The Need to Adapt

Before we even moved into our home, we knew where we were going to plant our corn. A sunny corner in the back of the yard was the perfect spot. We called it Corn Corner. Last spring, after spending a couple of years cleaning up and defining our garden beds, my family finally mapped out our perfect garden. Some of our plants – tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash – we purchased as seedlings. Some – corn, peas, spinach, arugula – went into the ground as seeds. Those were the most exciting. We checked daily to see what had sprouted. And we fantasized about what we’d do with our bounty. The corn started to germinate. One by one, we saw little green sprouts unfurl and grow, and we were very proud of ourselves.
Then, one morning, I found my husband inspecting Corn Corner. "There are only 2 left!" he told me. The chipmunks had devoured our corn stand. The thought that we wouldn't have corn hadn't occurred to us. Sure, it's just corn. We could easily buy it fresh at the market. But when you put work into your garden and it doesn't turn out the way you expected, it can be frustrating.
One of the joys of my work is seeing all of the beautiful photographs and reading the inspiring stories of excited kids biting down into bright, crunchy vegetables. When your garden doesn't go as planned, however, those images and stories can be more intimating than inspiring.

Why aren't my carrots as big and straight as those?
How can all those beds be so free of weeds?!
Was I supposed to prune our apple tree?
What ate all the pea plants?
Why didn't that school's raspberry patch grow into a thorny jungle?
How did that garden program get up and running so quickly?
The pressure to produce picturesque gardens can be overwhelming. So we are embracing all of the frustrations, imperfections and, well, failures that come with gardening. In this month's newsletter, you'll find resources to help you maintain the garden you want and anecdotes to remind you that struggles are universal and we all have experienced our fair share of "learning opportunities" in the garden.

In preparation for setting realistic expectations for this year's gardens, we want to see your less than perfect garden photos. Let's share our less successful moments so that we can all learn  – and laugh! – together! Share your photos and stories on our Facebook page or Twitter using the hashtag #GardenFails.

-Renata, WSGN Communications Manager

I have a bad habit of planting things too close together—I always think I can fit in one more plant. Last year was particularly bad—I crammed in way too many broccoli and kale plants at the cool end of the garden. By the end of the summer, I could barely get into that part of the garden to pick anything, and many of the lower leaves had rotted or gotten yellowed from all the trapped moisture. Next time, I really will follow the advice on the back of those seed packets! —Alex Wells, Wisconsin School Garden Network


Gardening Mistakes That I've Made

Here are 6 gardening mistakes from a real gardener (who will continue to make and learn from mistakes, as we all will)! Whether you are new to gardening or experienced, you will make some mistakes. Learn from it. That's the most important thing. Your garden is not going to be perfect and there is nothing wrong with that.

How to Prune Tomatoes

Maybe you want to let your tomato plants grow and let the kids just see what happens. Or maybe you want to keep your plants neatly pruned. This guide will help you make an informed decision. The easy-to-follow steps can make a great opportunity for students!

9 Gardening Fails & How to Fix Them

Let's not think of these as "fails" but rather opportunities for growth! Overcrowding? Nutrient-poor soil? Rotten tomatoes? Browse this list of common problems so you can avoid these pitfalls in the coming season and adapt your garden based on last year's challenges.

Minimizing Weeds Without Herbicides

If you're hoping to tidy up your garden this year, here is a short and sweet guide to minimizing weeds. You can reduce weeds without having to get down on your hands and knees all season by using tactics like mulch and cover crops. 
Advice to a New Gardener

This blog post tackles some of the reasons that gardeners get burned out on gardening before they even get started. While the post focuses on individuals, many of the lessons can be applied to school garden settings.
Basic Pruning Guidelines

Is it time to prune this apple tree? Where am I supposed to cut? Am I doing this right? Removing parts of plants can actually help stimulate the plant growth, improve the plant's vigor, and encourage the plant's fruit production. This basic guide will get you started.


I planted French breakfast radishes, covered them with plastic, and hoped I would have a tender early spring harvest of radishes. However, we had an unusually cold and rainy winter, and limited daylight hours on the northeast facing slope where I farm. They are not sizing up well and they don't taste good at all, so we're pulling them all up and sending them straight to the compost pile. —Rachel Kohn Obut, Farmer (California)

News & Announcements

Safety in the Little Gardeners' Garden
This publication from UW Extension's Plants+People series -- co-written by the Network's Outreach Manager Beth Hanna! -- focuses on how to build and use a garden space that meets and exceeds safety requirements and licensing rules for child care programs. From a garden's inception to freshly picked food landing on a cafeteria table, learn how to think about and manage key safety issues.

Upcoming Events (Visit our events page for more! Have an event to share? Email us!)

Jefferson County School Garden Summit
March 9, 2017, 4-7 p.m.
University Center at UW-Whitewater

The Jefferson County School Garden Summit is an opportunity to connect with people, resources, and the school garden initiative as a whole. Whether you are new to the concept, an ongoing supporter, or the go-to expert at your school, there will be something for you to learn and enjoy. Free to attend, but donations will be accepted to support local school garden projects.

Learn more and register here.

Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture
March 3 - July 9, 2017
Milwaukee Public Museum

Learn about the science, culture, and systems of food. Learn how taste works in the working kitchen, cook a virtual meal, see rare artifacts, and peek into the dining rooms of famous figures throughout history. Visitors will examine the intersection of food, nature, culture, health, and history—and consider some of the most challenging food issues of our time.

Check out the full calendar of events here.

Growing Minds: Garden-Based Learning from the Ground Up!
July 24 - 27, 2017 from 9 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Community GroundWorks' Troy Kids' Garden, 502 Troy Drive, Madison, WI

Held in the award-winning Troy Kids' Garden, this dynamic professional development course for K-12 teachers/community educators emphasizes hands-on, inquiry-based instruction. Course topics include: youth garden planning and design, funding and resources, recommended tools and supplies, organic gardening methods, outdoor classroom pedagogy, garden-based nutrition and cooking, nature study and games, program evaluation, art in the garden, and more!

Cost is $175. 1-2 semester units of graduate credit available at additional cost of $70 per credit.

Learn more and register here.

Grant Opportunities (Visit our grants page for more!)

School Grants for Healthy Kids: Game On Grant
April 7, 2017

Action for Healthy Kids will award approximately 600 schools with Game On grants for the 2017-2018 school year. These grants provide funding for physical activity and nutrition initiatives that support schools in becoming nationally recognized as health-promoting, including school garden programs.

Learn more and get ideas from past projects here.

Read through the Action for Healthy Kids page on school gardens. 

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.

Community Seed Donations
Ongoing Applications

Each year, Seed Savers Exchange donates the previous year's unsold seeds to charitable organizations. To qualify for a seed donation, an organization must be a nonprofit or have a nonprofit umbrella sponsorship and have a shipping address within the United States. Volunteers pre-pack donation boxes with 100 seed packets, each a different variety. Recipients do not choose specific varieties, but will receive a wide selection of seed varieties.

Learn more and apply here.


We grow several kinds of grapes and last year we watched with pride as the vines grew dozens of delicious-looking clusters of Concord and Fredonia grapes. We got to taste a few, but were waiting for that perfect picking moment. Then, a couple of nights later they were all wiped out in a single evening of raccoon ravaging. —Curt Bjurlin, Futpong

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

FNV: We Stand for Fruits and Veggies

Fresh, frozen, canned, and dried — The Partnership for a Healthier America has united every type of fruit and veggie under one fun brand: FNV. With a dash of playful creativity and boatloads of passion, FNV is harnessing the power of marketing to promote fruits and veggies in the same way big brands market their products. Students will like their clothing catalog-style lists of fruits and vegetables (which could easily be turned into a "name that veggie" game!), as well as the celebrity endorsements. 

Garden Joke of the Month

Which vegetable does a sailor hate?

Click here for answer

Success Story: Mobile Nutrition Classroom

Creativity and resilience keeps nutrition education alive in Milwaukee

Milwaukee's Mobile Nutrition Classroom is one of those projects. When you first hear of it, you can't believe you've never encountered the idea before: the need it fills is obvious and the execution is creative and thoughtful.
The Mobile Nutrition Classroom is, in essence, exactly what it sounds like – a food truck that travels to urban gardens and classrooms, teaching students and families how to think about and prepare healthy and varied foods. The program was started, thanks to an Innovation Grant focusing on health disparities in the inner city, by Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) professor Heidi Katte. MATC students enrolled in a food service manager class taught through the mobile classroom. This service learning opportunity was especially meaningful because many of the MATC students grew up in the very communities that the mobile classroom served.
The Mobile Nutrition Classroom’s pilot year partnered the program with the Milwaukee-based nonprofit organization Groundwork. Food preparation lessons focused on teaching young urban gardeners how to prepare the produce that they would harvest from their gardens. In the second year, the program expanded to link the mobile classroom with high school classes. "We identify what the needs are in communities and see how we can fit in," explains Katte. "Nutrition is such a key part of maintaining healthy lives."
The program makes an effort to focus lessons on what local communities are growing in their gardens, catering to the cultural tastes of the students. Last year, for example, a lesson at one of the seven sites the mobile classroom visited included preparing "Not your average nachos" – with bell peppers, pinto beans, green onion, cilantro, mushrooms, and salsa.
Sometimes, the activities even go beyond traditional nutrition education. Last year, the Mobile Nutrition Classroom worked with (and learned from) the Hunger Taskforce Farm, giving Milwaukee Public School students the opportunity to do some harvesting and planting of their own, providing a fuller farm-to-fork experience.
"Our lessons were really dependent on what the community needed and what groups we were able to connect with," said Katte. "There's a need for nutrition education in the community. And going into the community, learning from the community, it can be such a richer experience than me lecturing in a classroom. It's a special thing – technical college students connecting with their own community members, seeing that they're really making a difference. It's the experience they need to foster the passion that ignites their drive to want to work in the field."
Yet, it takes more than community needs to keep a project going. The end of the grant period meant no more resources to purchase the food and and other materials that the lessons require. The mobile classroom was additionally limited by the schedules of the MATC students who were conducting the lessons, making the program most active during months that did not line up with southern Wisconsin's growing season.
As so many practitioners of nutrition and garden-based education can attest, even the most practical and innovative of projects can require a willingness to re-conceptualize.
And that's just what Katte did. Although the project has evolved from its initial mission of providing nutrition and food preparation education to Milwaukee's urban gardeners, Katte and her students are still working towards the broader goal of bringing nutrition awareness to Milwaukee communities.
The Milwaukee Public Museum requested Katte and her students give live presentations in their newest traveling exhibit, Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, and Culture. Free with admission to the exhibit, visitors can observe MATC students in the exhibit's demonstration kitchen, preparing food on the themes of "colorful eating" (March 9), "breads and grains" (April 27), and "the benefits of chocolate" (May 10). You can find more information about these live demonstrations here.

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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