2017-05-19 / Home & Garden

Spring salad gardens at Thomas Sumter Academy

Stopping to smell the flowers
By Arlene Marturano

When students and teachers at Thomas Sumter Academy (TSA) in southeast Columbia decided to plant a garden as part of their spring study of plants, they needed to find the perfect sunlit location. The school is situated on church property, and digging up turf was not an option. The parking area was covered in asphalt and shade. The playground was needed for recess.

The S.C. Garden-based Learning Network suggested bucket gardens to Jody Murphy, head of school. Lightweight food grade buckets with handles are cost-effective, convenient, and a portable solution for introducing children to gardening. One can easily move to sun or shade and bring a better soil to the crops.

Buckets are manageable for young gardeners. They rarely need weeding. While container-grown gardens dry out faster and need more watering, children enjoy watering. Children can scout for and pick-off pests or isolate plants if disease strikes.


Fresh bucket-grown salad greens are the latest healthy happy meal for children at school and home. Fresh bucket-grown salad greens are the latest healthy happy meal for children at school and home. The school dog, Tommy, wasn’t likely to dig up plants in buckets. Teachers can keep tabs on a class tending to their buckets by having each child print his name on the bucket in permanent pen day one.

To assure success with bucket gardening, an adult must assist with several basic steps. Alison Edwards, administrative assistant at TSA, collected clean one-gallon buckets.

Since drainage is important for all plants but especially those confined in a plastic bucket, she cut a one-inch diameter drainage hole in the bottom of buckets.

Children place coffee filters or newspaper layers over the holes to avoid soil loss. It is good to select a lightweight soilless potting mix like Fafard, FoxFarm, or Espoma and pre-moisten before adding to buckets.

Salad greens grow best in early spring and fall in the Midlands. Students decided to mix the salad garden before sowing so when the seeds germinate each bucket would have a mesclun mix ready to eat in several weeks.


Greens are cut to come again and washed before serving. Greens are cut to come again and washed before serving. Their salad mix contained

Asian greens of mizuna, komatsuna, mustard, totsoi; mild lettuces including buttercrunch, red salad bowl, butterhead, romaine, troutback, oakleaf, Amish deer tongue; dinosaur kale; chard; endive, escarole, chicory; Italian arugula, and Parisian roquette. In three weeks the bucket salads were toted home ready to eat with the family.

These cut and come again gourmet greens will regrow for several cuttings and are delicious in fresh salads and stirfry. Bucket salads encourage children to get the daily basic servings of leafy greens recommended by MyPlate.

Salads aren’t the only signs of growth at Thomas Sumter Academy. After its first year in Columbia, the current K–fourth grade campus is adding K-3, K-4, and fifth grade in the 2017- 18 academic year.


Student gardeners fill gallon buckets with soilless potting mix. Student gardeners fill gallon buckets with soilless potting mix. For more information visit www.thomassumteracademy.org/columbiacampus.html/

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