As the days grow colder and the leaves begin to turn here in the Pacific Northwest, I find myself thinking about harvest time. I am a haphazard and low maintenance gardener; I don’t know much about plants, and like many things in my life, I learn better by doing first and studying later. In experiential education, we most often begin with direct experience and then travel around the Kolb cycle as a way to understand and learn from that experience. I would like to use my garden and harvest to illustrate this educational methodology.
First, the direct activity: in my small backyard garden, I planted lettuce, kale, beets, eggplant, zucchini, and several varieties of tomatoes and peppers.
After the actual physical experience, we next pay attention to what we notice and how it felt. Here are some things I observed this year:
- It was fun to watch plants pop up at different times and notice which ones the bugs were most interested in (beet greens and eggplant leaves).
- The lettuce grew so quickly that my husband could hardly keep up before it bolted while I was in Nepal in July. Luckily we had many opportunities to share the bounty with others.
- The kale has been in slow production all summer and even now we have a steady stream to grace our suppers.
- One zucchini plant produced nothing, while the other was so prolific and the squash so large we continue to be challenged to find ways to use it.
- Anaheim peppers are abundant and it’s been hard to use all that we have.
- The different varieties of tomatoes turned out to produce beautiful fruit but it was not nearly as tasty as the kinds I have grown in the past.
- We also, without having planted it, reap the benefits of an Italian plum tree whose branches droop over the fence into our yard, and those plums are really messy if you don’t harvest them when they are ready.
Next in the Kolb cycle of experiential learning, we analyze what happened and then make decisions about how to go forward with what we have learned. Some of my analysis and thoughts about next year:
- I had so much more bug destruction than in the past, and I’d like to find out how to minimize it next year.
- I wonder why some beets grew so much larger than others.
- I loved finding new recipes using these particular vegetables.
- Some plants do better with haphazard gardening than others.
- I have to be more vigilant about harvesting zucchini if I want to eat them while they are small.
- I need to pay more attention to what type of peppers and tomatoes I buy if I want to be happy about the results.
Finally, we move forward into the next direct experience. I am already thinking about planting some new things I have not grown (artichokes? beans? carrots?), I plan to rotate the crops and stay on top of the plum harvest. Oh, and I think I will take a break from zucchini.
As educators, we often finish the school year exhausted, but find as we reflect over the summer, much that we began in the spring bears fruit in the fall. As you you move into a new school year, I invite you to think about what new ideas you planted in the spring, what grew during the summer, what you observed during your more reflective summer days, how you understand it now, and how you want to use it to inform your next experience this fall.