Young Sprouts: Fall in the Garden
5/13/2022 | Emily Jaeger
Autumn in the garden feels like a celebration. It’s time to harvest those pumpkins you’ve been eyeing for months. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere with colorful fall foliage, it may feel like all of nature is celebrating with you. But fall isn’t all about the harvest. It’s also time to start planting cold weather vegetables and certain flowers.
Both in the garden and in the classroom there are so many things for learners to discover during this season of transition. Whether you are implementing a gardening program for the first time or returning to a well-loved vegetable patch, autumn means a lot of necessary prep for cold weather crops and winterizing. Not to mention all the fun fall garden activities for preschoolers. It’s Fall, y’all!
Fall Garden Prep
Harvest. The fall harvest is a celebration of all the work you’ve put into the garden year-round. Bring learners to the garden by classroom. You can assign each group a single plant to harvest or work together to harvest one of each crop correctly.
Fall gardening tip: you can tell winter squash and pumpkins are ready when they have turned their mature color, have hard flesh and make a hollow sound when you tap them. Make sure to harvest before frost begins or they will be ruined.
Plant cold-weather crops. While fall marks the end of the summer growing season, in many places it’s time to plant cold-weather crops such as collards, kale, spinach, lettuce, and garlic. Certain flowers also need to be planted in the fall so they can overwinter.
Winterize. If your school garden is outdoors, you need to prepare your beds for winter. To avoid passing on plant diseases next spring and incubating pests, remove all plant debris. If you are composting on-site, do not add these to the compost bin. Add additional compost and soil to refill your beds then cover with mulch. This will protect nutrients from leaching out of your beds during harsh winter weather and block weeds from growing in the spring.
Fall Garden Activities
Back to seeds. In the spring we plant seeds, but in the fall we harvest them for next year. Flowers noticeably transition to seed production in the fall: their leaves fall off and their seed pods begin to rattle. Have learners harvest seeds from flower heads (sunflowers or whatever you have on hand) with tweezers. 3+ learners can practice writing their names and gluing different colored seeds along the letters. Also try out this easy, mesmerizing science experiment where corn kernels hop up and down inside a jar of liquid.
Farm-to-table. If you grow corn in your school garden, 3+ learners can harvest corn, twist kernels off the cob, grind corn in a blender or food processor to make cornflour, and cook up a simple cornbread. If you don’t have corn in your school garden, you can use popcorn on the cob (best) or popcorn kernels. Do not use decorative corn unless you are ABSOLUTELY SURE it hasn’t been treated with chemicals.
Farmers’ market. What better place to celebrate the fall than the farmers market? Set up a play farmstand (table) with baskets of fake food from the play kitchen or paper bag pumpkins. Take it to the next level and do a farmstand fundraiser for the community. Each class can make and sell baked goods, apple cider, and fall art projects. You can even host an apple taste test and sell apples.
What happens in autumn? Fostering environmental awareness can sometimes be as simple as paying attention to the natural world. Take a “field trip” to the outdoors and pay attention to autumnal changes. Crisp weather, flowers going to seed, fall foliage, etc. This is also the perfect time to check out what’s happening in the fall garden.
Introduce learners to seasonal produce. Set up a (temporary) sensory table with sunflower heads, a variety of gourds and pumpkins, cauliflower, kohlrabi, garlic, onion bulbs, pears, and/or apples for learners to explore. Do a taste test of fall produce and graph the results of learners’ favorite fall eats. Make an apple crisp or roasted winter squash from these ingredients and practice cutting with Montessori knives.
Explore fall foliage (if you have it locally). Learners will enjoy sorting beautiful leaves by color, matching leaves with color swatches, and even trying out this experiment to discover why fall leaves change colors.
Storytime. Connect the dots and weave the bigger story of all your fall experiments, observations, and art. Check out this exhaustive list of books about the fall harvest or explore some of the best books about fall for toddlers.
Emily Jaeger is a professional writer with a background in education (she's taught every age group from preschool to retirement). Her writing has been featured on Parents Magazine, Kveller, Motherfigure and more. You can connect with Emily via her website emilyjaeger.com or on instagram @soulinparaphrase.
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