The Greentree Naturals Pumpkin Project™
The Pumpkin Project is a wonderful opportunity to connect the school children with farming. What better way to plan for the future than to share a farming project with children? We need to cultivate our future farmers! One way to encourage this is to start with the first graders, although this project would be a success with K-6 as well. It is easy to find teachers and elementary school’s interested in becoming involved in this type of project. For teachers to identify local farmers, I would suggest contacting your local farmers market representative.
If you are a farmer interested in doing this kind of project, any local elementary school will have teachers anxious and willing to participate!
Sandpoint Waldorf School
First and Second
Grade Class 2008
Where to begin? In early March, I contacted a local elementary school teacher about the project. In Mid-May, I went into the classroom with pumpkins that had stored over winter to show the children where the seeds come from. Each child received a pot, potting soil and two pumpkin seeds. This included a little biology lesson, how the plants grow, what they need to grow. Each student kept a journal, in which they recorded germination date, their plant’s height and how many leaves it grew. They also drew pictures to record the changes.
The Pumpkin Project™
Anytime you bring nature into the learning process, children are naturally motivated. The seedlings grew for four weeks in the classroom on a windowsill. A week before transplanting to our farm, they hardened them off by taking them outside in the mornings, and returning them to the windowsill at the end of the school day.
Just before school let out for the summer season, the children came to our farm to transplant their little pumpkin plants in the garden. Each child transplanted and watered in their pumpkin, and placed a decorated marker with their name on it next to their plant. The students became very attached to their seedlings in those four weeks. One little girl even kissed her pumpkin plant good-by!
In the fall, shortly after the frost was on the pumpkin and the children had gone back to school, the school bus returned to the farm with the classroom for the harvest. Anyone that has grown pumpkins knows that they vine and intertwine with each other. With the stakes marked with each child’s name, each student had a starting point. Their job and game for the harvest was to follow the vine from their stake and find their own pumpkin. The kids were so excited! They had contests to see how many pumpkins per plant and who had the biggest. The children’s enthusiasm will keep us repeating this project year after year.
It is important to be involved in the community that you are living in. As farmers, we tend to often isolate ourselves from our customers. Having a successful small business means letting the public know who you are. By participating in a project like this, you have a great opportunity to educate children and their parents. I would like to encourage you as growers to include an educational component with your spring planting this year.
Growing a pumpkin is one way to get students to think about how plants grow and what farmers do to grow the food they eat every day. Where do pumpkins come from? Where does any of the food you eat come from? The following activities will help your students think about how plants grow and how important plants are as food.
Make a date with a local school teacher about three weeks before the last frost date in your area . You will need two pumpkin seeds per student, one four inch pot per student, enough soil to fill all of the pots, tags for placing the child’s name on their plant, something to hold the soil (a plastic wash tub works well) and wooden stakes for marking the pumpkin plants once they are transplanted to the farm.
Doing the Activity
1. Have the students brainstorm a list of foods that come from plants. You may want to point out that many plant foods are not obvious. French Fries come from potatoes, catsup comes from tomatoes, bread comes from wheat, and so on. Don’t forget the pumpkin pie! List their suggestions on the chalk board.
2. Point out that all of these foods come from plants, and all of these plants started as seeds. How does a plant grow from a tiny seed? There are many directions you can take to include basic biology into your session.
3. Divide the students into groups and distribute the soil, pots and seeds.
4. Once students have planted their seeds, have them place their name tag or decorated garden marker in each pot. They should keep a daily diary of what happens from the planting day. They can note the date the seedling emerged from the soil, and measure its growth every day. Drawing a picture of their pumpkin seedling is also a good idea.
It is important that the seedlings be turned daily to keep them from getting elongated if they are in a window and that time is allowed for the plants to harden off prior to planting out at the farm site.
Schedule a date a week before school lets out for the season to have the children come to the farm to transplant their seedlings out into the field.
The planting area should be ready for transplanting the seedlings. We usually place a weed mat down that already has holes cut in it with the appropriate spacing for pumpkins. Since the school year often ends before the last frost date in our area, we will place wire hoops over the row and attach remay or some sort of frost protection over the seedlings for the first several weeks to assure survival.
In the fall, after the children have returned to school, and the frost is on the pumpkin, the children return to the farm to harvest their pumpkins.