June 1, 2010

Students learn gardening skills

Effort aids food pantry

By Scott Monroe
Staff Writer

WINSLOW -- Little gardens can go a long way.

click image to enlarge

GARDEN WORK: Winslow High School students work Friday morning at their outdoor organic gardens, contained in five boxes, as part of a a session in a “life topics” class. The harvested vegetables will be donated to the Vassalboro Food Pantry this week.

Staff photo by Scott Monroe

Some high school seniors say they have realized that in recent weeks after caring for five miniature organic gardens contained in box frames outside the school. Students and their teachers plan to begin harvesting their crops this coming week and donating the vegetables to the Vassalboro Food Pantry.

The gardening lessons, led by physics teacher Corbin Brace, have been a new addition to the "life topics" class taught by Jeff Wickman that includes 29 students in two sessions.

Friday morning, several of those students grabbed shovels, bags of mulch and watering cans as they tended to the gardens, which are in 4-foot by 4-foot wooden boxes outside the physics lab, against a south-facing brick wall. Students dug holes in between the boxes and planted chives.

Also in the gardens are beets, carrots, spinach, lettuce, radishes, kale and broccoli.

Tyler Averill, 19, said he thought the gardening lessons would be "dumb" at first. But he soon changed his mind as he was inspired to create his own mini-garden at home, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, peas and basil that he gave to his mom on Mother's Day.

"I didn't realize how much you could actually grow in a small space," Averill said. "It's pretty cool. I didn't realize we'd be able to make that much of a difference."

Brittny Knight, 18, said she has learned a lot and has also motivated her to start gardening on her own. And she was especially surprised by the taste of the organically grown vegetables.

"I didn't realize how good the food would taste," she said. "We made a mini-salad last week and it was really good. It's a lot better than store-bought."

The school's little gardens have been possible through several donations and a grant, while students have volunteered their time to build the garden frames after school, according to Brace. Johnny's Selected Seeds of Winslow donated $1,000 worth of materials, Home Depot and Ware-Butler of Waterville donated lumber and tools, and a $650 grant from the Oak Grove Coburn Foundation covered the cost of seeds, soil and mulch.

The "cold frame" boxes are also equipped with lids that enable them to capture heat because they're covered by a greenhouse plastic donated by Johnny's. That allowed the crops to be planted in mid-April.

"I don't know anybody who's harvesting lettuce right now," Wickman said, watching the students work at the gardens Thursday.

The experience has also been trial-and-error, Brace said, as some crops students planted have not survived.

But overall, students have learned important lessons, he said.

"The big hope is that the kids realize it's not hard and it's not a ton of work; you don't need huge acreage to grow a significant amount of organic food," Brace said. "And they've done a really good job."

Scott Monroe -- 861-9253

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