Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Week 11 – Mulching

Mulching is one of the simplest and most beneficial practices you can use in the garden. Mulch is simply a protective layer of a material that is spread on top of the soil. Mulches can either be organic — such as grass clippings, straw, bark chips, and similar materials — or inorganic — such as stones, brick chips, and plastic.
Both organic and inorganic mulches have numerous benefits:
Protects the soil from erosion;
Reduces compaction from the impact of heavy rains;
Conserves moisture, reducing the need for frequent waterings;
Maintains a more even soil temperature;
Prevents weed growth;
Keeps fruits and vegetables clean;
Keeps feet clean, allowing access to garden even when damp;
Provides a “finished” look to the garden.

Organic mulches also improve the condition of the soil. As these mulches slowly decompose, they provide organic matter which helps keep the soil loose. This improves root growth, increases the infiltration of water, and also improves the water-holding capacity of the soil. Organic matter is a source of plant nutrients and provides an ideal environment for earthworms and other beneficial soil organisms.

One method of mulching is to lay down a layer of newspaper and then cover with compost. One can do this on pathways as well as between rows in our vegetable beds. Compost can then be turned under for our spring planting providing an excellent source of plant nutrients.

Week 10 – Pests (The Dreaded Cabbage Worm)

It had to happen sooner or later, though I was hoping it would be later. A pest has found our broccoli and cabbage. This is what the damage looks like

cabbage worm damage

This is the culprit, the dreaded cabbage worm

cabbage worm

And this is the cure-
BT, short for Bacillus thuringiensis, is a beneficial bacteria that can also be found under the trade names, Dipel and Thuricide. BTcan be used as an organic pesticide by mixing with water and applied to the underside of the plant leaves. Several applications are advised. The following diagram courtesy of Abbott Laboratories shows BT in action.

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.

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


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,

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.