Last Thursday at Northeast Elementary, Healthy Waltham invited the entire first-grade class to help us plant hundreds of snap peas in the school’s expanding garden space.
We were first assisted by Ms. Lockwood’s forth and fifth-grade class in preparing one of the garden beds for the planting. Kids dug in with trowels and hand cultivators, loosening up clods of compacted (pressed together) soil so that our future pea plants’ roots can more easily reach further and further into the ground. These deep roots will not only help the plants find important nutrients and water in the bed, but will also help them to grow up nice and tall while better stabilizing (to make secure) the pea shoots so that they will not blow over (or worse, blow away!) in windy conditions.
Once the soil had been loosened, our first-grade assistants began to make their way into the courtyard for the planting. But first, as with all of the peas we’ve planted around town, we had to inoculate our peas with that powdery bacteria called rhizobium (see this post to learn more about inoculation and rhizobium) that will help put nitrogen in the ground, helping both the peas and the other seeds we plant there this summer. After inoculating the peas, we dug furrows (shallow trenches in which to plant seeds; also called drills) and began planting our seeds, one-by-one.
As each student took their turn planting, those waiting around the bed turned their attention to the bug life in the freshly-cultivated soil. What exactly did they find? Loads of brown spiders, roly-polies, and nightcrawlers, mostly. We had a brave bunch of students, most of whom were eager to get a hold of these tiny creatures for a closer look at their shapes and movement. And though some weren’t very excited to be so close to the spiders, the children made a good point as to why we should appreciate them: they spin their webs so they can catch insects to eat, including mosquitoes. If it weren’t for these eight-legged creatures roaming our city and state, we’d probably have a lot more mosquitoes, and thus a lot more itchy mosquito bites during the hot and humid months of summer.
In addition to planting peas directly into the ground, we also made room for two long rows of peas in the courtyard’s raised bed. Since the bed was full of overwintered strawberry plants, we had to first move all the straw that students had put on them in the fall over to the compost bin, uproot several of the plants, and move them over to another part of the garden space where we already have established raspberry canes. But why did we put straw on these plants anyways? We discussed with the kids that the strawberries are perennials, meaning they live for more than two years; the straw acts like a blanket or coat, protecting them from New England’s harsh winters that bring snow, sleet, wind, and frequent freezing temperatures. Seeing the straw on the berries also explained how this plant got its common name; farmers must have been using this technique to protect their crop for a long time or they’d be called something else. Though the fruits won’t likely be ready for picking until early July, we’ll keep our fingers crossed for a late-June harvest- a nice end of the school year treat!
Having explained to the students that we had to transplant some of the strawberry plants to the newly-designated berry patch, we got to discussing what exactly the word means and other words with a similar meaning. The kids quickly realized that the word “transplant” sounds a lot like “transport,” which means to move from one place to another, whether by foot, car, boat, train, or airplane. Thus a nice language connection was made: the prefix “trans” generally has to do with moving an object or person away from its original location.
Finally, we wrapped things up by asking the children why they think we need plants. With so many other foods like meat and dairy products, who needs plants? Kids responded by reminding us that plants are extra nutritious, full of the vitamins and minerals humans need to be healthy and live long lives. They also brought up the fact that the animals that supply us with meats and dairy foods are very often vegetarian, meaning they only eat plants, so we couldn’t have these foods if not for plants! This open discussion made us even more aware of how everything on our planet is interconnected, meaning every organic (living or once living) and inorganic (non-living) thing has an effect or impact on its surroundings.
As summer approaches, the students at Northeast can expect even more Healthy Waltham garden activities to come, including the harvesting of the peas, strawberries, and raspberries, as well as planting summer crops like beans, sunflowers, pumpkins, and tomatoes.
Images by Rebekah Carter (2011).