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Garden Growing Well At Wheeling Middle School

Photo by Joselyn King Wheeling Middle School teachers Jenny Craig, left, and Adrianne Manning harvest herbs from the school’s garden.

WHEELING — At the Wheeling Middle School garden, students learn to sow seeds in the spring and grow bounty they feast on later in the year.

But life skills might be the most important bounty students gain from the WMS Garden. While the students haven’t been at school in recent months, their garden still is growing well and looking beautiful with the help of teachers, staff and the community.

“It’s nice we have such a green space,” said teacher Jenny Craig, who oversees the garden. “It introduces students to foods they wouldn’t try from a grocery store — like kale and eggplant. And they are liking them.”

Students also learn from the garden the idea of having green space and working with nature, she said. Many South Wheeling homes are on small lots that don’t offer much area for growing peppers or petunias.

“There is growing evidence more and more people are recognizing the value of interacting with nature and the earth, and having that green space,” Craig said.

WMS students assisted in preparing the raised beds for planting on warmer days last February and early March,she said. But didn’t get to participate as much this year as threats of coronavirus had them finishing the school year at home.

All the plants in the garden were provided free by Grow Ohio Valley, and still made it into the ground this spring with the help of Wheeling Middle School staff and community helpers.

“We’ve been blessed,” Craig said. “We have had lots of teachers who have volunteered all summer, and we’ve partnered with the (Ohio County) Master Gardeners.”

On days when the weather has permitted, those volunteering also have brought their families with them to enjoy the garden. The peaceful setting includes red and blue adirondack chairs, and a covered picnic area.

Marigolds, geraniums and other blooming flowers share space with the fruits and vegetables.

The garden is fenced off, and grass was planted with help from a $5,000 grant provided by the Ohio County Board of Education.

But the neighborhood groundhog has provided a problem, Craig said. She and another volunteer spent time this week putting up additional wire to keep the critter out of the carrots and cucumbers.

“I have had different groups ask to use the garden, socially distance and have meetings,” Craig said. “I just have to clear that with Ohio County Schools, but I don’t see why not. It is such a nice space.”

While students typically participate in spring planting and fall harvesting of garden items, the garden provides growing space for all types of outdoor learning opportunities.

The learning doesn’t end when the temperatures grow cooler.

Inside the school, vegetables are grown during winter months through the use of hydroponics, Craig said.

Craig teaches special education, and said she and her students have used vegetables grown at the school to make their own “Wildcat Salsa,” zucchini bread and pan-fried squash.

After school started in past years, garden items were harvested three times a week and laid out in the cafeteria for students to take home at the end of the day. Any remaining items were donated to local community groups, according to Craig.

But this year with the start of school uncertain, students and their families are asked to schedule times to come harvest items from the garden.

Grapes and strawberries are growing there, as well as most other vegetables — including cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, peppers, onions, carrots, zucchini and yellow squash.

Herbs, cucumbers and lettuce are ready to harvest, and some parents and students already have contacted the school about coming to pick some.

The best way to reach the school about obtaining garden items is by messaging through the WMS Wildcat Boosters Facebook page, Craig said.

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