Sarah Pounders – Education Specialist

We always plant the spring garden at my daughter’s elementary school the week before Spring Break. With our mild Texas winter this year, we could have installed it sooner, but as any of you who have worked with a school garden know, scheduling a planting day at school is about more than the average last frost date. In addition to students’ energy levels running high anticipating the upcoming vacation, teachers are also finishing up teaching units and are just as ready for a break in the routine. Most importantly, it represents a deadline. If we do not get the garden in before Spring Break, we have to compete with the dreaded Standardized Testing Zone that kicks off right after the break.GrowingIdeas-3082

Unfortunately, Mother Nature did not get the memo this year. Following two dry months, our planting week featured a spectacular 4.7 inches of rain. Offering a great teachable moment about the uncontrollable challenges that farmers face, the rain delayed our planting by a couple of days, but we still snuck it in before Friday’s final bell.

Thank goodness for well draining soil! We garden in raised beds because our school’s native soil is only one step above concrete and this year offered a prime example of why it was so important to invest in high quality soil. Our beds contain an excellent vegetable garden mix with a blend of sand and compost, so even though the ground around our beds was drenched, the soil inside the beds was moist, but not compact. A top tip for all school gardeners--- don’t skimp when it comes to choosing your soil!

We usually plant around a classroom theme for spring gardens, but this year we decided to return to our fall planting schedule which divides the beds up into small plots allowing students to partner up and take full responsibility for their plant selection. Each plot is approximately 15” X 18” in size and they are able to choose from a select list of vegetables and herbs that grow well in our area. Click here to download a copy of the worksheet we hand out to each student to help in their planting. 

Last fall, students really struggled with figuring out how to design their gardens and were even more challenged trying to visualize the difference in scale when they moved their plans on paper into their garden beds. But this second time around, the kids really got it. Most did a better job planning their gardens with the proper spacing in mind and when planting, they were able to translate their plans to the garden space better. Granted, the beds are still over planted, but I am hoping that they have learned their lesson about the dangers of overcrowding and won’t fight thinning the seeds quite as much in a few weeks (no one wanted to thin any seedlings in the fall) … guess we will see.

GrowingIdeas-3085I think what most impressed me was the fact that they were even more excited about planting this spring than they were in the fall (and trust me they were plenty excited in the fall too). Last fall, planting the little seeds was a bit abstract for many. This spring, I could tell they did not see seeds when they were planting, but instead were envisioning the full-grown plants that would be the end result. They were also more focused on their harvest and are eager to have the chance to share the fruits of their labor with their family and friends again.

I have been helping with watering over the break (yep, those beds dried out quickly) and within two days, little radish seeds started to sprout. I can’t wait to see the kids’ faces when they get back from Spring Break and see their gardens growing! So much fun!

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