall where we plant sugar snap peas on teepees and see whose vines make it to the top first. We also planted marigolds around the edges of each bed. In addition to planting the purchased marigolds, that day we also had the kids plant new marigold seeds that were placed under the grow lights. Not that we needed any more plants to take care of, but I did not want to end the experience on such a negative note. We will get marigold seeds to germinate and grow! Hopefully, they will be big enough for the kids to take home by late October.

So the fall gardens are under way at Glen Loch Elementary. Now, we are just waiting on the fall weather to kick in as well. Right now we are still topping out at 90 degrees and watering every day. Cooler temperatures are in the forecast though, and our plants are ready to take off!

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Blog by: Sarah Pounders

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