Category Archives: Instructional Activities

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.

Starting from Seed

The vegetables we grow are mostly annuals. They start from seed, flower,
and end as seeds all within a defined year. That’s their life cycle.

Bolted Lettuce

Bolted Lettuce

Save some seeds this year.  The easiest are cilantro and lettuce.
We also do arugula, fennel, marigolds, beans and sunflowers.
See Starting from Seed for more instructional material.


Marigold Seeds

Soil Testing – How clean is the dirt?

By Susan Carpenter,

All dirts are not created equal. Urban dirt in particular has suffered the fallout from human activity, often with higher-than-healthy concentrations of lead, arsenic and other toxic metals that accumulate in the soil and are sucked up by plants. It’s an issue of grave importance for the millions of Americans who are food gardening. Soil testing, whether for pH, salinity, texture or heavy metals — all of which affect how well, or if, a plant will grow — is a good idea for anyone who intends to eat the bounty of their gardens. Several laboratories offer soil testing for home gardeners, including:

Wallace Laboratories, El Segundo. (310) 615-0116 or $65 per test.

EarthCo, St. Louis. (314) 994-2167 or $20 to $100 per test.

School Starts Next Week, Be Prepared

WeHo Winter Garden

School starts next week. For those with school gardens already in place now is the time to be ordering your seeds. For those who are starting from scratch see, How to Start and Maintain a School Garden.

If you’re not sure what is seasonal for your area check out your local cooperative extension. In mild winter areas like Southern California one can use the vegetable planting schedule from

We already have seeds of cilantro, lettuce, arugula, and marigolds that we saved from last year. Be sure to set aside one or two of your plants this year to use for seeds. Not only does it show students the full life cycle of an annual plant it also saves your garden program some much needed funds.

For those who are buying, the following seed companies are worth looking into:

1) Botanical Interests – Based in Colorado, BI is a family owned business know for their large selection of certified organic varieties.

2) Baker Creek – Based in Missouri, with a new outpost in Northern California, BC is known for its large selection of heirloom varieties.

3) Gourmet Seed – If your fava beans must be Moroccan, and nothing else will suffice, GS is your place.

A list of what we’ll be growing this year includes the following: arugula, beets, bok choy, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, chives, cilantro, fava beans, fennel, garlic, kale, lettuce, mint, onions, oregano, parsley, peas, potatoes, radishes, rosemary, sorrel, spinach, swiss chard, tat soi, thyme, and turnips.


Lastly, perhaps you just want to throw some seeds into a container outside the classroom. If so, consider cool weather flowers such as stocks or snapdragons, a winter hardy herb garden or such easily grown veggies as lettuce, spinach and radishes.


Rain Gardening in the South

I’ve been noticing school rain gardens being mentioned more frequently in news alerts and thought some of you would find this book invaluable.

Written by NCSU horticulturalists Helen Kraus and Anne Spafford, Rain Gardening in the South helps gardeners wisely use our most precious resource—water. Rain gardens maximize rainwater, enhance the landscape, and promote good environmental stewardship.

Runoff contributes significantly to polluting our waterways. The rain garden, which functions as a miniature reservoir and filtration system, offers an effective, visually pleasing solution that dramatically reduces toxic runoff, resulting in cleaner rivers, lakes, and oceans.

The authors define the rain garden as “a garden slightly sunken below grade designed to capture rainfall, store that water to nurture the garden plants, and cleanse runoff, thus removing pollution.”

Ironically, rain gardens are more drought-tolerant than conventional gardens. Because of their plant selection and ability to store water, rain gardens flourish during dry spells, as well as rainy seasons, making them particularly conducive to the South.

“Water-wise gardeners are conscious of both the need to limit their water use and the need to minimize runoff, thereby dramatically reducing water pollution,” write Kraus and Spafford. “Not only are rain gardens extremely effective in addressing water and pollution issues, they are gorgeous.”

Rain Gardening in the South addresses the specific environmental circumstances of southern gardens, such as climate issues, plant selection, and soil types. It details step-by-step instruction on constructing a garden, from the design stage to post-planting maintenance, including plant lists and troubleshooting tips.

Though the specific plant lists are targeted to southern climates, the concepts, diagrams and design templates are universal.  And it is a very easy-to-use guide, full of accessible information about water harvesting, improving water quality, soil types…good hands-on science curriculum.

Publisher’s discount: $16 + $4 shipping at

Rain Gardening in the South

Green Bean Harvest

Green beans (aka string beans or snap beans) are one of our earliest spring harvests.  Seed to table is usually about 60 days.


We are currently harvesting both bush beans and pole beans.  The difference between the two being: bush beans mature all at once while pole beans mature over a longer period of time. Additionally, bush bean plants are usually no more than 18” tall, while pole beans grow as a vine and can reach heights of 10-12 feet (hence the name, the pole is used for support, all pole beans should be grown on a trellis.)


For those with year round gardens think about doing at least two or three  plantings, stagger the sowing, and you’ll have fresh green beans all summer.

To collect green beans seeds for next year allow some of your green beans to
stay on the vine till they appear dry and brittle . Collect the seeds and then store in a cool dry place.


One of my favorite ways of preparing green beans is the roasting method. See Roasted Green Beans recipe from

For more green bean recipes please see the following:

2) 4 Fresh Recipes for Green Beans from Eating

3) 4080 ways to cook green beans from

Coriander Harvest

Its called cilantro when we harvest its leaves, and coriander when we use its seeds.

Being an annual, it’s one of those plants we get to witness a complete life cycle.

It was originally planted in the fall, bolted in winter, flowered, went to seed and now ready for the seeds to be harvested.

Collect the seeds for the following September and we’ll never again have to worry about buying cilantro seeds.