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School garden plants seeds of learning

Some of the members of Butler Catholic School's garden club with their carrot harvest are, from left, Maddigan Smith, Luciana Sloboda, Breonah Johnston, Alexandra Swift, Layden Painter, Adelaide Livengood, Winter Phillips and Alexa Coyle.

Students at Butler Catholic School are really digging their vegetables.

Recent January snow squalls and wind chills in the low 20s haven't kept members of the garden club from harvesting fresh vegetables from garden beds through the winter season.

Planted in the summer, fresh carrots were ready to dig up last week, and arugula and spinach will be picked starting this week, according to Justine Brown, teacher and garden club instructor.

Winter harvesting is possible because the garden beds are fitted with cold frame lids, which essentially turn the beds into mini greenhouses, she said. The daily sunshine keeps the soil and plants above freezing, and allows cold-friendly vegetables to be grown at a time when gardens are otherwise dormant.

The students all were given a carrot to take home and enjoy recently. The rest of the harvest will be used in the school cafeteria for the salad bar and as fresh carrot sticks, and for making carrot soup, which the students will have at their next garden club meeting.The garden club is comprised of fourth- and fifth-grade students led by Brown, also a Penn State Master Gardener of Butler County. The lessons include growing information, characteristics of the fruit or vegetable, and a taste test.“The students are all official Junior Master Gardeners, and we are excited to expand beyond the basics of growing a garden with a healthy eating component through our 'Learn, Eat, Grow, Go' program,” Brown said.Using gardening as the seed, the lesson plans grow students' interest in nutrition and more.“The more we can educate our students about healthy eating habits, and where food comes from, the better they will be equipped to make smart decisions when they are adults with families of their own,” Brown said.“As a bonus, they are having so much fun, and trying new foods they haven't had before. Coming up on the schedule — arugula!”In addition to harvesting, the students are planning what vegetables, fruits and flowers they would like to plant in the spring in the school garden, Brown said.

Students track the weather — recording temperature, daylight length, wind speeds and direction, rainfall and other factors useful in planning and growing gardens — at the school's weather station. County residents can see the weather station results at www.wunderground.com/weather/us/pa/butler/KPABUTLE38.Students create their own personalized garden map, which many of them may use to plant their own gardens at home, Brown said.They also started to plan what vegetables and plants they will grow for sale as a spring fundraiser at the Spring Garden Market, scheduled in May at Alameda Park by the Penn State Master Gardeners. On their list so far are salad bowls and individual vegetable plants that they will grow in recycled milk cartons from their school lunches, Brown said.

Fourth-grade student Winter Phillips shows some of the carrots she harvested as part of the garden club in January.
Butler Catholic School's garden club teachers Elizabeth Baptiste and Justine Brown, along with students, begin digging the carrots from the cold frame bed. Arugula and spinach are also growing in the garden and will be harvested for use in the school cafeteria over the next couple of weeks.