Square Foot Gardening Second Graders


The organic gardens from Mrs. White's second grade class at St. Paul's Christian Day School in Brenham, Texas

This past Wednesday, I got to participate in two of my favorite activities at the same time; gardening and talking about gardening.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, my wife is a second grade teacher at St. Paul’s Christian Day School in Brenham.  Each year she uses the garden as a way to introduce a plant based biology curiculum to her class.  This year, she asked me to come and talk to her class about plants in general and the seasonality of plants in particular.  It was our goal to help these second graders learn that certain plants grow in different seasons and then plant the proper plants to help bring home the message.

I love talking to young children.  They pay very close attention to what you are telling them and they love to participate in the discussion.  My wife’s second graders did not disappoint.  They were such a good audience.  They answered questions, asked questions, and they always put their hands up first.  They were so good!  I truly love giving presentations to young people.  They always reaffirm my strong belief that, no matter what the news media tells us, America is still producing a whole lot of awful good kids.

Showing the kids the proper way to remove the plants from their cells

So, after our very exciting disscussion of which plants do best in Texas in the fall, we went to the garden to put my lecture into practice.  As I mentioned in my earlier post (Going Green For God), my wife gardens in an 8′ X 3′ garden with a trellis on the back.  Her garden is based on the the best selling book “Square Foot Gardening” by Mel Bartholomew.  Since she doesn’t have a lot of space or time, the square foot gardening method is the perfect tool to allow her kids to grow a variety of crops in a small space with out too much effort.  My wife’s garden allows for 24 seperate squares to be planted.  This is good because her classes usually range in size from 20 to 24 kids.

Excellent weeding!

Before we planted, we cleaned out the weeds and left over plants from the spring garden.  Sometimes when I weed, I fail to take notice of the truly amazing things that happen in the soil.  Not these second graders!  While weeding, the kids found a freshly germinated Texas Montain Laurel seed, young pecans trees beginning to sprout (so evidently squirrels are aware of my wife’s garden), crepe myrtle seeds, grubs, worms and milipedes.  Each new find opened up another round of questions.  However, the thing that generated the most interest was the smallest little snake skin shed that I had ever seen.  The kids were VERY interested in that! 

Before planting, we recharged the beds by adding three bags of composted humate.  The kids really loved this part (and I did too).  We sprinkled the compost over the top of the garden and then used our hands to mix it in.  I cannot really describe the method used by these second graders to mix in the new compost, but it resulted in all of us having dirt and compost all over us.  It really was a lot of fun. 

Mixing in the compost

Once the beds were ready for planting, we laid out the strings that divided the garden into it’s 24 squares.  Each child got to plant either a broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage or mustard green plant.  We had twenty plants, so in the four squares that were left over, we planted 64 carrot seeds (16 per square). 

Planting carrots

Over the next few months, these young gardeners will water, weed and OBSERVE.  I hope that my wife’s efforts will instill a life long love of growing things in some of them.  Even though they don’t yet realize it, my wife is teaching a whole lot more than biology in her little garden.  Her garden shows that you can do a whole lot of good things in life if you work together.  It also let’s them watch the miracle of life unfold right before their eyes.  By watchinging that little seed turn into the carrot, she is showing them that the garden is a special place that can feed alot more than just their stomachs.

Great technique

P.S.  Do you remember the first time you watched a seed germinate?  There is a very good chance that your first exposure to gardening was in a second grade classroom.  Teachers work very hard to find ways to get kids excited about learning.  Take time out of your busy day to thank all of the teachers that are doing everything they can to make sure that the kids of tommorrow are as awesome as the kids of yesterday!

Going Green For God

Kate is thinning the carrots in the St. Paul's organic garden

How do you get a bunch of second grade students excited about science?  If you are Sally White, you have them grow an organic vegetable garden.  Sally is the second grade teacher at St. Paul’s Christian Day School in Brenham.  She is also an avid gardener.  Each year, as a part of her science curriculum, she introduces her students to several plant related concepts.  She then uses the hands on experience of the garden to reinforce those concepts.   She calls her program “Going Green for God”.  According to Sally “The kids love getting their hands dirty.  The garden provides a way for me to get their initial interest level up and maintain it through out the year by constant visits to observe and document the changes in the garden.”

Sally built a raised bed garden at the school based on Mel Barthalomew’s square foot gardening methods.  Her garden is an 8’ X 3’ raised bed with a trellis on the back.  Each year her class plants both a fall and a spring garden.  The kids get to plan their garden by selecting the appropriate plants for the appropriate season.  This exercise in planning reinforces lessons learned about seasonality and helps develop their graphing skills.  The kids are responsible for all of the care of the garden.  They water, compost, weed and harvest. This fall, her class has harvested broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and lettuce.  Spring plantings include carrots, lettuces, cucumbers and tomatoes.  This year, she will be adding potatoes to the mix.

Sally's class harvesting the fall garden

Sally also uses her garden to demonstrate and reinforce the Christian principle of stewardship.  She teaches her students to be good stewards of God’s creation by caring for the garden with organic methods.  Compost is a big part of this.  She teaches kids about the processes involved in making compost and the value that it provides to the soil and ultimately the plants.  Her compost lectures are always a hit.  The kids love the fact that they can make something good out of “cow poo and garbage”!  The compost lesson is reinforced before each planting when the kids add compost to the planting bed to “recharge” their soil.  Good stewardship also means learning to live by the “waste not, want not” motto.  Nothing grown in their garden goes to waste.  The lunch staff often prepares the vegetables for the kids or the kids are allowed to take home the fresh produce.  The greens and foliage go into her compost pile.

Our world is going through a lot of changes right now.  Things like climate change and overpopulation are serious threats to the future of our planet.  Kids across our world are going to grow up in a world that has much fewer certainties than the world their parents grew up in.  By teaching her kids to be concerned, self reliant, good stewards of the earth, she hopes that she is “growing” a huge crop of great kids that will be a positive force on our future.