Garden Education in Winter

I don't need to tell you: Wisconsin winters are long! While cold, snowy months may have activities restricted to the classroom, there are many ways to keep garden-based education alive so that students meet spring's first seedlings with new knowledge – and new questions!

Garden-based education in the winter takes a bit extra creativity, expertise, and commitment. And all of you have those qualities in spades! This month, we asked you to share your favorite winter garden activities.

Grab a mug of something warm and enjoy ideas and suggestions from across Wisconsin:

Nori Schwenzfeier, 2nd Grade Teacher, Lake Superior Primary: A few lessons that we have done during winter include reading the story Stone Soup and then making a vegetable soup in a crock pot using garden ingredients. It was awesome and the kids loved helping to prepare and eating the soup! I have also done garden mapping to learn about area and circumference. We would start by listing what they want to grow and plan based off of that. Then, using graphing paper, kids design their dream garden.

Emilymae King, Program Director, Terri's Treehouse in Woodruff: In winter, the garden is transformed into a magical winter discovery area and the kitchen is packed with lights growing herbs and vegetables for daily meals.
Learn more about how Terri's Treehouse keeps their garden alive inside the classroom in this month's Success Story!

Michelle Spielvogel, Administrative Assistant, Sheboygan Falls High School: Culinary Arts teacher Diana Woodworth and our kitchen staff continue to use the produce from our summer garden. Culinary Arts students prepare dinners and use veggies for lessons, while the kitchen uses it in things like soups, as well as salsa and winter recipes in the lunch line. (Check out more about Sheboygan Falls in their October newsletter Success Story!)

At Mt. Horeb High School, composting is a year-round activity thanks to hard working worms and students. When it's too cold for them to stay outside, the worm bins line Mary McDonough-Sutter’s special education classroom. Read more in the July 2015 Success Story!

Jennica Skoug, Farm Manager, Goodman Youth Farm: Put a simple hoop house over kale plants to extend your season. In many regions, PVC hoops and clear plastic over a raised bed can keep kale harvestable throughout January, or even all winter. Kids will be amazed to pull back the plastic on a snowy day and see green plants growing. Even if the leaves are totally frozen, you can still make tasty kale chips!

Jennifer Sattler, Youth Program Manager, Growing Oshkosh: In November we do garlic planting with many schools. And the big thing we're looking to do this year is monthly, hour long family programs at our urban farm. In December, we're doing a program on lavender bath salts, which involves learning about how to dry herbs and how to utilize herbs beyond the growing season.

We want to know your favorite garden-related winter activity. Post on our Facebook page or Tweet a message of thanks using the hashtag #WinterGardening!

-Renata, WSGN Communications Manager


Square Foot Gardening Method

Make a grid. Each square represents 1 square foot in your garden. Now plan your garden! Students will have to think about the available space in a creative way to fill in the boxes with properly-spaced veggies. There are great examples and charts of plant spacing on Pinterest.

Felt Gardening

Even in the depths of winter, felt gardens stay bright and vibrant. Younger children can let their imaginations run wild by constructing vegetables out of felt and designing (and redesigning!) gardens to their hearts' content. And felt gardens aren't just for ECE! Older kids can use felt gardens to model a garden plan for the spring.
Indoor Gardens

While not every school is lucky enough to have a greenhouse - or funding to fill it with hydroponic grow beds - bringing gardening indoors is flexible enough for any space, and any budget. And a garden in your classroom can last all year long! This past newsletter is full of fun resources to get your classroom garden going. 
Watch Plants Root & Other Easy Projects

There's no end to garden-related winter activities. One of our favorites is rooting plants in water or on pebbles so kids get to see what's happening below the soil's surface. In addition to the link above, here are some more great ideas for bringing the garden into the classroom throughout the winter.
Month-by-Month School Garden Calendar

It can be hard to remember everything we need to prepare for spring. The New York Botanical Garden offers a calendar with reminders/suggestions to help you stay on top of your garden project year-round.
Seed Starting

Seed starting is one of the most exciting ways to bring gardening into the classroom, and one of the most practical. Students learn about germination, nutrient needs, and plant development. Incorporate recycling, too, with these repurposed container ideas! Wondering when to start seeds? Take a look at this handy calendar.

Events, Grants, & Announcements(Visit our Events page for more!)

Teaching in Nature's Classroom is now available in paperback!
Veteran farm and garden educator Nathan Larson is author of Teaching in Nature’s Classroom: Core Principles of Garden-Based Education, which has reached thousands of educators worldwide since its release in March. In this book, Nathan shares a philosophy of teaching in the garden through fifteen guiding principles, engaging stories from the field, and connections to research literature.
2017 Youth Garden Grant
December 15, 2016

The 2017 Youth Garden Grant supports educational garden projects that enhance the quality of life for students and their communities. Any nonprofit, school, or youth program in the United States planning a new or expanding an established garden program serving at least 15 youth between the ages of 3 and 18 is eligible to apply. The selection of winners is based on demonstrated program impact and sustainability.

Get more info and apply here.

Schoolyard Garden Grants 
December 16, 2016

The grant provides up to $1,000 for plants, gardening equipment, curriculum, staff development and anything else that fosters connections between K-12 students and nature. Schools may design their own garden, enhance an existing garden, or better use an existing garden.

Learn more and apply for Schoolyard Garden Grant here.

Schoolyard Garden Grants 
December 31, 2016

Katie's Krops is accepting applications from youth between the ages of 9 and 16 for grants to start a vegetable garden in their community with the purpose of donating the harvest to people in need.

Selected applicants will be awarded a gift card to a garden center in their area, support from Katie’s Krops, and a digital camera to document the garden and the harvest. Winners will be eligible to attend the all-expenses-paid Katie's Krops Summer Camp and are are eligible for funds to continue to grow their garden year after year.

2017 Carton 2 Garden Contest
April 12, 2017

Your school can get started by collecting at least 100 empty cartons from your home, community, or cafeteria. After gathering cartons, it’s time to design and construct purposeful garden items and structures using them. Open to public and private schools, contest winners will be selected based on their implementation of an innovative garden creation featuring creative and sustainable uses for repurposed milk and juice cartons.

Learn more and get ideas from past projects here.

Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Can You Guess This Vegetable From Its Close-Up?

One thing's for certain: any way you slice 'em, veggies make for beautiful close-ups! Can you identify them all? 

Garden Joke of the Month

What do chickens grow on?

Click here for answer

Hmong farmers bring healthy food & cultural diversity to little eaters

With growing recognition of the importance of connecting young children to healthy, local food, early care and education settings emerged as an important and beneficial market opportunity for Minnesota's Hmong farmers.

Success Story: Terri's Treehouse

Garden Education Brightens Classroom and Kitchen in the Winter

Terri’s Treehouse is a unique early learning program in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. During the summer months, the school’s 80’ x 80’ garden, with its gathering center, greenhouse, children-friendly beds, outdoor science center, and compost, is a hotbed of learning and play. But garden-based education doesn’t come to a halt with the first frost! “The garden is transformed into a magical winter discovery area and the kitchen is packed with lights growing herbs and vegetables for daily meals,” says Program Director Emilymae King.
For the past two years, when it’s too cold to bring the classroom out to the garden, Terri’s Treehouse brings the garden to the classroom. In addition to moving two garden beds into the classroom itself, students help transplant the garden’s herbs into the kitchen’s mini-greenhouse so they can continue enjoying fresh, homegrown herbs in their lunches. The plants – including rosemary, lavender, thyme, popcorn plant, and sage – benefit not only from a safe and warm environment, but from the tender care of loving little hands. “We have a schedule that rotates day-by-day,” King explains, “so there’s always a child taking care of watering, weeding, and pruning.” Then, come spring, students help to bring the herbs back to their summer home in the outdoor garden.
At Terri’s Treehouse, growing the herbs is just the beginning. Thanks to the Try It Tuesday curriculum, 3 – 5-year-old students get to prepare and try new, wholesome foods, including using ingredients such as the herbs that they have tended and grown themselves. And many of the Try It Tuesday delicacies are a nod to traditions of the local Native American community.
The program helps kids develop a powerful connection to their food. "Try It Tuesdays helps children feel in control and gives them a sense of pride when they prepare and eat the meals, it really doesn’t cost much, and it doubles as a learning moment," says King. "Everything they eat is procured locally so this continues to set a pathway to healthy farm-to-table philosophy long through the winter months." Parents even get a chance to try the food during Tuesday pick-up, and the kids bring a recipe home so they can make favorites again and again.

King sees the children responding to the program. “My preschoolers used to be finicky and now they asked for vegetables!”
As the weather gets colder, students at Terri’s Treehouse are already keeping warm and cozy with delicious winter recipes. The center is even helping to revive heirloom crops in the gardens and hearts of their community. Recently, students enjoyed Gete-Okosomin soup made from an heirloom squash that the center is helping to revive. You can check out the story behind this incredible recipe – and the recipe itself! – kindly shared by Terri’s Treehouse.

Read other Wisconsin school garden success stories

Share your garden story #wischoolgardens

Every garden is ripe with stories.  Maybe it is one about the day the first shovel-full of soil was turned over and the garden was underway.  Or about that time a brave rabbit dared to sample lettuce amidst a class of kindergartners partaking in a garden lesson. Each story has the potential to connect others with your garden program. Send us your story idea, or read our garden storytelling brief for tips on collecting and sharing thestories that make your garden program so special.  

Getting Started with School Gardens

Just starting a school garden? We're here to help. Check out these free resources, developed right in Wisconsin. Or, send us an email with your questions! 

Got Dirt? Garden Toolkit: Simple, step-by-step guide for starting a school garden
Got Veggies? Nutrition Education Curriculum: Aligned with state standards
Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening Free online training with chapters on planning, planting, growing, and harvesting a garden with kids. Approved for continuing education hours for child care providers (1.5 hours of Registry credit).

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