Wednesday, May 8, 2013

School Garden Update: Interlochen Elementary

At Interlochen Elementary School, we really had our work cut out for us when we decided to revitalize several of the outdoor raised beds to cultivate more vegetables than the indoor hydroponic garden in the school library could support. Just outside those library windows where the kale and nasturtiums grow in a nutrient solution under fluorescent lights, there are ten large raised beds. The beds had been left to their own devices for about 2 years and as one 2nd grader described it, “It looked like we were just growing weeds.” Needless to say, there was a lot of weeding to do!
           With the help of volunteers and students, we successfully weeded five of the ten beds, removed three, and relocated two. Then we added about 1 inch of compost to each one. To make weeding easy, one person first loosened the soil using a digging fork or a broadfork. This broke up the dense root structures below the surface of the soil. Then, we proceeded to weed using hand tools, strong hands, and sheer will power. Well, many hands make light work – and within several hours about 300 square feet of gardening space was made ready for planting!
          The one complication that remains at the Interlochen Elementary School Garden is the underground system of tree roots that have begun to penetrate the soil in the raised beds. Let this lesson be learned: Watch out for trees when planning your school or home garden, as their roots can find their way into your beds and compete with your plants for soil nutrients and space.

School Garden Update: Traverse Heights Village Garden

          On a brisk and sunny May 1st, several community volunteers, teachers, and many, many children helped to seed a total of 17 raised beds at Traverse Heights Elementary School Garden. Our planting schedule had been pushed back several weeks due to cold, wet weather. Each grade level planted a certain kind of vegetable: we seeded radishes, lettuce, peas, carrots, beets, kale, and a variety of annual and perennial herbs.

We planted several different varieties of each crop. When it comes to “learning gardens” it is fun and educational to try out growing different varieties. The different colors, shapes, and flavors are fun and interesting for young gardeners (well, all ages really!), but there is also much to be learned when it comes to experimenting by observing the difference in maturation rate, cold hardiness, bolt resistance, etc., in unique varieties of lettuce, for example.
Here is a list of some of the varieties we planted at Traverse Heights Elementary School on May 1st :

Carrots: Bolero, Scarlet Nantes, Rainbow, and Cosmic Purple

Peas: Amish Snap, Golden Sweet, Dwarf Gray Sugar, Mammoth Melting Snow Peas

Kale: Red Russian, Red Winter Bor, and Green Curly Leaf

Lettuce: Lolla Rossa, Winter Density, Skyphos Red Butterhead, Tango, Merveille Des Quatre Saisons, Waldmann’s Dark Green Lettuce

Radishes: Cherry Belle, White Icicle, Rat Tailed Radish (for the seed pod)b n and Scarlet Globe

Note: All of the seeds we planted are for cool season crops that grow well in the early spring and fall. This is a good strategy for planting within the constraints of the school year (if your school does not provide summer programming or camps). I like to plant early harvest crops in the spring so that we can harvest and enjoy the “fruits of our labor” before the end of the school year in June. Additionally, it is a good idea to plant late summer/early fall crops such as carrots, beets, and winter squash that students can harvest when they return to school in September.