organic garden

School Garden Summer Success Secrets

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Summer presents numerous challenges in the school garden. Whenever we meet with school communities, the same question always arises, “What are we supposed to do in the summer time?” Fortunately, there are some simple solutions to common concerns about summer in the school garden.

BESY3

Common concerns about summer include:

1.) There will be no staff, students or teachers on campus to take care of the garden.
2.) Summer crops use more water than spring, fall and winter crops. Why use lots of water to grow food that students will not be around to harvest?
3.) In higher latitudes and altitudes, summer is the main growing season. If we don’t grow in the summer, we won’t have a garden!
4.) Irrigation systems can falter – batteries die, leaks occur, water can get disconnected for construction projects, etc.

Our recommendations:

1.) Set up a calendar for families to rotate taking care of the garden for a week or two at a time. If a family can visit the garden two times per week to water, weed, and check that the irrigation systems are running properly, they get to take home any food that is ready to harvest. Orient families to their responsibilities before school gets out in the late spring.
2.) Create a summer program that links to other summer camps or summer school programs, local youth clubs, etc. in order to get more children into the garden when it is in full production.
3.) If possible, set up a paid internship program for teens to help take care of the garden.
4.) Fallow, mulch over, or cover-crop areas of the garden that do not need to be in production during the summer months. Mustards, buckwheat and cow peas are good summer cover crops for cooler climates, sun hemp (a legume) works well in warmer climates.
5.) Prioritize maximizing crop diversity in the garden over food production in the summer. A broader diversity of crops will help to ensure a more resilient garden ecosystem.
6.) Don’t be afraid to let annual plants get wild and go to seed during summer. Pulling out overgrown plants, saving seeds, building compost piles, and cultivating the soil are perfect gardening tasks for students to become familiar with at the beginning of the school year (video password: Grow2016).
7.) Plant the summer crops as late as possible in order to get a late summer harvest when students are back in school.

Three Sisters Original

Though the challenge of maintaining a school garden during the summer will remain as long as summer vacation exists, there are numerous ways to rethink the garden during summer that can allow for new opportunities and less frustration and lost production. We hope you find these tips useful!

As always, if you would like to connect with us to discuss your school’s garden program, you can schedule a free school garden strategy session here. If your community could benefit from a Garden Site and Program Assessment, you can find details here.

Happy growing!


The Art of Weeding

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Japanese WeedingTool - Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

Japanese Weeding Tool – Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

The Art of Weeding

Believe it or not, weeding is an art. Timing is everything when it comes to weeding. Pulling weeds before they make seeds and reproduce is crucial to successfully weeding your garden. Spring is the ideal time for major weeding projects as the ground is still soft and the weeds have not yet reproduced.

Many weeds are actually good for the garden and it is never bad to have a diversity of plants around – the more diverse the plant cover in your garden, the more diverse and resilient a living system of soil microorganisms and animals you will encourage.

There are, however, a few primary concerns when it comes to weeds:

1.) Some weeds are invasive and can actually take over the garden if left unchecked.
2.) Weeds might not die when you pull them, so make sure to get the plant out from the root.
3.) The third concern is that some weeds compete for nutrients, water and sunlight with our intended plants in the garden.

Procedure:

1.) Identify the weeding priorities in the garden, from highest to lowest priority.

2.) Focus on pulling out one to three types of weeds at a time.

3.) If you are weeding within a garden bed that is already planted, consider using a small hand-weeding tool or working by hand without any tools at all. A garden hoe can also be useful in a larger bed that is already planted.

4.) If you are working in an area of the garden that is not planted, a digging fork is the best tool for the job as you can use its tines to dig out the roots of the weeds.

This is an excerpt from Edible Gardening: 10 Essential Practices for Growing Your Own Food. Download free PDF or purchase hard copy.

Gardening Gloves - Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

Gardening Gloves – Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015


Garden to Cafeteria: Challenges and Opportunities

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We are thrilled to announce the launch of the Mountain View Whisman School District’s (MVWSD) Farm to Lunch program. With the generous support of the El Camino Healthcare District, our team of Garden to Cafeteria experts has guided the Living Classroom through the legal and logistical barriers to getting food grown in local school gardens into the school lunch program. As a result, the Living Classroom, which “inspires children to learn and value our natural world through garden-based education,” is now also providing produce for cafeteria meals. Read San Jose Mercury News article here.

Crittenden Middle School students harvest kale for use in their schools lunch program (Photo: Jacqueline Lee / Daily News).

According to Cathy Baur, Assistant Superintendent of MVWSD,

“The Farm to Lunch program combines the hands-on experience of growing food with the health benefits of better eating…Students may now be more connected and perhaps more receptive to eating healthy vegetables and fruits.”

At Grow Your Lunch, we believe that garden to cafeteria initiatives are “connection laboratories”— by connecting the garden and cafeteria food systems, we make connections to the seasons, to local farms and farmers, to our diverse cultural ancestries, and to the natural world. Once we are familiar with the foods grown in the garden, we will be more likely to eat them when they appear in a package, on the buffet line or salad bar.

The idea that children (and adults!) just don’t like healthy food is a myth. In fact, we are hard-wired to avoid foods with which we are not familiar. And yet, anyone at any stage in life can learn to enjoy new foods. As renowned food writer Bee Wilson states, “Liking something is a consequence of familiarity.”

Cultivating this familiarity with fresh fruits and vegetables through garden to cafeteria initiatives is what we are all about. Still, including garden-grown produce in institutional food programs faces some common impediments:

1.) Fears of not complying with local, state and federal food safety laws
2.) A lack of technical productive gardening know-how within the community
3.) An unwillingness to challenge the status quo with regard to food procurement

If you’d like to learn more about how we address these common challenges, check out our Garden to Cafeteria page.

Thank you for your contributions to this movement and your dedication to growing a healthier generation.


Sowing Seeds in the New Year

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In the final days of the year, we invite you to think about the seeds you would like to sow in next year’s garden.

Native Seeds/SEARCH - Seed Bank

Native Seeds/SEARCH – Seed Bank

 

One of our favorite winter activities is to comb through seed catalogs. There is something incredibly comforting about sitting inside on a cold rainy day, looking at beautiful images of vegetables that can only be grown in the opposite season, dreaming about what will grow in the garden next year.

Our favorite seed companies include:

The Living Seed Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Renee’s Garden Seeds, Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Seeds, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and Seed Saver’s Exchange.

Some excellent seed resources can also be gathered from the Organic Seed Alliance, Seven Seeds Farm and Top Leaf Farms.

Each winter we do a seed inventory, before we get too carried away ordering seeds. Do we have fresh seed for all of our old favorites – crops like ‘Lacinato’ kale, ‘Padron’ peppers (below), ‘Armenian’ cucumbers? Which crops and which varieties did best last year? Did we save seeds from any of the “open-pollinated” crops? Will the seeds we have leftover from last year still be good this year? Consider consulting a seed viability chart, like this one from High Mowing.

Padron Pepper - Renee's Garden Seeds

Padron Pepper – Renee’s Garden Seeds

 

We hope you enjoy this list of our favorite seed resources as well as the instructional video chapter of our Edible Gardening handbook on sowing seeds (below), to guide you if you are a beginner. Please feel free to share these resources far and wide.

Happy New Year and Happy Growing in 2016!

 


Managing Weeds in the Edible Garden

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It’s that time of year again in the edible garden – the time when the soil begins to dry down and plants that thrive in cooler, wetter weather send up their seeds. This year, due to the severe drought we’ve had in California, weed seeds have formed at least 3-4 weeks earlier than “normal.” This is important because weeding is an art; one that is all about timing.

Many weeds are actually good for the garden and it is never bad to have a diversity of plants in your garden system – the more diverse the plant cover in your garden, the more diverse and resilient the living system of microorganisms and animals you will encourage above and below ground.

There are, however, a few primary considerations when it comes to weeding.

1.) Many weeds are invasive and can actually take over the garden if left unchecked – particularly those that spread in multiple ways – by seed, by rhizome, and by “runners” or “stolons.” Examples of these plants include Bermuda Grass, Oxalis, Ivies, etc.

2.) Some weeds might not die when you pull them, so make sure to get the plant out from the root.

3.) Organic matter out; organic matter in: When you weed your garden, be sure to replenish the organic matter you have taken out by adding finished compost and mineral amendments before your next crops are planted.

Eradicating your most pernicious annual garden weeds before their seeds mature allows you to compost them or chop them up to use as mulch. If you pull out the plant when the seeds are mature, they will often shatter, drop, pop open and literally take wing all over your garden.

Annual Grasses "Gone to Seed"

Annual Grasses “Gone to Seed”

While it still feels good to pull out the weeds once they have gone to seed, you are probably aiding the species more than you are actually combating it. Even a highly aerobic, hot compost pile’s 140°F temperature and armies of billions of bacteria and fungi will not break down some of our most persistent garden weeds’ seeds.

Be mindful of the fact that returning organic matter to the soil is fundamental to managing an effective garden ecosystem. If you are continually pulling out weeds and sending them out in a dumpster or municipal compost bin, you are exporting the very organic matter that is most needed in your garden. It’s great to import compost and woodchips, straw and other organic materials, just remember that the very nutrients that your weeds contain are the ones that your garden fruits and vegetables most often need the most, so composting is preferable as a disposal method.

For more strategies on dealing with the most difficult weeds in a non-chemical manner, look out for our garden handbook coming out later this Spring!

Gardening Gloves - Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

Gardening Gloves – Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

 

Tools/ Materials You’ll Need to Successfully Weed Your Garden:

– Hand-held weeding tools (Japanese and English made are the best)

– Long-handled weeding tools: traditional hoe, “Hula” hoe, shovel, etc.

– Digging fork

– Gloves

– A kneeling cushion or knee-pads

Procedure:

1.) Identify the weeding priorities in the garden, from highest to lowest priority.

2.) Focus on pulling out one type of weed at a time if you are overwhelmed, prioritizing pulling out the ones that have not yet produced seeds.

3.) If you are weeding within a garden bed that is already planted, consider using a small hand-weeding tool or working by hand without any tools at all. A garden hoe can also be useful in a larger bed that is already planted.

Japanese WeedingTool - Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

Japanese Weeding Tool – Illustration Copyright Elizabeth Eichorn 2015

4.) If you are weeding in an area of the garden that is not planted, a digging fork is the best tool for the job as you can use its tines to dig out the roots of the weeds.

5.) Take all the weeds to your compost pile and layer them in with manure and straw. All plant material is useful as long as there are no seeds in the weeds and the roots will not re-grow. Weeds with seeds or extra-vigorous roots should be disposed of in the garbage or in a municipal green waste container.