Thursday, July 28, 2011

To Fence or Not to Fence Your School Garden.

We often receive questions about having fences around school gardens. Most often teachers or parents ask us about fence because there is a concern for playing kids trampling plants or disturbing irrigation systems or a concern for vandals causing some damage to the garden. These are quite legitimate concerns but there are also some good reasons why a fence in a school garden may be a bad idea.

Sometimes a fenced in garden can seem like a good idea.
Here is a school we did that even had a fence on top.
The top fence can be a good idea to keep out critters,
but it'd make more sense to put some chicken wire over
individual boxes.

In some cases, a fenced in garden becomes more of a hassle to deal with rather than something to help keep the garden in shape. A fence with a lock can become a nuisance because there may only be a small number of keys. While one person may have the key someone else may want to spend time working on the garden. At some point for some people it may just become too much to deal with to organize obtaining the key for some small simple tasks. A tall fence can make the garden feel like it is caged in and separate from the rest of the campus. When that occurs the garden can often fall to the wayside and become either overgrown or a wasteland of dirt.  

But after some time these fenced in gardens become forgotten.
This is the same school a few years later. You can't even see the
vegetable boxes anymore and it's difficult to walk in
Fences aren't always a bad idea. Low fences to help indicate where it is appropriate to play or not play can be helpful to gardens.
North Tamarind has been able to keep a fenced in garden
looking nice.
High fences can even work if you have the right kind of dedication to your garden. Sometimes high fences are needed to keep out the wild bouncing balls. (Sometimes even a high fence can't keep the occasional ball out as I experienced at Briggs.)
Briggs Elementary may have a high fence, but a dedicated
class works in the garden at least once a week.
Fences don't always need to be chain link though, a simple short wood fence to create a boundary also does the trick. If you have a theme a fence that relates to the theme can be used as well. For our grants, if you can provide the labor in volunteers, we can provide the materials and expertise.

This fence at Ranch View Elementary is a beautiful one
that follows the theme of their garden. If I'm not mistaken,
this was installed at the same time the garden was installed.
 This afternoon I'll be visiting with Redeemer to discuss fencing around their vegetable bed area. They'd like to create a sense of a boundary to remind folks to try to avoid playing in the area. Everyone agrees a low fence is the way to go, we'll just need to decide how low we want to go and what kind of look they want to go with.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Redeemer's Garden Update

I just received an e-mail from Maleene at Redeemer and she sent me a photo of her green bell peppers which she harvested this morning. Her kids had a chance to eat them right off the vine.
She also sent me a picture of the garden as it looks today (also a different angle than what I've been sharing). As you can see the corn is just shooting up.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Curriculum Resources

For a lot of teachers, finding curriculum resources and texts can be problematic. Fortunately there are a some texts available online for free.

The California School Garden Network has a book that I use often available to download from their site for free. It's called "Gardens for Learning: Creating and Sustaining Your School Garden." It's great if you have an e-reader or a tablet (it's in color) as you can just keep it on file and use it whenever you need it. It's in a high enough quality to print also so if you are lucky enough to have the resources to make copies of your favorite pages, you can do so. This book has a lot of curriculum tips for all different kinds of subjects and garden tips to help you keep your garden alive.

The other is from the California Department of Education. It's called "A Child's Garden of Standards" and is available to download on their website as well. This book is more of a resource guide that provides tables divided up by grade level and indicates activities that can be found in a variety of instructional materials. It also indicates what standards these activities are under so that teaching standards can be met. There is a short description of the activities so if you can't afford the instructional materials that it cites, you may be able to figure out what the activity is.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Progress at Redeemer

I've been doing some work over at Redeemer getting their irrigation all set for when the fruit trees arrive. I wanted to test the lines to make sure everything worked before moving forward and we found a number of leaks. Now these aren't just leaks like leaky faucets where you have a drip a second that could lose 2700 gallons a year, these leaks were flowing water, so we made sure to repair them with a slip fixes pictured here. Fortunately the water here had been shut off for some time.  Unfortunately, Redeemer is a private school and does not have a staffed irrigation plumber. I was able to help them out here after wall, we want them to conserve water and not waste it.
Slip fix used to repair some pipes at Redeemer
Now, were there was once asphalt that is now removed, there is no existing irrigation. So the plan is to continue the line all the way down to the end. Where the pipe ends there is a slope that causes the pipe to reach the surface, we are going to have to bury the pipe to make it deeper or set the pipe lower here.  There is enough fill dirt available to bury the pipe instead of making it deeper, and because I'm worried about pressure loss I'd rather not make too many angles in the pipe. I'm using this High Density PolyEthylene(HDPE) pipe(the blue colored pipe) that is UV resistant to continue the line so it is safe being exposed to the surface, additionally, I am running it along a corner so it stays out of the way of a people walking by. It will likely be buried under at least a couple inches of soil and mulch anyways, but it's always best to play it safe.

Next step to connect the HDPE to the PVC
I am using this pipe for a number of reasons. The HDPE is more environmentally safe than PVC when exposed to UV, it is much faster to use saving me tons of time, and much cleaner, there are no chemical glues and primers needed to connect the fittings so I don't go home with purple fingers and there are no inevitable spills into the soil. Also because it is more flexible, there is less pressure loss when making soft curves rather than hard angles with traditional PVC. It also comes in rolls instead of long pieces like PVC, so it is easier to transport. The HDPE pipe has rigid walls and isn't to be confused with polyethylene drip tubing which is much more flexible and softer with no rigid walls (because it is low density). As you can see I have a long distance to go so reducing pressure loss is important. The down side to this HDPE blu-lock pipe is that since it is relatively new I have to make sure I order all the parts I need ahead of time, or I'll be stuck waiting. Also many fittings that are common for PVC pipe aren't yet made for this type of pipe so I have to make sure I know when it's appropriate to use Polyethylene vs. PVC.

A Bobcat, some HDPE pipe and a wall.
In that photo you can see the side of a Bobcat, Joe was also there moving some dirt around to make it easier to move around the pipe I had been working on. Tomorrow, Joe will be burying all the PVC and our next step is to wait for the trees that are being donated by Tom Spellman from Dave Wilson Nursery.

Tomatoes in their new cages.
Redeemer's Tomatoes are also growing quite well. At Maleene's request I brought over some tomato cages for them so that they have something to grow onto. Unfortunately The Home Depot has been sold out of the tall tomato cages for the past week so I wasn't able to supply them with those(it's that time of year where tomato cages go like hotcakes), but these will do fine for now.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Weeding tip for dry gardens.

This year, there is probably a lot more weeding going on than normal due to all the rains. Even though the weather is drying up for the summer (minus today), weeds are still going strong because they've had the chance to establish themselves.

In our dryer than average climate, pulling weeds can be quite difficult when all the earth has hardened and dried up. So if you are still irrigating once a week or so, save the weeding for the day that you irrigate your plants. Wait about 30 minutes so that the water has time to soak into the ground and then start pulling the weeds. The wet soil should soften up the earth's grip on the roots and make pulling weeds a lot easier. Now, we want to remember to save water, so don't water just to pull weeds, wait for your scheduled irrigation day or, make a change to the schedule that suits you better. It's always best to irrigate very early in the morning or in the evening when it is cooler so that water doesn't evaporate, and make sure to have it go on when you are home so that you can check for leaks orny other issues that may be occuring.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Grapes and Pomegranates: Saving water while growing fruit.

 In our demonstration garden at our headquarters we have a variety of grapes, and some pomegranate trees. Both of these fruits require very little to no water in our mediterranean climate. After all these fruits originiated from the mediterranean area.

Pomegranates and Grapes in our demonstration garden.
Grapes were first cultivated in central Asia, the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and Romans were known to grow them domestically. There are a few species of grapes that are native to many different parts of the world. Quite a few are even from the U.S. such as the muscadine grapes and concord grapes. There is even a grape that is native to California the California Wilde Grape, (Vitis californica). The California Wild Grape can become a huge beautiful vine but the grapes themselves are tiny and very sour, not fun to eat. They are great for shading windows in the summer and letting sun in during the winter as they are deciduous. A lot of culinary grapes use the wild grape as a rootstock because it is so vigouros. All the grapes that we have in our demonstration garden are mediterranean type grapes because some of the others will require more water. We have quite a variety so that we can see which ones do the best in our park, we have a lot of critters and heavy clay soils.
Our grapes. Most grapes are water wise and climate appropriate to our region.
Pomegranates are also from central Asia. They are commonly grown in the middle east and southern europe along the mediterranean sea. Thomas Jefferson was one of the earliest Americans known to grow pomegranates, he planted some at Monticello in 1771. It's such a delicious fruit that Spain even renamed one of its cities to Granada which is an old term for pomegranate.
One of our youg pomegranates. These are also water wise and climate appropriate for our region.
If you want to grow these out here in Southern California, you'll only need to water them in their first year while they establish. After that, grapes and pomegranates should do just fine with little to no water.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Growing Tomatoes

It takes 3 gallons of water on average to produce one standard size market tomato. That water isn't in the tomato, but in the plant itself, much of the water is lost through the plant with evapo-transpiration. The process of water applied to the plants evaporating and transpiring through the leaves of the plant. This has to happen so that water can continuously carry nutrients to all the parts of the plant.

Tomatoes are one of the most popular fruits/vegetables to grow in gardens, and for good reason. Store bought tomatoes are bred with the intent that they'll ship well over long distances. These tomatoes will have tougher skins, and low in flavor because the tough skins keep them from bruising and the low flavor is a result of picking tomatoes before they have become fully ripe on the plant.
Garden grown tomatoes of various shapes sizes, flavors and colors.
Photo taken by and tomatoes grown by Rose White of Baton Rouge.

Tomatoes are so popular because they are very easy to grow. They can be grown all over California are abundant and their are so many different varieties and flavors to choose from. At about this time of year tomatoes are ripening up. If you started early then you should already have ripe tomatoes, if you started late you should at least be seeing flowers and probably some baby green tomatoes beginning to sprout.

Here is an interesting historical fact about tomatoes that can be shared with students. Though they are quite popular in Italy and many people think they are from there, tomatoes are actually native to the Americas. It is in fact a "new world" fruit. Where exactly they have come from is of dispute, but the more common belief is that they were first domesticated in Mexico by the Aztecs and likely came from plants that are native to Peru. In Britain and the United States colonies it was a common belief that tomatoes were poisonous until the mid 18th century. Tomatoes are in the nightshade family which have many toxic plants, so this may have just been a misunderstanding of the plant's family.

Another tidbit: While Tomatoes are actually fruits, it is classified as a vegetable for culinary purposes and customs regulations (as decided by the court case Nix v. Hedden in 1893).

Tomatoes have a huge variety of flavors colors, sizes and shapes. There are pink, yellow, striped, orange, green, and black tomatoes. Round, oval, and ribbed in shapes. Small and Large. Some are very sweet and some aren't sweet at all. Some tomatoes are really juicy and some tomatoes usually the kinds used for paste and catsup have a lower water content.  (Catsup is actually a Chinese word and invention and is actually pronounced how it is spelled. Catsup actually just means a thick sauce. After many years, the word was too hard to pronounce for English speakers so a new spelling was added: ketchup. Plum and chilli is actually still quite popular and can be found in Asian markets.)

Different types of chilli ketchup.
Photo by Robin Uit of Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Can you think of another vegetable that is native to the Americas that is commonly grown in gardens? Here's a hint. It is often eaten with hamburgers and many people think it's from Ireland

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Caring for your garden while school is out. Using Rancho Cucamonga High as an example

One of the most difficult things about having a school garden is that school is out during the summer and it becomes hard to gain support to manage your garden. Fortunately if your garden is waterwise you won't have too many weeds to have to pull, but it can still be a nuisance.

We just finished installing a garden at Rancho Cucamonga High School this past year, and Berenice Sealy the AP Environmental Science teacher called me with concerns about weeds and the overall health of her school's garden. As you can see, her garden is very healthy, but there are some overgrown weeds.

Rancho Cucamonga High School Garden with
some weeds about to be removed.
Since her garden was just installed this past year, it is still in its establishment phase. That means we have to water more often to keep the plants healthy so that their roots have a chance to get used to the soil at the school. That means the weeds also have more of a chance to grow because of the additional water. And because the weeds are grown from blown over seed and not transplanted, they are already used to the soil and can often be more successful than the transplanted climate appropriate plants. Some cultivars grow much quicker and establish themselves better as you can see in the above photo.

Mrs. Sealy has actually done an amazing job at keeping the weeds down in her herb garden and vegetable garden. But, since school is out and it can be hard to gain extra support, the task can seem daunting at times. As you can see, the herbs are still quite young and have yet to fill in so there is a lot of space for weeds to grow.

Weedless Herb Garden at RCHS.
(All those rocks creating the border we found while digging!)
Most of the weeds are only horseweed and tumbleweed, so pulling them shouldn't be too hard in their sandy and rocky soil. Some of you may be wondering why there isn't any mulch under these plants. Well for drought tolerant plants, mulch can have a tendency to hold in too much moisture which can be bad for these plants. The other option is to use gravel, but at a school, gravel is often not a viable option.

Also, in the native area of her garden, the annual wildflowers that were spread by seeds are dying back and going dormant for the year. So at a new garden like this one, where the natives haven't had a chance to grow in, the browned annuals can seem more prominent. It's always up to you wether you want to leave them or not. If you leave them, the browned plants will decompose and go back into the soil, saving on nutrients, but if you remove them, it provides a "cleaner" look. We'll probably knock them down and step on them to flatten them out so they don't seem so prominent. As you can see, the natives are still quite young and have yet to fill in, just like in the herb garden.

Browned Annuals in the Native Garden.
You can also see some horseweed doing well here.

In the summer months, it's a good idea to spend at least one day a week weeding. Try to get the weeds before they get too big and before they reach maturity, otherwise they'll send their seeds flying all over your garden. You don't want to wait for them to flower and seed or you'll just encourage weeds to return. With a new garden, the task is always more difficult for the first year or two, but it gets easier as the years go on and the desired plants become more established.

RCHS's Vegetable beds doing wonderfully.