Gardeners have green thumb
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
Isaac Eskue carefully placed the wheat straw around his plant and patted it softly.
He glanced at the plant while getting up as if to say, "Now grow."
If tender loving care has anything to do with it, Isaac and his second-grade classmates at Wilson Elementary School can expect to see a lot of progress through the last few weeks of school.
Students from Candace Sage's second-grade class and Kim Schmeidler's special education class took advantage of a pleasant spring afternoon Wednesday to place the plants they had been nurturing indoors since March into the ground in a fenced-in garden east of the school.
The idea was the brainchild of Amy Jensen, kitchen manager at Wilson whose husband, Mike, is an avid gardener.
"I picked up a cucumber in the store one day and thought, 'Geez, a dollar a cucumber!' " Jensen said. "I thought, 'We should plant a garden. Wouldn't this be a great way to teach kids about where their vegetables come from.' "
In addition to getting some hands-on education, Jensen said there are a lot of other learning opportunities in planting a garden.
"Nutrition, physical activity, the list can go on and on," she said.
Jensen took the idea to Sage, the science teacher for second-graders at Wilson.
"Right away, Mrs. Sage said, 'I'm in,' " Jensen said.
So were a lot of other people.
Tony Stegman, head custodian at Wilson, and Ted Quint from the Hays school district's maintenance office, tilled the soil.
Sage and students from all three second-grade classrooms started numerous vegetable plants under grow lights indoors, all the while keeping journals that tracked growth measurements and soil temperatures.
Schmeidler's class was in charge of flowers and brussell sprouts. And kindergartners from Jonita Windholz's class planted more vegetable seeds in the garden.
Jensen successfully sought a grant from Midwest Energy that helped pay for a wire fence and a drip watering system that will keep the plants moist.
Jensen said she got tips from Holly Dickman, Ellis County's horticulture Extension agent who came to the classrooms. And the Ellis County Conservation office donated enough "Soil to Spoon" workbooks for the entire school.
Jensen donated seeds and the use of her tools, as well as the straw bales for mulch.
She also attended a school garden workshop last month in Bushton called "Dig into School Gardens," sponsored by the Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education.
Jensen plans to keep an eye on the garden throughout the summer, watering it and monitoring its progress.
"If we do get some sort of production -- no, when we see some production," she said with a laugh, "we'd like to sell it at the farmer's market.
"The biggest thing for the kids, I think, is the excitement of seeing something grow, and the pride," Jensen said. "They did it. It's theirs."