EAST COUNTY — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays after she finishes eating lunch with her classmates, fourth-grade B.D. Gullett student Zoey Lipton rushes outside to care for her other friends.
The 9-year-old is one of three students who, under Cafeteria Manager Joey TerMaat’s guidance, planted fruits, vegetables and herbs inside EarthBoxes about two weeks ago. The plastic boxes provide growing space for plants of the gardener’s choice, with few maintenance and environment requirements.
The nine boxes at Gullett include food items such as kale, bok choy and strawberries, Zoey’s favorite.
As part of the tri-weekly routine, she completes alongside her friends, 9-year-olds Devin Riggs and Julie Cruger, she pours water down a black tube in a corner of the box — but not too much, she instructs while pointing to the overflow hole at the bottom of the box that holds the strawberries.
The hydroponic system focuses on the ability of the plant to essentially water itself, as long as the caretaker fills the box to its limit — when water seeps from the overflow hole. The rest is up to the box.
In some situations, too much water can be a problem, however.
“I’ve learned a lot about how much water can affect how the plants grow,” Lipton said. “We had some plants die because of all the rain, I think.”
She points to the empty box to her left, where tomatoes should have been growing. She sighs and explains that too much rain over the last few weeks, she speculates, drowned the would-be vegetable. EarthBox instructions explain that excess amounts of rainfall can be harmful to tomatoes.
The school’s garden is not just to give the students an extracurricular activity to keep them busy, however.
For months, TerMaat planned to start the project and involve students, after seeing the children’s support for the school’s garden club. TerMaat and Gullett Principal Kathy Hayes want to teach students more about from where their food originates before it’s put on their plates at lunchtime.
“It’s great that the kids get to see what vegetables look like from the early stages,” Hayes said. “They get to see how they grow.”
After gardening for a few weeks, Zoey already has asked her mother for something.
“I told her that when we move into our new house next year, I want my own garden,” Zoey said, smiling, before hurrying back to class.
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