A Garden of their Own

April 5, 2017

Farmers and gardeners aren’t the only ones preparing for spring planting. At Palmer Home for Children, many of the children are getting ready for a garden of their own.

Mary Tuggle, Greenhouse and Garden Manager, has coordinated with the Mississippi State Extension Service to implement an agricultural literacy program for residents on the Columbus campus. Geared around STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) principles, the program teaches children how to germinate seeds, grow the seeds into small plants, transplant them into the garden and harvest the produce for consumption.

“We’ve grown a garden for ten years,” said Tuggle, “but this is the first time to break it down as an instructional ag-lit program.”

Children of all ages are involved. The youngest students at Palmer School, Kindergarten through third grade, take weekly tours through the greenhouses to watch the progress of the planting. They will also plant a germinated seed and watch it grow into a flower they can take back to their cottage for Mother’s Day. Students in fourth through sixth grades will plant in raised beds while older students in grades seven through twelve have already begun germinating seeds for the larger gardens.

“All the children are exposed to the program at different levels,” said Tuggle.

Earlier this spring, the students germinated the seeds and moved them to a three-pack, where the plants will grow until they (and the weather) are ready for planting. This week, Tuggle will demonstrate worm composting with the younger groups.

The students will grow a variety of vegetables throughout the seasons. For the early spring, older students planted in three-packs broccoli, tomatoes and peppers while younger students planted spinach and snow peas. Later, they will plant radishes, carrots, lettuce, chard, corn, squash, cucumber, green beans and cauliflower.

“They do all their gardening work after school. I don’t rush them. I let them take the time to nurture their plants,” said Tuggle.

The students are able to choose what crop they wish to grow, but Tuggle has one rule they must follow, “If you plant it, you must taste it.”

Fourth through sixth graders will plant their crops in seven, twelve-by-four-foot raised beds. The beds won’t require farming implements, which makes it safer for the younger students. The knee high beds also keep students from having to lean so far into their beds during planting and maintenance.

The older students have their own space in a fifty-by-one-hundred-foot garden to work. While they are responsible for their own plants, they are also expected to assist their peers.

“In the garden they learn to work together as a team and nurture life,” said Tuggle.

The children also learned to only plant what they can manage—a lesson that came when the snow peas were germinated and the children wanted to plant every seed they had.

When Tuggle first presented the program and asked for volunteers, most of the children were hesitant, but as non-participating students have seen the seeds germinate, the volunteers have grown. By the end of April, she expects all the students will be participating.

In addition to planting and nurturing the vegetables, students fifteen and older assist in maintenance around the garden. They’re learning how to use a tiller, tractor implements and other tools of the trade.

Unlike past years, crops from the Palmer Home greenhouses and garden won’t be for sale to the public; however, they will find a place on the tables of the cottages throughout Palmer Home’s Columbus campus, providing nourishment to residents throughout the year.