Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back to School! Things are starting to move!

Now that school is back in session, I have been meeting with all our schools for this year. I've already met with Upland High, Los Osos High, Monte Vista, and as you all know Redeemer Lutheran.

Everyone seems excited to get going and I'm excited to get working on some gardens. I'm currently working on a design for Upland High, tomorrow I'll be visiting Los Osos High to start a design, and on Thursday, I'll be revisiting Rancho Cucamonga High to see how they are doing.

Now that we're back in school, things are going to start getting really busy!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Others Doing Great Work

I recently took a trip out to the Bay Area and I was reminded of Alice Waters. She is a role model for a lot of folks interested in doing gardens in Schools. She is a chef and an author as well, so if you are from that area and have happened upon our blog. She would be a local hero for the Bay.

Another local hero for the Inland Empire and Greater LA area is Rick Cota. He is the Director of Nutrition Services for Claremont Unified School District. While he is outside our service area, if you want to see some other examples of great gardens being used for great purposes, the central kitchen of the district has a garden and even chickens! Rick had even played around with the idea of getting goats for milk. Rick is a good friend of mine and a very friendly and easy going guy. His gardens were done with the help of Cal Poly Pomona and the Claremont Universities. I'll be giving you more on those programs later.

Visit their websites, and you'll see some of the great things they are doing. I'm going to have to bug Rick about updating his website for the new school year.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Choosing a Fence for Redeemer

Over at Redeemer we had a meeting to discuss the fence that they'd like to have around their vegetable bed area. You might remember the post we did about whether to have a fence or not. Here are the two choices of fences we were deciding on. There are benefits to both and downsides to both. The shorter lattice type fence makes a great border that suggests that one should not cross over it. The taller one actually keeps folks out, but isn't so tall as to make it feel caged in. It is still low enough to be able to get a nice view of the garden. The taller fence is MUCH more expensive and in this case will cost just over a thousand dollars. The shorter border fence would have cost about 100 dollars. 

We decided to go with the taller picket fence. The shorter one seemed a bit week when put in the ground and didn't create a strong enough separation. Redeemer fortunately has plenty of room in their budget due to many of their trees being donated.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Starting a new garden at Upland High School

Today I went and visited Jennifer McAdams at Upland high school to discuss the future of her garden. Currently, there is turf and three crape myrtle trees. So we'll be saving a ton of water.
The school already has a garden. But it gets too much shade from a giatn Eucalyptus tree.

 They have a few vegetable beds of different sizes.

 And also their own compost piles.
 And a drought tolerant garden that a different teacher is in charge of.
Over the next week I'll be designing a plan for Jennifer's garden. I'll have her take a look at it and then if she likes it we'll move on to the irrigation portion.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Compost Bins and Kids

Redeemer requested a compost bin for their garden, and I think that is a wonderful idea. Teaching kids about compost is a great lesson in science. It can be one of the first lessons to teach kids about ecology and the importance of life cycles, symbiotic relationships, and also insects and bacterium. There are even books for teaching kids about compost.

A great book for teaching kids about compost is "Worms Eat Our Garbage." It's also great for adults learning about worm composting. Vermicomposting is one of the more interesting ways to teach kids about compost because they'll get to see worms eating the organic matter. In the end you'll also end up with some wonderful worm castings for your garden. Here is a link to Washington State Universities guide to creating a cheap and easy worm bin.
WSU's Cheap and Easy Worm Bin.

We'll be giving Redeemer a regular composting bin that doesn't take advantage of worms so much, but rather microorganisms and small insects to break down the organic matter. We'll likely be giving them a bin similar to the one below. These bins can be ordered at your local hardware or garden store.
Compost Bin That Rolls on a Platform
 These bins are very easy to use because they roll and tumble on a platform, there is no need to manually turn your compost with a pitch fork, which can sometimes be very laborious. My compost piles at home are made of old pallets, to form a box, and when it's time to turn the compost it's not the most fun. The benefit of pallet compost bins, is that they are cheap and often free. So if your school is strapped for cash, and you want a compost pile, this is the way to go. Here is a link to some nice pallet compost bins with some additional links on how too's from rootsimple.com. Here is also a link on how to make the simplest of pallet compost bins, like the ones below from livingofthegrid.org. You can always have the kids help make the bins and be in charge of turning the piles.

Livingoffthegrid.com's pallet compost bins.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fruits Ripening in Our Demonstration Garden

Remember the pomegranates and grapes from a few weeks back when we talked about growing fruit and saving water? Well the exact same fruits from before are beginning to ripen and the critters still haven't gotten to them! Take a look.
Beautiful bright red pomegranates

There are going to be a LOT of grapes this year. I love that color contrast.

Wine grapes, some ripe, some not. (Nooo, we aren't making any wine.)
 And then there is this funny looking pomegranate. I had to share this, it's growing qideways, instead of the stem being on the opposite end of where the flower was, it is on the side. So strange.
Looks like a duck, or a rabbit.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Medlar? What's a Medlar? A Forgotten Fruit.

A Medlar is a pome fruit native to areas surrounding the Black Sea, which is attached to the Mediterranean sea. That means that the Medlar is a great fruit tree to plant in our Mediterranean climate, it will save you water. Medlars do need a period of frost that we don't have, however they don't need it to fruit or to start growing from a deciduous period, they need that period of frost for the fruits to become bletted. Bletting is what happens to a fruit when it has become over ripe. Think of Bananas when they are ready for banana bread, or Persimmons when they are soft and no longer astringent. Medlars that haven't been frozen or haven't gone through a frost period will often be hard, I have heard that if you keep them long enough, they won't need to be frozen or go through a frost period, but I haven't tried that yet.

In the demo garden, the other side of this medlar has been eaten.

This is a medlar just forming that we have growing in our demonstration garden. Last year we had some but, because of all the wildlife in our park I never have a chance to pick them before the squirrels or bugs get to them. If I'm lucky I'll get the chance to try some this year. I've been told that they have the same consistency and taste of apple sauce, which sounds good to me.
Just missed the bloom, but it's still kind of pretty in that wabi-sabi rustic way.

Here is a picture of a dying bloom. I just missed the bloom by a couple of days, I'll need to time it better next time. The flowers are generally white and actually quite pretty.

The term "medlar" was often used in English literature to describe people negatively. The reason is because medlars need to blett in order to become good. So when someone was called a medlar it was like saying that they are only good when they are rotten. It is quite likely that this is what caused the medlar to lose its popularity as a quality fruit. A similar trend was seen recently with prunes and its relationship with digestion (you'll often see prunes sold as dried plums in order to get away from that stigma).

Medlars were once very popular to new immigrants in America. Eastern and northern Europeans brought the trees with them to the U.S. and and for some time were a staple. Eventuallythey lost popularity in the United States. There are some relatively new Medlar farms in California's valleys so hopefully you may get to see them in stores some time soon. People don't seem to be calling each other medlars anymore (meddler maybe) so they may make a comeback. Interestingly, they have never lost popularity in the middle east in eastern Europe.

The great thing about having your own garden, whether it is at home or at school, is that you get a chance to grow some uncommon foods. I enjoy being able to share medlars with new gardeners as a new fruit that can save space (they only get to be about 10 feet tall), have a beautiful bloom, and provide a delicious fruit. If you want to grow these you'll need to special order them as haven't found them in any local nurseries.