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.
"It's been wonderful having the Master Gardener's support. I had never done classroom gardening before. I've learned so much from her, and we're able to combine my teaching strategies with her horticultural knowledge to produce some really nice projects."
One of the finest experiences my students and I have had is touring different children's gardens around the world through a Garden Video Letter Exchange. It's not as good as going in person, of course, but it's much better than not going at all. My Minnesota students have been amazed to see their video pen pals from Ecuador first growing corn and then standing in a banana jungle, and to watch their Georgia pen pals harvest peanuts and cotton.
Extend your growing season or experiment with different plant varieties
What to Grow, When
What you choose to grow, and when, depends on your curriculum goals and student interests, climate, and the type of greenhouse you have. See Greenhouse Climates for more information on different types.