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Randy Smith Middle School students prepare for a perennial lesson

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Posted: Monday, April 18, 2011 11:26 pm | Updated: 12:45 pm, Wed Jan 16, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — Some students wore gardening gloves. Others didn’t bother, digging barehanded into the large plastic container of potting soil, filling seedling six-packs with the rich, black potting loam.

The Randy Smith Middle School Garden Club isn’t waiting for the snow to melt, student members already are planting seeds for the school garden under the guidance of Allie Urbanek, garden supervisor with the Calypso Farm and Ecology Center.

In addition to playing in the dirt, the students were learning some significant tips on how to properly prepare soil and plant seeds.

“You don’t want to pack it (soil) too much,” Urbanek cautioned, followed by a question to the eager students.

“How deep should you plant seeds?” she asked.

As students passed around seed packets, selecting and sprinkling some seeds in their palms, Urbanek continued.

“The general rule for figuring out the depth of planting is to plant a seed one and a half to two times the width of the seed deep,” she explained.

Students caught on quickly as she demonstrated how to deal with tiny vegetable seeds.

Simply fold the seed packet in half; pour some seeds in the creased area, and — using a pencil — push them out one or two at a time.              

Labeling each newly-planted container was the next step, done by writing the name of the plant seed on masking tape and adhering it to the side of the plastic six-packs.

The final step was watering the seeds without flooding the pots.

School nurse Lois Henderson found the perfect solution, producing a discarded water bottle with some holes punched in the bottom.

“This is a way we can use a bottle before recycling it,” she explained.

The bottle is filled part way, capped and turned upside down, slowly leaking water into the potting containers.

Eighth-grader Jordan Curry planted multiple seeds and matched labels around his six-pack with two vegetables — zucchini and yellow squash, and Tidy Tips, a flower.

Curry enjoyed the process. “My mom had a garden and I helped her out,” he said.

Throughout the Thursday afternoon planting program, Urbanek continued educating the children about gardening.

“Anybody know the name of a plant that comes back every year?” was one of the questions Urbanek asked the students.

“They’re really cool, she prompted. “They take a lot less work.”

Some of the seedlings will be on sale Saturday at the school’s Second Annual Garden Bazaar and Earth Day Fair from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Seedlings also will be planted in the school garden.

“Growing food makes so much sense because everybody has to eat,” Urbanek told the children.

The middle school’s staff agrees.

The garden initiative at RSMS was started in 2009 by Katherine Helmuth, an intervention room aide who has a background in environmental education.

“One of my goals was to get kids outside and learning,” Helmuth said. “And I got immediate feedback from the staff and we started the process.”

Not only did staff support the idea, they dug right in at the start, not only preparing, tilling and fencing 95-foot square garden area, but also incorporating it into their lesson plans, Helmuth said.

The Garden of Awesomeness — named in a student contest last year — is in its third year of thriving at Randy Smith Middle School with the strong support of students, parents, school staff and the Calypso Farm and Ecology Center Schoolyard Garden Initiative.

They broke ground in 2009, tilling and seeding the garden with field peas and rye grass to fix nitrogen in the soil.

Last year, an eight-foot wooden fence designed to to stymie moose and other plant-eating critters was built with the sweat and muscle of staff, parents, students and friends. 

A raised bed composting system is being used at the garden. Since September, waste from the school’s lunchroom and kitchen has been collected and added to a raised compost box. Soon it will be covered with soil and used for planting.

The garden allows wheelchair access, and the raised beds are at a height so students confined to a wheelchair can get involved.

A garden shed is being added courtesy of a Hutchison High School woodworking class. The high school students designed and are building the shed. It will be used to store garden tools and supplies. Proceeds from last year’s garden bazaar and a winter school craft fair are paying for the materials.

Once school is out, Urbanek will oversee the growing season into the fall, working with students ages 12-17 who are hired as educational interns with a stipend to work 12 hours perweek. Each school farm will provide a small number of CSA baskets weekly and sell garden produce at a school farm stand once per week during harvesting season, Urbankek said.

Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.

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