Botany in the Garden

By Kim Allsup, Gardening Teacher & the Fifth Grade Class

This is the first time I have taught the class we now call Botany in the Garden. The Fifth grade children have been working efficiently in the garden in order to conduct a year-long experiment that involves soil improvement, planting, watering, observation, measuring height and weight, harvesting, graphing, writing and analysis.    

Studying Soil Supplements

We, as a fifth grade class, are doing an experiment to see how different soil supplements work. We have used worm compost, extra food compost, alfalfa pellets, plain soil and all of the supplements together. We have planted kale and carrots in the soil. We have been harvesting and weighing the kale and we have also been measuring the height of the kale and carrots. We are seeing which supplement works best. The carrots are still growing, so we haven't weighed or harvested them yet.   

On October 5 we started the experiment on which fertilizer works best for carrots and kale. We split into groups. We dug the fertilizers into sections of the bed. We used sticks for dividing the sections. We used popsicle sticks to label each section. 

When the carrots emerged they looked like little rabbit ears and were about half the size of a clover and three times shorter than a clover. Some of them were so small you couldn’t see them, and, when they were accidentally pulled up, their roots were the size of a piece of hair. It took 15 days from the time we planted the carrot seeds until the time they emerged. 

We did a height test on November 17. When we measured the tallest kale plant in each bed we found that “all” did the best, alfalfa tied for best with worm compost, and "none" was third and compost was last. 

The first kale harvest was on December 7. Alfalfa had 16 ounces, vermicompost had 13 ounces, "all" had 12 ounces, compost had 11 ounces and "none" had 2 ounces. Altogether we had 3 pounds and 6 ounces.

The second kale harvest on February 2 did not do as well. The first group harvested compost and had 10 ounces. "None" was not as successful with 2 ounces. Alfalfa was average with a weight of 7 ounces. Vermicompost was the most successful of them all at 11 ounces. "All" was in the average group just like alfalfa at 7 ounces. Altogether we had 2 pounds and 5 ounces. 

The first two harvests were 1 month and 24 days apart. Altogether from both harvests we had 5 pounds and 11 ounces. 

After totaling the results of our first and second harvest we arrived at a surprising total for the section with no soil amendment. We got only 4 ounces from this section! Many people come to Mrs. Allsup pondering how her garden flourishes and she asks them what soils amendments they use and they say none! 

Next up in Botany in the Garden

One more kale harvest, removal of the kale plants in order to allow the carrots to develop, and harvest of the carrots. 

Our Fifth Graders are Advanced Agricultural Scientists

I think of fifth graders as advanced gardeners because their experience in the garden in early childhood and grades one through four has developed understanding and skills that they use independently. I asked them recently how we might remove the kale plants to allow the carrots to grow. The students realized on their own that we would have to cut the kale at the root line rather than pull them because the kale is intermixed with the carrots and pulling the kale would disturb the carrots’ roots.  

It would not be possible to carry out this 8 month experiment in an outdoor garden during the school year. The fifth grade agricultural scientists are able to do this engaging work because we are one of the few schools in the country to have an all season sunhouse designed for food production.  And a side benefit is that we eat our experiment. Watch for Chef Peet’s next week’s Wednesday take home meal for the final kale harvest of this experiment! 

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