Basics of Gardening with Middle School

On Friday, students at Gateway Intermediate School (IS) 364 were excited to begin their winter lessons with Garden Educator, Jacqui Roytman. Their first lesson focused on familiarizing the students with garden terminology, which their teacher, Ms. Saccomanno, reviewed with them. Some of these words included: seed, sprout germinate, grow, root, stem, leaf, flower and the types of pollinators.

The first garden class included a brief synopsis about the Spring Creek Recreational Fund’s (SCRF) Urban Garden Classroom (UGC), and a reading of The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Roytman explained that she often reads this story to students who are new to gardening. This New York Times bestselling book follows a little boy’s (Liam) journey of transforming a small garden into a green oasis for his community.

Roytman said that Liam’s garden is similar to the UGC, and compared the teens to the protagonist. Their job is to help the garden grow and a big part of that is planting pollinator flowers to attract bees and butterflies as well as other vegetation. But all of this can only be done once they learn how to maintain the garden, create fresh compost, test soil structure, and the basic nutrients that plants need.

As Roytman read The Curious Garden, she made sure to emphasize tools needed for gardening such as: pruning shears, compost, wheel-barrow, watering can, trowel, and hand rake, so that the students will become familiar with these concepts and terminology when they visit the UGC in the spring. The key tool that helped the main character in the book was his observations. Roytman told the students that they will be keeping a journal to record all of their findings, so that they will know how and why a plant grows.

For the next two months, the group of sixth graders will learn all of the basics of indoor gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, com-posting and other STEM related lessons. The indoor classes will focus on helping the teens gain an understanding of the garden’s life-cycle, soil structure (what makes good soil), composting with worms, and phenology. In April, the outdoor lessons will allow the students a hands-on approach to experimenting with plant growth and shifting through their newly built compost bin (which the SCRF UGC received a grant for last May).