When we decided to relocate our digging and water play into our new sand pit, thus reclaiming the garden for actually growing things, there were some doubters and naysayers, myself among them. It's one thing to have a productive garden at home, I figured, where you really only needed to encourage, at most, a handful of kids to be gentle, but in a preschool with dozens of kids traipsing through there on a daily basis, I wondered just how realistic we were being. After all, it would really only take one child joyfully running amuck to destroy months of cultivating effort.
This fact, coupled with my strong aversion to bossing kids around and affinity for allowing them to make all their own rules, made our prospects doubtful at best. It looked like the odds were against us, but like they say in baseball, "The underdog will never win if you don't play the game."
A few days ago, I wrote about our bizarre scarecrow.
Well, we needed that scarecrow because things are actually growing out there! We've already had a radish harvest and our wheat grass is as well-grazed as a cow pasture. We have potatoes, cauliflower, peas, beans, cabbage, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, pumpkins, celery, various herbs and I don't know all in the ground, most of which seems to be thriving.
One of the great things about our cooperative preschool is that almost every day, parents are bringing in new plants to sink into the soil. So much so that it's hard to keep track of what all is out there. We've made little signs with pictures of most of the things we're growing so that the non-readers among us can know what they're looking at. I've also created laminated "check lists" mounted on clipboards, which is really a matching game whereby they try to find the crop in the garden depicted on their list. It hasn't been the most exciting activity, but there are now several kids who can give a pretty complete tour of the garden.
They all know about watering plants, although it's challenging to teach preschoolers the fine art of not over-watering. In fact, this upcoming week may be the first time this spring that we actually need to water. Two weeks ago, the watering can frenzy coupled with a few days of heavy rain left not just our plants soggy, but our coffee bean pathways as well, so much so that they started to stink like an unhealthy compost bin. We raked everything up a bit to aid in drainage, then spread cedar shavings to soak up some of the excess moisture. The kids had a blast spreading and raking the shavings and its helped with both moisture and the odor. As Thomas said, "It smells like Home Depot out here." (For those who don't know, that's a big hardware store.)
In spite of the action, however, one of the characteristics of a garden is to simply wait for things to grow, which made me wonder exactly what the kids would do out there most of the time. And indeed, typically, the garden has been the quiet spot in our outdoor classroom, with, at most, 2-3 kids out there at any given time.
Our worm bin is probably the biggest daily draw. There are hundreds of worms in there by now and we're finding clutches of baby worms almost every time we dig.
I love how carefully they study not just the worms, but all the critters we find out there. We have both bug boxes and magnifying glasses available for more up close observations. Last week we found our first slug and our first snail. This could, of course, mean bad news for the garden, but we couldn't kill them so we relocated them to our worm bed in the hopes that they'll be satisfied with the food they find there.
On Thursday, we noticed some holes in our cauliflower leaves. Isak's mom Leslie lead a small group of kids on a mini-safari and they actually found the culprit, a single caterpillar. I'm not sure what they did with it.
We've also kept ourselves busy as we wait by sprouting lentils in baby food jars.
They need to be rinsed every day, so we've used a hammer and nails to perforate the lids. The kids then shake the water out each day and refill them with water from our rain barrel. Of course, the final rinse before eating will be done with tap water. For some of the kids, there is no better food than these sprouts. I think Dennis ate 3-4 jars worth the last time we did this.
The rakes are out there every day and the kids are encouraged to keep the paths raked so that they don't get soggy again.
This week I think we'll plant a few flower seeds, maybe some cosmos and sweet peas to start.
I still, every day, knock on wood and cross my fingers that one child won't run joyfully amuck, but I'm growing more hopeful about the prospects of our garden with each passing day. One thing every gardener always knows, all the time, is that something could go wrong -- a flood, a draught, pests, rampaging children -- but we keep on planting because ultimately what we grow in our gardens is hope.