For my last blog, I took a look back at our fall gardens, but in Texas the pause for winter is short and this month we are full steam ahead jumping into spring garden preparations.
Last year, our school invested in purchasing grow lights not only to allow the students to be able to watch the plants go from seed to fruit, but also to try and save some money and diversify the types of plants we can grow. In addition to starting tomato plants (enough so every 3rd grader can not only grow them at school but also take one home for their family to grow too), this spring we are also starting herbs including basil and cilantro along with flowering plants like salvia, cosmos and tithonia.
It is so rewarding for the kids to be able to plant seedlings in addition to seeds on our big spring planting day, but the cost of providing enough small plants for approximately 250 students who participate in the garden is beyond what our little budget can provide. By growing our own seeds we are able to extend the season and offer fun plants that would be too expensive to purchase already grown. For example, this year the kids asked to grow strawberries. As a gardener, I know that getting bare root plants is the best way to have success with strawberries, but I just could not resist the $4 packet of strawberry seeds. They are going to be our big experiment for this season (and if it does not work out, hopefully we can find some money in the budget for bare root plants). Another plant we are trying to grow from seed for the first time is chives (also hard to locate at a reasonable price for the quantities we need). Did you know that even when they are less than 1 inch in height they still have that distinctive oniony smell? I guess I should not have been surprised, but honestly I was shocked the first time I removed the humidity lid and they delivered their powerful smelly punch.
Speaking of trying new things, we are also experimenting with a new technique for garden clean up. In the past we have always removed all of the old plants including the roots. We would of course try to shake off as much of the soil as we could before adding them to the compost pile, but without a doubt we would lose some soil. This year, instead of full removal, in some of the beds we cut the plants back at the soil line, leaving the roots in place. The idea behind this is that the old roots will slowly break down, returning nutrients to the soil while also decreasing the disturbance to the soil and helping prevent soil erosion. We removed the plants from about half the beds and cut them back on the other half. It will be interesting to see if we notice any difference between the two practices.
From brainstorming ways to offer more hands-on experiences to coming up with ideas for planting day stations, it already feels like our spring garden is in motion. The warm lights of the grow lab and fresh green of the seedlings are a welcome sight to help brighten up the cool (I live in Texas – we have more cool than cold), gray days of winter.
Have you started planning for spring yet? If you are looking for a new and exciting project for your school garden program, don’t forget about the 2018 Carton 2 Garden Contest from Evergreen Packaging and KidsGardening. You can register your interest to learn more about the contest here and we will also mail you some FREE SEED packets to help you get started.