Teachers at Samuel Smith Elementary welcome the garden into their classrooms with portable greenhouses, funded by a Whole Kids Foundation Garden Grant.

Spring starts late in New Jersey, so the greenhouses allow kids to begin cultivating plants earlier in the season, well before the outdoor garden warms up. It’s also easier for teachers to incorporate gardening into academic lessons.

The school has 22 pre-K through 2nd-grade classrooms. The greenhouses, purchased from an educational catalog, fit neatly in the building’s windowsills. They look similar to a wire shoe rack, covered with clear plastic vinyl material. A collapsible design makes it easy to store them when not in use.

Many garden centers and online retailers offer greenhouse kits in various dimensions, from windowsill size to small walk-in versions. It’s also simple to build your own to fit any specifications with a PVC frame covered in clear painter’s plastic.

From the time the greenhouses arrived, teachers were able to incorporate gardening into more lessons, simply because the mini gardens are at arms’ reach.

Every spring, each teacher is provided with a few inexpensive supplies to set up their greenhouse, including potting soil, organic seeds and polystyrene cups for seedlings. All teachers are trained on greenhouse gardening basics and how to water properly to ensure the students don’t overwater, which is a tendency for young children.

Different classrooms grow different crops from seeds, including beans, spinach, lettuce and tomatoes. When the weather warms up, the seedlings are transplanted into the outdoor garden. Starting plants from seeds is a great money saver compared to buying transplants.

“It’s amazing what the students have been able to grow from seeds,” says Regina M. Genovesi, a parent and community involvement specialist. “Tomatoes have been our most successful crop. Growing tomato plants from seed is very difficult, but the greenhouses really help.”

“It’s amazing what the students have been able to grow from seeds.”

With every child having an opportunity to use the greenhouses, interest in the outdoor garden also has increased throughout the school.

The outdoor portion of the school garden program includes six vegetable garden beds also funded by the Whole Kids Foundation grant, plus a butterfly garden, sensory pots with fragrant herbs and rainwater collection barrels.

Indoor Greenhouse Resources

Educational Insights Vinyl Classroom Greenhouse Kit

FlowerHouse Plant Tower X-Up

Instructables DIY Mini Greenhouse

WalterReeves.com DIY Indoor Greenhouse