By Carol Wilcox
At The Butterfly Garden, an outdoor nature preschool in Cedar Park, Texas, embracing the weather is a daily event. Rain or shine, our school is in session, and we are outside. As the summer months approach, we experience more shine than rain, and the Texas sun creates an environment that can be downright hot and steamy. Seeking respite in the shade helps us to get through the hottest of those hot days. Happily, we discovered a wonderful gardening project in which our students, ages 3 – 6, can create their own canopy of shade: a Pole Bean Teepee
To create our pole bean teepee, we staked four 6-foot bamboo poles into the ground in a 4 foot diameter circle. The bamboo poles were spaced evenly around the circle and driven into the ground 6 inches deep. The poles were pulled together at the top and secured with twine. We then wrapped twine around the cluster of poles, leaving one section open for a door. The children built mounds of soil about 3 inches tall at the base of each bamboo pole. They planted three pole bean seeds in each mound and watered them thoroughly. They then watched eagerly for their seeds to sprout which began to happen within about 10 days.
As the bean vines grew, we tended them daily, trained them up the bamboo poles, and watered them deeply each week. The vines climbed the bamboo rods until they formed a lovely green teepee. The children were delighted when the green beans began to grow all over the vines, and harvesting them to share with their families gave them great pride. We had planted both green beans and Chinese red noodle beans, so discovering that “green” beans are not always green added to the adventure!
Earlier in the school year, we had planted a pear tree and a peach tree, and the children talked about how once these got larger, they would provide shade like the big oak trees on the property. In the meantime, the pole bean teepee provided a child-size shady hideout in an otherwise sun-drenched garden. And it was a project they had tended and nurtured with their own small hands.
Carol Wilcox and Janine Carpenter are co-owners of The Butterfly Garden, an outdoor nature preschool and forest kindergarten in Cedar Park, Texas.