How to avoid the common mistakes made in kindergarten vegetable gardens
May 2, 2017
A recurring set of issues are experienced by kindergartens, preschools and childcare centers with non productive vegetable gardens. These prevent the center from achieving success and providing a valid and engaging learning experience for the children. This common set of mistakes have either stalled the growing experience or prevented them from starting. I will outline the solutions to each of these mistakes and problems below.
The solutions outline below are based on what I have witnessed from site visits and discussions with kindergartens, or centers who have an existing vegetable garden space that is no longer productive.
I commonly see poor soil structure, quality and balance in the sites I visit. The sites have an existing vegetable garden area that is no longer productive. Typically, vegetables were grown successfully for a period of time, usually one season, and have then failed and were not replanted in subsequent seasons.
This is often caused by poor quality soil, or the soil not being replenished after a growing season. Available nutrients in cheap soil depletes quickly.
The better the quality of soil, the better the vegetables will grow. Plants require nutritional input from the soil. To achieve this the soil must be maintained and “fed” with compost, manures or organic materials on a regular basis.
Is the soil is an issue?
To assess if the soil is a problem take put your hands in and feel it. Poor quality soil generally has poor structure, often with large pieces of pine chips acting as a filler. It may feel very sandy or very sticky in consistency. Poor soil will have no worms present if you dig into it. Plants will be stunted, failing to thrive and produce. The plants are also likely to be attacked by pests.
How to improve the soil
Start collecting compost to harvest for the garden. Children have daily fruit snacks. These food scraps and waste can be recycled back onto the garden.
Create a worm farm. Worm farms have faster results than a cold compost heap and the process is exciting for the children to learn about and engage with.
Add high quality compost at least twice a year to the garden beds prior to a new season planting. I find prior to summer and winter the best times to do this activity. Examples of compost and beneficial additions to the garden soil include: coffee grinds, egg shells, worm castings, straw, mushroom compost, well rotted manure, blood and bone fertiliser.
Each vegetable and herb is best suited to growing in a certain season and region. Some are fast growing and some are slow. Poor growth may be due to issues with the soil, outlined above, or the quality or choice of plants.
Are poor growing results a problem at your center?
The primary indicator for this issue is that you will not have plants growing well enough to harvest.
Stunted growth, leaf growth but no formation of the vegetables.
Poor growth or failure of seeds to germinate.
Vegetables and herbs require various levels of care and growing conditions. It is important to understand what these are if they exist and take them into account, or exclude these plants if unsuited to the preschool routine.
Garden beds incorrectly positioned. For optimal growth vegetables and herbs require 4-6 hours of sunlight per day.
How deep are the garden beds the plants are growing in and how long ago was the soil replenished?
Improve growing results
Some plants are best grown from seed rather than transplanted into a garden. Examples of plants that are best sown from seed directly into their growing location include: carrot, fennel, radish – in fact most root vegetables.
Provide regular watering and attention to the plants. Most herbs and vegetables perform best when they receive regular watering rather than ad hoc watering. Create a watering routine per season that the children can follow and assist with. For example in summer they may need to water daily, or every second day. In winter it may be once per fortnight. The kindergartens I work with are provided with a Watering Roster to assist them develop a routine that works well.
Seed or seedling quality is important. Choose high quality, certified organic local seed and plant a mixture of slow and fast growing plants.
Monitor growth every couple of days until plants mature. This allows you to identify and correct any issues you may notice immediately.
Position garden beds correctly, preferably north facing. If this is not possible consider planting near walls or other structures that retain heat and will provide protection for plants.
The depth of vegetable garden beds should be a minimum of 30 cm, preferably deeper. I have been surprised to see some garden set ups of very shallow beds. These limit the amount of nutrients plants can draw upon to sustain their growth and fruit development.
A center that does not have an educator with an interest, or knowledge, in vegetable gardening can struggle to know where and how to begin.
Is lack of knowledge impacting vegetable garden growing results?
If there a center does not have an educator with an interest of knowledge in vegetable garden it is tricky to incorporate related activities into the curriculum.
Improve the knowledge of educators
Teaching children to engage with the environment, how real food grows and tastes provides a strong foundation for healthy choices.
A Fresh Legacy provides children with the knowledge and skills to learn how vegetables and herbs grow each season. An incursion program coupled with a garden planting session is aligned with standard 3.3 of the Guide to National Quality Framework for Australian Early Childhood Education and Care.
Each center Kyrstie works with will receive access to an after-care kit that includes educator resources including copies of her book Grow Just One Thing.
Make contact today to organise a free site visit and quote for your center (available Geelong, Bellarine and Melbourne – other areas by arrangement)
Vegetable gardens do not adhere to term breaks. During the summer break, the longest absence of the year, the plants are often at their most productive.
It can be difficult to gain agreement to resource watering and care for a garden over holiday periods. Often vegetable gardens are left unattended, harvests are wasted or eaten by pests, or the plants die due to lack of water and care.
Are care-options in place for holiday periods?
Plants left without care over the heat of summer are likely to expire. At best, harvests will be reduced, or wasted. Gardens left unattended over cool periods may be open to pest attack. In each of these scenarios, additional work is created for the educators upon their return to restore order, growth and health of the garden after the term break.
Improve survival rates over term breaks
Choose your growing medium/garden bed carefully.
Plan what you plant based on when the vegetables will be ready to harvest.
Choose plants that are not heavy feeders.
Prior to holidays over the heat of summer, mulch heavily and water deep;y prior to leave.
Collect and share as much produce as possible prior to the term break.
Consider installing a wicking bed with a commercial grade cover. A Fresh Legacy supplies and recommends these as a low care vegetable gardening option. If the vegetable garden is to remain an ongoing component of the sustainability focus of the center it is a wise investment that provides a low care option for growing particularly suited to preschools and kindergartens.
Please get in contact if you need assistance to restore or to create your vegetable garden space and expand on the learning opportunities for the children at your center. Get in contact here.
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