Cool, wet days and nights with temperatures below freezing become regular in October in the high desert. All but a few of the plants in your school garden have began decomposing, either in their beds or in your compost depending on what clean up method you chose. Moving garden activities inside the classroom or greenhouse will be tempting, and maybe necessary if there is an early snow. Despite the cold weather there are still some great opportunities for getting outside this fall!
October Garden Activities
Practicing Season Extension
Despite our short growing season and cold nights, with some season extension practices you can grow cool weather crops into early winter! Season extension is any practice that allows a crop to be grown outside of its usual season. Some examples of season extension methods are growing in high tunnels or greenhouses, using plastic mulches, and employing the help of row covers. The season extension techniques you might want to use on a small scale and in your school garden, are row covers and plastic mulch.
To create a row cover, you only need spun bond reemay cloth, available at most farm stores as well as online. When nighttime temperatures hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit, drape the cloth over your vegetables and secure it every few feet on either side of the row with sandbags or rocks. Reemay is a good investment for a high desert school garden, as it can be used season after season and has many functions such as insect protection and shade in the hot summer months. If you want a more permanent and slightly more effective row cover, purchase PVC hoops and create a hoop row over your garden bed, then drape the reemay over the hoops and secure on the sides. Reemay is a good investment because it can be used season after season if you use it gently and it can also be effective as insect protection and shade in the hot summer months.
Plastic mulch will keep your soil warmer than if it is left bare or covered with an organic mulch. The soil beneath the plastic will warm up faster in the spring, and stay warmer into the fall, extending your growing season! Clear plastic captures more of the sun’s heat than black plastic, but can also promote weed growth. Black plastic is generally the best choice for a plastic mulch. Using black landscape fabric can also capture more heat and keep down weeds in your garden, while landscape fabric does not raise soil temperatures as high as black plastic, it is still an effective season extension method. If you are trying to grow warm season crops like tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplant, or okra black plastic mulch is a must.
Some crops that do particularly well in high desert fall are carrots and kale. Check out this seasonal harvest chart created by the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance for ideas of what to grow for fall in Central Oregon.
Don’t get caught off guard when snow hits! Having to do last minute equipment clean up in the snow can lead to a disorganized tool shed. Make sure that all tools and equipment are stored for the winter, and no stray trowels or garden stakes are laying in beds. If you are working with older students or volunteers, tool conditioning can be a good activity. Gently sand and oil all wooden tools, you can purchase wood oil that is food safe (and safe for kids!) at your local hardware store. Have seed that you plan on using next year? Store it in an airtight plastic container. No matter how secure you think your seeds are, rodents will get to them without a thick plastic barrier.
Need some extra hands to turn the compost, glean the last of the harvest, and mulch the perennial beds? Ask your community to help! Hosting a garden cleanup day can be a rewarding event for both your garden and your volunteers. Invite your school and neighborhood community to help you with some larger scale tasks, and reward them with seeds, snacks, and hands-on garden education! Make sure to bring a volunteer sign up sheet with you to recruit community members for future volunteer events. If you can find a waterproof, portable speaker, some garden tunes can give an energetic atmosphere to your work party.
October 30 minute lesson
This lesson can be done indoors or outside, depending on how warm your October day is. Have you noticed interesting seed pods around your neighborhood or school? Collect them! You can use those seeds for this lesson as well as discussing life cycles and reproduction.
Seed Ya Later Grades 2-6
In this lesson students explore seeds and learn about how they are adapted for travel. They then search around the garden or other outdoor areas for examples of seeds that travel in different ways.
To understand how seeds’ adaptations aid them in traveling away from their parent plants; and to classify seeds based on their dispersal mechanisms, or the structures that allow them to travel.
- A variety of seeds that travel in different ways. Examples include:
- Soaring seeds: Ash, elm, linden, maple, dandelion, milkweed, goldenrod, thistle, columbine
- “Velcro” seeds: Any burr that gets stuck in your sock in a grassy field. (Note: A great way to collect these is to put a large old sock over your shoe, and take a walk through a meadow.)
- Edible seeds: Seeds inside of fruits and nuts
- Floating seeds: Palm, water lilies, coconuts
- Explosive Seeds: Seeds that spring away from their parent plants, like impatiens, sweet peas, lupines, California poppies, and pansies
- 1 large sheet of paper for each pair of students
- 1 bin full of water
- Magnifying glasses for all students
- Collect a variety of seeds, including at least one soaring, one “Velcro,” one edible, one floating, and one explosive variety, so that each pair will have 5-8 varieties. (Note: If a floating seed is difficult to find, a coconut from the grocery store or a photo of one will also work.)
- Prepare an envelope with a variety of seeds for each pair of students, including at least one soaring, one “Velcro,” one edible, one floating, and one explosive seed.
Seeds come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Coconuts can be as heavy as 18 kilograms (40 pounds), and the seeds of snapdragons are almost like dust. Dandelion seeds float through the air, and walnuts may be carried away and buried by squirrels. For all of their differences, seeds have this in common: They all have adaptations that allow them to disperse and reestablish, ensuring the plant’s survival.
During this activity, students will be classifying seeds that have been gathered from the kitchen and from plants in your area. If you collect seeds from natural areas for this lesson, please collect only a small fraction of the available seed from each species so that there are enough for the plant to continue to reproduce.
Together with a partner, make a list of all of the ways you can think of that humans travel. Make the list as long as you can! What are some of the ways humans travel? Have students share their answers. Ask for them to share means of travel they don’t think any other groups might have thought of, like dog sleds or hot-air balloons.
Now we’re going to talk about how seeds travel. A seed has a baby plant inside it, and for that baby plant to grow, it needs to land in a place where it will receive water and nutrients from the soil, and where it won’t have too much competition from other plants for these basic resources. Since a parent plant can drop thousands of seeds at a time, many seeds will need to end up at some distance from their parent plant to survive. But seeds can’t walk! So how do you suppose they are able to travel away from their parent plant?
Seeds travel in a variety of ways. Some soar on the wind. Has anyone ever blown a dandelion flower and watched the seeds fly away? (demonstrate). Some float on water (float an example on water). Some have little hooks that allow them to stick to the fur of animals that are passing by. These seeds fall off much later in faraway places. Has anyone ever had a seed stuck to their sock? (show an example). Did you know that Velcro was, in fact, invented in 1941 by a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral, who was inspired by the seeds stuck in his dog’s fur after a hunting trip? He looked carefully at the hook-and-loop design of the seeds and fur, and mimicked this natural model to make Velcro!
Still other seeds travel by being stored or eaten by a bird or other animal, and then being deposited somewhere else. Has anyone ever seen a squirrel bury a nut somewhere? Or has anyone seen a bird eat a berry and then deposit it (or poop it out) in another location? Did you realize that that bird might have been planting a berry bush?
Still other plants disperse their seeds by ejecting them forcefully so that they fall well away from their parent plant. When a sweet pea pod dries in the sun, for example, it opens up in a tight spiral, pushing the seeds away. Note: You can show students a very engaging 3-minute video of seeds dispersing at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZV0h4vfmQ or by searching YouTube for David Attenborough Seeds.
Today each of you will get an envelope full of seeds. With a partner, you’ll look carefully at the seeds and then classify them based on how you think they travel.
- Get students into teams of two.
- Have each pair of students fold a large piece of paper in half, and then into thirds, creating six sections. Have them write the following words, one in each section: Soaring, Velcro, Edible, Floating, Explosive, and Unknown.
- Hand each pair of students an envelope of seeds. Have them look at the seeds carefully and put each one in the box in the section of their paper where they think it belongs. They can throw the seeds in the air to see if they fly; stick them to their socks; try to float them on the water in the bin, and do further investigations. But they should not taste any of the seeds! Remind them that any given seed might travel in more than one way.
- Ask pairs to share how they think each seed travels, and what evidence they used. Discuss as a whole class.
- Take a walk around the garden and other outdoor environments and collect seeds. Look carefully at each one to guess how it might travel.
What kinds of structures help seeds travel? Which seeds do you think are able to travel the farthest? Why? How do you think habitat impacts seed adaptations? (In areas with a lot of water, more plants make floating seeds; in areas with high winds, more plants have seeds that can soar on the wind).
Have student pairs design their own seeds with various adaptations that would help them travel, and share with the class.