Starting The Year In Our Garden

Our students came back to school this year able to harvest the vegetables of their spring planting. Okra, watermelon, gourds, eggplant, basil, and flowers greeted them on the first day of gardening class. This is in stark contrast to last year when we first planted the garden, and we were fighting the hardened clay soil—a problem for gardeners throughout Houston. Even though we started the year out with many advantages over last year, the students still have a lot of work to do!

A Pre-k student munching on a watermelon she harvested.

For the first two weeks of class, the students were introduced to specific tools that they could use while in the garden. This was to get them back into the routine of caring for their garden. The students may choose to catch and exterminate pests, or to harvest basil and create basil bouquets to decorate our school. They can weed, rake, water, and harvest the crops from our spring planting. 

The two activities that the students love the most are catching bugs and investigating with magnifying glasses. I hear many students cry, “We need to investigate this plant!” or, “ check that pile of leaves!” They are truly detectives of the garden: discovering each culprit (bad insects) and administering a just punishment (death by warm soapy bath or a good stomping).

Here a second grade student observes termites on a log. It would be so easy to overlook these tiny creatures, but he chose to closely observe the termites carry their eggs and munch on wood for over five minutes.

A group looks on as one student attempts to capture an insect hiding in a pile of leaves.

To hunt for insects a student must be quiet, patient and very observant. Fortunately, we have no shortage of insects to observe, but there are particular insects that it’s especially important to locate. A student might want to capture the insect that vandalized our okra leaves with holes. They will need to look under every leaf carefully until we stumble upon the critter. I am often surprised at how meticulous a kindergarten student can be when hunting for guilty insects.

In the garden the students have some choice as to what they do, as long as they stay in the garden. For a brief thirty-five minutes twice a week, the garden is their classroom—their world—and every insect they capture, every weed they pull, and every vegetable they harvest leaves them with wonder of the natural world.

I leave you now with this excerpt from Longfellow, which describes what I hope my students experience each time they are in our garden:

And he wandered away and away
With Nature, the dear old nurse,
Who sang to him night and day
The rhymes of the universe.
And whenever the way seemed long,
Or his heart began to fail,
She would sing a more wonderful song,
Or tell a more marvelous tale.               

– Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz

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