West Union School Garden
A Greenhouse for Growing MindsPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 6/4/2020
Hillsboro Schools Foundation awarded our garden program with funds to buy a 6’ x 8’ greenhouse as well as the materials necessary for installation to get it up and running. With this greenhouse in place we will be able to bring some winter gardening to the program as well providing a central location from which to care for student’s plant starts. It will also allow us to grow some interesting heat loving plants as well--okra anyone? If you are curious to know the full details on how we plan to use it for our garden program, please feel free to read our grant proposal.
The greenhouse will live in the garden area on the north side of the courtyard near the new AC units. During recess, students will be able to monitor their class’ starts through the clear plexi. They will be invited in to work when a garden volunteer or teacher is present.
We are very grateful to the HSF for supporting our garden program!
I would also like to encourage people in our community to support HSF. Also if you have a innovative idea to make your school a more enriching place, please apply! Their grant process is the very friendly and supportive.
Donations for a Drip Irrigation SystemPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 6/3/2020
This past winter Kirsten King and Lakshmi Tata began planning and sowing for our annual plant sale. Then the COVID 19 crisis happened and HSD decided to put a moratorium on fund raisers. These two creative people decided to host a private sale instead and donate the money to our garden program. Quarantine is a great time to garden and people happily bought up their lovely garden plants. (So did I!)
Together they raised over $400 for the program. We have earmarked these funds for a drip irrigation system including a smart controller that will adjust the watering schedule based on the local weather. This should improve water efficiency, vegetable yields, and make it easier for volunteers to manage. It will also be a good model for water conservation for our students and community.
Thank you Kirsten and Lakshmi!
CHICKENS AT WORKPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 3/4/2020
The school garden has six new hard working ladies on loan from Millennial Acres and the Van Dyke family. During their four weeks with us they will be preparing our garden beds for spring planting.
The winterizing activity we did last fall to protect and enrich the soil has left behind thousands of insects, slugs, old leaves, and cover-crop. Many of these critters would gladly hang around and switch from their diet of old leaves and compost to tender young garden plants. Which is exactly what happened to me a few years ago. In my zeal to keep my soil covered, I did not remove the winter cover and every seedling was decimated. The garden was a total loss in less than 48 hours.
Aware of this danger, we sought out experts and they are doing a fantastic job. In about a week, these chickens have:
- Shredded the leftover leaves.
- Lightly tilled the soil.
- Eaten the overburden of slugs and insects.
- Left behind nitrogen rich manure.
- Graced us with eggs.
- Enriched the atmosphere of our garden with their personalities.
Then we moved their custom built chicken coops, called chicken tractors, to new beds to repeat the process.
We were the fortunate beneficiaries of an Eagle Scout project by Dylan Gates, a former West Union student. Based on our requirements, Dylan designed and built two of these temporary coops that fix securely to the beds. One end provides shelter for chickens and we added a roosting pole. The tractors are very lightweight and fold down to conserve space during storage.
Keys to using chickens in the garden:
- Timing: this is an off-growing season activity. Chickens loose in your garden would likely bring about mass destruction because they find garden veggies as tasty as we do.
- They can work soil for new beds or fallow beds.
- Confine them to the space you want them to work with mobile chicken tractors. Many have wheels on one end for easy mobility.
- Move them as soon as the work is complete.
- Bring them kitchen scraps and tell them what a wonderful job they’re doing.
The City Beneath our FeetPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 12/11/2019
Fall is a great time to build soil health. Our volunteers and students have been having some messy fun getting our garden ready for winter. The process we used at West Union is based on the principles set forth by the NRCS.
- Use plant diversity to increase diversity in the soil.
- Manage soils more by disturbing them less.
- Keep plants growing throughout the year to feed the soil.
- Keep the soil covered as much as possible.
- Cut spent vegetation to soil level and distribute veggie matter on the garden bed.
- Spread on a thick layer of fall leaves.
- Cover leaves with compost.
- Sprinkle cover crop seeds. (We used a late season/cold hardy mix from True Leaf Market.)
- Cover compost with a thin layer of crushed leaves. (Another hearty thank you to Recology Organics in North Plains for donating the compost!)
Many thanks to our parent volunteers and our 6th Grade helpers, Sydney and Sonya.
Why winterize garden soil? What do cover crops do?
The more I learn about growing plants the more I learn about soil. Once, I thought of soil as a water and nutrient holding material (i.e. dirt) into which plants plugged their roots into to tap into these resources.
Now I see soil as a fully developed microscopic city populated will millions of different species or organisms.
Why a city and not a wilderness?
Because the many soil organisms use the inert components of soil (sand, silt, and clay) to build structures, like vast tiny apartment complexes. Their cities have air and water moving through them. There are subways, and communications networks, nutrient distribution, and trade systems. It is very organized and resilient, yet delicate at the same time.
The tiniest varieties of these bacterial city dwellers occupy porous spaces in the soil eating organic matter and storing nitrogen in their bodies, while larger organisms such as nematodes, rove about eating any wayward bacteria that venture out of the safety of their soil pore apartment. Nematode excretions leave the liberated nitrogen behind to be wicked away by other organisms. (Which accounts, in part, for the burst of fertility after tilling.)
Earthworms are part of the megafauna of the ecosystem. They bore huge mucous lined tunnels through the city that hold air and protect the soil from dissolution in water. In their pursuit of organic matter to eat, they leave behind castings touted to be the world’s richest fertilizer.
Mycorrhizal (fungal) filaments are the communication and delivery system of the underground. These powdery tendrils reach deep and wide to mine nutrients from subsoil and transport them in exchange for the one thing it can’t do for itself--harness energy from the sun. Recently, trees have been discovered using their mycorrhizal network to send alert messages to surrounding trees and even deliver sugars and nutrients to trees that are suffering from disease or pests. (http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20141111-plants-have-a-hidden-internet)
When a seed is dropped into a functional soil ecosystem, this sand-silt-clay built city is eager to offer its many services. In exchange, plants deliver a significant portion of the sugar, amino acids, and other compounds they make during photosynthesis to feed the inhabitants of the soil city.
Understanding that there is a city beneath my feet has completely changed my attitude towards how I manage garden ecosystems. I’ve caught myself apologizing when I my foot depresses into its soft spongy surface. I no longer rip plants out at the end of the growing season, but I let them stay and rot creating food and porus spaces for my tiny associates. I make sure the city is protected and its inhabitants well fed during the winter. Tilling this fragile city, destroying the pore spaces, breaking up the soil aggregates, exposing the bacteria to roving nematodes, chopping up earthworms while they benevolently work for free, seems unthinkable.
In our garden here at school, your students have given our microscopic garden workers shelter from the pounding rain, winds, and cold. They’ve provided them with ample food: the leaves, compost, and plants that will harvest the sun’s energy for them. In turn our soil engineers will continue construction of their subterranean city and enrich our depleted soil for planting in the spring.
Garden Parent VolunteersPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 11/13/2019
There are three things that make West Union a wonderful place to go to school, our talented teachers and staff, the view of the grazing horse from the playground, and our amazing parent volunteers. In continuance with that tradition we have nine! new parents volunteers signed up to lead garden activities in our classes.
We had our first meeting as a group at the end of October. With much schedule shuffling most of the parents were able to come and learn the layout of the garden, and how we run our class activities. There is a good mix of new and experienced gardeners.
A few classes don’t have parent volunteers signed up yet, but it is not too late! Please contact our Volunteer Coordinator Wendy Applegarth (email@example.com) and cc Amy Wachsmuth (firstname.lastname@example.org). Being a garden parent is a fun way to help out where you can do a little or as much with your class as you have time. The following classes need two parent volunteers, Mullavey (1st Grade), Johnston (1st Grade), Hedges (2nd Grade). And the following classes just need 1 more parent: Bensen/Story (Kinder), Kaigler (4th), Cosman (5th/6th).
Our goal for the program is to have each of our 400 students at West Union plant at least one seed and watch it grow. So even if classes don’t get parent volunteers, the crew we have will ensure students will get opportunities to work in the garden, but the experience is always so much richer with dedicated parents to lead activities.
Each grade has a dedicated garden bed split between two classes, including our SLC program. Parent volunteers can choose to coordinate with the other class in their grade, or if schedules don’t match up, they can work separately. There are also demonstration beds available to any class that wants more space for an experiment or themed garden.
Our first activity will be getting our beds ready for winter by layering leaves, compost, seeding cover crop, and optionally planting some garlic. Many of our volunteers are already busy scheduling dates.
Thank you again West Union parents for continuing to support our teachers and students--you are a BIG part of what makes our school special.
Our First HarvestPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 5/23/2019
Last October our Science Garden was ready for bed, but before we sent it off to it’s winter slumber, Mrs. Petersen’s kinders tucked in some garlic bulbs and spring onions into the beds one of our parents generously donated a few years ago.
While the beds slept the onions and garlic put down roots and popped up small green shoots above the soil.
“Look! Look! It’s our garlic!”
During the winter I finalized the permaculture designs for our new garden and shared them with our principal Mr. Allen and fellow garden coordinator Lakshmi. Mr. Allen approved the designs but Lakshmi was concerned.
“So the old beds are going to be taken out?”
“Yes, we are going to build new ones. One for each grade.”
“But what about the garlic and onions? The kinders were so excited and I don’t want them to be disappointed.”
“I was thinking we could transplant them. Do you think they will survive?”
“I’m not sure.”
The time came to disassemble the old beds. Luckily we had a bunch of beautiful Root Pouches on hand. We assigned a couple of our young workers to carefully remove the plants from the beds with as much soil as they could and pack them into the Root Pouches. That done they were placed under the maple trees awaiting their new home.
Once the garden was fully constructed, Lakshmi and the students transplanted them again into the new demonstration beds. Some stayed in the Root Pouches. Despite all this handling the garlic and onions kept growing. Then last week Lakshmi announced that the onions are ready for harvest. (The garlic will be ready in late June - early July.)
A few emails later we had a time and date set with a small group of Mrs. Petersen’s kinders to harvest the onions.
I arrived and popped my head into Mrs. Petersen’s room as the students sat on the floor listening to a story she was reading. All 17 heads turned to look at me and she closed her book and asked the ones whose name was chosen from the jar to stand up and join me. About half the class stood up, and after some shuffling I had my group six happy helpers.
We made our way out to the garden where I showed them the the difference between the round onion leaves and flat garlic leaves. I quizzed a couple of them to make sure they understood. Then I showed them how to dig under the bulb and gently lift them up. Then to put the soil back into the ground. In no time flat all the onions were lying in a fragrant pile next to where we were working.
I asked them to stay and wait while I got some water for washing. Then they followed me over to the hose where we partially filled a bucket. We all carried it back to the garden and loaded in our onions and twelve tiny hands gave them a gentle agitation to free the soil. The water turned black and the onions turned creamy yellow. As we laid them on a table to dry, Mr. Allen joined us and admired their beautiful onions they proudly displayed. He snapped a few pictures and congratulated them on their harvest.
As the onions dried, we watered the herb spiral with the wash water. Then they swept soil back into the garden and raked it smooth. In the freshly opened space, they planted several roma tomatoes and swiss chard starts Lakshmi donated.
Lastly we loaded up our harvest in a box and headed back to class to share it with the rest of the kinders. Then the students thanked me with a group hug then rushed off to join their classmates in music class.
I may not get paid for this gig, but it’s still pretty great.
The Rain Garden that Sorta Isn'tPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 5/22/2019
Our rain garden isn’t a real rain garden. Typical rain gardens are situated in a depression to encourage water to drain there. They can also be fed by roof downspouts draining to artistic rock filled trenches. Sometimes rain gardens are linked, one overflowing to another and another. The idea is slow the trip a raindrop takes on its way to the ocean.
Reproduced with permission from Rainwater Harvesting for Drylands and Beyond, by Brad Lancaster, www.HarvestingRainwater.com.
There are numerous benefits to rain gardens. Rain water is allowed to infiltrate into the soil reaching the deepest roots as it trickles through the strata to recharge aquifers. During a rain event surface runoff picks up dirt, bacteria (Do the Dooty!), lawn care chemicals, and debris, and sluices directly to the watershed contributing to swollen creeks and contamination. Rain gardens and bioswales reduce surface runoff and allows the soil and plant life to purify the water that rehydrates that landscape and recharges our aquifers. They can also provide food and habitat for pollinators, and beneficial insects and birds that will be able to keep our pest populations in check.
As beautiful and functional as rain gardens are, they should not be placed within 10 feet of a building foundation to prevent the buildup of hydrostatic pressure. So for us, that means no creating a depression, and no channeling any additional water to this area of our garden.
However, the pavement between the building and the garden already slopes to this area, and one of the downspouts drains under the pavement here as well. So I won’t direct more water to this area, but I do need to deal with what already shows up, and the cool shady microclimate (buildings to the north, east, and south).
We removed the top layer of poorly draining clay soil and replaced it with the leaves we collected this past fall, compost, and left over blended garden soil. The organic matter will absorb and hold far more water than the clay. It is analogous to placing a thick sponge on a ceramic plate.
Into this rich soil we transplanted several natives that lived elsewhere in the science garden prior to our redesign of the area; including a sword fern, a couple Oregon grapes, and a salal shrub. We also added a shepherd’s hook with a suet cage and hummingbird feeder. Seeing all the activity this attracted as well as interest from the students, Lakshmi and I decided to add another.
Then using the remainder of the grant money from Tualatin SWCD and some funds from the Gro More Grassroots Grant, we purchased about 25 new plants from the Portland Audubon Native plant sale in May. Early May brought record breaking temperatures that would be hazardous to tender young native plants, so I tended them at home and waited for our typical spring weather to return. As soon as the clouds and rain came back, I brought the plants to school. (There is a full list of plants at the bottom of this article.)
I thought about how to design the area so the students could do the planting and maintain the space. That means kids in the rain garden. To keep their shoes clean, the soil spongy, and the small plants safe, I added a flagstone path through the garden. Around the base of the TWSCD sign, I piled rocks we discovered during our work parties, hoping to attract some small reptiles and amphibians. With those elements in place I went to work positioning the plants (still in their pots) in the rain garden, giving thought to their size at maturity, as well as their sun/shade requirements, and overall aesthetics.
Everything in place, all I had to do is wait for kids to come running out at recess and notice me. And they did. First one or two, then others would see them working and come over asking to help, then still more would arrive. The process was simple, move the pot aside, dig a hole as deep as the pot is tall, remove the plant (with my direction), break up the bound up roots, pop it in the hole, and water it in. Recess is usually just long enough to get one plant done, except for the big plants which took longer to dig a hole deep enough. Then a short time later, another group would appear.
It’s inspiring to watch them work. The typically rambunctious kids were often attentive and careful. The curious asked questions, the shy ones waited for me to notice them and invite them in, but they were all engaged and eager to learn about what they were doing. They peppered me questions that brought up many interesting points. Some finished their plant quickly and went on to help the others who were waiting for my attention.
One student tried to remove his plant (a blue eyed grass) by pulling it out of the pot by the stem. The little bulb popped out, but the roots and soil stayed in the pot.
“I killed it!” he said.
I crouched down and pointed out the bulb, “See that bulb? The plant’s life support system is in there, and it looks OK, so I think your plant is going to be OK too.”
We removed the potting soil together put it in the hole he dug made a space for the plant and put it in the ground. He briefly made eye contact and with an impish smile took off for the playground at full speed.
It took two days of recesses then all the plants were in and watered. I also sprinkled some wildflower seeds from West Multnomah SWCD that I cold stratified in my refrigerator for a few week in the areas between shrubs. Today there is still a lot of bare soil (that will be covered with fall leaves as soon as the trees see fit to share them) but in my imagination the plants are large and lush with flowers nodding in the breeze as the steady hum of bees and insects provide background to the chirping juncos and zing of the hummingbirds.
Next Up: Summer Planning!
List of plants and seeds
- Oregon Grape
- Sword Fern
Plants from Audubon Society of Portland Sale
- Douglas Aster
- Western Columbine
- White bordicaea
- Nodding Onion
- Northern Brodiaea
- Great Camas
- Heal All
- Meadow Sidalcea
- Western Bleeding Heart
- Showy Fleabane
- Long Leaf Mahonia
- Giant Fawn Lily
- Blue Eyed Grass
- Douglas Spirea
- Sword Fern
Washington County Master Gardener Plant Sale:
- Heavenly Habit
- Red Leaved Thrift
- Columbine (Heavenly Blue)
Sown as seeds from West Multnomah SWCD
Butterfly nectary (n)
Butterfly larvae host plant (i)
- Allium amplectens (n)
- Brodiaea coronaria (n)
- Camassia quamash (n)
- Eriophyllum lanatum (n)
- Iris tenax (n)
- Lomatium nudicaule (i)
- Lomatium utriculatum (n)
- Phacelia heterophylla (n)
- Potentilla gracilis (i)
- Prunella vulgaris (n)
- Ranunculus occidentalis (n)
- Rupertia physodes (i)
- Sidalcea campestris (i)(n)
- Viola Praemorsa (i)
- Collomia grandiflora (n)
- Lotus purshianus (i)
- Lupinus polycarpus (i)
- Plectritis congesta (n)
- Plagiobothrys figuratus (n)
Now for the fun part...Planting!Posted by Amy Wachsmuth on 5/15/2019
The moment the boxes were assembled and filled, eager kids would run up to me, “When do we get to plant?!”
In their classrooms, the seedlings were bursting from their newspaper pots and climbing all over. A few of the teachers caught me in the hallway, “Um, when are the seedlings going outside?”
“Looks like we be scheduling for early May.”
“Oooh, not sure they’re going to make it that long.”
Indeed some of them, particularly the pumpkins and beans, were in need of a larger container. Those got up-potted into cleaned milk cartons (thanks Wendy!) and returned to the classroom.
With STEAM Night done, Lakshmi and I were ready, and so were the students.
First we would sneak in their room and take their seedlings outside. Then we laid them out on the bed with respect for light, shade, and adequate spacing. We also made room for any direct sow veggies they requested, like carrots, radishes, chard, etc. We worried about skipping the hardening off of the seedlings, especially in the intense sunshine and warmth we were getting. Ideally, a week before planting out, seedlings are left outdoors for increasing amounts of time to toughen them up before subjecting them to the elements. With so many classes and so many plants, we weren’t sure how to make that happen. So decided to go for it and hope for the best.
Each class was a little different. Some classes stayed in the classroom, while groups of five came out to the garden to plant their seedlings in turn. Some classes all came out together to enjoy the garden and many oohed and ahhed at the zipping hummingbirds while waiting for their turn to plant.
When the first group was ready they found their plant start and were instructed to set it aside and dig a hole in that spot as deep as the pot is tall. Then pop their plant in, fill in around it with soil and water it in. Those who didn’t get to start a seed in class, or whose seedling didn’t make it, chose a direct sow seed to plant. One class had about 15 pumpkin seedlings. We made space for a few, and those that got to take theirs home got to choose new seeds to sow.
My only regret is that there wasn’t more for them to do. Many of the students would have happily planted the entire bed themselves.
Although, we lost many of the tender starts to the blazing sun, we reseeded those and now our garden is a lovely mix of early season veggies like peas, lettuce, kale, and radishes, fall veggies like carrots, pumpkins, dry beans, and a few summer treats like peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, and flowers like calendula, marigold, and chamomile.
In the center beds are some strawberries, spring onions and garlic that the kinders started in the fall, and a polyculture of corn, beans, and squash (The Three Sisters) suggested by Mrs. Sebastian to enhance their studies of the Oregon Trail.
Along the east end is a berm with strawberries and asparagus. The berm frames in a rain garden area that will be planted with perennial native plants and other perennial non-invasives that support pollinators and beneficial insect habitat. Having a natural space so near to our garden should keep the pest and predator populations in balance and bring in pollinators.
As a school garden coordinator my biggest challenge giving all my enthusiastic helpers enough to do. I discipline myself not to plant a thing on my own, knowing that at next recess, I’ll have anywhere from three to fifteen pairs of energetic hands to direct. I lay out the plants where I think they will be happiest, save the weeds, line up the watering cans, save the thinning, and then there they are. Helpers ready to go. However, I do require an adult to manage the hose.
Next up: Planting the Rain Garden
We used the rest of the TWIG grant money to buy natives from the Portland Audubon plant sale on May 4th. Now that the cool and wet weather is back it’s time to get them in the ground, and sow some wildflower seeds from West Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District that have been cold stratifying in my refrigerator for a couple weeks. Should be fun!
Work Party TrifectaPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 5/6/2019
After months of thinking, analyzing, designing, meeting, discussing, writing for grant money, organizing, it was a relief to put spade to earth and begin breaking ground.
Once funding for our garden was secured through grant money from TWSCD and 2019 Gro More Grassroots Grant, Lakshmi and I met right away to plan the design implementation. We planned for two work parties. One for clearing the existing plants and other earth works, and one for installing the new beds and herb spiral. We set the first date for the weekend before Spring Break.
Work Party 1 - Things Get Worse Before they get Better
Firstly, the pre-existing plants in the Science Garden needed to be removed in order to place the beds and other elements of the design. The center of the garden had a young Pin Oak tree that would eventually be 60’ tall and 40’ wide. There were also many shrubs of ninebark, snowberry, tall oregon grape, salal, and a hibiscus.
In nature ninebark get to be about 15’ tall and a wide. Our ninebark were shaped into about 6’ tall hedge shrubs rather than their beautiful messy growth habit they demonstrate in nature. Snowberries are another Oregon native, but the berries are toxic and we worried they would be too alluring to young fingers if students got comfortable foraging in the garden. Simply hacking down these mature natives was too much for my conscious, so I coordinated with TWSCD to find these shrubs a new home. Our entire first work party was spent removing the pin oak and laboriously digging up and wrapping the roots for each ninebark, snowberry, and the hibiscus.
(Native shrubs at their new home at Laurel Gathering Community Garden)
The work party consisted of West Union families and a few other friends that we were able to rope into the project. It was neat to watch kids work alongside their parents.
Spring Break came in between and the kids came back suprised at the cratered Science Garden on their way to recess.
Work Party 2 - Getting a Little Better...Sort of...
The second party was scheduled for on April 6th. As I wrote up the flyer I had the sinking feeling that accomplishing all of the tasks on the list was not going to possible. I was in the office getting tape for the flyer when Miss Brandt approached me about a third possible work party on the no-school day on Friday, April 12th. She said that many people who wouldn’t be able to make it on April 6th were available to help on the 12th. The relief of having a failover was a wonderful panacea to my anxiety about the workload.
Parr delivered the lumber for the beds to our house and my husband Charley and our friend Alex went right to work. The lumber is a rough cut cedar and upon finishing the first few decided to run router over the outside edge and run a belt sander over the top edge to make it less splintery for little hands. Meanwhile, I was spending the school day working in the very muddy garden area, marking off areas with spray chalk to denote what went where, measuring, re-measuring, digging, building sculpting...
A week or so before our work party was scheduled we received an email from S&H Landscape Supply on 25th avenue with an offer to donate 10 yards of compost to area schools. Lakshmi suggested we ask for a donation of blended garden soil instead. She did and they were gracious enough to gift us 17 yards of rich garden soil. We also ordered “hog fuel” which is very rough wood chips on which they also gave us a 25% discount. They even delivered the material.
April 6th came and we had another excellent turnout of hardworking families. We transported the new beds, finished digging the modified rain garden, emptied the compost bin into the rain garden and dug up and moved the Oregon grape and salal to the the rain garden. Because of the asymmetrical shape of the area, it took time to decide on the best placement of the beds and to position them equidistant from each other and stay true to the design. A small group of people worked on this aspect. The hours ticked by and yet we hadn’t touched any of the mountains of soil, wood chips, and rock. People began to trickle away to other obligations.
A small group stayed and continued to work at leveling the beds and fine tuning their placement. Around 3pm we needed to call it day and left...mountains unscaled. Thank goodness we had a third work date lined up.
Progress was certainly there and the beds were beautiful, but things were still looking muddy and rough.
Through the following week Lakshmi and I worked on the garden during the school day, and Charley and I came back in the evenings to finishing leveling the beds.
Work Party 3 - And Now for the “Better”!
April 12 - The work party to end all work parties.
The closest the piles could get to the science garden is the south parking lot. Anyone familiar with the school will know that there’s a lot of steps between the science garden and the south parking lot where 26 yards of material awaited transport. As we showed up to begin working, the Liberty Baseball people had piles of their own, as well as rubber tracked BobCats to zoom over pickup a scoop and zoom back to the field dump/repeat. We had shovels, wheelbarrows, and extremely tough volunteers.
Some people were hauling, some were laying weed barrier, and some in charge of dumping and spreading. The kids were working as hard as the adults. Although the labor was intense, it was also extremely satisfying. Finally, soil in the beds, wood chips over weed barrier, the muddy pit in the middle was carved into a turtle shaped round planting bed lined with sparkling flagstone. The soil was black and beautiful, the wood chips fresh. The rock bright and colorful. New flowers near the sign were bright and lovely in their new homes. Things were on the better side of worse at last.
After several hours our hearty volunteers began to trickle away. We stayed until the garden took on that finished look. The soil was divided into two mountains, one of which was more or less gone, and the hog fuel pile was much diminished. The river rock was piled in the garden area ready to become an herb spiral. Work that Lakshmi and I could whittle away during the school days.
The following weeks Lakshmi and I finished prepping the herb spiral area. We removed the remaining root wads, and spread cardboard sheet mulch and straw. Then day by day, I constructed the herb spiral and Lakshmi hauled soil to fill it in.
Then one day, that was done too.
Using the herbs we propagated with the students in the fall, I laid them out and in one recess fueled frenzy the students planted them all and watered them in. Then during another recess, students hauled the remaining rock and lined the asparagus/strawberry berm that borders the rain garden.
Construction was officially complete.
How wonderful it was to see the design become reality and a relief to see it come together as it was designed. We still have some finish work to do, the turtle needs a head and feet, the snail herb spiral needs a face painted, the rain garden needs lots of plants but...all the major parts are in place.
I can’t thank the parent volunteers and their hard working kids enough for donating their time and energy to this project. Community participation is legendary here at West Union Elementary.
When do we plant?
Every day after the third work party as we were building or hauling, whatever...recess goers asked the question, when are we going to plant? Soon! Which was usually followed by, “Can I help?” We have been diligent in finding jobs for nearly all the busy hands that approach us at recess.
For STEAM Night we were invited to have a table for our Garden Program and we also put on a plant sale fundraiser. As with all other aspects of our garden program, we are inventing it as we were doing it for the first time.
Luckily for us we have amazing parents here at West Union. Kirsten King offered to spearhead the sale. Kirsten used to run her own plant sales and was excited to rekindle her passion for plants for the benefit of a program she was excited to support.
We relinquished the sale to her capable hands and gave her all of the plant starts we were raising at our individual homes. She organized pricing, location, layout, and she and Lakshmi worked the sale as Mandy Tu and I ran the science table where we had a PH test experiment and soil shaker jar test.
I’m happy to report the first annual plant sale fundraiser was a success! Added to the WUCC budget, our program should be sustainable for years to come.
Seed Starting in ClassroomsPosted by Amy Wachsmuth on 4/25/2019
In spring Lakshmi and I started seeds with students in their classrooms. The classes chose from a list of seeds for plants that are mostly early harvest vegetables like lettuces, peas, cilantro, and fall harvest choices like dry bush beans. We also threw in a few like sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, and pumpkins just for fun.
In the classrooms, each student wrote their name and their seed choice on a craft stick. Then they filled pots made from newspaper with potting soil. (The younger ones would ask, “What’s soil? Oh, the dirt!”) Then they popped in their seed, pushed in their marker, and set it on the tray and watered their seed.
One would think potting soil, water, and enthusiastic young hands would be a recipe for an epic mess. Anticipating this, I put a sheet under the bucket of soil and brought my cordless vacuum. In most cases, the sheet only caught a dusting of soil and the vacuum was hardly needed. In some instances we had to reassure kids that it’s OK to touch the soil to fill their pots. More than one newspaper pot got crushed as a student tried to scoop the soil. We have tidy kids here at West Union. (At least in the classroom.)
The students were engaged, helpful, and excited about the process. We got great questions, like from a first grader, “Won’t the newspaper disintegrate when it gets wet?” Exactly! The newspaper holds up just long enough to go into the soil with the plant where it will disintegrate right into the soil. I had some reports of the more vigorous plants pushing through that process a little too quickly. Those got repotted in cleaned cafeteria milk cartons.
Each time I visit the school, I have excited kiddos updating me on how their plant is doing. Some with good news, some with faces of concern, “Mine didn’t sprout.” We had a short round two, where those whose seeds that didn’t sprout could try again with something quick germinating like peas and lettuce.
Next up: Planting the starts outside and direct sowing. Lakshmi and are planning to begin the planting out process the week of April 29th. At the same time, we will be also doing direct sow plants like carrots, radishes, etc.