Tag Archives: School Gardening

Autumn in the School Garden

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Happy harvest season to you all!

 

 

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The Great Potato Dig!

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Orcas Island School District is home to one fantastic school garden. You’ll find it right there next to the great maple tree in front of the big brick building that houses Orcas Island Elementary School.

The garden is maintained by the Elementary Children during a weekly class called Farm to Classroom. I have been teaching this class since its inception almost six years ago. It is a labor of love and a time of great discovery by all.

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Miss Mandy sharing a watermelon grown in the school garden with some eager students!

One of my favorite activities in the garden is the yearly “great potato dig” with the Kindergarteners. It is early October in the school garden and the potato patch is ready for picking! Enter 35 Kindergarten Students. First a quick lesson on potatoes. You wouldn’t believe how many 5 year olds don’t know that potatoes grow under the ground. You can imagine the delight on their faces once they realize that they get to dig for the buried treasure.

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Farm to Classroom students digging for potatoes!

The digging commences and soil starts flying from the children who dig with wild abandon. Some of the kids decide it is much tidier to pull the plant and pick the potatoes off the roots. Everyone is actively engaged.

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Beautiful red potatoes and the excitement of pulling out the entire plant with potatoes still attached at the roots!

Oh, the squeals of delight as they find their first potato! And then the variety of colors and potato shapes cause more shrieks of delight and several shouts of “Show me, show me!”

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Just look at our variety of potatoes. Red, purple, blue, yellow, and we even grew a heart shaped potato!

The potato patch was plentiful this year. We started a new patch in a well-seasoned compost pile. Added to that was a delivery of soil from San Juan Sanitation to establish a nice deep area of loose soil. We planted organic potato seeds of several varieties. What a fabulous combination. We will use these potatoes for cooking projects in the classroom this winter.

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“This one looks like a person!”

The children have put the garden “to bed” for the winter. The potato patch was gently tucked in with a cover crop of fava beans that will certainly provide another exciting opportunity for discovery next spring!

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Third and Fourth grade students prepare the potato patch for the fava bean cover crop planting.

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