Tag Archives: planting

‘Seed-to-snack’ garden grows healthy snackers

28 Feb

You’ve heard of “farm to fork,” right? Think of this season’s garden as a “seed-to-snack” project.

Students at George Watts Montessori started planting seeds last week, and they’ll keep going until school gets out. By April, students should be able to start picking from the school’s edible garden to make their own classroom snacks. Imagine walking outside to pluck a head of lettuce — or cut off a flowering broccoli or pull up fresh carrots — then going back to class to make your own delicious recipe for snack.

Last year, some classrooms made lettuce-based salads. Others made salads from freshly picked broccoli, or simply pulled a few carrots to supplement a fruit snack. What creative concoctions will they come up with this year??

Here’s what we’re planting this season, and when:

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Smells like garlic season

3 Nov

My recent garden session with fourth and fifth graders at George Watts Montessori started with a question: “When you buy garlic at the grocery store, where do you think that garlic comes from?”

Just some of last summer's garlic crop

The students had never really thought about it, so they cautiously offered answers. One student said, “It depends on what store you go to,” which is probably true.

“Three out of four of the garlic heads you see in grocery stores are likely from China. That’s our main source for garlic,” I told them. “So, is there anything wrong with that? Maybe it’s perfectly fine that most of our garlic comes from China, or maybe it’s not. What do you think?”

The answers came quickly.

“No, that’s polluting the air!”

“That’s wasting energy, if it has to come all the way from China!”

“Everything comes from China these days.” (I’m not kidding; one of the students actually said that.)

I showed them what I had in the small paper bag I was carrying — 8 heads of garlic from local garden shop Stone Bros. & Byrd that cost about $3 total.

I told them, “We can plant our own garlic right here in our garden. It’s easy to grow. And when it’s ready for picking after a few months, we can harvest and dry it, and it’s ready for using in some of our favorite meals, like pasta and pizza.

“We don’t need to have someone in China do this for us and then put it on a plane and send it all the way over here.”

So that’s what the students did. They started by smoothing out the soil in our freshly turned garden bed. Then they measured and made holes 6 inches apart. They chose the largest and most viable garlic cloves, planted them 2 inches deep — with the pointy side up — and loosely covered them with soil. We covered the bed with straw and marked it with a kid-painted “Garlic” sign.

We should have about 50 garlic heads to harvest in early summer. ($3 investment + several months = 50 garlic heads.)

Last summer, we gave away lots of garlic heads from the garden at our summer farmer’s market at the school. With any luck, we’ll have a big crop again this year.

Straw protects the garlic bed over the winter.

Giving away garlic at the school's summer market

You think watering is simple? Think again

20 Sep

If you’re a plant, you’ve been out of luck the past couple of weeks. We haven’t had a hint of rain, and it’s been hot as blazes. Everything in my yard looks depressed.

More importantly, all the newly planted seeds and seedlings at my daughters’ school garden are in danger of withering up. I can hear them now, “What is wrong with you? Why did you plant us now? Any real gardener would have known to wait another week or two.” (That’s just my Inner Insecure Gardener, imagining what my plants must think of me.)

Anyway, the newly planted beds in the school garden need consistent watering to survive. And so, as the garden ringleader, I’m faced with a dilemma: How is that supposed to happen, exactly?

Option #1: Let classrooms manage it however they’d like.

When we planted seeds two weeks ago, I said to all 13 classrooms, “Water your seeds every day.” I think some teachers got it, and maybe some others who are new to gardening didn’t, meaning that some seeds may be getting watered while others aren’t.

Even if classrooms are watering daily, the heat has been so relentless that the seeds actually need watering multiple times a day. When I walk over to spot-check the beds (which I do every day), they are almost always dry. I wonder, “Did classrooms water this morning, only to be outdone by the sun four hours later? Or did classrooms get caught up in a particularly riveting multiplication lesson and forget to go outside at all?” It happens.

The truth is, while teachers and students certainly want the garden to thrive, they have other things to do. Keeping track of whiny, high-needs seeds isn’t at the top of their priority list.

Option #2: Set up a watering schedule for them.

Maybe my advice to “water daily” wasn’t adequate. Perhaps a watering system or schedule is in order. Should one classroom be in charge of watering everything, with duty rotating daily? Should all 13 classrooms go out daily to water only the seeds they planted, ignoring the rest? How many times should they water?

I could set up a classroom-by-classroom watering schedule, but that’s way too much work. And besides, what I really want is for people to go outside, notice “Hey, that soil looks like crushed, dry dog food,” and water the garden. Keep your eye on the garden, not the pre-printed schedule.

Option #3: Pick up a watering can and water.

And then there’s the ultimate cop-out: Walk across the street and help water myself. On the upside, I would know the seeds were being watered multiple times a day. But if I do the watering, doesn’t it keep the kids and teachers from learning about gardening themselves? That’s the sort of enabling behavior we want to avoid, right? Right.

That’s exactly what I did, though. I decided to slink over and water the beds myself — just in case. Mostly before and after school, but sometimes brazenly, right in the middle of the school day.

But don’t shake your head in disdain just yet. Let me explain.

What occurred to me is this: Not everyone needs to embrace the entire act of gardening. Maybe a select few will enjoy watering, while others will discover the joys of harvest, or warm up to a new, unfamiliar vegetable. But if we don’t grow healthy plants in the first place, people will never have the chance to make those discoveries.

Right now, the garden needs extra support, especially given the ridiculously hot weather. And many schools employ part-time gardeners to do this sort of thing, so perhaps it’s unrealistic to think that watering or anything else will just happen without a band of allies ready to support the effort. (While we’re on the topic of supporters, I should mention that parents Alexa, Silver and Tereza have been a huge help with watering.)

I still remind teachers to water. I tell them they’re going to feel so proud of those baby seeds for germinating into fine, upstanding plants.

Students in The Pittsburgh Edible Schoolyard.

And many teachers and classrooms are watering daily. I’ve checked in with some teachers and heard that they’ve brilliantly set up their own watering schedules, and I ran into two teachers before school who joined me in the garden to water. Yet another group of teachers — some of the assistants — have asked for a bit more training on “how to water,” so that’s a good sign. Maybe next year, I won’t be skulking around the garden with a watering hose.

The best indicator of all is that the seeds are actually sprouting, and the lettuce has stopped dying. Or maybe it’s dying more slowly, I can’t really tell. I’m feeling encouraged, though, so let’s not ruin this moment for me.

What I’ve learned: If you’re planting for a community/school garden, think multi-pronged attack, when it comes to watering: Offer hands-on lessons, email frequent reminders, check in face-to-face. And through it all, be ready on the sidelines with a watering can.

Also, our school garden continues to need its wonderful volunteers. If you’d like to help, but haven’t known how, here’s an opportunity — watering! Let me know if you’d like to become one of the weekend warriors who keep our plants growing.

1-minute gardening: Digging the hole

30 Mar

During a recent planting day at our school, Sarah Vroom of Bountiful Backyards told students how to dig holes for our plants and why we amend the clay-rich soil found on our grounds.