Snow is still blanketing the mountain ranges that circle the Flathead Valley, but with only two and half months of school left, there’s no time to waste in getting our seedlings planted in our school district’s gardens. We currently have six garden classrooms and a fruit orchard in Kalispell Public Schools, and plans for a new container garden at Russell Elementary School this spring. To get fruits, veggies, flowers, and herbs growing in all that soil before the final school bell in June, we have had to get creative and use some tricky tools to hurry things along.
We’ve been very lucky this year to form a partnership with a community member, David Brown, who is a skilled amateur organic gardener, and shares our passion of connecting kids with healthy food. Dave has generously donated his time and expertise to help us combat some of the challenges of gardening in Zone 5. A retired carpenter, he used his woodworking skills to build beautiful wooden stands and LED grow lights for several of our classrooms. These grow lights allow us to cultivate healthy, thriving veggie starts in early spring that will withstand late frosts and unpredictable weather after they are transplanted (we got a bit of hail just this week). His lights are artfully crafted patterns of blue, red, purples, and greens, powerful enough to germinate lettuce seeds in three days! He has also supplied us with finely sifted leaf compost; a “mineral-rich soil environment that makes plants very resilient and able to withstand cold temperatures.”
The best part of being a garden teacher in Kalispell and working with community members like Dave, is that I get to learn something new myself every day. I didn’t know the first thing about leaf compost before this year, or much about compost at all, and I certainly underestimated the toughness of these little leafy green plants.
My students are loving planting tiny seeds in the soft soil and setting them under the new “tanning beds,” just in time for Spring Break. Even though the temperatures are still dipping down into the 30s at night, something about holding a new Johnny’s seed packet in hand and gathering around the picnic table near the garden with my students warms me all up, even if we are still wearing our winter jackets. Warm days will come soon, and we are ready for them.
This post was written by Jessica Manly, the second year FoodCorps member serving in Kalispell and getting the school gardens geared up for Spring!