December 2015 Newsletter

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December in the Garden

Poinsettias at Whiting Farm in Auburn

We have had a long, mild fall, giving school gardeners extra time to clean up gardens, cut perennials back, and put away tools and pots. Using plastic or heavy fabric row covers will further extend this unusual growing season. Take similar precautions to protect crops from frost in unheated high tunnels.


Do a final check to make sure tools are clean and dry and pots washed with soapy water. Hoses, rain barrels and garden ornaments need to be collected and stored in a secure place. New plantings should be mulched, especially garlic. Mulching bare soil will protect your garden from erosion. If you are looking to start or expand your garden space, layer mulch on new ground for a "lasagna garden."  


Talk to your custodians or facilities personnel so that they know where paths need to be cleared (to the compost bins, garden shed, hoop house, etc.). They may also need to know how to remove snow from a hoop or green house so the structure isn’t damaged and sunlight can get in.


Contact your county Cooperative Extension Service for a soil testing kit if you have not yet done so. The directions are very clear and you can get results earlier than if you wait until the springtime when most people send in their samples. A standard soil test kit is $15, but there is a winter discount if the sample is received between January 1 and March 1.


Order seed catalogs! (learn about their school fundraising program!) (check out their USA Phenology lilac and learn more about about the national observation project here.)


Before you start browsing these delightful publications and get carried away with a lengthy wish list, reflect on your notes and consider the performance of your 2015 garden and how to improve in 2016. Do you want to stick with that heat resistant lettuce variety? Should you plant more onions? Did you plant your broccoli too close together? Make a plan for 2016 and figure out what you actually need for seed and tools. This is also a good time of year to develop a budget and fundraising plan.


Plan classroom lessons for winter months with your garden team or committee. Consider lessons on composting, including vermiculture (composting with worms), pollinators, soils, seed starting, growing monocot and dicot seeds, as well as cooking and taste testing projects. If you have hardy greens growing or carrots of different colors (rainbow varieties), have a taste test to see which varieties kids prefer.

Taste test with Rainbow Carrots

Orono Gardening Club entry at Common Ground Country Fair Exhibition


  • Enough carrots for students to sample each color
  • 2-3 different dips or salad dressings
  • Spoons, small bowls and paper plates
  • Knives (sharp enough to cut carrots up or have an adult do this)
  • Peelers

Students pick enough carrots from the garden for the whole class to sample. If you’re keeping records on amount of produce harvested, weigh the carrots and record. Take the tops off (good for compost, or make a pesto!), wash them well and peel. The teacher, cafeteria workers or  supervised children should cut up the carrots and put each color on a different plate.

Have 4-5 students at a time come up and take several carrots.

Ask the students to describe the different carrots (taste, smell, how they look) and note their similarities and differences. Which color carrot did they like best and why? Graph their preferences. You could calculate what fraction or percentage of students liked each color, depending on the grade level you’re working with. You could also have students do a writing prompt or creative story about carrots.