In praise of volunteers

This morning I scrolled back through the blog in search of pictures for a project.  Remembering all of the things we have accomplished over the last ten years is overwhelming and encouraging. NONE of it would have happened without the generous help of volunteers.

This year I am working on building up our group of core volunteers, and we have had some amazing people step up.  Danielle is a mother of four children in our district and a recent addition to our school board.  She checked in with me at one of our new “Watering, Weeding, and Working Wednesdays.”  I was showing her some of the deferred maintenance projects, and she lit up at the mention of our cedar legacy table.  If you don’t know the background of our AMAZING table, please click here.  It’s one of our best stories.

The Legacy Table:  A Little Tale of Reinvesting, Rebuilding and Reinvesting

The table was in need of a little TLC.  It has been a long time since we have cleaned it and treated it with rosewood oil.  Danielle, along with all of her kids, brought out a sander and tools, and they restored it beautifully!  She said teachers were coming out to thank her for her work on it, and when I profusely thanked her, she said she was happy to do it because her family loves our school so much.  And we love them.  ALL THE GOOD THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN SCHOOL GARDENS!

3×3 bed: a how-to

I’ve never paid much attention to square foot gardening, despite Mel Bartholomew’s book being the bestselling garden book of all time.  Until now.  I recently bought his book, read it all, and decided to build our next set of raised, edible beds along the square foot model.

Although his basic idea is to build a 4×4 bed, he recommends 3×3 for children.  Pictured below is a 3×3 frame made from cedar wood.  I purchased pre-cut pieces that fit together with little dowels (Amish-made, a closeout item on the SFG website) in the interest of time and simplicity.  I’d like volunteers to build 6 more of these, so I wanted a model.  Needed: four 3 foot, 6 inch boards and something to attach them at the corner—nails, screws, corner fittings, etc.


Then I gathered “hardware cloth” (a wire mesh sold in rolls of 1/4 and 1/2 inch squares), wire cutters, gloves and a staple gun.


I cut a piece to cover the bottom of the frame and stapled it every inch or so along the perimeter.  Take that, gophers.

Then I made an “exclusion device.”  I bought four 3/4 inch pvc pipes.  I had the nice man at Home Depot cut them into thirds.  I then had two of the thirds cut again.  I bought 8 elbow pieces and four connectors.  Then I told my oldest boy there was a project in the garage that would draw upon his long history of lego-building.


I also bought white duct tape (weatherproof) and repurposed some infernal bird netting (pictured above, bottom right corner.)  I taped a panel of netting from one side over the top to the other side, and then cut pieces to size on the remaining sides.  This is to keep out birds, cats and gophers.  It is easy to lift or tip back for access.


Students filled it with store-bought organic compost.  (Apologies to Mel–he insists on a particular formula, but I think I met the spirit of the law by buying super high-quality, blended compost.  Doing all the mixing from scratch at school was just a bit much that week.)

The square foot method goes like this:  Think of plants as S, M, L and XL.  In each square you can put:

One XL plant, like broccoli or a cabbage

Four L plants, like swiss chard

Nine M plants, like beets


Sixteen S plants, lilke radishes or green onions.

You can mix it up with squares planted with different size plants , and then simply replant each square as it produces.  (Google square foot gardening images, and you’ll get an abundance of photos, charts, and diagrams.)

We planted spinach, so we put nine seeds in each square, in evenly-spaced rows of three.  Each row has a different variety so kids can see them growing side by side.


Our hope is to build more of these to put in the last remaining sunny strip in the garden. I feel hopeful about them because they are small, manageable and unintimidating, and the concept is easy to get one’s mind around–therefore, potentially increasing the number of classes growing edibles.

TRUTH:  I am neither experienced nor skilled in the “construction” side of gardening.  Doing a simple building/maintenance-type errand at Home Depot usually makes my hands go all clammy.  Because I hope to not only promote gardening at school but also in my community, I wanted to do the whole thing by myself to prove….if I can do it, so can you.  (It’s true!)  Reading Mel’s book will give you all the info you need.  (All New Square Foot Gardening, 2013.)

Do you have experience with square foot gardening?  Do tell!

Love me a good mission statement

In my role as “school garden consultant” through Master Gardeners, I am now working with three schools.  The school I met with recently in San Diego is just starting off with their project, and I am excited because they have all of the ingredients for an amazing garden: a supportive principal, a passionate lead teacher, other interested teachers, potential community partners, possible funding and an amazing space (Flat, sunny, with water!  Oh my!)


As y’all know, good projects start with a mission statement.  Some people find this part of the process tedious and kinda academic, but not me. How do you know what to do if you don’t know where you want to end up?  As such, I like the process of writing out objectives.  It helps keep me on track, sort our priorities, and assess progress.

Here is ours.  We are in process of having an artist transfer this to a large sign for the garden, reminding us all of what we’re growing…

What we grow in the Julian Elementary Character Garden

We grow food.

We promote good nutrition by planting, tending, harvesting and eating organic fruit, vegetables and herbs.

We grow citizens.

We connect children to the natural world and create environmental stewards.

We grow character.

We learn leadership, responsibility, and respect when we work in the garden.

We grow practical gardening skills.

We learn the nuts and bolts of growing a garden.

We grow beauty.

We enjoy our peaceful, beautiful garden as it relaxes our bodies, inspires our minds, and ignites our creativity and imagination.

We grow academics.

We study biology, ecology and natural history in our garden classroom.

We grow stories. 

We develop a “sense of place” as we build a garden that reflects who we are as individuals, as a school and as residents of Julian and the backcountry.

We grow community.

We  create positive relationships among students, staff, parents and neighbors when we work together.