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Summer Dreams: Stories from the Garden

By February 7, 2023No Comments5 min read

Summer Dreams: Stories from the Garden

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For decades, gardeners have looked forward to February and the arrival of new seed catalogs in the mail. Browsing the catalogs was their first step in planning the year’s plantings. Most importantly, it was proof positive that spring was not that far away!

In that spirit, we look back on some of the activities surrounding the 30 raised beds at the Bucyrus Campus. Garden activities are a key component of the new nature-based curriculum, and as you might expect, the children’s understanding grew right along with their crops. Read on for some guaranteed smiles in these reminiscences brought to you by Katherine Keller, Master Gardener who designed and leads St. Ann Center’s new nature-based curriculum activities, and who grows vegetables and strawberries in the raised beds.

2, 4, 6, 8 – Hurry Up and Germinate!

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Before the soil warmed up, the 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds learned about a plant’s life cycle, beginning with seed germination. They began by examining and touching green bean seeds; each child planted a seed in a clear plastic cup. Each carefully placed their seed close to the edge of the cup, which would make germination easy to see.

Once the seedlings were big and strong enough to transplant, they were moved outdoors to the garden, planted by a stake labeled with each child’s name. Children regularly observed its growth, flower production, and fruit formation. They eventually harvested their beans, which were divided among the children and sent home to their families.

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Water, Water Everywhere

But first, they learned to care for them. Of all the gardening activities, watering the garden was the task they loved best, partly because they got to use new bright blue and yellow watering cans designed especially for pint-sized gardeners. The fact that they were Brewers colors helped, too.

Fearing soggy clothing and sodden shoes, the teachers filled the watering cans for the children. “Naturally, the moment we looked away, one 3-year-old picked up the hose, studied the nozzle, opened its valve, and began filling his watering can and those of his classmates,” Keller recalls. “It worked well even when the others decided they, too, would fill their own!”

While there was a bit of mild competition to be in charge of the hose, the children learned to trust that they’d each get a turn. Their patience was rewarded. They shared the hose and helped one another refill the watering cans. 

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Many Tasks

The children learned that watering was just one of the many tasks needed to nurture their crops! When the soil thawed, the children used their new hand rakes to loosen the garden soil in preparation for planting. 

Mulching was another new concept for them. They pulled straw from bales and moved it to the individual beds, first maneuvering a full-sized wheelbarrow, and later using new miniature wheelbarrows that made transport easier. They learned that the straw suppresses weed growth and conserves the soil’s moisture. 

They helped pull weeds, throw them in the new wheelbarrows, and add them to the compost bin. The concept of how decomposing vegetable matter turns into valuable compost for the garden remained a bit abstract for the younger children, but they liked monitoring the bin to check on the progress of the decomposition.

They learned to identify and harvest green beans, peas, beets, radishes, eggplant, carrots, broccoli, onions, turnips, cucumbers, spinach, collard greens, strawberries, peppers, tomatoes, squash, and potatoes. They learned to carefully pick tomatoes, distinguishing between the ones that were not ready for harvest and those that were ripe.  

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The week after they pulled carrots from the garden, they helped make carrot cake batter that they baked in muffin tins. It was hands-on learning that broadened their understanding that there are many steps involved in bringing food to the table – from planting and nurturing to harvesting to preparing it to eat.

Wild, Wild Life

Working with the children in the garden was often punctuated with shrieks and squeals. Sometimes they spied a spider, sometimes an earthworm. Most were frightened of pollinating bees. Keller demonstrated the way to stand calmly and “pretend to be a flower” instead of thrashing and screaming loudly, like a monster. “Bees, just like you, are afraid of monsters and they might sting to make the monster go away,” she told the children. “But they will never harm a flower.” 

A few followed her lead. There will be more opportunities for them all to practice this summer, though.

In the meantime, the nature-based lessons continue – the children learned about birds frequenting the campus, including a nesting killdeer pair, herring gulls, American robins and Canada geese. A goose nested under a preschool classroom, and after weeks of waiting, the children got to witness the mother leading her newly hatched chicks to a new site, off-campus.

They learned that flour comes from wheat – and got to turn flour into homemade playdough… and sugar cookies!

They studied fir trees and their cones – seeing how fir and pine boughs kept in vases of water began producing baby pine cones.

Soon, they’ll plant avocado seeds, the first steps to creating an “avocado forest” in the nature classroom.

And not too far off, they’ll get to step back out to the gardens again, feeling the sun and the breeze as they begin preparing for a new season’s harvest of healthy and nutritious produce of all kinds.