Plants require certain nutrients in order to thrive and grow. These are not actually food, but chemical elements or minerals that are vital to helping a plant use the sugars (the real food) that it produces during photosynthesis. Nutrients are normally found in soil, in decomposed organic matter such as compost, and in commercial fertilizers. The "macro-nutrients"--those required in the greatest amount by plants--include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Soil found outside stores and releases nutrients, provides plant support, and creates passages for air and water. It contains living thing--bacteria, mites, and worms, as well as nonliving substances--small particles of sand and clay. Greenhouse soils need to be lighter than garden soils, because frequent watering tends to pack soil down.
Soil-filled greenhouse beds, near ground level or raised to 24 inches, are ideal for creating indoor planting habitats. Since beds (particularly raised) typically contain more soil than containers do, they promote good root growth.
As fall weather spells an end to school and neighborhood gardens, consider encouraging your students to become seed detectives by identifying, collecting, and saving their own seeds from the garden or wild.
Saving seeds can be economical (you might generate hundreds from just one plant) and it allows students to explore plant life cycles and their clever adaptations for housing and dispersing seeds. Understanding a few things about seeds and seed needs will improve your chances of being a successful seed saver.
Jill Jones of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, had watched with dismay as her inner-city neighborhood of Wellington Heights--once home to grand old houses and tree-lined streets--declined into falling-down buildings; trashy, empty lots; and a haven for drug dealers, arsonists, and vandals.
Almost every school vegetable garden hosts tomato plants, and the ability to grow a handsome tomato earns a gardener the title of "green thumb." Tomatoes are a delicious staple of American cuisine, which is fortunate considering that they provide important vitamins, minerals, and cancer-fighting antioxidants. With fresh tomatoes on sandwiches and burgers, and processed tomatoes in pizza, salsa, and catsup, it's hard to make it through a day without eating a tomato or tomato-based product!
We've heard from indoor gardening teachers, "All of our bean leaves are dropping off-what could be wrong?" or "Do you know any activities with flower bulbs that I can use with my first graders?" Master Gardeners are a national network of resource people who can help answer these types of questions and enrich your classroom gardening effort.
Sure, bake sales can help you raise money for your classroom gardening supplies, but consider the opportunities for learning, class pride, and individual growth as students plan and implement a schoolwide plant sale. Tie it in with Mothers' Day, and you've got another base covered.
For several years, Roger Crowley's third grade students in Montpelier, VT, have become silly about sprouts. They've written sprout stories, developed sprout characters, and magnified sprouts to project on classroom walls. The sprout project germinated one year when a social studies unit on pioneers sparked student interest in sprouts as a food source. Another year, students grew enough sprouts to start a small business. They developed a logo and advertisements, and took orders for sprouts from the school cafeteria and a local deli.