Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Garden Tent

We started our new garden experiment in earnest last March, which is a forgiving time for gardening around here. Things sprout and grow in the Spring without much effort so there was always something interesting to be doing out there with the planning and the planting and the pruning and the weeding and the raking. And it only got better as we got closer to summer with all those things to do as well as harvesting, insect watching, pest control and, as our winter rains began to subside, the favorite preschool gardening activity of all, watering.

I'd always sort of wondered about what we would find to do out there in the dead of winter, however, and indeed the pickings were sparse. We've kept relatively busy with things like tending our worm bin, spreading pine shavings on our pathways to keep them from getting too muddy, and removing dead plants, but winter really isn't a time for gardening. Of course, our rain barrel has remained full to the brim, but since the garden was already pretty mucky, we've discouraged the kids from turning it into a big mud pit, which they would gladly have done, and which it was prior to us salvaging it as a garden.

Then one day as I was patrolling the internet, looking for winter gardening ideas, I came across plans for a PVC garden hoop house. The idea bounced around the school for awhile, occupying that dream-for-the-future space for several months, until finally I asked Benjamin's dad Andrew if he'd be willing to take it on. He said it looked like a fun project. I was going to write that I asked Andrew to "take the lead," but this turned out to be something he did almost entirely on his own, including a Sunday when I was supposed to meet him at the school, spaced it (due to being in the throes of my family moving to a new home), only to have him cheerfully leap the fence and put up the PVC framework all on his own. I remembered to meet him last weekend to help skin it with plastic.

The idea is pretty simple. We're hoping to raise the temperature in the garden 5-7 degrees, giving us the opportunity, we hope, to do a little growing out there all year round. Not only that, but we'll get to stay a bit dryer during the rainy Seattle winters. The plan is to remove the plastic right around mid-March and restore it again sometime next November.

We feel confident about the pipe structure holding up even under the high winds that sometimes attack this part of town, although we're curious about how the 60 mm. plastic will hold up. We feel pretty good about it, although the clips we used to secure the seams appear to be the weakest link. It's quite possible we'll need to rethink that.

Many of the parents have remarked that it feels a little like walking into a whale, and with the whiteness of the translucent plastic maybe it's Moby Dick, but the kids have so far referred to it as the "garden tent," which in all likelihood will stick. These past couple of days have been cold and sunny. It may be our imaginations, but we think it feels warmer in there. I see a couple new thermometers in our near future.

Best of all, however, there's a real need to use the infinite supply of water we collect all winter in the rain barrel.

Thanks Andrew!

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Renee said...

Wow! Excellent idea to keep gardening year round! This might be just the solution for winters in Houston, too! (winter meaning January and February, since we're usually wearing short-sleeved t-shirts on Christmas day in these parts!)

I've only been following the blog for about a week now, and I am so inspired by the strong community you seem to have and the willingness of everyone to be involved and uphold the philosophy of the classroom (which seems to be heavily reliant on independent discovery, and gentle direction toward those discoveries). That can be a hard pill for some parents to swallow, and it looks like this class flourishes with the cooperation of the whole community (... I guess that is the whole point of a co-op!).

Sherry and Donna said...

I like the idea Tom, now I've got my fingers crossed it all holds together for you!

Donna :) :)

roreyandcody said...

Hi Teacher Tom.

I just wanted to let you know that I LOVE YOUR BLOG! Both myself and partner are teachers from the US teaching special education in Malaysia, and "Teacher Tom" has become a household name for us in the 5 short days since I initially found your blog. Keep up the good work!


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