The 12 Square Feet Classroom

Late summer has become my favorite time of year because of my small 4 x 3 foot backyard garden. This year, I harvested patty pan squash, hot peppers, and three kinds of tomatoes. There is no competition for me when it comes to my own homegrown foods versus the store varieties. It takes some effort o maintain this garden but it is worth it for me.

My garden planning starts in May. Each year the biology department at my school sells tiny little seedlings that are grown in the greenhouse over the winter. The weather in Chicago doesn’t allow me to plant these seedlings outside for another month, so I find a sunny window, water the seeds, and wait. Come June, I get a bag of mushroom compost and plant my little garden. I watch and wait throughout June, July, and the beginning of August…and then finally it’s time! The tomatoes turn red and the squash turn yellow and I get the pleasure of the harvest.

This backyard garden makes me feel like a kid. I experiment with the plants to find out what species work in my garden. I investigate different types of soil to use. I check in on the garden each day, to watch the plants grow, then flower, and finally produce fruit. It is my outdoor classroom, a place where I feel empowered. My garden keeps me engaged all summer long and allows me to combine my indoor computer research with learning in an outdoor classroom.

The backyard garden doesn’t just benefit me…my backyard garden, no matter how large or how small, teaches my family responsibility, discipline, and patience. It provides me a sense of accomplishment and independence. Finally, it teaches me about the natural environment…even it is only on 12 square feet of land.

About the author: Erin Jones is an Intern at EPA Region 5 in Chicago, IL

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