Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

What are Annual Plants?

Annuals plants go from a planted seed to producing a seed within a year. They complete their whole lifecycle in one year or season. Annual plants make up most of our vegetable crops, and many of them can be harvested within 2 to 3 months after sowing. (Bi-annual plants are simliar to annuals but they may live up to two years before producing seeds and coming to the end of their lives.) Perennial plant are those living more than 2 seasons. (See planing perennials and fruit trees in school gardens)

Annuals are generally classified as a “warm season” crop or a “cool season” crop

Cool season crops thrive in cool areas or during cooler months of the year.

  • Generally they are the root, stem, leaf, and flower bud crops.
  • In mild winter areas many of these crops can “overwinter” if planted in the fall or can be planted in early spring for a late spring harvest.

Warm season crops thrive in warm areas or during the hotter months of the year.

  • Generally they are the fruit and seed crops.
  • They are often planted in the spring – summer.

Gardeners use planting charts or the information found on seed packets, along with average frost dates, to determine when to plant an annual plant. Both planting charts and seed packets refer to weeks before or after frost dates as a guide of when to sow seeds or plant transplants outdoors.

Average "last frost” dates usually land in the late winter or spring. The “first frost” date lands in the fall or early winter. Planting charts and seed packets will usually instruct you to sow or transplant before an average first frost date and to sow or transplant before or after an average last frost date.

Contact your local Master Gardener (In CA visit www.mastergardeners.org, your nursery professional, or the following to find out your region's frost dates.

Planning Your Planting Times

Start by finding your average frost dates:

Learn how to read a seed packet:

Then use information on seed packets or a planing guide like these:

Other useful guides:

  • Life Lab's Planting for a School Year Harvest – a simple list of edible crops suitable for mild winter area planting.
  • Territorial Seed Winter Planting Date Chart – winter harvest means late summer planting, view their chart Note: in mild winter areas some crops can be planted a couple weeks later than noted in their chart, but don't wait too long, you want your little plants to be establish before day light decreases and temperatures drop.
  • Organic Gardening.com : Get gardening tips, sign up for monthly garden reports for your area, and simplified information on the care and harvest of garden plants.
  • National Gardening Association's Food Garden Guide : Detailed information on planting, care and harvesting of garden plants.
  • Burpee.com : Great information on gardening and seed catalog, sign up for regional garden reports, visit their "library" for plant care and harvest information. visit their "nutrition guide" for vegetable nutrient content and garden kitchen tips.

Planning Your School's Edible Harvest

One of the most challenging aspects planning a school garden harvest is that most crops are ready for harvest in the summer months when most schools are out of session. With a bit of planning you can create a crop harvest schedule that fits with your school year.

Here are the three main "windows" for planting and harvesting in a traditional school year calendar:

  • Late Spring Harvest – cool season crops planted in late winter-early spring can be harvested before school lets out.
  • Fall Harvest – warm season crops planted in late spring (right before school lets out) can be harvested when school starts back up assuming the garden is watered and weeded during the summer.
  • Fall/Winter Harvest – cool season crops planted in late summer-early fall can be harvested in the late fall-winter time.

Seed packets and crop information sites list the "days to harvest". The days to harvest are an approximation of how many days it will take for your plant to go from a newly sown seed to an edible treat. Refer to days to harvest to help plan your harvest dates.  It is simple as setting the day you'd like to harvest a crop, finding the days to harvest of the particular crop and then counting backwards to determine your sowing date. Of course there are many other variables like the weather, irrigation, fertilization, and pests that may accelerate or retard a plants growth but all of those variables are learning opportunities for the gardener(s).

Click for Edible Crop Planning Resources including the chart above:

  • Annual Crop Planning for School Garden and Crop Planning Worksheet – a PDF summary of the information on this page.
  • Edible Theme Garden Calendar – an Excel document created for the Central Coast of California which can be modified for your growing conditions.
  • Edible Theme Garden Plans – edible theme seed packet collections and lesson ideas on how to teach crop planning to adults and older students.

Planning a Fall Harvest

One mistake many new school gardeners make is planting a garden that matures during summer while students are away. If you are serious about harvesting vegetables in the fall, pick long season vegetable varieties. Read the "days till harvest" listing on the back of seed packages and plan accordingly. If you want to eat fresh corn in September with your students, plant 90-100 day corn in late May instead of 70 day corn. Better yet plant crops that can dry in the garden like popcorn. Popcorn can dry in the field for weeks once mature whereas sweet corn needs to be harvested within a week or two window. Also remember that many vegetables need to be harvested to keep producing throughout the summer so make sure your summer garden guardians harvest regularly to encourage continual fruiting. It is also a good idea to plant later in the spring or in early summer so that the crops will mature later in the summer or early fall when students return to school

Try planting some of these crops in late May or June and come back to school with something to harvest.

 

Popcorn

Shelling Bean (dry beans)

Edible / Birdseed Sunflowers

Winter Squash or Pumpkins

Peppers

Eggplant

Melons

Potatoes

Tomatoes

Parsnip

Health Master Carrots

Amaranth

 

Try planting a Three Sisters Garden with popcorn, winter squash, and dry beans. Our friends at www.kidsgardening.com have a good article on the Three Sisters Garden.

 

Gateway School Garden in Santa Cruz has a great annual planting plan that includes grade specific edible theme beds with academic connections. See Gateway's Life Lab Year Round Plan

Wanna learn about planing perennials and fruit trees in school gardens?

Check out our tips for school garden summer care.

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7 days ago

Life Lab

🌱Moment of the Month🌱

Life Lab Summer Camps are always a beautiful and nurturing way to share the interconnections of nature with children. Although our campers could not join us in the Life Lab Garden Classroom this summer, we wanted to make it possible for them to have fun at home! So our camp team assembled Summer Activity Care Packages full of materials, recipes, and advice for 225 children who had already registered for camp. They then carefully and lovingly hand delivered them to each family, occasionally getting to say Hi! from a safe distance, too.

"Thank you so much!! I have tears in my eyes. Thank you for pooling your ideas together for non-screen fun and learning opportunities. We can’t wait to dive in!
With much gratitude,"
Ellie

We are grateful to each and every camp family for their kindness, generosity, and patience as we all navigated the new realities of this year. As a community, the camp families even donated more than $12,000 of their camp fees towards ensuring that Life Lab will continue cultivating children’s love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education during this challenging time.

While we cannot deliver care packages to everyone in our broader Life Lab community, we hope that our growing BackPocketLearning.org website will help families seeking simple, fun, nature based activities and healthy family recipes to enjoy together at home this summer!🌈🐝🌻🌞

#lifelabmomentofthemonth #mylifelab #lifelab #summercamp #summerfun #gardenbasededucation #gardenlife #garden See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

Our “Share Your Garden Saturday” video series continues with a sweet share from Emma Christie in the Life Lab garden at Starlight Elementary School in Watsonville🌸#shareyourgaredLL #school gardens PVUSD Food & Nutrition Services #LifeLab AmeriCorps See MoreSee Less

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2 weeks ago

Life Lab

In love with our @reneesgardenseeds flowers❤️thank you Renee for years of support & providing seeds for Life Lab gardens. We appreciate you! #reneesgardenseeds #lifelab #outdooreducation #gardensofgratitude #schoolgardens See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

“Education is a practice of Freedom” #emancipation #juneteenth #americanhistory #blackhistory #teachablemoments See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Happy National Eat Your Veggies Day!😋🥕

To celebrate today we wanted to share some of our impacts this past school year. In our seven PVUSD Partner Elementary Schools, 98% of kindergarten, 1st and 2nd teachers reported that the Fall 2019 NGSS in the Garden programs improved their 1,900 students’ attitudes towards fresh fruits and vegetables, their emotional well-being, and their connection with nature.

Our Kids Cook presentation brought exciting hands-on cooking and healthy eating to more than 1,500 3rd, 4th and 5th graders at these schools, too, in January, February and March. In tastings surveys 72% of the children reported liking or loving the fresh, healthful foods they ate, with 63% said they were trying a new fresh produce item for the first time.

278 second-graders from our partner schools enjoyed hands-on learning in field trips to our Blooming Classroom this school year. 59% reported tasting new healthy food items for the first time in lesson-based tastings, and 70% said they loved or liked what they tasted.

We would also like to remind you to eat a rainbow 🌈🥗

A diverse and colorful diet nourishes a strong and healthy body. All fruits and vegetables contain different combinations of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. In addition, they contain phytonutrients, which give fruits and vegetables their vibrant colors and also play a wide range of roles in keeping our bodies healthy.

Thank you to our partners and sponsors for making this work possible. @sagegardenproject @pvhealth @pajarovalleyusd
@unfi @foodcorps

#eatyourveggies #EatYourVegetablesDay #mylifelab #vegetables See MoreSee Less

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

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3 weeks ago

Life Lab

Life Lab Stands With Black Lives.

The injustice of systemic racism must end. Our work at Life Lab to foster empathy, love and inclusion with the children who are the next generation will continue, and it is no longer enough. This painful moment is an opportunity and a catalyst for us to take the next steps to more purposefully weave antiracist learning into all that we do.

This is a time of active learning for us, as we listen and dig deeper into Life Lab’s part in historical and present-day oppression. We see opportunities to provide foundational antiracist lessons and experiences more intentionally throughout our curriculum and programs, joining with others who are on this path.

There are seeds of hope in this moment that we can nurture in garden classrooms. Our work with children, educators and schools can motivate actions, large and small, individual and collective, to help create real change for a more just society.

Black lives matter, and Life Lab commits to countering racism through education and love.

We know this process will include learning, unlearning and relearning. We welcome this collaborative work, and we will report back to you on our progress.

~ The Life Lab Team See MoreSee Less

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1 month ago

Life Lab

🥕Meet Cara, our Garden Programs Manager!🥕

Cara began her current position at Life Lab in 2014, but has worked with Life Lab in a variety of roles since 2007. While going to school at the University of California Santa Cruz, she found her calling to be an outdoor educator while interning at Life Lab in the field trip teaching program. Graduating from UCSC with a B.A in Environmental Studies and a minor in Anthropology, Cara brings 12 years of education experience to her position, specializing in environmental education and professional development for beginning educators. Growing up in Chicago, she jumped on opportunities to volunteer and work at learning institutions, such as the Evanston Ecology Center and the Field Museum of Chicago. Cara moved to Santa Cruz in 2003 and loves living in a community that appreciates healthy living, eating well, and the natural world. When she is not hard at work, she is hard at play, hiking, dancing, cooking, traveling and doing yoga.🥘🌎😁 See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Our “Share Your Garden Saturday” video series continues with a sweet share from Abby Hauth at the Life Lab garden at MacQuiddy Elementary🌸 #shareyourgardenLL #schoolgardens #lifelab @foodcorps @pvusdschoolfood See MoreSee Less

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2 months ago

Life Lab

Eat a Rainbow this Memorial weekend! Fruits & veggies provide nutrients essential for good health 🌈🥗💪🏽 #chard #carrots #schoolgardens #lifelab #eatarainbow #nutrition #gardeneducation #teachtheyouth See MoreSee Less

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Life Lab 40th
Life Lab’s 40th Gala – Sunday, October 13th  Celebrate 40 years of bringing learning to life in gardens. Learn more  
Life Lab's 40th Gala
Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.
Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps
Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.
Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary
Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.
Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom
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