Mandy with her son in the school garden.
After a busy summer of family, fun, and real estate, I was ready to get back to school. The warm and dry summer did wonders for my spirit and for our school garden. While the grass had turned brown and crunchy across the island, our school garden was thriving with the addition of a drip watering system that Craig Sanders of Island Irrigation generously installed for us.
September came, and so did the rain! The first day of school welcomed our students with a torrential down pour. The brown grass that had become our reality early in the summer turned green once again and we got another beautiful “Indian Summer” on Orcas Island. What a relief for this teacher since my best lesson plans revolved around days spent in the garden.
The sunflowers had grown to great heights since the students patted the soil over the seeds last May. After enjoying their grandeur for several weeks we brought them down to harvest their seeds. The children enjoyed pulling each seed from the giant heads. Many seeds were eaten and many more were saved for replanting next season.
The potatoes were dug with excitement and squeals of delight as each different potato was unearthed. The potatoes were boxed and put in cold storage for cooking projects later in the winter.
The pumpkin patch was our newest expansion in the garden. We broke ground last spring, hand digging the area and carefully spacing our pumpkin seeds. We had a very successful harvest, growing over 200 pumpkins in our brand new patch! We had enough small pumpkins to send one home with each student! The larger pumpkins were processed in the classroom. We scraped them out and saved the seeds; roasting enough for everyone to enjoy a handful and saving the rest for replanting next spring. We baked and pureed the pumpkins and have over 100 cups waiting in the freezer for our pumpkin pie baking lesson.
There are so many jobs to do in the school garden. With over 215 students spending an hour a week in the garden you would think we would run out of jobs to do, but we never do!
Beyond the harvesting of herbs, tomatoes, calendula flowers, kale, watermelon, and carrots, there are many other garden jobs to take part in.
Raking the leaves of the maple tree is a favorite job for many. We learned that one way we can keep our beloved tree healthy is to rake its leaves up under it and let them compost there over the winter, in essence feeding the tree! With only 5 rakes available the kids must regulate taking turns. We are not just feeding the tree, but also practicing our social skills.
We are lucky to have wood chips donated to our garden by John Olsen, the Tree Doctor. The kids spend lots of time reinforcing the pathways with wood chips. In this process they learn to work together and even team up to fix a broken wheel barrow! The children work hard and see the results of their work.
One of the most difficult garden jobs is the pruning of the blackberry bushes. While we appreciate the natural fence the bushes provide and the delicious berries, we are in a constant battle to keep them from taking over two edges of our garden. The work is hard and often times painful, but there are always students who are willing to do it.
After putting in all of this work we remind the students of why we do this by rewarding them with 10 minutes of harvest time at the end of each class. This is when the students scramble to create the most delicious “garden burrito” possible! It is gratifying to the adults who witness this time as we watch the children happily eating their veggies.
We harvested, composted, dug and double dug. We created new beds and cover cropped old ones. We put our garden to bed for the winter. And to celebrate we fired up our cob oven and had a PIZZA PARTY!
With the generous donation of his time and talent, James Ferraris of Soul Flour Bakery helped us to make the best garden pizzas ever! There was pizza sauce and mozzerella cheese as a base. The rest was left up to the creativity of the children, and creative they were. The ingredients were all fresh from the garden. There were ground cherries and rosemary, sorrel and chives. You name it, they made it. Yes, there was even a worm pizza. One little girl said, “I didn’t think I’d like a vegetable pizza, but I tasted it and I do!” This is what it is all about. Showing kids where food comes from, teaching them to work hard, and watching them enjoy the fruits of their labors.
Happy harvest season to you all!