What will your garden grow?

Fruit-VegsGoal: Decide on the purpose of the garden and what it should grow. Select specific varieties of plants to grow.

Objectives: Students will…

  • brainstorm how garden can be used, who it will feed
  • identify spring, summer and fall season crops
  • identify food crops that grow in zone 6
  • research plant species and varieties
  • take notes on research

Materials: Vegetable Research handouts, seed catalogs (paper or online), posterboard, markers, glue or access to computers for powerpoints (can also be HW)

Advance Preparation: collect seed catalogs (ask GLS if in Cincinnati) or arrange for internet access during class

*Adapted from copyrighted material by The Food Project. Used with permission.

Time Estimate:1 class or more
10 min garden purpose brainstorm and discussion
10 min seed catalog lesson
30 min variety research and start posters or powerpoints

HW: complete posters or powerpoints

What will your garden grow?*

It is important to start your garden project with realistic expectations of how much you can grow and how it will be used. Most school lunchrooms will not be able to prepare food grown in the school garden because of school lunch regulations. Feel free to ask your food service coordinator about rules at your school.

Instructional Plan

Purpose of Garden
Before students select what they want to grow, you should conduct a focusing activity to determine who will be eating the food and when. This will help guide their specific crop selections. Ask students to brainstorm how the produce from the garden could be used. Some ideas might include:

    • Snacks for class
    • Salad days for x number of students
    • Take home to families..
    • Donate to food pantry or needy families
    • Cooking project like making salsa or pickles
    • Historic plantings like 3 sister’s garden or gardens representative of other culinary traditions.
    • Hosting a harvest meal in the fall.

As you brainstorm who will be eating the food, when they will be eating it, include what crops would serve that purpose. Once you select a purpose, conduct a more detailed brainstorm of what crops you would need to grow. Through this process, keep in mind that mid-summer crops will require regular harvesting when school is not in session.

Selecting Varieties
In this day and age, saying you want to grow tomatoes is only half of the battle, there are so many varieties to choose from with different colors, flavors, days to maturity and disease resistance. Give students an idea of the choices available to farmers by asking them to research and select specific varieties of each crop to grow.

Give a brief overview of how to interpret the information in a seed catalog. One strategy would be to reproduce an entry from a few different seed catalogs on an overhead transparency and go through the different pieces of information included.

After you give students an overview on reading seed catalogs (see below), have them break into pairs or small groups. Each group should focus on selecting varieties of one type of crop (ex. lettuce), so make as many groups as you have crops. Give each group seed catalogs and ask them to use them to research different varieties and select 2 to 6 varieties to present to the class (number will depend on how much of that plant you are growing). They should collect the basic information about each crop on the Vegetable Research Handout and provide images and unique characteristics of each specific variety. Circulate and answer questions as they arise.

You could have each group select the final varieties on their own, or get feedback from the rest of the class by doing poster sessions or powerpoints.

  • Poster sessions: Each group makes a poster showing images and attributes of the potential varieties (about twice as many as you would actually use). Have half of the students rotate around to the posters at a time while half stay at the posters to answer questions about the varieties. Have students vote by secret ballot they carry with them or by sticking post-its or stickers onto the posters to show their support of certain varieties. The posters could be prepared during class time or as homework.
  • Powerpoints: Allow each group to share their variety suggestions in a powerpoint. Students vote by secret ballot. You could prepare the ballots in advance while students are doing their research or simply ask students to write down the varieties they like.


Primer on Reading a Seed Catalog
Give each group a copy of the Seeds of Change catalog and have them all open to page 24. The Seeds of Change catalog has an overview of each crop type (green box with Agronomics in the title). This is where they describe the general growing habits of a plant or plant family. The Brassica Agronomics applies to everything in that family (listed below title). Have the students read through those sections aloud and raise their hands when they get to any words they do not understand in this context. Break the language down so they understand the ideas being communicated. For example, if Brassicas “are relatively cold-hardy and perform best in cool…” what does that mean in terms of seasons to grow them?

Look at entries for the individual varieties and go over the types of information included. See Glossary below for details.

Refer students to the Planting Guide on page 50 for details on plant spacing guidelines. The key columns to look at are Apart in Row after Thinning, which will give you a sense of the minimum spacing between plants, and Planting Depth (how deep to plant the seed). In the Crop column, the red DS indicates that the plants should be direct seeded in the garden.

Direct seed: start plants in the garden from seed
Sow indoors: plant seeds in trays inside and then move them outside
Transplant: move seedlings from trays into the garden (usually after last frost)
Succession: the number of rounds of a crop you can grow in a season. Crops that mature quickly (like lettuce, spinach, carrots, beets) can be planted every few weeks so you have a continuous supply.
Days to Maturity: number of days after planting the crop should be ready to harvest, can be used for planning succession planting, usually listed as “xx-yy days”
Frost tolerance: whether a plant can survive a frost (temperature below 32F). Plants with no frost tolerance need to fit all of their outdoor growing into the frost free growing dates, which are estimated at mid-May to mid-October in our region (zone 6) by vary year to year
F-1 or hybrid: plant was selected by interbreeding two varieties of plants, the seeds the plant produces will not grow the same exact variety you started with, so if you hope to save your own seeds, you may want to avoid hybrids
Open Pollinated (OP): seeds collected from the plants you grow will grow true to the variety, look for OP or heirloom if looking to save your own seeds. In the Seeds of Change catalog, assume OP unless marked F-1.
Harden-off: allow plants to spend time outdoors during non-extreme temperatures to let them get used to their new environment, usually done for longer periods of time each day, moving from shadier to sunnier locations
RH: relative humidity
Floating row cover: a light weight spun polyester cloth that is used to cover rows of plants. It allows light and water to penetrate but keeps out insects. It can also protect against light frosts.

Click here to download PDF file.

Click here to download “Vegetable Research Handout” PDF file.