The five components of the plan are as follows:
The composting component of this grant has been implemented. We researched different models of worm bins, and purchased a worm factory from Gardeners Supply. The students thought that the design of the bin would be the easiest for us to use and they liked the idea of adding trays as you add organic material. We have been feeding our worms for several months now. Most of what they consume are apple cores and banana peels that students put in a collection bin after they have a fresh fruit snack during break time.
Several times a week, designated students mist the bin and check for worm activity. Initially, many students thought that worms were gross, but now they understand their usefulness and I’ve seen a change in their attitude toward them. Students consider themselves lucky if they get to take care of the worms.
Our outdoor compost bin is a wooden frame bin that assembles in a lincoln log fashion. It was very easy for the students to put the bin together. We emptied our first load of compost this spring and starting filling it for next year. We were surprised to find that a vole had made a nest between the back of the bin and the brick building. Students participated in watering the compost, aerating it, and turning it.
We invited Elaine Giessel, an environmental educator and community activist, as well as a master composter, to visit our classroom, teach us more about vermicomposting, and look at our composting situation. The pictures attached show Elaine working with students to build a worm bin as well as her helping students identify factors that slow down decomposition in our outdoor rolling bin.
Students are investigating native plants that have the qualities of attracting beneficial insects. We have prepared a bed along the side of our garden and amended the soil. We will plant the natives that the students chose in the next week and then do a count of insects on the plants.
We purchased several praying mantis egg cases for our garden. We placed them in the garden before they hatched, with the exception of one case. With one case, we secured the case to a twig in a glass aquarium with a screened lid. There were nymph mantids everywhere when they hatched! The students enjoyed watching them hatch out in long ribbons. We released the nymphs in the garden hoping to see them later in the summer as adults.
Students planted and cultivated many varieties of plants to encourage more beneficial insects in our garden. We planted fennel, dill, marigolds, cilantro, butterfly weed, parsley, yarrow, borage, zinnia, thyme, and cosmos. We used the pollinator planting guide from pollinator.org to find plants. We also planted a wide variety of spring flowering bulbs as a nectar source.
Extending the Season
Students researched and found a simple way to build a low covered raised bed. We bought a hoop bender, mounted it on plywood, and bent ¾ inch electrical metal tubing into hoops for our beds. We wanted the hoops to be moveable, so we mounted them on straight tubing so they could be pulled off the beds when the weather was nice. Using plastic clips, we were able to secure plastic sheeting as well as lightweight row cover to the hoops. We overwintered spinach and carrots successfully. Some of the other things we tried to overwinter such as lettuce did not survive. We also used the low tunnels to start our spring crops (different varieties of broccoli) about 2 weeks early than normal.
Our plan for watering was to install drip tubing in the garden. However, we quickly realized that the layout of our garden did not lend itself to drip tubing. Most of the garden is raised beds in a geometric pattern that makes installing and keeping drip tape from tearing unlikely. Instead, we tried a sprinkler on a stand that the school maintenance department loaned us. We used a rain gauge to figure out how much water different areas of the garden were getting, only to realize that the sprinkler didn’t give all areas the same amount of water. The shape of the garden (trapezoidal) made it difficult to achieve even coverage and to get all beds without moving the sprinkler at least three times.
Looking for a less taxing method, we tried soaker hoses next to the building in our flower beds. We did notice that using the soaker hoses instead of the overhead watering system made less weeds germinate since the surface water is applied directly to the base of the growing plants. We purchased several long hoses, different hose wands, and connectors in order to hand water the garden. This seemed to be our best use of the water. We could directly spray the water to the base of the plant without watering in between the beds and paths, which just makes us have to mow more. Hand watering is time consuming but we have a large amount of students that are ready and willing to water the garden with the wands.
We researched and decided to incorporate a cool season and a warm season cover crop. We planted 2 beds of buckwheat in the summer and 2 beds of hairy vetch in the spring. The buckwheat was allowed to bloom and there were lots of bees visiting the blooms. The vetch was planted a little late and it didn’t last long in the heat. With both crops, we cut them and added one bed’s worth into the compost bin and worked the other bed’s cuttings into the soil.