I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Sunday, May 10, 2009

digging in the dirt...

This morning I finished reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. This is the third time I've read it, but only the first time I've finished it. As with all writers that I love (and Kingsolver tops my list), I don't like finishing books because then... well, then they're over. To my mind, if I don't finish the book, then it's not actually done. Strange logic, I know, but it somehow works for me.

After breakfast, I went outside to attack our little sidewalk flower garden. After an April full of showers -- you should see the first grade April weather chart! -- and last week's insane amount of rain, the little garden was definitely worse for the wear, and in need of cleaning, pruning, and weeding. All of these I know very little about and could use a bit of a mentor in this area. It makes me long for my grandfather, who was an accomplished gardener. For now, though, I'm making it up as I go. We'll see how that works out.

As I dug out seed pods that had fallen from the tree above, pulled weeds, and tried to prune off bits of the dianthus plants that seemed spent or too long or just in need of a trim, I encountered bugs and spiders and earthworms (two!). Each of them made me smile, and I admit that I laughed in glee at the first earthworm. As I blundered through the garden I kept thinking: My students need to see this.

I think there is nothing more important in learning about life and life cycles and interdependence than to participate in it.

Now, planting pea seeds in clear cups so we can watch the plant and the roots is a good start. Believe me when I say that there is nothing more resonant than first graders discovering that their plants have popped up above the soil and the roots are growing down!

But, pea seeds in a clear cup inside the classroom don't ever get to interact with worms, and neither do six year olds. I want to build and cultivate a garden with my students. I want them to dig around in the dirt, to turn it, to weed it, to watch things growing above it. I want them to harvest greens and tomatoes and herbs and then make food that we've grown together. This makes me want a modified calendar school so we can be in school during part of the August harvest, or to at least have a garden already going that incoming students can help harvest, knowing that their first grade predecessors made the delicious foods available for them.

How, though?

I first would have to have more knowledge of gardening myself. A good friend of mine introduced me to square foot gardening, which sounds like it would work pretty well. We'd still need to build the frame, acquire soil & compost & seeds, and figure out how to keep it tended during the summer time when we're not in school.

None of these obstacles are insurmountable. In fact, I know it's very possible. I just need to find enough people willing to put in the time with me, to build it into the structure of our school so that it becomes sustainable and not simply a one person job.

Does anyone have experience with gardening at school? How did you/your school make it happen and how did you make it sustainable?

Or... does anyone want to come here and do it with me?


Ms. Swamp said...

I've been doing a garden with kids for a few years. One key is to start it in the spring and grow things that will be ready to be harvested before summer vacation. We did lettuce, arugula, radishes, and some herbs. Peas were sometimes ready too. Or, you can plant things in the spring that can be harvested in the fall by next year's class. The carrots we plant each spring are usually still there, and edible, the *next* spring, even after a freezing cold winter. Squash and beans might also be ready to be harvested in the fall. Potatoes are supposed to be super fun to grow, and you dig them up in the fall. I've never done potatoes.

Maybe some family volunteers could help? One cool thing is that many people have experience with gardening, but they may grow very different things from what we are used to, if their families come from far away places. (Think of the Ugly Vegetables book by Grace Lin.) That would be a great sharing experience.

I can definitely help with more ideas if you want! :)

kirsten said...

Swampy --

I DEFINITELY want your insight and expertise. I'm sort of even at a loss at where to start. I want to get a few things set up in my mind before we go jumping in, just so things to get all messed up and jumbled.