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A Colonial Kitchen Garden

Introduction

During the colonial period, most Virginians lived on farms and were relatively self sufficient. Most plantation accounts refer to kitchen gardens, but it is far more difficult to determine how common kitchen gardens were in an urban setting. Where kitchen gardens did exist, they were generally planted and maintained—and the foods from them prepared and preserved—by the woman of the house. In towns, such household gardens tended to be relatively small, while those in the country sometimes covered several acres.

Kitchen gardens were often planted with a variety of vegetables, herbs, and fruits. Planning and planting a garden was just the beginning of the work. Extensive labor, especially weeding and watering, was required throughout the growing season. In this lesson, students design a colonial kitchen garden and develop a year-long plan for planting and harvesting its produce.

Materials

Strategy

1. Using the information provided in the feature article, “Kitchen Gardens in Colonial Virginia,” describe the purpose of eighteenth-century household gardens and what was grown in them. Explain to students that they will each design their own eighteenth-century household gardens and develop a year-long plan for its care.

2. Show students the What Will Grow in Your Garden? list of vegetables, fruits, and aromatic herbs that were common in the household gardens in the 1700s. Have students select at least six vegetables, one fruit, and a minimum of three herbs to plant in their gardens.

3. Divide students into teams of two. Give each student a Colonial Gardening—A Year of Planning Calendar and a Colonial Garden Grid. Give each team a copy of the Excerpts from “Gardener’s Calendar, by Mrs. Logan.”

4. Display a transparency of the Colonial Garden Grid. On the grid, quickly create a sample garden plan for the class. If desired, keep the transparency on display as a student reference. Have students use the Colonial Garden Grid to design and organize their own colonial gardens.

5. Have student teams read through the Excerpts from “Gardener’s Calendar, by Mrs. Logan.” Using the information gleaned from the reading, have them use their Colonial Gardening—A Year of Planning Calendars to develop a year-long plan for their gardens (i.e. decisions about when to plant, weed, harvest, preserve and store, etc.). Direct students to use their text scanning skills to find references to the foods they selected for their gardens. When they locate their foods, they should note any gardening tips they find interesting. Conduct a general classroom discussion in which students share the garden tips they found most interesting. Remind students that gardening—in the 1700s or today—is labor intensive, and time consuming.

6. Have students share their garden designs in small groups or by posting their finished work around the room.

7. Encourage students to further investigate the topic of colonial household gardens by asking the following questions:

  • How do you think planning a garden for an average household was different than planning a garden for a tavern where many meals are served?
  • What do you think was the most important part of planning a garden in the 1700s? Why?
  • In the 1700s, why was it important for people to preserve foods to eat later in the year (especially in the winter)?

Lesson Extensions

  • Require students to use teacher-assigned percentages when designing their gardens (For example, 50% of the garden should be vegetables, 10% herbs, 25% pathways, 15% fruit).
  • Explore the topic of food preservation in eighteenth century. For information and a related classroom lesson see the September 2006 Teacher Gazette e-newsletter.


This lesson was written by Terry Collins, district coordinator, Sulphur, Louisiana, and Misty Belyeu, elementary school teacher, Auburn, Alabama.



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