By Kelly Zimmerhanzel
Despite the unusually cold weather, we have been busy this April planting lettuce. This year, our lucky crop of third, fourth, and fifth graders at Streiber, Litwin, Bowe, and Stefanik are participating in the Salad Days program created by Backyard Growers in Gloucester.
The program gives every student involved a total of three garden visits and two seed-to-fork experiences over the course of the year. In April, each class comes out to the garden to plant lettuce seeds. The lettuce grows until June, when each class returns to harvest what they planted and sow the fall crops: potatoes, beets, and carrots. The next day, we all enjoy a student-grown salad taste test in the cafeteria. Each class returns to the garden in the September to harvest the fall crops, which are then roasted and taste-tested in the cafeteria.
Now that we have done the planting at Streiber, Litwin, and Bowe, we have developed a fairly efficient system to allow every student in the class to plant in just 15 minutes. As soon as the class arrives in the garden, we begin with, “Hey everyone! Today we are going to plant lettuce. You guys will come out again in June and harvest the lettuce, and then you’ll get to eat it in the cafeteria!”
After the introduction, we determine how many students there are and divide the class in half.
Then I say, “This half of the line is going to go with Ms. Molly and play a game, and the other half of the line is going to come with me and Ms. Greta to plant and then we will switch.”
When we get to the garden bed, Greta or I will explain, “We all have to fit on half of this garden bed, so get as close to your neighbors as possible, huddle together like penguins.”
Each garden bed is divided into 1x1 foot squares using string, so each student or pair of students (depending on the size of the class) gets their own square to plant.
Once everyone has a square, we say, “Now that you have your squares, I need you to loosen up the soil. So make your hand into a tractor claw or bear claw and make the soil nice and fluffy.”
At Streiber and Litwin, it was so cold that the soil was a little frozen, making this step difficult, and leading many students to exclaim, “It’s so cold! I can’t feel my hands!” Thankfully, it was warmer at Bowe. So warm, in fact, that the kids encountered a variety of earthworms in the garden beds, including one truly enormous nightcrawler. Much to my delight, most of the students were intensely interested in our earthworm friends, with many eagerly asking, “Can I touch it?” and only a few exclaiming, “Eww!”
Students at Bowe Elementary making their rows. Check out that giant nightcrawler!
When the soil is loosened, we demonstrate the next step as we explain, “I need you to take your pointer finger and draw four vertical lines in the soil, just like this, all the way from the top of your square to the bottom. Your lines don’t need to be too deep, only about as deep as the first bend in your finger.”
After the lines are drawn, we show and tell them how to do the next step, “Now, with the hand you write with, I need you to make pincers, like a lobster, with your thumb and pointer finger. With your other hand I need you to make a cup to hold the seeds. We are going to put some seeds in your cupped hand and you are going to pinch the seeds with your pincer and sprinkle them into the lines you made. If you want, you can sing a little song to remember: pinch and sprinkle, pinch pinch and sprinkle.”
Students at Litwin cupping their hands to receive their lettuce seeds.
When the kids first receive their seeds, there are always one or two who exclaim incredulously, “These seeds are so tiny! Are you sure they grow into lettuce?”
Students at Streiber Elementary pinching and sprinkling their seeds into their rows.
Once the seeds are all sprinkled in the lines, we say, “Okay, now we need to cover our seeds with soil. I need you to gently wave your hand over the surface of the soil, just like I am, and say, ‘Goodnight seeds.’”
When everyone has tucked their seeds into bed, we say, “Awesome job everyone, we are all done planting! You can stand up and if you have any soil on your hands, you can do our farmer’s clap, like this. Now, you will go over to Ms. Molly to play a game and the other group will come over and plant!”
It’s great to see how much the kids enjoy being out in the garden, getting their hands dirty, and learning about their environment and where their food comes from. Molly and I can’t wait to finish up our April planting at Stefanik when we all return from Spring Break next week! We are all hoping the weather warms up so that our lettuce will have the chance to grow!
The ChicopeeFRESH team is a group of creative individuals who are working to feed Chicopee students healthy, local and FRESH foods each day.