Thursday, January 28, 2010

Wednesday Club

I asked far and wide recently for ideas I could use for an after-school gardening club. Well, we've had two weeks of Wednesday Clubs now, and my little gardeners are doing GREAT!

I have 18 children in my Gardening Club, ranging from kindergartners to sixth graders. Some live in apartments, others in suburban homes. They're great kids, all of them!

The first week I didn't have enough hands-on activities for them. I bought a large bag of seed-starting mix, 3 large packages of plastic drinks cups at the Dollar Store, 2 packets of mixed lettuce seeds, and one packet of radish seeds. I had a bunch of bean seeds on hand already, of various varieties. I told them that we are going to have a lettuce and radish salad in 4 weeks, and that we'd try cut-and-come-again with the lettuce. We should be able to have a second salad at the end of the class. (7 weeks out) And, I promised to bring the bunnies in on the last day, so we can play with them. (and feed the bean seedlings to them)

I had each child take three cups, write (or have someone else write) their name on each cup, then fill the cup most of the way with seed-starting mix. Then we looked at the seed packets, to determine how to plant the seeds. We talked about how to read the packets - depth of planting, sun requirements, thinning, and time to harvest. We sowed the lettuce seeds first, then the radishes, then the beans. Oops. That only took about 45 minutes!

So - then I talked to them. First, we considered the benefits of growing our own food, how it can be picked fresh, how we can choose varieties based on flavor and not on durability in transport. They got the notion of food miles, of what a calorie *is*, and how many calories of energy is used up to transport a calorie of, say, strawberries, from California to here. (Massachusetts)

We talked about compost - the school has a food-composting program to capture food waste from breakfast and lunch. In a nice synergy, I am able to take home the 5 gallon buckets of food waste and feed it to my chickens, who turn it into meat, eggs, and fertilizer. We addressed the question of what we can compost, and what we should NOT compost, and why.

We talked about thinning seedlings. Why do we thin? How do we thin? (fingers, scissors) What can we do with the thinnings? (eat 'em, feed 'em to the rabbits, compost them, transplant them) We discussed fertilizer - chemical, organic, and compost/manure, and what NPK stands for. We considered the benefits of having animals in conjunction with a garden. (they help eat the excess, their manure fertilizes the soil)

Then week 1 was over, and I promised them more to do in week 2.

Week 2 was day before yesterday. I was much better prepared! First, we filled another set of cups with seed-starting mix, one per child, with names on the cups, and planted marigold seeds.

Then, we made compost cans for them to take home! An extra bonus was that all of the materials we used were second-use (as in, reduce, REUSE, recycle). I asked the cafeteria to save us some #10 cans. I got large construction paper on Freecycle. I brought in old gardening magazines and new seed catalogs. I brought in a large set of colored Sharpies. (and lectured them FIRMLY about how indelible Sharpie is) Each child got a piece of paper the right size to cover the #10 can, and decorated it. We used scissors and glue sticks. Once the paper was designed as the child wanted it, we glued it to the can. Then, we reclaimed some laminating plastic that was surplus in the school - wrong size for the school's current needs. We used that as contact paper to seal down the decorated papers.

Once they were all finished, and the considerable clean-up was completed, we watered last week's plantings (the lettuce and radishes had germinated; the beans had not).

Next week - forcing, seed-starting calendars, hardiness zone charts. Possibly also seeking seeds inside fruits - apples, cantaloupe, grapes, peppers, tomatoes. (any other ideas?) We're having fun so far!

I had brought in cuttings from my pussy willow, but we didn't have time to discuss "forcing". We'll get to that next week.


  1. wow, this all sounds great, Michelle! What a wonderful program! Thanks for sharing this, I'm looking forward to hearing more!

  2. Great job...I hope the next generation of gardeners are inspired by you! Kim