Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Winter Flowers

Its late February here in our California school gardens. Some of the veggies we planted in September are now going to seed (broccoli, bok choy, cilantro) while others are still producing (fava beans, peas).  Either way by observing the flowering of our plants we are reminded that all our annual plants go through a similar life cycle; they start from seed, grow, flower, set seeds, and die. Its starts with seeds and ends with seeds, beautiful flowers are merely a bonus.

Kohlrabi – Info and Recipes

kohlrabi

Kohlrabi was harvested recently and like other uncommon vegetables the question most asked was, what do we do with it? First, a little information; Kohlrabi is a member of the cabbage family. Its name is derived from the German Kohl (cabbage) and Rube or Rabi (turnip) because the swollen stem looks like a turnip.

The taste and texture of kohlrabi is similar to broccoli stems or cabbage hearts but milder and sweeter. It can be eaten raw or cooked. Small kohlrabi do not need to be skinned, but the larger ones definitely do.

Of kohlrabi’s two varieties the purple globe is sweeter and tastier than the apple-green.

Nutritionally, kohlarabi is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Thiamin, Folate, Magnesium and Phosphorus, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, Potassium, Copper and Manganese. See complete Kohlrabi Nutritional Values from nutritiondata.com.

The following are some recipes I found featuring kohlrabi:

1) Pickled Kohlrabi

2) Kohlrabi-Mushroom Soup

3) Freezing Kohlrabi

4) German-Style Stuffed Kohlrabi

5) Roasted Kohlrabi and Butternut Squash

6) Spicy Kohlrabi

7) Avocado and Kohlrabi Salad

8) Creamy Kohlrabi Salad

9) Braised Kohlrabi

10) Mashed Kohlrabi

Winter Harvest

After a three week winter break school gardens with watering angels (or on automatic timers) saw a spurt of growth that caused many to utter “WOW” upon their return.

Peas on the Vine

Peas on the Vine

Pea vines were 7 ft tall and full of ripe pea pods. Bok choy that wasn’t picked before the break had bolted and flowered with stalks as high as 4 ft. Spinach, arugula, swiss chard, cilantro, lettuce and radishes all needed to be trimmed, thinned, or pulled. Bags of salad greens were assembled for all with implicit  instructions to take their bounty home, wash it thoroughly, make a salad and say to siblings and parents, “look what I grew.”

Next week we’re planning to start seeds indoors and in our greenhouse. We intend to get a head start on spring planting by starting seeds of zucchini, corn and tomatoes as well as more cool weather crops such as broccoli, kohlrabi, and lettuce.  Days to Maturity for warm-weather plants dictate that we get them in the ground no later than the middle of March for harvest before school’s end.

Check this Southern California Garden Calendar for vegetables that can be planted in January.

If outside of California check with your local Cooperative Extension or Master Gardener program.

For those who haven’t gotten their seeds yet see:

Botanical Interests

Pinetree Garden Seeds

Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The Child’s Food Garden

Thank you to Michael Levenston at CityFarmer.info for uncovering this gem, a digitized school book from School Garden Series, published in 1918. The uniforms may have changed, but much of the instruction is still valid.

The Child’s Food Garden, With a Few Suggestions for Flower Culture by Van Evrie Kilpatrick, 1918, Principal of the Carlisle School, New York City and assigned to supervision of School and Home Gardens. President of the School Garden Association of America. 65 pages. Includes many photos and illustrations

Preface:
Every boy and every girl who has a garden at home, or who is given a plot in a school garden, ought to learn to do the work successfully. Yet, as the author has found, children, especially those who live in cities and towns, know little or nothing about producing anything from the soil, and since the teacher cannot always be present to direct the work, there is a danger that discouraging mistakes will be made.

The importance of encouraging our children in outdoor work with living plants is now recognized. It benefits the health, broadens the education, and gives a valuable training in industry and thrift. The great garden movement is sweeping over all America, and our present problem is to direct it and make it most profitable to the children in our schools and homes.

Link to Flip Book of the book here.

Link to PDF of the book here.

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.