Rainbow Veggie Land Garden Summer Camp!

By Elena Mitchel, FoodCorps Service Member in Silver City, NM

The Sixth Street School Garden is growing and blossoming in this warm, wet June. Since the school does not have summer school this summer, I decided to put on a garden summer camp to get kids out into the garden. Summer camp started this past Monday and it has been a busy week! We’ve been planting the last of our summer crops. We planted watermelons and okra in the bed of plants that all originally come from Africa. We planted cucumbers in the bed of plants that originally come from Asia (cucumbers are originally from India). We pulled out the last of our winter wheat stalks and planted sorghum and melons! A gardening neighbor gave us some new herbs for us to plant in the herb spiral: pineapple sage, stevia and lemon thyme. It poured for two nights this week, conveniently watering in all our new seeds and transplants and making the garden smell wonderful!

Although it rained at night, it was hot during the day and we beat the heat by making mint, watermelon water. The kids harvested our mint from the herb spiral and we sweetened it with a few leaves of our new stevia plant! The children really loved the stevia and we discussed how if you wanted to make something sweet you could use stevia instead of sugar.

Besides planting, we have been exploring garden creatures. Turning the compost revealed sow bugs, roly polies, crickets, cockroaches, ants, grubs, and stinkbugs. We had a pair of doves move in to our willow tree and start to make a nest. In honor of the birds of the garden we created bird feeders out of recycled cereal boxes and caps. They help to make the garden more cheerful!

We are having a lot of fun in garden camp and I hope that beyond some fun times the children are learning how to care for living beings, gaining enthusiasm for fresh fruits and vegetables, gaining an understanding of basic functions of nature, and gaining an appreciation of the hard work and patience required to grow a garden.

Gardening with Toddlers!

By Elena Mitchel, FoodCorps Service Member in Silver City, NM

My name is Elena and I am a FoodCorps Service Member serving at two schools in Silver City, NM. At the Guadalupe Montessori School I teach gardening to children aged 1.5 -11 years old.

The toddler class is really fun to work with in the garden because they are at an age when they are extremely excited and curious about everything. The toddlers come out in the morning and we sing a garden song together—which they are captivated by. Then they are asked to choose between a variety of activities, or works, that I have prepared for them. These include watering the plants, digging, tearing up leaves for the compost pile, holding the worms in the worm bin, observing bugs, and moving beans into a jar.

Although these are all very simple activities, they can be difficult for this age and they help them to develop basics skills—and most importantly, the children LOVE doing them.

Watering helps the children to develop balance, and control of a heavy object, as well as teaching them to care for plants. Digging develops their muscles and gives them a direct connection to the earth. Tearing up leaves and moving the beans helps the children to develop hand-eye coordination, their hand muscles, precision, and the pinching grasp which is necessary for learning to hold a pen or pencil, which they will need to master when they begin to write. The worm work helps these children to develop an understanding of recycling, as they see scraps turn into dirt, and to learn to be very gentle when holding creatures.

The worm bin is always surrounded by giggling toddlers who love the treasure hunt to find the worms and the tickling sensation when they hold them. The bug observation is also a favorite; I catch as many bugs as I can before class (often with the help of older students) and put them in a bug container for the toddlers to observe. Last week we had grubs, cockroaches, roly polies, and a couple of different types of beetles. The children squeal with delight as they watch these creatures crawl about.

The teachers tell me that the garden exhausts the children and after garden day the toddlers eat ravenously and fall into deep sleep immediately during nap, even though garden time is only 30 minutes!

It is a lot for someone who is under 3 feet tall.