Category Archives: Instructional Activities

10 Ways to Integrate School Gardens into Arts, Science, and Math

1) Make a scarecrow. See Atlanta Botanical Gardens 2009 Scarecrow Winners for inspiration.

2) Paint a sign. Nothing says Our Garden like a freshly painted sign. See 25 photos of garden signs from Life Lab.

3) Build a trellis. Trellises are needed throughout the year to support such vegetables as peas, pole beans, tomatoes, melons, cucumbers, and gourds. See trellis as art from Maine artist, Paul Jurutka.

4) Make a germinator to showcase germination process (see video.)

5) Read Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman. Some have turned the book into a school play. Others were inspired to make a movie.

6) Keep a journal. For scientific purposes we want to track the following: what we’re growing, when did we sow seeds, how long did the seeds take to germinate, how often do we water, how long does a plant take to mature (from seed to harvest), how big does a plant get (height and width), and how much does it yield.

Many other scientific experiments may be initiated with results tracked in a journal.  See Conducting an Experiment from cornell.edu.

7) Plant seeds of lettuce or cilantro and observe the different plant stages. Reserve one plant to be saved for seed. These plants (all annuals) will flower and seed within the school year. Students can observe the entire lifecycle of a plant (seed-to-seed), as well as learn to collect seeds for the following seasons.

8) Collect bugs and insects into a terrarium and observe their habitat and behavior.

9) For math students, examples of gardening equations:
a) If a row is 8 ft long and we space our carrots 3 inches apart how many carrots can we grow in one row?
b) Our pole beans grow 8 inches a week. How many feet will they be after 12 weeks?
c) My raised bed is 4ft x 8 ft x 1ft. How many bags of dirt (2 cubic feet each) does it take to fill the raised bed?

10) For more inspiration see School Garden Potpourri of Ideas

Choosing Tomato Seeds

Always a difficult decision. Tomatoes (and corn) is everyone’s favorite homegrown vegetable. We’ll be starting them indoors in late February and early March. If you haven’t gotten your seeds yet, get them NOW.

This year I’ve decided on Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Pineapple Tomato, Cherokee Purple and Sungold Tomato.

Sungolds are bright orange, cherry tomatoes, hybrids, very sweet, and very high yields. The others are heirlooms, open-pollinated, 1-2 pounders: green, yellow blush, and deep red.

The intent is both visual and culinary. The different colors will delight any child and the depth of flavors from the four varieties in a freshly made salsa, bruschetta, or checca will excite the palate of any adult.

Favorite Seed Companies:
Baker Creek
Botanical Interests
Gourmet Seed
PineTree Seeds

Winter Sunflower

We have a volunteer sunflower growing in our garden. Volunteers are plants that come up on their own without being intentionally planted. In the  case of our sunflower we had planted some nearby last spring. In another garden we had lots of volunteers that sprang up after deadheading the season before. Its a good idea to know what seedlings look like so if any pop up in your garden you can let them continue growing instead of weeding them out.

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Winter sunflowers don’t grow as large as normal sunflowers and sometimes they have funny faces (like the one above), but here in Southern California where the winters are extremely mild, they do grow and flower.

At West Hollywood Elementary School we are playing a game with our rogue sunflower. Whoever guesses the correct height of the sunflower once it flowers gets to keep the flower (assuming the squirrels don’t get to it first).

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Kids off the Couch

Two resourceful moms have built a website dedicated to getting your kids off the couch. It is called appropriately, KidsOffTheCouch.com. Each week they feature a memorable movie for the family to watch together and couple it with an off-couch activity.

Some of their garden related activities include:

1) The Secret Garden + Edible Gardens

2) My Fair Lady + A Flower Market Visit

3) FernGully: The Last Rainforest + Botanical Gardens

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Lastly, as a bonus, the illustrations by Laura Cornell are brilliant.

Potting up

When starting seeds indoors it is sometimes necessary to repot new seedlings into a bigger container rather than plant them immediately outdoors. We call this practice potting up. In the enclosed video I am potting up Broccoli into a peat pot which can then be transplanted at later date directly into the soil.

School Garden Preparation – Dorsey High School

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Preparing a garden bed for seed sowing is a difficult task, in fact it is the most difficult task we’ll perform in the garden all year. Over the summer, weeds grows unfettered, plants die, and the soil is depleted of nutrition.

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All those planting beds need to be cleared and amended.

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Thankfully, at Dorsey High School, we had a few students show up for garden work on a Saturday and they did a fabulous job.

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For approximately two and a half hours students weeded, removed bermuda grass, old plants, and completed some seriously needed site prep work.

See video, How to Amend a Raised Bed, to view the process of adding amendments (preferably organic compost) and turning (or aerating) the soil.

Scarecrows in the Garden

"Go Skatecrow Go!" by students at Fayette Middle School

"Go Skatecrow Go!" by students at Fayette Middle School

Scarecrows in a school garden is a fun activity. The Atlanta Botanical Garden is currently exhibiting its annual “Scaregrows in the Garden”. See link for pics and ideas.