When a garden photo says a lot

Last week I posted the picture below on our afterschool program’s Facebook page with the caption “Students explore the garden, using microscopes.”

IMG_7568 (1)

Our principal “liked” it, writing “This photo says a lot.”  When I asked him to “Say more!” he responded with this comment which I thought deserved its own post.  Thanks Mr. Copeland for being a principal who “gets it” on so many levels!

…..I see a school and a beautiful garden in a mountain community. And very young ladies (even a princess) being given tools that they will use later in life. Tool use that begins at a young age accelerates the development of familiarity and confidence. These tools are now theirs, not something they might see being used by special (often male) scientists in movies. They’re learning manual dexterity of the rotary adjustments – differential focal adjustment. They’re discovering eye dominance and monocular use of the eye, and thus, the brain. I see outdoor education too, and the interaction with weather and the environment. And that’s just what comes to mind readily…



5 reasons to mind your peas

Peas are perfect in school gardens because:

1)  They come in their own wrappers.  In terms of food safety—-winners!

2)   Peas are one of those foods whose “fresh” version and “canned” version are radically different.  If you’ve only had those nasty little canned ones, fresh peas seem like a whole new food.

3)  You can’t plant enough peas.  My experience is that kids love to search for them on the vine, pop them open and eat.  Every year I plant them I resolve to plant ten times more the following year.

4) As nitrogen-fixing legumes, you can chop up the plants after they’ve produced and dig them in to improve the soil.

5)  Peas can be put in the ground early (Valentines Day here in Julian) so kids can plant and harvest during the school year.  (Because some vegetables ripen in the summer, plants whose entire cycle can be observed during the traditional school calendar are great.)

As part of our “emerging” Farm to School program, I am working to choose a “crop of the month” for our school and align it as much as possible with a planting and harvesting schedule for the garden.  We will also be incorporating the excellent matching resources of “Harvest of the Month” in garden lessons.

Naturally, our first crop will be peas for May.

To start, I bought every variety of pea I could find!  Here are a few:


More pea-brained ideas to follow…..

Planting the “stinking rose”

Recently during lunch Garden Ambassadors came out to help me put in some garlic (aka “stinking rose”.)

One of my goals for this blog is “to make a case for school gardens from every angle I can think of.”  In a fifteen minute activity, look at all the good stuff that was played out….

community:  My friend and fellow Master Gardener Mary had extra garlic to plant from her Julian garden and she shared her bulbs with us, dropping them off at school.

education (experiential, continuing, informal):  Student separated and planted the bulbs at lunch time. I was tempted to go put the bulbs in myself (quick, easy), but I resisted and waited for a time when kids could help me.  Should these little bulbs sprout and grow, I know the kids will be more excited and involved if their own little fingers put them in the soil.  As the garden coordinator, I learned a lot too by checking out a great book in order to learn more about garlic since I’m also planting it for the first time: The Complete Book of Garlic* by Ted Jordan Meredith.

sustainability:  I learned that the majority of garlic we consume comes from China.  And it can be relatively easy to grow in one’s own backyard (in climates with some rainfall, sunny dry summers, and fairly moderate winters.*)  Let’s do this!

nutrition:  Imagine the possibilities when we harvest in the fall!


University of Wednesday

University of Wednesday is a new program at out school.  After lunch on Wednesday all of the classes go to an enrichment class: art, garden, natural history, etc.  Every week they rotate.  This is a great development for the garden as it allows me to be a true “garden educator,” creating a lesson plan tailored to each grade.

Photo courtesy of Marisa McFedries

Last week I divided the group in half.  One half played Garden Bingo with me.  I don’t simply call out the words—I give examples of them in our garden and the kids have to come up with the words.  It was windy so I had to tape down the boards.  And the plastic bingo chips were too lightweight so I finally hit upon this idea.  (Easy clean up–just flick these chips off the table.)

The other half did this scavenger hunt.  It’s an exercise in observation, with a few  academic standards thrown in.  I usually have adult volunteers with me, so they walk around the garden, helping kids who are stumped or seizing teachable moments.  This “scavenger hunt” format works really well, as kids are self-directed, working in pairs with the questions below on a clipboard. And it’s easy to adapt to the grade and the season.


1)  How many varieties (different types) of tomatoes are currently growing in our garden?

2)   We are currently growing yellow snapdragon flowers.  Examine the flowers.  Why do you think they have this name?

3)   Draw the most beautiful thing in the garden:

4)   Cite one example of insect damage or plant disease in the garden.  (Look closely at leaves.)

5)   Write three words that come to mind when you see the Hubbell Gate.  (The new colorful one at the end of the garden).  Now use the thesaurus on the main table and fine a synonym for each of these words.

Your word                                                Word from thesaurus

__________________________                        _________________________________

__________________________                        _________________________________

__________________________                        _________________________________

6)   Smell at least three herbs in the herb garden.  Draw the leaf of the one you like most.  Do you know its name?

7)   We are a “certified wildlife habitat.”  What are the four things needed for a habitat?  (This is printed somewhere in the garden.)  Pick two elements and give an example of both.

8) Watch the 4 minute video on tendrils.  What did scientists recently learn?  Where are there tendrils in our garden?  Do you notice the phenomenon pointed out in the video?

(We couldn’t get this excellent Science Friday clip to play out in the garden, so I explained it and the kids watched it later in class.)

Then the kids switch so they both have a chance at each activity.  We end by gathering together at the table to share our answers and questions, and I try to always have something from the garden prepped to eat as we talk together.  The containers get passed around until all the food is gone!

Take it outside!

“Taking learning outside”—a phrase I’ve heard from those in the environmental education/school garden world.  The idea is this: if you can teach it in the classroom, you can teach it outside.  (Agree? Disagree? Discuss.)

Here are some ways non-garden activities have moved into the garden in the last year:

On Science Day, students met in the garden with the amazing naturalist/teacher Kat to pound and braid yucca fibers into rope:

Girl Scouts held their “bridging ceremony” during which they pass to the next level of scouting:

An Easter Egg hunt last April:

Yoga class:

A kindergarten teacher uses the garden with a yearly unit on the gingerbread man!

And finally, “reading buddies” (third graders paired with first graders) and SSR (“silent sustained reading”). Do they still use that term?  I remember reading at my desk, but I would have loved to have read in a silent, sustained way in a gazebo!