Two years ago Steve McCracken, Special Services teacher at Terra Bella Elementary school, planted a vegetable and rose garden that he uses to teach students from kindergarten to multi-age classes (grades 3,4 and 5 in the same classroom) throughout the school year.
“We do so many cool things at the school,” he said on Wednesday, May 8. “The garden is a group effort by community volunteers. We are working on ELD (English Language Development) classes and students from Carl F. Smith Middle School come and help our younger students. I incorporate history, social studies, math, and science in my lessons for the students in the garden.”
Chad Mancebo brought his class of third graders out to the garden, which is surrounded by roses, and McCracken started a lesson by talking to the kids about the various plants and having them think of similar English words as he spoke about the leaves and fruits of the plants growing in the garden. He had the students touch the leaves of the cucumber plants and explained the plants are “alive,” and asked them if they had learned abut chlorophyll yet.
Then they touched the leaves of a peach tree. McCracken pointed out the small beginnings of a peach, and said, “You’re going to have peaches when you get back from summer break.” He pointed out all the bell pepper plants, which were thriving, and had the kids count the rows of eight plants and multiply them by seven rows.
He talked with the students about bell peppers and tomatoes, and said, “We’ll have a bunch of bell peppers this year, and tomatoes.” There are carrots planted, and radishes, and cupcake squashes. Some of the kids were talking about cars and houses, and McCracken said, “Cars and houses are not alive.” Then he took them to see the “Route 66” rose, and told the students that someone named the rose after the old highway because they loved it so much.”
McCracken was very excited about the peaches on the tree, and very thankful to Tim Marchiano of Bonnie Plants in Terra Bella, saying, “They’ve been so good to me, and it’s all for the kids.”
He said Tulare County Health and Human Services has also been generous and donated $500 for the school garden.
Besides vegetables, McCracken has planted three varieties of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and seedless blackberries, which are rare. There are also watermelon and cantaloupe plants growing.
The students next looked at a bougainvillea plant and told McCracken the colors of the flower petals, which were bright purple, the flower stamens were white, and bright green leaves. The kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves outside the classroom.
McCracken has built planting boxes and has drip irrigation on all the plants, and is very excited about how well the garden is thriving. But he says the soil is horrible because of the hardpan underneath. He has to constantly water and amend the soil with compost and compost-tea on a monthly basis. All the plants are organic, and no pesticides are used.
McCracken is learning about gardening on a weekly basis right along with the students, saying, “It is a bit of trial and error, but I love every minute of it.”
He has planted a bee balm shrub, and is interested in incorporating plants that will attract bees to keep the garden healthy.