Friday, October 30, 2009

Day 2 of the Microfarm

Yesterday, I planted seeds in my microfarm. Not that I was honestly expected the plants to shoot up over night, it is still fun to check the progress of my handiwork.

The pictures below show the condensation that is starting to form on the plastic trays, which indicates that they have enough water.

Stay tuned for the progress of the microfarm as I anxiously wait for my microgreens to start sprouting!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Little Cost--Big Impact!

The blogger of ObamaFoodOrama just announced (via Twitter) that the official start up cost of the White House Garden was less than $200. It is broken down as $120 for soil amendments $55 seeds/starts, labor "free."


For less than $200, the White House started a garden that has given momentum to the school gardening craze and produced hundreds of pounds of fresh produce.

Therefore, teachers/childcare providers, if you are concerned about the cost associated with starting a garden, remember it doesn't have to cost a lot. It also doesn't have to be a huge garden. All that matters is that you are gardening! And, most importantly, you make a profound impact in the lives of children!

Planting a Microfarm!

Today, I planted my very first microfarm!

What's a microfarm, you ask?
A microfarm is essentially a garden on a wagon. Trays of microgreens are planted and placed on the wagon, which has a lights to help the plants grow indoors.

Microfarms offer a solution to Wisconsin's short growing season and provide flexibility for teachers. Teachers are not limited by unpredictable weather. Instead they can decide when they want to plant the microgreens and create an entire gardening unit. Plus, the microgreens start to grow relatively quickly, which will help keep the interest of students.

Planting a microfarm is surprisingly easy.

Granted, when I planted by my mircofarm, the actual cart was already built. But the planting took no time at all.

First, I gathered all of my tools (seen in the picture below).

(From the left: Trays filled with soilless potting medium, seeds, microfarm manual, and watering can)

The trays I used came with soilless potting medium already in it, which helped reduce the mess.

Once I scattered the seeds over the potting medium, I was concerned about covering them. I had a feeling I was about to make a huge mess and potting medium and seeds would be everywhere.

Here's an insiders tip: Use a pencil to help till the potting medium and to cover the seeds. Simply put a pencil into the medium and move it back and forth. It will help cover the seeds without making a mess. It is also something easy for kids to do!

I did this with four types of seeds, making a tray for each one.--See picture below

Don't forget to label your trays so you remember what you are actually growing in each tray.

Next I watered my trays of microgreens. I wasn't quite sure how much water to add since the potting medium seemed to soak it up relatively quickly. But I applied enough water to make it moist.

Then, I placed the trays onto the microfarm and covered them with plastic domes. The domes help to keep the moisture in so that you don't have to water the plants very often. Moisture will start to gather on the plastic domes, which indicates that I gave my microgreens enough water. The domes will stay on until the microgreens begin to grow.

Finally, I set the timer for the grow lights to be on for 16 hours and off for 8 hours.

Check out the finished product!

Now, its time to sit back and wait for my microgreens to start to sprout up.

I'll hopefully be able to report my success within a few days!
If you want to learn more, visit for a microfarm manual.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Grant: NGA and Home Depot Grant Deadline Approaching

Don't forget that the deadline for the National Garden Association and The Home Depot's 2010 Youth Garden Grants Program is on Monday, November 2.

Visit KidsGardening's website for application details. You have a chance to win $1000 for your youth/school!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Garden Curriculum: More than math and science

When teachers consider starting a school garden, they typically first think of ways to apply it to math and science curriculum. However, gardens offer a fun and creative addition to language arts and writing skills as well.

When you begin a school garden, have students start a garden journal. You can set aside time each week for students to observe and record what they see. They can also draw pictures of their garden in the journal as a way to keep track of the progress of their plants.

Consider have students incorporate gardening related vocabulary in their journals, which will allow them to practice spelling garden related words and using them in sentences.

Or, if you would like your students to put on their creative thinking hats, have them write a story from the perspective of something in the garden. It could told from the perspective of a plant by describing all of the changes it has undergone from first being planted as a seed to growing big and tall. Or a story could be written from the perspective of an insect in the garden. The options are really endless and they give kids a chance to explore and think about their gardens from a different point of view.

Do you have other suggestions for ways a garden can help students develop their language arts and writing skills? Share them in the comments section!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Resource: School Garden Planning Guide

School Garden Wizard is a wonderful website that provides a step-by-step guide to planning a school garden.

There are so many great tips and tidbits on this site that it is hard to do it justice here. The site has everything from the planning process, to incorporating it into the curriculum, and how to maintain your garden and get the community engaged.

Of particular interest to those who are having a hard time getting "buy in" for the school garden, the website offers a guide to making the case for the garden, how gardening relates to National Science Standards, and a worksheet for drafting a proposal!

This website is a definite must read for teachers interested in starting a school garden!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Grant: UnitedHealth HEROES Service-Learning Grants--Deadline Oct. 22

YSA (Youth Service America) is offering a UnitedHealth HEROES Grant. The deadline is this week so if you are interested in attending, you should do so soon! With permission from YSA's staff, you might be able to get the deadline extended if you are interested in applying.

Educators, service learning coordinators and students in health professions are eligible to apply. As stated on YSA's website,
Grant recipients will receive up to $1,000 in support for service-learning projects that focus on childhood obesity, engage youth ages 5-25 in the planning and implementation process, and take place during Semester of Service 2010 (MLK Day, January 18, to Global Youth Service Day, April 23-25).

The website features an easy eligibility quiz that helps you determine whether or not you are qualified for the grant.

Starting a school garden would be a great use of the UnitedHealth HEROES Service Learning Grant. Gardens help fight obesity because they increase children's knowledge and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. Moreover, gardening is an excellent form of physical activity. As the grant description states, it would also be an awesome opportunity to have your students assist in the planning of the garden to have a truly hands-on experience and take some ownership and responsibility for their garden.

According to the requirements, you simply need to plan on starting your project during Semester of Service 2010 (MLK Day, January 18, to Global Youth Service Day, April 23-25). A service learning event must also take place on Global Youth Service Day--perhaps either planting the seeds in your garden or harvesting the produce from your container garden, cold frame and/or microfarm and making a meal or donating it to a local food pantry.

If you are trying to figure out how to fund your school garden, consider applying for the UnitedHealth HEROES Service Learning Grant.

Visit YSA's website for more information and apply TODAY!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Resource: Children's Books about Food

The blog Obama Foodorama follows current efforts in food and agriculture policy in Washington.

A recent post, of interest to teachers, is entitled "'Where the Wild Things Are' Joins Another Foodcentric Children's Book on the Official Obama Reading List"

In the post, the blogger highlights children's books that reference food. It includes descriptions of
  • Duck for President
  • The Curious Garden
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
  • Six-Dinner Sid
  • Stone Soup
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
  • The Lorax
  • The Giving Tree
  • I'm Gonna Like Me

Each of these stories offers important lessons about food, farming, gardening, etc. and would be a great resource or story to read to your class.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Resource: Early Sprouts Gardening Project

The Early Spouts Gardening Project is a program in New Hampshire that is similar to Got Dirt? in Wisconsin.

Early Sprouts has a curriculum set up to encourage preschoolers to try new fruits and vegetables. After planting a garden, the Early Sprouts curriculum first has children explore their vegetables with their five senses. Children are encouraged to smell, taste, touch, listen and look at the chosen vegetable for the week.

Next, the class cooks a recipe together using that vegetable.

Finally, at the end of the week, the teachers send children home with their "Family Recipe Kits," which contain the recipe and ingredients to make the same snack that the children made in the class earlier in the week.

The Early Sprouts website provides more detailed instructions about its program, including guidelines for teachers and sample recipes.

The curriculum discussed appears to provide a consistent method for allowing children to interact with and try new vegetables. It also allows children to connect classroom activities with their home lives.

Check out the Early Sprouts website for an interesting approach to incorporating your school garden into your classroom and the homes of your students.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Activity: Stone Soup

A classic childhood fable is the story of Stone Soup. (A version of the story can be found here and your local library should also have a copy of the book).

In the story, a weary traveler makes stone soup. He simply puts a stone in a pot of boiling water and with the generosity of others, he creates a tasty meal.

This story provides the perfect opportunity to teach children about the value of sharing and teamwork.

A variety of activities can be used in conjunction with this story.
  • Have students identify the vegetables mentioned in the story
  • Make your own stone soup with vegetables from your garden. (Here is one soup recipe, but any vegetable soup recipe will work just as well). Have students pick fresh vegetables from the garden, having each child contribute one to the soup
  • If your school does not have a garden, ask students to bring in food from home to be added to the soup
  • Explain that stone soup can only be made with everyone's help. In the same way, a school garden can only succeed when everyone contributes their own special talents by caring for the garden

Enjoy your Stone Soup! Just don't forget to remove the stone before you start eating!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Spooner School District Garden

In an effort to try to find all of the Got Dirt? Gardens in Wisconsin, I have exchanged emails with Diann Parker of Spooner Elementary.

Spooner School District has been gardening for three years now. Diann directed me to her blog, which is a history of their garden.

Check it out!

It shows an actual school garden in action. The blog highlights the steps taken to start the garden and how the school district uses the produce from the garden. There are plenty of pictures showing the garden's progress.

It's inspirational to see a school garden in action and learn how one school district is incorporating it into the curriculum and meals for the students.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Activity: Gardener Interview

Interviewing a local gardener provides a great opportunity for children to learn gardening tips and to recognize that their school garden is one of many gardens in the community.

The follow activity outlines the steps for conducting a gardener interview with your students. The goals of this activity are for students to learn how to ask good questions and conduct an interview, practice listening skills, synthesize information, create stories or draw pictures, and learn about local gardening techniques.

Local gardener to be interviewed

  1. Contact a local gardener and invite him/her to come to your class. Consider contacting a parent, community member or local master gardener volunteer.
    Make sure that whomever you contact is comfortable speaking in front of your class.
  2. Discuss interviewing techniques with your students. Make sure they understand how to ask good questions and use good listening skills.
    If necessary, break students into pairs to practice interviewing and listening. Have them interview each other and present what they heard.
  3. Brainstorm interview questions to ask the gardener.
    When did you begin gardening?
    What types of fruits/vegetables do you plant?
    How do you use the plants?
    What tips/suggestions do you have for our garden?
  4. Have students write down the questions they will ask the gardener.
  5. Confirm the date/time of the interview with the gardener.
  6. On the day of the interview, ask a student to introduce the class.
  7. Either ask the gardener to describe their gardening experience or have students begin asking questions.
  8. If you already have a school garden, show it to your guest.
  9. Thank the gardener for coming to the class.
  10. After the interview, discuss with the class what they learned.
  11. Have students either write a story about the interview or draw a picture.
  12. Send a thank you note to the gardener.

Inviting a gardener to come to your classroom allows students to realize that they are part of a larger gardening community. It can be conducted before students start a garden or once they have begun gardening. Either way, it should allow for great gardening stories to be shared!

Work Cited:

Activity adapted from Krasny, M. (2005, June). Garden Mosaics Program Manual. Cornell University.