Category Archives: Instructional Activities

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.

Video – How to Amend a Raised Bed

Week 2 – Soil Amendments

Setting up a classroom, learning all new names and faces, last week was way too short to even think about gardening. No worries, we’ll get to it this week without missing a beat.

First off, review Week 1 (see below), especially the part about tool safety, then read on…

For those new to gardening you should have your location scoped out and permission from the principal granted. Focus next on obtaining raised beds or containers. Gardeners.com offers a 3 ft square raised bed made of black plastic now on sale for $35.00 (that’s about as low of a price as I’ve seen anywhere.) See it here

For those with existing raised beds now would be a good time to clear the beds, add your amendments and begin turning the soil. Physically this will be our hardest job all year. It would be a good idea if everyone took turns to lessen the burden.

More about amendments…
Definition of Soil Amendment – Material that is added to the soil for the purpose of improving the physical and biological characteristics of the soil including improving the tilth, porosity, aeration, aggregation, water holding potential, or to increase the organic content, ion exchange capacity and microbial viability. Washington State Department of Ecology

Choosing a soil amendment

Where Can You Get Cheap Natural Fertilizers and Soil Amendments?

Week 1 – Planning, Clearing, Tool Safety, Compost

For those new to school gardens now is the time to find a proper location. You’ll want a spot that is level, with at least six hours of sun exposure, and good drainage. If the desired location is facing south, all the better. Make sure there is a usable water source nearby. If no ground is available containers will do nicely, the bigger the better.

For those with existing gardens, begin clearing your beds pulling all dried matter and weeds leaving nothing but dirt. However, before you get started, look around and see what is left from the summer. Dried corn tassels make a wonderful fall arrangement. Dried pole beans left on the vine can be collected for next season. Dried flower heads such as sunflowers, cosmos and marigolds can also be saved for seed.

If you are already equipped for composting add the cleared matter to your compost pile. If not acquainted with composting now would be a good time to introduce yourself. Compost is nature’s way of recycling itself. Plants that have expired are put into a pile with other organic matter. By keeping the pile wet and aerated the pile decomposes forming compost, which is then added back to our existing beds to enrich the soil.

For more information see Composting page at Wikipedia , the Compost Guide from compostguide.com, and the “Guide to Home Composting” from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works in either English or Spanish.

Tools and Tool Safety are always addressed at the outset. Both are essential to a successful garden. Basic rules are as follows: 1) No running with tools; 2) Do not carry or swing tools on your back; 3) Do not bring hands tools over your shoulder; 4) Walk with the tool by your side, blade down; 5) Return all tools to their proper place immediately after use. Do not leave tools in the garden; 6) Anyone not following these rules does not get to work in the garden.

Essential tools are: Garden Fork for turning soil and compost, Shovel for transplanting, Dirt Rake for leveling the soil, removing root clumps and large pebbles, Garden Hoe for removing weeds, Hand-shovels (also called trowels) for digging small holes, Hand-cultivators for weeding and aerating soil, and Pruners for cutting large stems. Miscellaneous tools include: scissors, string, gloves, rulers, tape measure, row ends and plastic bags to distribute the bounty.