The St. Francis Garden club students planted tomatoes from seeds. We were delighted that many of them sprouted. To give them space, we transplanted several to raised beds that we had filled with potting soil purchased from a garden store. The kindergarten students water the plants in the raised beds on school days and the tomato plants in the garden are watered with the sprinkler system. The two gardens are not far apart and both get full sun. The difference is the quality of the soil.
The plants in the garden are only a foot or so high, are not dark green and have no flowers or fruit. The tomatoes in the raised bed need support because they have grown so tall. They are dark green, full of flowers and beginning to develop tomatoes.
The soil in the garden is native Florida soil, although it was amended with compost. It is not as sandy as most Florida soils but it does not have as many nutrients as the potting soil that we purchased. We will add nutrients to the garden soil to stimulate the growth of the vegetables that we will plant during our spring planting and to help the tomatoes that are already growing.
The difference in the tomato plants in the garden and in the raised beds helps to remind us that the garden begins in the soil. If we do not make sure that the garden soil is full of the nutrients needed by plants, we will not have healthy plants. Good vegetable comes from good garden soil.
Our student garden club usually meets on Friday after school. Last week, students approached me to see if we could work in the garden after school on Wednesday since there was no school on Friday. There is always weeding to do, so that is what we did. Without the students help, we would have gone two weeks without weeding. With all the rain that we have had, the fast growing weeds would have crowded our vegetables and flowers robbing them of needed water and nutrients, so their volunteer work in the garden was beneficial to our developing garden plants.
Last week the St. Francis Garden and Ecology Club members got out shovels to prepare the soil for the garden. We created the paths to walk on, and heaped up soil to build the rows for the seeds. We placed newspapers, 4-6 pages thick, on the paths and then covered them with cypress mulch. The newspapers help to stop the weeds from growing in the paths between the rows. The mulch does the same and holds the newspapers in place. Both the newspapers and mulch also help to hold moisture.
We cannot buy fertilizer at this time of the year in Hillsborough County Fl. The new limitation is to cut back on the amount of fertilizer flowing into Tampa Bay during the heavy late summer rains. We can buy potting soil, so we mixed a little potting soil with the soil in the rows before planting the seeds. Students read the back of the seed packages to find how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart. They measured carefully to try to get the correct depth and placement for the bush bean, carrot and beet seeds. We also planted some flowering plants that were brought in by Dominic, one of the club members. The upper level of the garden will be planted in vegetable seeds. The lower level will be planted in flowers to develop a wildlife habitat, especially for the butterflies.
TheSt. Francis Garden and Ecology Club is getting ready to plant the first seeds of the season. We will care for the school garden and become involved in ecological activities in the area. At our first meeting 2 weeks ago, we cleared some of the weeds growing at the edge of the garden. We decided to leave the plastic in place to solarize the garden soil for anther week.
Last week we removed the plastic and began to prepare the soil for planting. Students were happy to clear the plastic and excited to have shovels and rakes in their hands preparing the soil for the seeds and plants.
In a post, Gardens Organization, I documented what we planted in the school’s spring garden and when we expected to harvest the various vegetables. The problem is that nothing grew. Nothing. We have a watering system that we knew was not as efficient as we wanted. but we didn’t realize how inefficient until we had months without any rain. Seeds don’t grow without water.
Late in the spring when it was obvious that we had a problem, the grade 5 students did a uniformity test as described by IFAS. Both classes calculated the amount of water collected in cups at 5 minute intervals for 20 minutes. The early morning class had a strong wind at the time of the test. The early afternoon class had a light breeze. The morning class found that some of the cups collected no water and others collected only a few mm. The afternoon class found that all the cups collected water but still only a few mm. at best. Our watering system was not efficient enough to provide moisture for the seeds to germinate.
The same system was in place last fall when we grew and harvested many vegetables from the garden, so we didn’t question the efficiency of the watering system. However, during the fall there were frequent and regular rains. We are discussing the possibilities of putting a better system in place for the next school year. One of the limitations is that the school garden is in an open area. I hesitate to install a micro irrigation system because I’m afraid it will disappear over the weekend or some evening, so something more permanently attached but efficient is needed.