You think watering is simple? Think again

20 Sep

If you’re a plant, you’ve been out of luck the past couple of weeks. We haven’t had a hint of rain, and it’s been hot as blazes. Everything in my yard looks depressed.

More importantly, all the newly planted seeds and seedlings at my daughters’ school garden are in danger of withering up. I can hear them now, “What is wrong with you? Why did you plant us now? Any real gardener would have known to wait another week or two.” (That’s just my Inner Insecure Gardener, imagining what my plants must think of me.)

Anyway, the newly planted beds in the school garden need consistent watering to survive. And so, as the garden ringleader, I’m faced with a dilemma: How is that supposed to happen, exactly?

Option #1: Let classrooms manage it however they’d like.

When we planted seeds two weeks ago, I said to all 13 classrooms, “Water your seeds every day.” I think some teachers got it, and maybe some others who are new to gardening didn’t, meaning that some seeds may be getting watered while others aren’t.

Even if classrooms are watering daily, the heat has been so relentless that the seeds actually need watering multiple times a day. When I walk over to spot-check the beds (which I do every day), they are almost always dry. I wonder, “Did classrooms water this morning, only to be outdone by the sun four hours later? Or did classrooms get caught up in a particularly riveting multiplication lesson and forget to go outside at all?” It happens.

The truth is, while teachers and students certainly want the garden to thrive, they have other things to do. Keeping track of whiny, high-needs seeds isn’t at the top of their priority list.

Option #2: Set up a watering schedule for them.

Maybe my advice to “water daily” wasn’t adequate. Perhaps a watering system or schedule is in order. Should one classroom be in charge of watering everything, with duty rotating daily? Should all 13 classrooms go out daily to water only the seeds they planted, ignoring the rest? How many times should they water?

I could set up a classroom-by-classroom watering schedule, but that’s way too much work. And besides, what I really want is for people to go outside, notice “Hey, that soil looks like crushed, dry dog food,” and water the garden. Keep your eye on the garden, not the pre-printed schedule.

Option #3: Pick up a watering can and water.

And then there’s the ultimate cop-out: Walk across the street and help water myself. On the upside, I would know the seeds were being watered multiple times a day. But if I do the watering, doesn’t it keep the kids and teachers from learning about gardening themselves? That’s the sort of enabling behavior we want to avoid, right? Right.

That’s exactly what I did, though. I decided to slink over and water the beds myself — just in case. Mostly before and after school, but sometimes brazenly, right in the middle of the school day.

But don’t shake your head in disdain just yet. Let me explain.

What occurred to me is this: Not everyone needs to embrace the entire act of gardening. Maybe a select few will enjoy watering, while others will discover the joys of harvest, or warm up to a new, unfamiliar vegetable. But if we don’t grow healthy plants in the first place, people will never have the chance to make those discoveries.

Right now, the garden needs extra support, especially given the ridiculously hot weather. And many schools employ part-time gardeners to do this sort of thing, so perhaps it’s unrealistic to think that watering or anything else will just happen without a band of allies ready to support the effort. (While we’re on the topic of supporters, I should mention that parents Alexa, Silver and Tereza have been a huge help with watering.)

I still remind teachers to water. I tell them they’re going to feel so proud of those baby seeds for germinating into fine, upstanding plants.

Students in The Pittsburgh Edible Schoolyard.

And many teachers and classrooms are watering daily. I’ve checked in with some teachers and heard that they’ve brilliantly set up their own watering schedules, and I ran into two teachers before school who joined me in the garden to water. Yet another group of teachers — some of the assistants — have asked for a bit more training on “how to water,” so that’s a good sign. Maybe next year, I won’t be skulking around the garden with a watering hose.

The best indicator of all is that the seeds are actually sprouting, and the lettuce has stopped dying. Or maybe it’s dying more slowly, I can’t really tell. I’m feeling encouraged, though, so let’s not ruin this moment for me.

What I’ve learned: If you’re planting for a community/school garden, think multi-pronged attack, when it comes to watering: Offer hands-on lessons, email frequent reminders, check in face-to-face. And through it all, be ready on the sidelines with a watering can.

Also, our school garden continues to need its wonderful volunteers. If you’d like to help, but haven’t known how, here’s an opportunity — watering! Let me know if you’d like to become one of the weekend warriors who keep our plants growing.

2 Responses to “You think watering is simple? Think again”

  1. G.S. September 20, 2010 at 8:51 pm #

    LOVE IT!!! Great post. It’s all so true, the delicate balance of wanting the school community to take ownership, but needing there to be something there to take ownership of first.

  2. Natalie November 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    Hi Alice,
    Like you I love to garden. We have just established a vegetable garden at our school with raised beds and two ground level. I loved to see the children working in the garden and selling the lovely vegetables. Also thought it would be great for art projects and painting and sitting looking at the plants. Sadly I have not witnessed any art especially with the younger ones are using it as a learning outcome.

    I was sad therefore to here that they were saving up for a fence to put around it all and limited the movement around the plants because they wanted to prevent people coming and vandalising their plants. I was sad to hear this as we are labelling people around our community as potential vandals and since March and now November we have not had one incident. Where is our faith in human nature.Fence is costing 1,750 +GST and irrigation system $760. I sent email saying that I thought we should harvest what we can before the end of the year before school hols and for those that are interested in keeping the garden going over the hols to set up a rota (lots of local children live near) as wonderful thing for them to do during the holidays. I used to love getting watering can and watering the garden. But no they are setting up a sprinkler system now so the children will not be taking ownership of looking after the plants themselves. Could get overwatered if noone changes timer if it has rained heavily. I was thinking of saving water and using only when necessary and using recycled water that we catch in a barrel. Sadly all the PTA and enviromental group think I am awful for questioning what they are doing? I thought the children who are part of enviro group would have enjoyed watching and looking after the garden and taking home the vegetables they have looked after. I am so frustrated. They have made me feel like a bad person.

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