Lessons from the garden

Posted on: Oct 3, 2017

Lessons from the garden

Half a dozen years ago a grant and a few donations helped bring a set of raised garden beds to Delano Elementary School.

Since then, the gardening project has expanded to about 12 beds through additional donations, and K-4 students have all had a hand in raising a wide variety of vegetables and edible flowers that serve as snacks while providing hands-on education in the process of planting and growing.

“The kids love it, absolutely love it,” said DES special education teacher Heather Walberg, who began organizing the gardening effort in its second year.

Students plant before school lets out in the spring, and summer school students and community volunteers weed and water the plants over the summer months. After school resumes in the fall students are able to harvest the crops. In a typical year the gardens are able to produce enough mini pumpkins for each student to take one home, and there are also some practical benefits throughout the growing season.

“If someone forgets to bring a snack for their day at summer school we can let them go out and pick a cucumber,” said Walberg.

“It's great when students are excited about cucumbers for snack instead of processed crackers and fruit snacks,” said kindergarten teacher Meredith Huikko.

While doing their own gardening fits in well with lessons on spring, seeds and a field trip to a farm, Huikko said there are also some additional insights that gardening can impart.

“In the spring kindergarten students plant small pumpkin and gourd seeds. The following fall, the new set of kindergartners gets to pick one,” said Huikko. “One class plants, but another class receives the final product. We get a chance to talk about doing things for others.”

An end-of-growing-season project involves saving and drying seeds for planting the next year, which allows students to see the full seed cycle over multiple years. Aside from periodic snacks, some produce is sent home for students to try with their families, and a future goal is to share fresh produce with the lunch room.

A highlight of this year’s garden is an outsized experimental gourd.

“It’s way too big to do anything normal with, so we’re going to see how big it gets,” said Walberg. “The kids like to check on it.”

Other than mini pumpkins and giant gourds, this year’s garden includes rhubarb, herbs, tomatoes, beans, radishes and more. The project involves minimal expense, as seeds are either saved or donated, but there is some cost for sprouting pods. Different grade levels manage different beds, and students keep track of how their garden did and possible reasons for a light or plentiful harvest.

“They can’t hurt the garden,” Walberg said of the youngest farmers. “It’s very hands on, and there is no pressure to make it perfect. We just tell them, ‘If you pull the wrong thing out, shove it back in.’ It’s a good way to introduce the root system to them.”

Future plans involve planting fruit trees and further expanding the gardens.

“We’ve had pretty good luck with it so far, and it’s just a lot of fun,” said Walberg.