BY AMANDA MOSES
The capricious weather conditions have many New Yorkers feeling like they are on a rollercoaster, diving between winter and spring. These beautiful, sunny days give off the impression that flowers should be blossoming, but Garden Educator, Jacqui Roytman explained to her students that this climate shift is considered a false spring. Botanists use this term to describe a brief warm weather shift that tricks plants into waking up earlier than they should. A similar incident happened last year, when the flowers blossomed before winter’s last frost causing many of these plants to die once the cold returned.
This false spring also has middle schoolers from Gateway Intermediate School (IS) 364 and Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA) VIII itching to enjoy the sunshine at the Spring Creek Recreational Fund’s (SCRF) Urban Garden Classroom (UGC). For now, Roytman has her students learning about hydroponics and germinating seeds, which will be transplanted into the UGC by the end of March.
Students at both FDA VIII and IS 364 spent their indoor gardening class planting wheatgrass in a tray and using Peat Pods to plant sunflower seeds. The students learned that wheatgrass can grow using hydroponics. This plant can be germinated on a micro-mat (which replaces the soil with bio-degradable harvested wood fibers), using Azomite (an organic trace mineral fertilizer) and wheatgrass seeds.
Roytman showed her first class of FDA VIII seventh graders how to use graduated cylinders to measure the exact amount of water to soak the seeds with. Exact precision is not often needed in outside garden work, but when using hydroponics and aquaponics, these measurements are very important. The class worked together to measure the water and then add it to the wheatgrass seeds. They then sprinkled Azomite fertilizer over the seeds and finished off their lesson by shredding moist newspaper to cover the plant.
Following IS 364’s first class, the sixth graders observed the growth of their wheatgrass. The group of students took out their garden journals, jotting down their scientific observations and even drawing charts. Once they recorded their findings, the pre-teens soaked Peat Pods in water so that these tiny disks would expand. Similar to soil, the Peat Pods have soft dirt like texture. The students ended their lesson by planting sunflower seeds inside of these small pods and then documenting their efforts.
Roytman’s classes are all asked to keep a journal so that they can chart the gradual changes with plant growth and learn trial and error when planting.
Photos by Amanda Moses