Despite the fact their school garden is covered with snow, students in Waggoner Road Middle School's Garden Club are "greening up" a classroom, starting seedlings under grow lights and preparing to plant in a hoop house.

Despite the fact their school garden is covered with snow, students in Waggoner Road Middle School's Garden Club are "greening up" a classroom, starting seedlings under grow lights and preparing to plant in a hoop house.

A hoop house is a structure that allows gardeners to extend the growing season. A series of large hoops -- made of metal, plastic pipe or wood -- is covered with a layer of heavy plastic that is stretched tight and fastened to baseboards with strips of wood, metal or wire. Vegetables and other plants are then grown inside the hoop house, which acts as a type of greenhouse.

Teacher Carah Casler and Garden Club advisor Amanda Kirby, along with Waggoner Road Junior High School teacher Paul Drake and volunteer and Master Gardener Linda Bernard, helped expand student opportunities this year for a school garden project that began nearly four years ago.

"We are doing very exciting things this year in the garden, in addition to hoop-house building," Casler said. "We are composting to keep trash out of the landfill and enrich our garden's soil, bird-watching, building self-watering tomato planters and experimenting with indoor gardening."

She said the students are also experimenting with seed growth and germination rates in addition to learning about soil and integrated pest management as they prepare to plant kale, lettuce, beets, carrots, radishes, spinach, endive and Swiss chard in a new hoop house on the garden site.

Building the hoop house will be an adults-only project planned for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 14, at the middle school, 340 Waggoner Road. The teachers received a grant from Slow Food International for $500, along with materials, to create an unheated hoop house measuring 24 feet by 8 feet.

"Community adults are invited to the building of the hoop house to learn how to build one to extend the growing season," Casler said. "We can't have children there because of the power tools."

She said the Garden Club members will plant in the hoop house during the week of March 16.

Casler said the garden began in 2011, when former Summit STEM Elementary School Principal Dee Martindale, who taught at Waggoner, asked students to design an outdoor learning space. With the help of other teachers and parents, a donation from Lowe's and a $500 grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the original garden plot and outdoor learning lab were established.

In 2013, Casler and the current teachers received a Scotts Miracle-Gro Community Garden Grant from the Columbus Foundation for $1,500, plus soil, compost and mulch from Scotts.

"We also had the opportunity to attend community garden classes at Franklin Park Conservatory to help us design our space," Casler said. "We added five raised beds, seating and mulched around the area to define the garden space."

The Garden Club maintains a Facebook page at facebook.com/wrgardens as well as an online blog.

The students want to plant peas, broccoli, tomatoes, beans, turnips, peppers, butternut squash, raspberries, cucumbers and zucchini this spring, along with other plants in a "native" bed and a "butterfly bed." They also will plant an herb bed and practice organic gardening with natural pest control, which means planting marigolds, nasturtiums and zinnias to attract good bugs to repel the bad bugs, Casler said.

Students who are not currently in the Garden Club or community members who want to help in the garden may show up at "open garden hours" from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesdays, beginning April 21.

Casler said there are currently 20 student members in the Garden Club which meets every two weeks.

"Everyone should know how to grow their own food," she said. "I found this lacking in the curriculum. Watching what many children eat as snacks was depressing."

She said gardens encourage experiential learning and allow children to learn through inquiry.

"Kids get excited about being in a garden and learning to pick and eat fresh food," she said. "They will pay attention to lessons if they know they'll get to pick beans or carrots or kale at the end of them."

As an English as a Second Language teacher, Casler said gardens are natural educational learning tools.

"In schools with many languages spoken, gardens help overcome language barriers," she said.