Intensive Gardening: It’s what Kids do Best

March 27, 2014

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: Growing Knowledge Stories from the Garden

On the third class of the Winter Intermediate Gardening course, we talked about “Advanced Garden Designs,” specifically, intensive gardening and permaculture.

MundoVerde_watering garden

Here we are watering the garden!

We started by looking at intensive gardening: the goal being to produce as much food as possible on very little space. That was all I needed to spark my curiosity. With eight raised beds and 20 vertical hanging gardens, Mundo Verde Public Charter School (where I am the School Garden Coordinator) has a decent sized garden. But with plans for the school to participate in DC Greens School Garden Market this spring, I was feeling the pressure to really turn out some decent-sized harvests.

And, as I was about to learn, it turns out that kid-gardening is destined to be intensive in style in some respects.

“Intensive gardeners use knowledge of plant structures and needs to design inter-planting schemes that can pack more plants into spaces,” our instructor, Joe, explained.

“For example, instead of having a bed of all one plant, carrots can be planted close to a plant with shallow roots such as lettuce because they won’t be competing for the same nutrients.”

Sold. Trying to maintain the stoic English-style garden with plants in neat little monoculture rows is never going to work in a truly kid-driven school garden. It is basically a given that I’ll find carrots unexpectedly popping up near some tomatoes, or a lone snap pea vine growing in the midst of the salad greens.  Seeds in little hands seem to not always end up in their “designated” bed.

The next day at Mundo Verde, I drew a picture of a raised bed on the board for my first grade students.

First, I drew in some kale plants. “Class, let’s say this is our garden bed. We can fit say six big kale plants in it. We don’t want to plant them too close otherwise their leaves will get crowded.” They nodded – they were sold on kale after making our last recipe: “massaged kale salad.”

Inter-planting drawing

Inter-planting drawing

“But that’s not very much food….hmmmm, look at all that space underneath the kale plants in the soil. Friends, are there any plants we know that could – “

“CARROTS!!” they shrieked in delight as the light bulbs went on in their eyes. “Turnips! Radish! Beet!”

“Great thinking!” I cheered, a little astounded at how quickly they got the concept. “And what about in-between the carrots and kale? There’s a lot of space for plants that are lower down than kale but not in the soil. I’m thinking of an herb…”

“Peppermint?” one girl chirped hopefully, probably remembering the homemade peppermint ice cream we made last summer.

“Possibly. Or oregano, for example.”

And so out we trudged to the garden to begin introducing intensive gardening to our raised beds (this time on purpose!). Each student got one kale seedling to transplant, and one carrot or turnip seed to plant in between the kale plants. Intensive gardening at age 6 – not bad!

Perfect spot planting

Mundo Verde_Planting carrots

Intensive gardening at age 6 – not bad!

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