Saturday, May 08, 2010

Better Than Jello

Although we've had a "garden" for as long as I've been at Woodland Park, this is the first year we've attempted to do more than plant a few radish seeds.

Starting with a child-generated wish list of what we would try to grow from seeds, we set up our experimental garden in mid-April.

It wasn't a surprise to anyone that our lettuce, carrots, broccoli, bell pepper, and bush peas have sprouted. Unfortunately, everything else, including the Jello, appeared to have sprouted as well. During the weeks prior to setting up the experimental garden, we'd been out there with baby food jars in which we were sprouting lentils. Apparently, we accidentally spilled some of them in the process and all those prolific sprouts were causing confusion, especially the singular one that grew in exactly the spot where we had planted a cube of cherry-flavored Jello. The kids were starting to get excited about their Jello plant, even the ones who had been convinced it wouldn't grow.

I went back and forth in my mind about what to do about those lentil sprouts for a couple weeks, finally opting to burst the Jello plant bubble in favor of clearing the bed of the invasive sprouts so that we could actually observe the results of what we had intentionally planted, instead of focusing exclusively on the false hope of freshly harvested Jello. The day we did the deed, the excitement shifted from the Jello to the bush peas and broccoli without a hitch. I was worried there would be disappointment and possibly even anger at my executive decision, but it never materialized. I'm guessing it was because they really didn't believe in the Jello plant to begin with.

In the meantime, we've been slowly filling the other beds with starts of various kinds. We have a fairly large section of radishes that we started ourselves in peat pots, a couple cucumbers, a basil plant, and a dozen starts each of cauliflower, red cabbage and celery. Next week I'm expecting Isak's mom Leslie to bring in bush bean, mini-pumpkin, and sunflower starts. Coupled with the lentil patches that are spontaneously shooting up all over the place (we apparently spilled more than we thought) and our incredibly prolific crop of burlap sack potatoes, it's a promising start I think.

This photo was actually taken several weeks ago. The potato plants are now four 
times larger and in desperate need of thinning/transplanting.

What I think I've learned so far about gardening with a classroom full of young children is that most kids, most of the time, are not all that interested in what's going on out there, but all of them at one time or another do take an interest. Our best days are the ones in which an adult just gets to work on a project like weeding, planting seeds, transplanting, deadheading or watering, making space for children to participate as they stop by to see what's going on.

For instance, Orlando, who typically spends most of his outdoor play time in the sand pit took a rare tour of the garden at the time we were starting to get our radishes out of their mini-green house and into a bed. He wound up putting most of them in the ground himself. He now waters them -- whether they need it or not -- almost every day.

Our watering cans are in almost continuous use these days. Someone is nearly always giving the seeds a drink during our outdoor time. The biggest challenge is explaining the concept of over-watering.

The rakes also get used quite a bit, although because of all the tender young plants out there, we've decided to limit their use to raking our coffee bean pea gravel back "uphill" as it tends to migrate according to the dictates of gravity. It's a useful, physical project.

I took this picture on the day Jasper's pet chicken Noodle
came to visit. That's our rosemary bush in the foreground,
our coffee bean pea gravel underfoot, and our worm bed
at the "bottom" of the hill.

Our worm bed, which we keep in a former sand table, is easily the biggest draw in the garden. This is a big experiment for all of us. We've simply populated it with worms and soil we found in the garden, tried to keep it moist, but not soggy, and mixed in scraps from the garden or snack table. They seem to be doing fairly well -- at least I'm not finding carcasses. The kids especially like collecting them in our bug boxes, treating them like pets for an hour, "feeding" them orange rinds and leaves, then returning them to the bed. We also keep our magnifying glasses out there for making closer inspections.

It's hard to take pictures of worms with a phone camera.
And yes, those are lentil sprouts in the worm bed too. 
They're everywhere!

I expect things will get even more exciting as we get to the point of being able to harvest some of our crops. So far, the only thing we've been able to eat is our wheat grass, which isn't actually growing in the garden at all, but rather in Little World, where it seems to be thriving (when doesn't wheat grass thrive?) in this kooky pot arrangement idea I borrowed from my mom.

The children are keeping it "mowed" with scissors and eating it by the handful. As we gnawed on the grass last week, Annabelle told me she liked it better than Jello.

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Lindsey said...

That wonky pot tower is tremendous! We're going to have to make one of those :)

Teacher Tom said...

@KM . . . Isn't it! I just drove an old curtain rod into the ground and slid the pots onto it. Mom paid for hers. I'm thinking of creating a much taller one when I get a long enough piece of rebar.

Cathy at NurtureStore said...

Hi Tom, I love the idea of having a 'worm world'- my girls always say worms are 'goodies'. Did the chicken just come for a short visit or is she staying?

Teacher Tom said...

@Cathy . . . Noodle was just there for a day, but it has sparked some discussion about building a chicken coop. We think the city would allow us to have up to 3. It would be kind of fun to have eggs and animals, but I'm a little worried about keeping chickens in a place where there are no people most of the time, especially with all the urban preditors like raccoons and rats. I would need a family who lived nearby to make the commitment to be primary caretakers and that hasn't materialized yet.

Play for Life said...

First of all I've got be honest Tom and say I'm a little disappointed you've dashed the hopes of children the world over by revealing that jello does NOT grow in the ground .. party pooper!
Your vegie garden however is anything but disappointing and is coming along SO nicely I am going to have to stay true to my word and give it another go with our children. Might have to get some of my parents and grandparents on board to advise me though after my disastrous attempt in the past.
Wheat grass, very cool idea. I believe wheat grass can solve just about every problem known to man so I will definitely be planting some of that very close to the vegie patch as I will need all the help i can get! Thank your mum for the pot tower idea ... think I'll plant one of them too!

Donna :) :)

Unknown said...

Love the pet chicken :) How fun is that? : ) The worm bed fascinates me! That is where the pumpkins in the fall sat, right?
Wheat grass IS better than jello :) or so I have heard.