First week of school (already?)

Welcome back!  School is officially back in session here at Julian Elementary, and we are looking forward to our best year yet in the school garden.  (Thanks once again to the Sage Garden Project for funding!  You folks are the very best!)

A few cool developments over the summer:

Our pioneer bed is exploding with veggies!

Emily finished up the signage for the native plant trail!

Emily also found an amazing volunteer to build a heavy-duty trellis for our grapes, creating a shady, whimsical tunnel for kids to walk through between the lunch tables and the playground.

In closing, I’d like to revisit the original objective was for this blog: to make a case for school gardens from every possible angle.  Here’s yet another compelling reason for a school garden:

On the first day of school we have an orientation for parents new to the school.  All of our administrators and program directors warmly welcome new families as we explain all of the resources we offer.  I had a few minutes to talk about our garden, and at the end of the meeting, I invited parents to go out for a short tour.

As I was walking around with one of the new families, the mom told me that they had seen the garden on their first visit to the school months ago.  They were won over by many things at our wonderful district but “it was seeing the school garden that finally convinced us that this was the place we wanted our kids to go to school.”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

or

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.

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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!