Winter may strike many northwest gardeners as a well-deserved rest from food production and maintenance. In my own garden, I have long since removed the last of the summer’s tomatoes, planted fall roots such as carrots and beets, sown a cover crop, broadcast native wildflower seed, and covered any open ground with mulch. Surprisingly, the zinnias I planted in the spring were still blooming in December, and when I visited the garden each week to make sure everything was still in order last month, I would catch glimpses of late season pollinators among the flowers.
While the flowers and pollinators are nowhere to be found now, life in the garden has not stalled, it has only mellowed. For those of us working with schools, student involvement in the garden need not be limited to fall/spring planting and winterization. Winter is an excellent time for students to appreciate the more subtle fruits of their labor through guided observation.
What questions do students have about their enviornment? Winter may be a time of slowed growth, but the garden is still undergoing seasonal change. Ideally, sit spots can be practiced over the course of a winter, so that students can use their observations to draw conclusions about how the garden is changing over time. This is also a great mindfulness activity for students—an opportunity for students to calm their inner life and focus on the present.
Take your students outside. Still your bodies and quiet your voices. Either together, or in individual sit spots, take 5-10 minutes to simply notice the world around you. What animals and/or insects do you see and hear? How have the plants in the garden changed since your last visit?
Winter weather can, however, preclude significant time spent outside. Observation activities need not be limited to the garden. In the classroom, consider making time to take an in-depth look at the seeds you planted in the fall. Start with a seed dissection, teaching basic seed science so that students can gain a deeper understanding of the life cycle of the plants they have tended in their garden. Students can use their learning to develop hypotheses about how a wildflower seed planted in the winter knows when it is time to start to grow.
If you planted bulbs such as tulips, garlic, or shallots, consider taking an in-depth look at the anatomy of each. Teach students to differentiate between true bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes. These activities will support students in imagining what is going on under the soil in their garden, and will deepen their understanding of the biology behind seasonal gardening practices. If you are feeling ambitious, refer back to this post written last year on forcing bulbs in the classroom, or check out this lesson at Kids Gardening . Further build your own knowledge surrounding bulbs, corms, tubers, and rhizomes here.
If you are looking to further improve your winter garden with your students, check out the resources below.
- Oregon State University Extension suggestions for January gardening here
- Oregon Metro has these tips for planning a winter wildlife garden
- Portland nursery recommends these plants for a winter garden
Winter may be slow in the garden, but the season provides a plethora of learning opportunities for students. Where spring and fall can be hectic, full of planting, weeding, and harvesting, winter is a time to check in with the place, and to be conscious of the relationship that you and your students are building with the site. Mindfulness has found its way into school curricula with good reason–and it has a place in garden programs too. Let winter teach you and your students to slow down, observe, and appreciate the quietly bustling habitat that has grown from your work in spring, summer, and fall.
By Kassia Rudd Washington County Programs Coordinator