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.
Depending on your location and growing interests, you may need additional heating to supplement the heat generated through solar radiation. This adds to your expenses but allows you to extend your season. Use supplemental heating when the sun sets and the cold outside air begins to rob the greenhouse of its daytime warmth.
Venting is critical both to draw out hot air and to provide air circulation to reduce problems with pests and diseases. Vents can be manual, electric, or solar (these are triggered to open and close by the heat of the sun.) Ideally, vents should be placed both high and low to allow for proper airflow. They should be well constructed so they can be tightly closed on the coldest days. Exhaust fans placed high in the greenhouse help push hotter (upper) air out, while allowing cooler (lower) air to enter.