Third-grader Trey Buckman says cherry tomatoes are one of his favorite foods — besides ice cream. It may have something to do with the fact that he’s spent the past two seasons planting, fertilizing and harvesting the tomatoes inside EarthBoxes at Gulf Gate Elementary. Plucking a finished product from the vine and biting into it is far better than any tomato he’s ever eaten from the grocery store, he says.
“It’s wonderful to see the first seed,” Trey said. “It’s a wonderful feeling — all the plants seem fresher. You think you’re a great gardener.”
It took an entire season for the students in Trish Taylor’s third-grade class to get the hang of caring for the gardens. Taylor said the students had originally wanted to give back to the Gulf Gate community with the produce grown in their EarthBoxes. Unfortunately, the first season didn’t produce enough food, so the classes prepared a Thanksgiving feast with the vegetables instead.
“All of the kids participated in growing and planting their own box,” Taylor said. “They learned how to plant corn, cucumbers and tomatoes, and now strawberries.”
But there have been some comical mishaps along the way, like the time they planted strawberries so close to the onions that the potent taste transferred to the roots of the berries.
“My favorite part is finally getting to harvest after watering and planting seeds,” said Simone Dyer. “It’s a messy process. It’s real dirt, not sand, so it sticks to you, and for the rest of the school day, you’re covered in dirt. When you water, you get soaking wet, but you have so much fun! When you finally harvest, it tastes so good, so fresh.”
Just as Simone begins to explain that the class always waters the boxes after lunch, her classmate, Brenna Nopper, bursts out of the school doors and into the courtyard, grabs the watering hose — soaking herself, the produce and the sidewalk in the process — and skips off to water her cabbage.
“Cabbage is my favorite,” Brenna says. “I think it’s just really cool. I really like putting cabbage in salad. I add ranch (dressing) and it makes it taste really good. I really recommend EarthBoxes.”
Simone says one advantage of using EarthBoxes is that they don’t require as much water as regular gardens.
“It’s good for the Earth,” Simone said. “You don’t have to tear anything out of the ground or take other stuff the Earth may need. There’s a reservoir of water that soaks into the dirt and no evaporation, bugs or weeds.”
Emma E. Booker Elementary is introducing its students to EarthBoxes as early as kindergarten. After the Siesta Key Chapel donated several EarthBoxes to the school, students planted basil, tomatoes, peppers and collard greens Feb. 26.
Kindergarten teachers Ginny Savidge and Ritta Yar have started story-and-journal projects to accompany the gardens, in which the students keep track of the produce they’ve planted by measuring its height, writing down its flavor and scent and even drawing pictures.
Savidge encourages her students to squeeze the basil and smell it as a form of aromatherapy.
“We keep the plants healthy and strong,” said kindergartner Irie Way. “We water the plants and measure. These plants are drooping a little — that means we watered too much.”
Students work in teams and talk about the similarities and differences between the herbs and produce. And, once the tomato blossoms grow into tomatoes, students will use them to make pizza.
“It gives children the opportunity to learn about the life cycle of plant growth through science, language arts and reading,” Yarr said. “It’s a hands-on project they can do themselves and take on the responsibility of watering and comparing plant growth with the other classes.”
How does your garden grow?
Gulf Gate Elementary
Emma E. Booker Elementary
Red bell peppers
Yellow bell peppers
Contact Loren Mayo at [email protected].