Time to Transplant: A School Visit and Harvest Handouts.

Yesterday afternoon garden director Matt Covert and I headed across town to Sandburg Elementary School with a small flat of brasiccas (mostly cabbage), tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and onions.  Invited by REAP farm-to-school nutrition educators Lani Skipper and Aly Miller, Matt and I joined a fifth-grade classroom to teach them about farming and F.H. King.

These students had already been taught about food, agriculture and the environment through 4 lessons led by Lani and Aly, so they came bearing many questions.  They wanted to know if we kept livestock at our farm and about our favorite vegetable.  They wanted to find out how long it takes to grow a garden and the first thing Matt ever grew.  They even asked us about our favorite grain!

When I introduced our bike-powered compost program Full Cycle Freight, they not only understood what compost was , but also how important worms were in the process.  The  nutrient cycle was the first lesson they learned with Lani and Aly.  Other lessons included a six-plant-part recipe contest where students were taught the six plant parts (root, stem, leaf, fruit, flower, and seed) and instructed to try and invent the most creative salad.  The winning recipe would be used for class snack during the following week.  Students also learned about the routes of food by acting out local, regional and national food systems.  Some kids were farmers, some consumers, some truck drivers, grocers or warehouse employees.  Kids chatted about farmer profits in each system as well as the miles the food traveled and its quality.  Lastly, students learned about food processing and school lunches.  Everyone picked a food from their school lunch program and deconstructed it, tracing each component part back to the soil.  No one said whether or not processed foods were bad, but they discussed the steps that food goes through and showed them where their lunch food comes from.

Clearly, we were dealing with some pretty well-informed ten-and-eleven-year-olds.  After giving the kids a slide presentation featuring the lovely fruits and vegetables being grown out at the Eagle Heights garden and on the Pyle Center rooftop, we showed them our Harvest Handouts YouTube video.  It started a bit rough due to a very slow internet connection, but the fifth-graders simply shrugged it off.  “Don’t worry, it’s probably just buffering,” they kindly told us.  These kids certainly know a lot more than I did in fifth grade!

From there, we took the students outside to the school garden which comprised of eight raised beds!  Everyone got into pairs and took turns digging holes, removing seedlings from their cells, planting and watering.  Everyone took turns and everyone was excited.  My favorite part: repeatedly covering up the earthworm that kept crawling up the surface to say hello.  They may understand worms’ role in gardening, but they definitely don’t want to see them.

Now, let me digress a bit and remind you that tomorrow (Friday) from 1 to 2 pm, we will be handing out the same lovely seedlings (in addition to ready-to-eat rhubarb, spinach, lettuce and various herbs) at our first Harvest Handouts of the season.  People tend to be a little intimidated by seedlings, but I will give you the same advice we gave the fifth-graders and hopefully you too can overcome your fears of transplanting.

  1. Look at your flat of plant seedlings.  Assess how many of each plant you have and how much room they each with need.  Onions do well close together (they can be spaced as close as 4 inches apart).  Peppers and eggplants will be satisfied with about a foot to 18 inches of distance between them while tomatoes require a little more space.  Tomatoes are happiest with 18 to 24 inches of space between them but complementary herbs like basil can be planted in between.  Cabbage and other brassicas also need a bit of space, about 18 inches, but again complementary herbs can be planted in between.
  2. Once you work out how much you can fit and what should go where, dig your first hole.  The hole should be about as deep as the pot or cell that the seedling is growing in.
  3. Lightly pull on your seedling while pinching the bottom so that the whole plant, roots and soil come out of the container together.  You may lose a little dirt but if you pull gently, you shouldn’t lose too much.
  4. Very gently squeeze the root ball (the soil and root combination in your hand) to break it up a little bit.
  5. Place your happy little seedling in its new home (the hole you just dug).
  6. Fill in the hole around your seedling and gently press down.  You want the soil to be firm so the plant can stand upright but not too compact.
  7. Water your seedling.
  8. Repeat  steps 2-7 until all your seedlings are planted!

So stop out tomorrow!  We literally have hundreds to give away and its a great way to score some free plants and start your very first backyard or porch garden!

For more about the REAP farm-to-school program, read a previous blog post here.