Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Week 9 – Weeds, First Harvest

First the good news, we’ve begun harvesting our radishes. See how they pop out of the soil We’re also getting the first first of our mixed greens (arugula, tat soi, mizuna and mustard). When harvesting greens pick the outer leaves and let the inner ones continue growing. This way we can harvest over a longer period. If any one is keeping score it took five weeks from seed to harvest.

Weeding
The bane of any garden are the plants that grow where we don’t want them to. That is the definition of a weed. Some so called weeds like purslane, mint and fennel are actually edibles that without careful attention become quite invasive.

The best method for weeding is to get them while they’re young. Pull out the entire plant including roots so they won’t be able to grow back. A mild watering beforehand will make the task a little easier.

Week 7 – Seedlings, Trellis

Everything we planted with the exception of potatoes have germinated. As we observe our seedlings bursting forth notice how certain family members look similar. The following are from the Amaranthaceae family, the red seedling is a beet the other is swiss chard.

Beet Seedling

Beet Seedling

chard-seedling

Swiss Chard Seedling

For those growing peas be sure to set a trellis in place before they germinate. A trellis is any structure that supports a climbing plant. It can be as simple as a stick in the ground or as elaborate as an artistic sculpture.

Week 6 – Thinning

Now that our seeds have begun to germinate (yeah!) it is time to discuss thinning. Thinning is the term we use to mean the removal of some plants to make room for others to grow. If plants are overcrowded they will compete for light and moisture and appear spindly and weak. To demonstrate, place two students back to back and ask if they would like to live the rest of their lives like that. Plants, like people, need ample room to develop.

To properly thin seedlings first select the largest and healthiest looking seedlings to keep, then grasp the seedlings next to it as close to the ground as possible and slowly and gently pull the plant out of the soil trying your best not to disturb the roots of the remaining plants. For small seedlings, use a scissor and snip the seedling off at ground level. This works very well with seedlings like carrots and lettuce. The back of the seed packet will tell you how far to space your seedlings apart, however with many vegetable plants like lettuce, arugula, spinach, and beets, thin your plants gradually and eat your thinnings as you go.

Video – Germinator

A germinator is any device that demonstrates the germination process. The following shows how to make one.

Another germinator can be found here courtesy of RAFT (Resource Area for Teachers, www.raft.net)

Week 5 – Germination

Now that we’ve begun planting our seeds it is time to discuss germination. Germination is the process by which a seed breaks its dormancy, sprouts, and turns into a seedling. The best way to understand it is to observe it up close. In the classroom place some larger seeds like beans, pumpkins, peas or watermelon between layers of wet paper towel on a plate. Make sure the paper towel never dries out. It should feel like a wrung-out sponge. After a few days you will notice the root emerging.

avocado_seed_diagram

 

Week 4 – Seed Packets, What to Plant

We have amended our beds, laid out rows and are now ready to sow seeds. All pertinent information about planting seeds can be found on the back of the seed packet. This includes: lighting requirements, row spacing, plant spacing, planting depth, plant height, days to germination, and days to harvest.

Note: On the seed packet row spacing refers to traditional row crops. In a raised bed we don’t need space to walk through our rows, so we plant more intensively (closer together).

Also, pay special attention to plant height, remember taller plant go at the north end and smaller plants at the southern end, this way your plant are not shading one another.

If still undecided about what you’re growing please consider the following:
1) Radishes – Perhaps not the tastiest of vegetables but certainly the quickest; seed to harvest is 30 days. Students will feel a sense of accomplishment that far outweighs any nutritional or educational benefit.
2) Lettuce – One of the easiest vegetables one can grow. Stagger your planting (sow seeds Oct, Nov, Dec…) and you’ll have lettuce all year. Also, more importantly, lettuce seed sown now will go to seed within the school year. If you wish to demonstrate the life cycle of a plant, lettuce is perfect (so is Cilantro).
3) Peas and Carrots – Good companion plants in the garden, and in the kitchen. Peas are like nature’s candy and carrots are a thrill to harvest.
4) Fava Beans – Dual benefits, first, they grow well in the fall and can be used in many bean recipes and second, fava bean plants add nitrogen to the soil benefiting the crops that follow it.
5) Swiss Chard – Winner of the most-bang-for-your-buck award. Sow seeds in the fall, harvest only the outer leaves, and you can enjoy Swiss chard the entire year.
6) Anything in the Brassica family – This includes, broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc., which are rich in phytonutrients. For more about phytonutrients, read the following from the USDA

For complete list of what you can plant now see my chart of Vegetable Families and the Digital Gardener’s Southern California Vegetable Planting Schedule.

Week 3 – Amending Beds, Laying Out Rows

Why do we need to amend the beds, why do we need to turn the soil?” I hear this alot. Invariably its from a student in the midst of said activity who deservedly wants a break. The answer is, we amend the beds to add nutrients to the soil. Healthy soil means healthy plants. There is an old addage that states feed the soil, not the plant.

We turn the soil to mix the amendments with our existing soil and to aerate it as well. Aerating the soil is crucial for root development. Stick your pointer finger into an aerated bed and observe how easily it penetrates the surface. Now try to stick that same finger into the hard ground between the beds and notice how difficult it is to penetrate, if you can even do it at all. Now imagine that your finger is the root of a plant. In what environment do you think it will grow best. Correct, the aerated bed.

Note: Once a bed is turned it should never be walked on. Walking on the beds compacts the soil.

Once the beds are amended the next step is laying out rows. We lay out rows to plot where our seeds will be sown. Simply tie string to two row ends where you want your seeds to be planted. Row ends can be: splintered pieces from an old wooden box, plastic spoons, or, my favorite, tongue depressors from the nurses office.

Space your rows according to what plant you are growing. Read the back of the seed packet for this info.