Gearing up for Garden Season

Are these longer days making your green thumb twitch? Are you ready to get out into the soil to sow and witness the amazing emergence of roots and shoots? We know our friends at Community GroundWorks are enjoying this early spring preparation time and if you simply can’t wait to get gardening, we are pleased to feature their sage advise on indoor gardening ideas. Read on for a guest blog entry from the Wisconsin School Garden Initiative Brief:

Why Garden Indoors?

Zooming In – Gardening with limited space encourages children to take a close look at those few, precious plants. It is a perfect time to observe root structure, watch the miracle of germination, and appreciate the flavor in every leaf.

Bucking the Winter Blues – Research shows that even a small number of plants can improve air quality and elevate mood. Winter is the perfect time to create a space where children can continue to reap the physical, emotional and intellectual benefits of gardening.

Get Excited – Children make a personal connection to plants, and love watching them grow and change each day. Keeping children interested in growing and observing plants can also help generate excitement about your outdoor garden in spring.

Flexibility – There are indoor garden ideas to fit any space or budget. It is a great way to begin if you are interested in exploring the benefits of gardening, without making a big commitment. It can also be a new challenge for experienced gardeners.

Fit Your Garden to Your Space – Not every school [or backyard] has a greenhouse for indoor growing, but luckily, indoor gardening provides plenty of flexibility for working with the space available. Here are a few ideas to get you started — remember, almost any project can be scaled down — or up!

Smaller Spaces
  • Bucket Hydroponics: Use a 5-gallon bucket to grow your own soil-less tomato plant!
  • Lettuce: Ingenious tips to grow high quality hydroponic lettuce.
  • Microfarm: Grow one tray or a whole wagon of yummy micro-greens for winter salads or taste testing.
  • Mushrooms: Grow them in a plastic bag or on a small log.
  • Sprouts: The tiniest of indoor gardens — grow them in a jar or on a sponge.
  • Play Gardens: Help early learners get used to gardening with garden made of felt, or even a seed table.
Larger Spaces
  • Forcing Bulbs or other Potted Plants: Propagate your own succulents or trick daffodils into thinking spring starts in March. Use one pot or dozens.
  • Spring Seedlings: In late winter, start seedlings for planting out into your spring garden. Easy to scale down!
  • Hydroponics: Options range from the 4’x2’ salad table (see below) to greenhouse sized systems.
  • Aquaponics: Like hydroponics, but requires fish and moving water. Additional space is suggested, but smaller systems are possible.

Special thanks to Jennica Skoung, the Goodman Youth Farm Manager at Community GroundWorks, for this content and inspiration!

P.S. if you want to find out more about sustainable community- and school-gardening using hydro-and aquaponics, check out the Green Bronx Machine for truly uplifting stories of transformation and education – or our own local hero in urban agriculture, Will Allen and his Milwaukee based Growing Power which uses tilapia to fertilize crops in a recirculating system.

And, get out the tissues – it is so awesome to see the looks on these kids faces when the First Lady shows up to admire their school gardens!

To Do This Month:

Celebrate the official Aldo Leopold Weekend with these suggestions from the Aldo Leopold Foundation. Stop in at the UW Arboretum to take part in Madison Reads Leopold (check out this article from the Wisconsin State Journal), or find Aldo Leopold Nature Center Staff celebrating Leopold at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery’s Science Saturday.

Find other ways to usher in spring at Nature Net member sites like: a Spring Equinox hike at the UW Arboretum on March 19th, Adopt a Plant at the Madison Children’s’ Museum on March 11th or 18th, or join Museum Story Time at the UW Geology Museum on March 17th. All events are listed on the Nature Net Calendar.

Our Favorite Gardening Books

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For Educators:

Got Dirt?

Want to get a school garden space started outside your classroom window – and inspire the First Lady to visit your school? The “Got Dirt?” garden toolkit is the resource to help get you started. Developed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services Nutrition and Physical Activity Program in an effort to increase fruit and vegetable consumption in our state, this simple step-by-step guide offers all the advice and inspiration you need to get your classroom greens (and your students’ minds) sprouting. 

Provided information includes: top six reasons to have a garden at your school, tips for gardeners working with young kids, four point test for service learning, and info on the Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch Project (aka Farm to School).

To request a copy of the toolkit booklet, you can fill out an order form – or download a .pdf copy on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, which also provides funding ideas and other resource links. You can also find plenty of assistance, garden services, and inspiration from Community GroundWorks’ Wisconsin School Garden Initiative.

P.S. there’s also a “Got Veggies?” garden-based nutrition education curriculum that is aligned with Wisconsin’s Model Academic Standards for Nutrition Health, Science and other subjects.

For Families:

Build a Hydroponic Salad Table

Here’s one more of the many great ideas from Community GroundWorks: build a hydroponic Salad Table and snip fresh greens and herbs for the dinner table throughout the growing season.

Hydroponics systems are classified as either active – those that create moving water via an electric pump – and passive – those that do not have flowing water. The Hydroponics Salad Table is a passive design developed at the University of Minnesota that grows up to 24 plants at one time. We like it because it is simple to build, easy to maintain, and relatively low-cost. (About $50, depending on lumber type.) It can be moved easily between indoor and outdoor locations, and grows excellent lettuce and herbs. In addition to building plans, the inventors freely share tips on lighting and plant choices based on their own experience. The table’s footprint is 4’x 2’, but could easily be scaled down to fit a smaller space.

Get the full scoop on how to build the table, what type of plants work best, and how to feed them the correct nutrients from this info packet from the Horticultural Department at University of Minnesota.

Salad Table

Salad Table