Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Square foot gardening

I've been reading a lot about square foot gardening lately. I think that this really makes sense and would be a great way to start a garden in a child care setting where you may not be able to "give up" much of your playground space.

I would advise that you make the boxes 4x2 however, to allow the small arms of children to reach their own squares.

If you buy the book, be sure and get the newer version. They're both about the same price, so that's not an issue... but the author has made some advances in the technique that are particularly welcome. For instance, in the past, he recommended that you dig down into your existing soil where the box is going to be. In the new version, this step is not necessary.

There's a Yahoo! Group for this that I've been following, and almost nobody does anything with their existing soil. In fact, most folks lay down a weed blocking fabric or old newspapers and cardboard boxes (cheaper than the fabric!) and put the boxes right on top.

Also, the book isn't really necessary, although there is a ton of reference material in there with charts and such... very handy. But the author has a Web site and shares his knowledge and experience very generously. He's quite an advocate of this system and is even spreading it to poverty-stricken areas of the world and to Habitat for Humanity homes.

If you join the Yahoo! Group, you'll be able to see member pictures -- there are many albums that have stunning examples of gardens in all stages of growth, arbors and fences covered with tomato vines and such... just really great stuff to inspire you and your students.

Also see pictures of square foot gardens and their bounties at Flickr.

Peanut butter projects and allergies

Someone recently asked about the pine cone bird feeder project and what they could do if there's a child in the class with a peanut allergy.

There are a few alternatives here, including using tallow -- rendered beef fat, other nut butters like almond butter or macadamia spread, and using soy butter.

Growing plants from fruit and veggie scraps

There are lots of things that we usually get rid of when cooking that can make a great "growing" unit for kids. Vegetable tops and fruit seeds... many things that we just toss or (hopefully) make compost out of will grow when set in water or soil. Have kids keep a lookout at home for things that they can bring in and then you can set up an experiment area. Be sure to use popsicle sticks or other labels (preferably with pictures) so kids get a good visual of what's going on over time.

Things you can grow:

  • dried beans and peas (plant in dirt)

  • carrot tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • green onion tops (plant the white part root side down in soil)

  • Popcorn kernels (plant in a tray of soil)

  • avacado pits (use toothpicks to balance the seed in a cup of water. Place in water with the bigger side pointing downward)

  • seeds from oranges, limes, lemons and other citrus fruit

  • beet tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • turnip tops (trim leaves and plant leafy side up in a tray of soil)

  • pineapple crowns (set in a tray of water)

  • sweet potatoes (put in water with half of potato always submerged)

When growing from seeds, like popcorn kernels or citrus seeds, place some plastic wrap over the pot or tray and keep moist. Remove the wrap as soon as you see the first sprouts.

Good planting containers include the bottoms of milk cartons or milk jugs, the bottoms of two-liter bottles and aluminum pot pie or pie tins. Be sure to poke holes for drainage (I like using milk carton bottoms simply because it's easier to make holes) and place the container in a saucer to catch any extra water.

When using soil, be sure to use a light mixture that has some vermiculite or other additions. Soil that is heavy is not the best for planting. Roots don't grow in soil, after all, they grow in the places between the soil. For that reason, you need to make sure you get something loose and light that the roots can really move in. Adding peat moss or the more environmentally friendly Coir Fiber as a good way to make room in your soil for roots to grow.

Make a Plant Person

What you need:

  • Old pantyhose or knee-high stockings (one pair will work for two children)

  • Sawdust or peat moss mixed with some potting soil

  • Grass seed (enough for each child to have a few tablespoons)

  • a leak-proof saucer or bowl (one for each child)

  • Felt pieces

  • Glue or glue gun

  • Peanuts

What to do:

  1. Cut the feet off of the pantyhose or knee highs at about the ankles.

  2. Put a few tablespoons of grass seed in the toe and then fill the rest of the way with the  sawdust/peat moss mixture leaving enough room to tie it in a knot.

  3. Knot it closed and then form the stocking into a rounded head shape with the knotted side down.

  4. Allow the children to decorate the "heads" with felt pieces for eyes and nose and peanuts for a mouth.  If using a glue gun (recommended since it has a bit more staying power than regular glue) assist children in this process.

  5. Soak the "head" in water and put it in a window or other sunny area.

  6. Be sure to keep the heads moist, watering as necessary which could mean every day.

The grass will begin to grow out of the top making hair which the children can then leave or shape into hair styles with scissors, ribbons, etc.