Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Herb Bed – Annuals, Biennials, and Perennials

We’re eight weeks into the school year and we’ve been harvesting since week one.  Only a year round school garden can make such a boast, true, but the real secret is our perennial herb bed. Whenever we’re in between seasons or waiting for something to mature there is always the herb bed. Since day 1, we’ve been harvesting: basil, sage, parsley, marjoram, rosemary, mint, thyme, oregano, and sorrel.  Other than basil, which is an annual, and parsley, which is a biennial, all are perennials.

Basil

Perennials are the classification of plants that go through repeated flowering and seed producing cycles before they die, or grow for several years, put out one seed production cycle, and then die.

Basil, which is currently seeding, is the only annual in the mint family. An annual completes the lifecycle (seed, growth, bloom, seed) in one year or one growing season and then dies. Most vegetables that we grow are annuals.

Biennials require two growing seasons or two years to complete their growing cycle. Swiss chard and beets are biennials.

Swiss Chard, Year 2


Beet going to seed

Starting From Seed

Seeds come in many shapes and sizes. They can be as big as coconuts or as small as orchid seeds that are carried by the wind. Size usually depends on how the seed is dispersed.

Big or small they all have three things in common related to their structure:
1) Hard protective shell outside called the seed coat;
2) Dormant embryo inside;
3) Nutrition (stored food) to keep it viable. Viable means that the seed is capable of germinating when you plant it. If it is not viable the nutrition inside has been used up and the embryo will no longer develop. Much of seed viability depends upon storage conditions. Ideal conditions would be somewhere cool and dry (e.g. a capped jar in the refrigerator).

When a seed is planted in the ground, container, or any growing medium there are four environmental factors that affect germination:
1) Moisture – Germination begins with the absorption of water. It ends when the seedling is self-sustaining. During that period, the growing medium should stay evenly moist (like a wrung-out sponge) and never dry out.
2) Temperature – Seeds like warmth. Generally, 65-75 F is best for most plants. The back of the seed pack will list the desired temperature range.
3) Oxygen – Respiration takes place in all viable seeds. During germination, the respiration rate increases. Soil or growing medium needs to be loose and well aerated.
4) Light – Some seeds require light, some seeds require darkness, and for some seeds it doesn’t matter. The back of the seed pack will list any special lighting requirement.

Ideal characteristics of growing medium include the following:
1) Fine and uniform texture;
2) Well aerated and loose;
3) Free of insects, disease, and weed seeds;
4) Low in total soluble salts;
5) Able to hold moisture yet drain well.

If sowing seeds indoors in containers think about recycling egg and milk cartons, plastic soda and water bottles, or pie pans. Just remember to create holes in the bottom for drainage.

Seed Sowing Tips
1) Depth matters – Problems can arise if too shallow or too deep. In general sow seeds 4 times the smallest dimension (see seed packet).
2) In soil or in a pot?  Sow big seeds like sunflower, nasturtium, corn, peas in soil where they’ll grow.  Sow small seeds like broccoli, oregano, snapdragons in containers.
3) Re-sow seeds, especially of vegetables, every 3-4 weeks for continuously developing new plants.  This will provide sequential food crops to harvest. Plant lettuce in September, October, November and December, and you’ll have lettuce the entire school year.

Seed Diagram (Avocado)

How to Read a Seed Packet

The back of a seed packet lists all the information one needs to directly sow seeds in the ground. Let’s go through it item by item with this Cauliflower variety, Early Snowball and Carrot variety, Scarlet Nantes.

The Latin name isn’t always given but it’s a good idea to note the family name for rotation purposes. Brassica is the genus name, oleracea is the species. (See Making Sense of Botanical Names for more on proper name classification)


1)   Planting Depth – When we make a trench to lay our seeds the distance from the soil line to the bottom of the trench is the planting depth.
2)   Seed Spacing – Refers to distance in trench between seeds. With carrots its 3-4 per inch. Don’t overseed. It makes thinning later more difficult.
3)   Days to Sprout aka Days to Germination refers to the length of time between when a seed is first planted and when it first appears above ground.
4)   Spacing after Transplanting or Plant Spacing refers to the distance between plants once all thinning and transplanting has been done.
5)   Row Spacing refers to the distance between the rows. In school gardens we use mostly raised beds and not large fields in which these seeds are intended. The distance between rows in a raised bed can usually be greatly reduced.
6)   Days Until Harvest aka Days to Maturity is the time it takes to go from seed to table. Some will start from the day the seeds are planted while others use the day the seedling are transplanted to their final position.  Notice cauliflower takes 60 days however it is started indoors for 4-6 weeks. If we plant cauliflower directly in the ground our Days until Harvest will be 88-102 days.
7)   Misc – The following information is sometimes included but not always: light requirements, soil requirements, irrigation suggestions, when and how to harvest, fertilization requirements, and, growing suggestions.

10 School Garden Activities for September

Week 1 – Welcome back everyone. Hope you all enjoyed your summer.

For those without a school garden who would like to know how to get started please read: How to Start and Maintain a School Garden.

For those returning to an existing garden there is much to do. Preparing the beds for seed sowing is probably the hardest job physically we will have all year. Organizing a garden day with other parents, teachers, students or volunteers is something you might want to consider.

The following 10 School Garden Activities for September should be done (more or less) in order:
1) First and foremost discuss garden rules and tool safety. For those unfamiliar with garden rules these are the basics: a) No running in the garden; b) No walking in the beds; c) No running with tools; d) Do not carry or swing tools on your back; e) Do not bring hands tools over your shoulder; f) Walk with the tool by your side, blade down; g) Return all tools to their proper place immediately after use; h) Do not leave tools in the garden; i) Anyone not following these rules does not get to work in the garden.

2) Search for dried flower heads and seed pods in which to save seed (i.e. cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce, cilantro, beans, etc).

3) Clear beds of everything other than perennials (i.e. herbs and strawberries).

4) Collect all organic refuse and compost it. For more information on composting see: Compost page at Wikipedia, the Compost Guide from compostguide.com, and the Guide to Home Composting from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

5) Add amendments (i.e. organic compost, aged manure) to existing soil, mix well and turn soil (top to bottom, bottom to top).

6) Review Vegetable Family Chart. At this time of year we will be planting cool-weather crops. As you will see there’s actually more to choose from now than there is in the spring.

7) Read seed packets for specific information regarding height and row spacing. (Taller plants go in the rear so as not to cast shadows on smaller plants.)

8) Plan and design garden space.

9) Lay out rows. (Ideally, rows should be perpendicular to the arc of the sun.)

10) Sow seeds and/or transplant seedlings.

Video – Saving Seeds

End of summer also means end of the cycle. Plants have flowered, fruited and are putting out seeds to ensure their survival. Students returning at the start of the new term should be on the lookout for seed-bearing fruits and dried flower heads.

Tips to Get a School Garden Grant

Grants, fundraisers and donations all come in handy to help our school gardens grow. While the success of donation drives and fundraisers depend to a large extent on people you know and interact with, like parents of students, local merchants and business houses, grants are more formal in nature. They are awarded by either public entities like local, state and federal governments or by private organizations and foundations.

The process of applying for grants is a little more complicated than seeking donations or holding fundraisers, but when you know what has to be done and do it diligently and thoroughly, you’ll have a much better chance of securing the funding that you need. If you’re thinking of applying for a school garden grant here are a few pointers to help you in the process:

• Apply only for those grants that fit your garden aims and needs.
• Read the rules thoroughly before you start filling in the application forms.
• Learn more about the agency that is funding the grant and find out about the previous grants they’ve awarded (or rejected).
• Fill in the application form as professionally as you can, following instructions to the letter. A school garden may be a small project, but you must approach the issue of seeking a grant with a certain amount of professionalism.
• State the facts without going overboard on details unless asked for.
• Make sure your application is free of errors, both factual and grammatical.
• If supporting documents like letters of recommendation are required, make sure you attach them to the application form.
• Send in your proposal well before the due date. Some grants have a send-by date as a deadline rather than a receive-by date. Read the application form properly to avoid being disqualified over such trivialities.
• If the grant is not forthcoming, don’t be disheartened; instead, try again at other sources.

School Garden Grant Opportunities
1) California School Garden Network (comprehensive list)

2) Calendar of School Garden Grants

3) Grant Opportunities from Schoolgrants.org

4) California Regional Environmental Education Community (CREEC Network)

By-line:
This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who writes on the subject of California teaching certificate. She invites your feedback at heatherjohnson2323 at gmail dot com.

Today’s gardeners borrow from yesterday

This is brilliant!

"bird" scarecrow

Birds a problem in the garden? Make a bird “scarecrow” with feathers and a potato; hang it in the garden. RENEE BONNAFON / rbonnafon@sacbee.com

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