Back to school, back to the garden

It’s still August, and we’ve been in school for 2.5 weeks.  (I know, I know.)  Nonetheless, it has been wonderful to be back out in the garden with the lovable children of Julian Elementary.

During our first afterschool garden class with the little ones, we read stories about grapes and then gobbled some up.  (It was my first time reading  Lousy, Rotten, Stinkin’ Grapes by Margie Palatini, and I recommend this retelling of an Aesop’s Fable—great vocabulary and beautiful illustrations.)  Though we had a lovely crop of grapes at the beginning of the school year, the kids have been loving them too as they walk by the fence line and so we supplemented with a donation of organic grapes from Miss Anne!  (A note on the whiteboard in the staff room turned up an offer of backyard produce in no time.)


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The older children in my second garden class painted letters for our Early Start Kindergarten alphabet garden and spruced up the compost bucket.  This was a good, quiet activity in the shade on a very hot day.  And helpful too—every year these letters have to be repainted.



“S” for sage….sweltering…in the sun….


In garden class during the school day, I worked with first grade students on understanding the recipe for compost using the visual aid I made below.  The laminated pictures stick to the black bin (foam board) with velcro:



Then we headed out to the garden to practice sorting and adding ingredients at the bin and peeking in the bottom of the unit to see what became of last year’s school lunch.


I heart generating excitement and mystery in the garden.  During our introduction to the lesson in the classroom, I told the kids to always be on the lookout for something new in the garden and wondered aloud if anyone would notice the brand new “Mr. Tree.”  Invariably someone would spot it on our way to the compost bins.

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(Sidenote:  Marisa gave me the pieces for this “tree face,” Chris hung it, and I love it so much.  It is my new goal to put a face on every juniper behind the fence line and create our own army of ents.)

While I had half of the class at the bins, the classroom teacher had the other half under the plum tree reading Compost Stew by Mary McKenna Siddals.


With the two kindergarten classes, we talked about grapevines and our first garden rule for the year:  Be Safe.  We decided we would practice “being safe” by walking in the garden instead of running.

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While the classroom teacher read The Fox and the Grapes by Mark White, I toured the children around four major features in the garden, and we learned these vocabulary words:  Kandu Gate, rainwater, grapevine and gazebo.  At each location I gave a child a photo of the feature to hold (printed from a picture and laminated—I plan to make a set of these for everything in the garden for games and vocabulary review.)


Then when we returned to the classroom for wrap-up, we sang:

“Have you ever seen a garden, a garden, a garden?  Have you every seen a garden? A garden like mine?  With a gate, and rainwater, and grapevines and a gazebo?  Have you ever seen a garden, a garden like mine? “

This is a song I will sing all year long with the younger grades, inserting new, seasonal vocabulary.


It’s going to be a great year!  (Signing off with a picture of the invaluable cart I wheel around with everything I need in the classroom and out in the garden.)  BTW, as of today, I am about 200 clicks short of 30,000 views on this blog.  Thanks ever so much for following our story as it unfolds in our little school garden…..


Garden Tour, April 2013

Join me as we take our periodic stroll around the garden!

Junior High students often change the message on the blackboard hung in their garden.  Yes, welcome indeed!


I might have mentioned we are planting a lot of peas to get ready for our first Harvest of the Month program in May.  (Pinecones are to discourage critters from walking in the bed.)


As we were harvesting the broccoli, one child told me she didn’t know that the part of broccoli we eat is curled up flowers. I told her we’d leave one plant in the ground to flower so she could see for herself.


Broccoli is also coming up in one of our container gardens.  That’s one of the funny things about school gardens—mystery plants!  (Someone, at some time, had an idea, a vision, a spare plant…who knows?)


The strawberry plants look luscious.  Keep. meaning. to. enclose. them. in. nets.


The tulips are finally up in the breast cancer awareness ribbon.  Watching them bloom took on new meaning for me this year as two very brave and beautiful friends of mine have kicked cancer’s butt in the last year.


New child-created signage on the bulletin board on the CATCH nutrition concept:  go, slow and whoa foods.


We’ve been moving native strawberries out of this prime veggie growing location to the hillside around the fruit trees, as a move toward a permaculture fruit tree guild.  We hadn’t moved all of them by Science Day though so I split the bed to make some room for pea planting, pinning back the strawberries with some white picket fencing we keep moving around the garden.  Cute!


Someone donated this flag last year, and we fly it—announcing our allegiance to daffodils!


Mrs. Shull’s fourth grade class peas.  Each child did a letter on an index card, I laminated them and kids taped them to bamboo skewers.


We have a gazillion wildflower seeds in the garden, from seed ball making activities, former projects, etc.  Wildflowers have a special immunity in our garden.  Wherever they want to pop up, we gladly let them stay.


This little donated table broke.  No worrries. With a tree stump standing in, it makes another cozy little spot to hang out in the garden.


A local grape grower trimmed these for us!  Our first crop this fall?  (Stay tuned.)


Look who decided to bloom.  (Oh little wisteria, you have no idea how close you were to being uprooted.)


Our honeysuckle reading teepee.  Last week a child sitting inside yelled, “Mrs. Elisara!  Come here!  There’s a chrysallis at the top of the teepee!”  Sure enough, a butterfly-to-be was dangling from the ceiling.  (The president of the entomology club later ID’ed it.)


If you’re not familiar with Box Tops, they are the little pink coupons found on hundreds of products.  Schools collect them and mail them in, receiving 10 cents for each one.  It adds up, and at our school, the proceeds have been earmarked for the garden.  Twice a year we receive a check.  Here’s what we bought with our latest earnings: pea trellises, bean towers, seed starting mix, trays, compost, and our 3×3 raised bed frame.


Finally, it’s always good to step back and get the big picture!


Garden tour, January 2013

After a year of blogging, I celebrated and took four weeks off!  (Easy to do in Zone 7!)  Now I am rested and ready to tell more stories from the school garden in 2013.

For now, the garden is cold, quiet and pretty empty. Still, work goes on….

We purchased a heavy-duty weatherproof canvas cover for our kitchen island.  It held up great during last week’s wet weather.


Said wet weather (though not a great volume) brought us 600 gallons of free water!


I’ve been composing a letter to my Garden Beneficials, letting them know of opportunities to be involved from now until the end of the school year.  Here’s the apron I had made for each of them.


One Beneficial made a contact with a local grape grower who offered to teach us to prune correctly.  I’m hoping for our first crop this year!  (Grapes are nice choices for the ubiquitous school chain link fence.)


These boxes were filled with bulbs from our Flower Power Fundraiser.  I haven’t been exactly sure how to use this space, so filling them with crocuses, irises and lilies to offer a little color and life in early spring seemed like a good idea.


Beneficials and students added a couple bushels of daffodils to this hillside on the backside of the garden.


On the to-do list:  set gopher traps in these garden entrypoints we found when planting the daffodils.


Six tables and eight benches were delivered right before Christmas break to the junior high garden.  These were purchased with local PLDO funds through Mexi-American Crafts in Ramona.  Here they are awaiting a work party!  (Post on this big development to follow.)


Local tree trimmers and the rangers from Heise Park keep us supplied with free woodchips.  We need to spread them about once a year.  It’s amazing how improved the soil is four years later, after regularly laying these down to disintegrate (as well as to “finish” the garden and suppress weeds.)


I will write more about this later but I have also begun serving as a “school garden consultant” through San Diego Master Gardeners.  I met with my first school—an elementary in Escondido–last week!  Here are some of the key teachers (and fellow MG consultant) in front of their kindergarten “bed”!  (TOO CUTE.)


Garden Tour, April 2012

Every once in a while, I’d like to give you a quick tour of what’s current in the school garden.  Welcome to the first installment.

Mrs. Dawson’s first grade class broadcast California wildflower seed in this demonstration bed:

Our grapes are growing along the fence:

We have a new cedar shed.  Isn’t it adorable?  We waited a long time for this shed, raising the money to buy a quality unit.  So glad we did!

Our native strawberry bed continues to be lush and prolific:

A cute sign my younger son made in a craft workshop with Marisa:

Here’s a bed we sowed with nitrogen-fixing legumes to organically improve our soil:

Our current garden bulletin board:

A craft project from a couple years ago:  Our garden rocks!  Yes, it does.