Row Covers: Handy-kids extend the growing season in the school garden.

April 8, 2014

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: Growing Knowledge Stories from the Garden

I am not the most savvy of carpenters, but last week’s NFI Intermediate Winter Gardner class gently nudged me outside my comfort zone. I found myself with a neat pile of lumber at my feet, a bunch of screws, and a drill in my hand. Similar to an Ikea experience, if Ikea sold cold frames.

This week we were learning how to extend our growing season by building a cold frame: essentially a wooden box with a plastic top that lets in sunlight but can be opened and closed for watering and to adjust the temperature. Cold frames create a greenhouse like effect that allows us to start our plants sooner in the spring, and grow them later into the fall and early winter.

I thought about how I could bring this useful tool back to my Cooking and Gardening class at Mundo Verde PCS. I have many students that love to build, I thought, and it certainly would be great to get students out growing in the school garden for a longer portion of the year….but I needed a structure that wouldn’t require my early elementary students to handle drills and saws.

So I decided to go with covering our raised beds in the school garden with the simpler, less intensive row cover model. While this model is less effective at trapping heat than a greenhouse or cold frame, it is very kid friendly, and provided an excellent garden activity that required students to utilize math and collaboration skills!

My second graders were dubious that we were having an outdoor gardening class in 40F weather, but they were enthusiastic when they saw that they would get to use a tape measurer.

First we measured our raised beds, which were the typical 8’ x 4’.IMG_1455

Then we estimated that we would need a rectangle a few feet bigger than this to cover the hoop, so we measured out and cut 11’ x 7’ rectangles of sheer white mesh.

Next – being very careful not to poke each other! – we stuck thin metal rods into the dirt on one side of the raised bed and arched them so that the the other end could be planted into the dirt on the opposite side of the raised bed. “It looks like a tunnel!” the kids exclaimed.

Finally, grabbing the corners in their hands, my students pulled our measured out white mesh fabric over the tops of the wire frame and staked it into the ground.

“But how will the plants get water?” one student wondered. “Look closely at the fabric,” I said. “What do you see?”

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“Lots of little holes. So the rain can get through!”

“Exactly.”

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Next week we’ll use our new row covers to “harden-off” some of our seedlings that have been growing indoors under grow lights.

Watch out for this generation, folks: before you know it, they’ll be handy adults who can grow their own food and choose to do-it-themselves!

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