How did the rogue lettuce grow so far from the raised beds where the seeds were planted this spring?
That was the question incoming kindergarteners at Russellville Elementary School were asked during a tour of the outdoor classroom with their former preschool teacher, Anne Brennecke, in summer session recently.
Perhaps the tasty leaves crawled or planted itself, the kindergarteners mused. Then, Brennecke reminded them it was quite windy the day they planted the tiny seeds and then much rain followed.
The little explorers were fascinated with every stop around the spacious outdoor classroom.
At the root garden, they were able to see the lettuce growing above the soil and the roots reaching through the dirt, thanks to a see-through wall.
Worms were one of the thrilling highlights, as the students passed around large and small ones found while Brennecke planted a pumpkin.
She hopes the experiment will yield fruit in time for October. And in the meantime, classes will be able to watch the vine and blooms progress.
The kindergarteners were shocked to see the orange daylillies in bloom, since the last time they were in the garden was more than a month ago when the mounds of long leaves were smaller without stalks.
And they awed at the bright colors of the rose bush.
But the focus of their visit was to harvest the lettuce and spinach planted by second-graders in the spring, in raised beds built by the high school FFA members, thanks to a $500 We Can Garden grant from the Cole County Health Department.
Many of the students noted they didn't like lettuce. But food service director Debbie Strickfaden hoped they would sample the leaves, since they picked them themselves.
"This is exciting; they learn where the food actually comes from and recognize it when it is fixed for them," Strickfaden said.
The garden lends itself to lessons in nutrition, science, math, physical activity and more, Brennecke said.
"We're still learning, too," she said.
Several years ago, a Missouri Department of Conservation grant added the outdoor classroom's center cement pad and the fish pond.
Brennecke hopes to see more activity in the outdoor classroom, both from volunteers adding features and classes making visits.
"It's been well used, especially since the new boxes were put in," Brennecke said. "Some day, I would like to see a butterfly garden."
A small group of community volunteers have stepped up to lend their gardening talents. A future Eagle Scout project may add benches and an arbor. Even the food service staff have been found tending the garden after their work day.
"I little bit of everybody is getting involved in this garden," Brennecke said.