Hello Spring! I am so glad you are here! I love the quiet of the winter, and the rain is something that is so needed. In the winter the deciduous fruit trees and roses rest. The birds hunker down for warmth in our cool southern California evenings. Then one day…it almost seems like overnight, there are birds everywhere! The trees send out their first leaves and little blossoms appear on the fruit trees. No matter how many years I have been through this transformation, from the quiet of winter to the busy buzzing of spring, it always fills me with great excitement and energy! Many farmers live by the mantra that “next year will be better” and it's that optimism that keeps them going. That is what spring brings for me and so many gardeners…. the promise and hope of great things for the coming year!
This year, while only three months in, has been a rough one in so many ways….and with that, the promise of spring and all its hopes are even more important. I think that childhood is in so many ways like spring, just like a newly budded flower or a tiny leaf peeking out from a branch, it is a time when one is approaching the world with fresh eyes ready to see what life is all about. A gift we can give our children, to prepare them for all that life has to offer, giving them the never-ending joy of working with your hands to create beauty and food, is gardening. We can teach them how to sow a seed, how to check the soil to see if it needs water, how to use their eyes to look for signs of pests or check plant health. In the garden they can also learn about loss and understand that we can't control everything when those darn squirrels eat their delicious tomatoes or pumpkins. They learn about wonder when they plant a pea seed that is hard as a rock and it seems impossible that it contains life, then it sprouts, grows, and gives them food! Parents and teachers can teach children about the cyclical nature of it all when they teach kiddos about letting plants go to seed, saving the seeds and having them to replant for years to come.
We are so fortunate to have produce in the stores throughout the year no matter the season and are not dependent on what we grow in our local gardens to have food on our table. This lack of need has meant that we, as a society, are losing the skills that were once commonplace knowledge. When I was a kid my grandparents, parents and auntie taught me so much about gardening, really all I knew about it, until I took the Master Gardener course. While the access to this bounty in the stores has made life easier for us it has also meant that less and less grandparents and parents are teaching these valuable skills to the youth.
We are out of school now, for the foreseeable future, but as soon as we get back into school these gardens, and the skills they teach will be more important than ever. Gardens are great at building confidence and showing kiddos that while they are still young, they too can grow food and provide a habitat for beneficial insects and pollinators. Children thrive in a garden environment and it is a place where everyone feels equal and valuable. Gardens empower kiddos, improving self esteem and teaching them about teamwork. So many lessons can be taught in the garden: Math and measuring by planning out spacing and tracking plant growth; Art by capturing what can be seen every day in a garden; History by learning about “new world” foods and “old world” foods; Science, of course, by looking at the biology, chemistry and genetics of plants; Writing through journaling; and PE by just getting outside and moving, bending, planting and weeding. Gardening is also a great place to bring generations together. Adults and elders can show children how much they know and show children the value of learning from their “elders.” Children can also become the teachers in the garden by showing adults and other children what they have done, learned and observed.
One of the projects that our Master Gardeners thoroughly enjoy working on is helping school and youth gardens get going. We work with schools and other sites throughout the county to help them select locations that will get enough sunlight and work well for gardens. Master Gardeners will help teachers, staff, parents and youth leaders select plants that are appropriate for both the season and that work for the specific needs of the school schedule and site. We help them understand how to use outdoor gardens as teaching spaces and give them lessons and ideas that are age appropriate and engaging. Every youth should grow up knowing how to plant a seed and tend a garden and Master Gardeners want to help make that happen! Do you know of a school or youth garden that might need some support? Reach out to our Master Gardeners and we will see how we can help!
-Just remember to keep on eye on the kiddos, they are still learning, and remind them to ask before they taste if they are trying something new!
Editor's note: Back in 2018 Maggie helped a group of Master Gardeners and teachers attend a workshop with Project Learning Tree, an environmental education project co-sponsored by UCANR and the US Forest Service. PLT's K-12 lessons are aligned with California Standards and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). If COVID-19 has you or someone you know in the role of home science teacher, PLT has some great lessons available online: https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/activities-to-do-with-children-at-home