Plant seeds instead of transplants whenever you can. Sometimes it makes sense to use transplants because of the conditions and length of your growing season, but have students start with seeds whenever you can. Seeds are the first step in understanding a plant’s life cycle and the basis for observing and discussing the relationship between soil, plants, and animals throughout the garden season.
Plant with a purpose. When we select seeds students will plant, we have in mind how we will integrate them into the garden cycle. We harvest a salad in May from seeds planted in mid-March. We welcome classes back to school with a potato harvest and treat. We harvest for soup or roasted veggies in late summer.
Plant different varieties of the same food. We plant colors. Our goal is to have students eager to eat fresh foods. Planting their own food helps. Planting different colors of carrots, radishes, lettuce, or beets challenges students to distinguish flavor differences and preferences.
• We provide a planting map that shows coordinators where to have students plant. A planting map makes it easy for the teacher or classroom volunteer to help you pass out seeds to students.
• In advance, prepare your beds to visually show planting areas in your beds. We use flour to line sections according to the planting map or to make lines where furrows should be. We add one plant marker that names the seed that will be planted in the section.
• Rather than give each class a collection of seed packets, we repackage seeds using coin envelopes. This insures that we have the right amount of seeds for planting. Each packet contains enough seeds for one or two students (depending on what the planting map calls for), and is labeled with the type of seed, days to germination, and planting depth. Our seeds are prepackaged by the special needs class at the high school or by volunteers.
• If you can’t repackage seeds and must distribute seeds individually to students, have students hold out the hand they do not write with to receive the seeds. This eliminates the need to switch the seeds between hands to pick up seeds.
• Wood chips can be used to make a small hole or shallow furrows for seed planting.
• Fingers are excellent tools to estimate length. For the proper depth, model for the students how to use fingertips to estimate the proper planting depth. For example, use the pinky finger nail bed to estimate 1/4 to 1/2 inch, use two fingers side by side to estimate 1 inch wide.
• Gather several students closely together to model that overcrowding makes it hard for students to move without getting tangled with their neighbors. Likewise, plants need enough space for their parts to develop to be sure they don’t need to compete for resources like water or light.
• Remind students to pat the soil gently after covering the planted seeds to be sure that seeds and soil make contact.