“Dancing with Smurfs,” “Banana Legs” and how I choose seeds for school gardens

There are zillions of tomato varieties out there! How to choose!?! I was a little overwhelmed this spring, having to choose seeds for 5 different school food gardens. (Don’t get me wrong, it IS exciting to choose seeds… but keeping track of your seed needs for 5 gardens can get a little crazy too.) With a list in hand, I headed to check out Urban Harvest‘s market stand at The Stop’s Farmer’s Market at Wychwood Barns one Saturday morning in March. Again, slightly overwhelming with all of the beautiful variety of vegetable seeds they sell. (Urban Harvest is one of my favourite seed producers.  They grow their seeds locally, so I know they’re suited to our climate. They’re organic, which I try to support as much as possible. They are super knowledgeable – Colette, the owner, has answered countless questions and provided tons of suggestions over the years. They sell their seeds at the markets I go to anyway, so it’s very convenient. And, they have lots of fun rare and heirloom seed varieties.)

I had a couple of criteria for choosing tomato seeds: I want tomatoes that ripen later in the season, so that we will have some to harvest when kids are back in school in September. I look for tomatoes that are more interesting than just regular round red tomatoes. I try to choose a variety of shapes, sizes, uses…

Keeping those criteria in mind, I still had oh so many to choose from! So what did the final decisions come down to? Fun tomato names, of course! When you’re growing vegetables with children, you want to make the things you grow as appealing as possible for them, and having fun names definitely helps. And that is how this year’s tomato selection came to include “Dancing with Smurfs,” “Banana Legs,” and “Garden Peach” varieties. They have proven popular so far… now let’s hope we can taste some in a few months and see if they are just as exciting then!


This year’s new tomato varieties.


Tomatoes aren’t the only exciting vegetables to choose, though! From amongst the many fun carrot varieties, I chose “Cosmic Purple” and “Little Fingers.” “Easter Egg” radishes are always exciting, because they grow into a mix of different colours. Tatsoi is a leafy green with a nice mild taste, which has converted many a child who had previously refused to eat green things, so I bought more tatsoi seeds. I also found that there’s a Rainbow variety! “Rainbow Dinosaur” kale was definitely a hit last year, so why not try some rainbow tatsoi as well? And then there are the names that children just find amusing for some reason or another… They like saying “arugula,” though calling it “rocket” appeals to lots of kiddos too. And one class has decided that “bok choy” is incredibly fun to say, so they planted some of that. I also try to plant a couple of new things every year, so this year we’re trying celery and quinoa at some of the gardens.


To introduce students to some of these fun varieties, and to get them to think about how the plants will grow, I created a simple worksheet that they worked on while I planted with small groups within the class. For the younger grades, students had to draw the seed, and then imagine what the plant would look like in 2 weeks and when it is ready to harvest. For slightly older grades, I created information sheets about the plants for them to use to answer a few questions about the plant they were seeding. And with the grade 4s and 5s, students used seed catalogues to learn about their seeds.


Planting a so many different varieties is not only fun, but also provides a lot of learning opportunities. Today, during a grade 5/6 biodiversity lesson, it was great to be able to discuss biodiversity in our food not only in a theoretical sense, but also to be able to give examples from our own school garden. And of course having biodiversity in the garden provides many advantages in itself: resilience in different weather and against different pests and diseases, different blooming times ensure a pollinator friendly garden, and of course having so many different flavours to try!


This year’s big seed purchase! Lots of fun things to try.

It’s been a fairly rainy April, but with some warm sunny days in between as well. Things are definitely green in the gardens, and it has been great not having to worry about watering. I look forward to tasting some of our beautiful crops – both the new ones, and the tried and true varieties – with the students in the coming weeks and months.

Happy growing!


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