Academic journal article Science Scope

No Space? Little Money? No Garden? Not So Fast!

Academic journal article Science Scope

No Space? Little Money? No Garden? Not So Fast!

Article excerpt

Involving students in the process of growing plants and vegetables is not only a great learning experience, it also promotes ownership of food choices and healthy living (Ratcliffe et al. 2011). The gardening project described in this article shows students that a garden can be started even on a budget and in limited space. Students learn how to plan, establish, and maintain a garden and how to grow and harvest food.

Gardens can be instrumental in helping students learn about the scientific aspects of soil and water, how plants grow, and how other living organisms exist in and around gardens. They can also provide a source of inspiration for other classrooms: In a math class, students could create and discuss word problems for calculating the amount of pesticides or insecticides saved if organic gardening is employed, while social studies classes could use the garden to discuss the history of agriculture.

No space?

One of the most significant challenges in establishing a school garden is space. This is particularly true for middle schools, which often do not have as much green space as elementary or high schools due to a lack of playgrounds or sports fields. Vertical gardening towers are one solution to this problem (see Figure 1 for a cross-section of the tower). While there are many different types of commercial towers available, we chose the Garden Tower (see Resources) for our school because of its ability to produce many plants in a small area, as well as for its vermicomposting center, which can provide a second learning experience for students. Vermicomposting is the process of using worms to decompose vegetable or food waste; this process is quicker than traditional composting and therefore requires less attention. There are other types of vertical gardens that can schools can use. For example, the Woolly Pocket (see Resources) is an option for schools that have a wall they can use as a vertical garden. Additionally, there are many do-it-yourself options available on the internet. One that we like is the strawberry vertical garden (see Resources). Although the plans for this design are specific to strawberry plants, you could use it for other types of plants.



The tower is a 50-plant, vertical container garden that can fit into almost any outdoor location. Schools often have a loading dock or sidewalk space, both of which are perfect spots for a tower if no other locations are available. Using a central vermicomposting process, the tower we selected transforms food scraps into soil to grow an abundance of food in a very small footprint. The worm castings from the compost tube can be used annually to condition the towers or surrounding gardens. The tower is a durable and reusable device, which will greatly reduce costs for subsequent years of implementing this project. (Note: Seek administrative approval before buying and placing a vertical gardening tower on school grounds. Also consult the school building's emergency codes to ensure the garden does not block evacuation routes.)

Implementation of gardening towers

Our garden setup included two towers with water-collection buckets beneath them and a water-reclamation barrel to collect rain to maximize water reuse. The first tower was used for vegetables with quicker growing seasons (e.g., chives, lettuce, parsley, thyme). The second tower was used for flowers (for companion planting, or using different plants in close proximity for pest control or cross-pollination) and produce with longer, fall-through-winter growing seasons (e.g., bok choy, broccoli, cauliflower) (see Figures 2 and 3). It is possible to use only one tower, but we used two so we could rotate crops for soil rejuvenation. This also increased the number of vegetables harvested per season and gave students a better opportunity to work on different sections of the towers. Each tower will hold approximately 50 plants in four square feet (45 plants in pockets around the sides of tower and five larger plants on top of the tower). …

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