Yesterday afterschool, a group of us cruised north to Fernwood Elementary to learn more about their gardens and greenhouse projects from teachers Erika Verlinden (grades 1-3) and Andrew McPhee (4-5). Andy arrived at Fernwood six years ago, and Erika four. The first two years, Andy worked to get the garden and greenhouse back into operational shape. Each year, they have one or two parents who get involved in the garden projects as well.
Before he arrived, each teacher had their own bed in the garden. They all decided to go more 'market-style' and grow veggies in blocks to share across the school and sell extras at a farmstand in front of their school. They also wanted to sell seedlings in order to keep funding garden upkeep and seeds.
All of this has led to whole-school involvement in the gardens. Andy creates a schedule and provides materials for each class to plant trays of seedlings. There are students in his class assigned to check on the farm stand, wearing an orange vest and carrying a clipboard, in order to count how many plants have been sold, the condition of the seedlings, and once a week, count the money in the locked payment box. Other students are trained to care for the greenhouse seedlings. They really take a lot of pride in the project.
Finessing the greenhouse conditions is always a challenge, as it often gets too hot by mid May. They have black shade cloth, fans, and vents, and sometimes have to water twice a day.
The best way to involve students is to work with 3-6 children at a time on planting seeds, greenhouse work, etc. They like having stations or other activities organized for the other students.
This year, the PAC built a new covered pergola in the garden so students can use the picnic tables out there in rain or hot sun. Luckily for the garden, Andy lives across the street, so often ends up watering veggies in the summertime when other parent or teacher volunteers can't make it. He was really generous in sharing planting schedule and instruction documents with us that we'll put to good use at Salt Spring Elementary with our new greenhouse this year!