Monday, November 21, 2011

The Thanksgiving Bird and the Possibilities in Your School Garden.

Wild Hen Turkeys
The turkey can be a great addition to your garden and I'll get to why, but first some history on the thanksgiving symbol! The Turkey is a bird that is native to America. Benjamin Franklin once suggested that th turkey should have been the national bird instead of the Bald Eagle. That may seem like a silly idea now, but back in Benjamin Franklin's time, wild turkeys were a much different animal than the giant turkeys that we eat for dinner. Wild turkeys even today are often seen in wild areas of America, they are much slimmer and a lot more agile than the type that is commonly eaten for thanksgiving. The Toms (male turkeys) will remind you of the turkeys that you drew when you were a kid. Wild turkeys are known to fly, and will often perch up in trees at night in order to hide form predators.

Wild Tom
Heritage Turkeys are an old breed of turkeys that people used to raise before modern day advancements in large turkeys. The turkeys were larger than the wild turkeys and usually can not fly. However, they are still agile enough to jump fairly high and perch in trees at night. I used to raise a couple of different breeds of heritage turkeys, I even had a Bourbon Red Turkey before I passed it on to the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies. It is estimated that there are only 5,000 breeding Bourbon Red Turkeys left in America. These types of turkeys are seeing a resurgance because of renewed interest in heritage breeds.
Bourbon Red Heritage Tom

The type of turkey that you buy at the store is bred to be so big, that they cannot jump at all (sometimes they can't even walk). This is why turkeys now are able to feed such large families, because they are bred to be so large. In the past and at the first thanksgiving dinner, turkeys were nowhere near the size of what we see on the dinner table today.

So, you might be asking what does this have to do with gardens? Well, after having raised turkeys and kept them in my garden at home, and after some research. I have found that turkeys make GREAT insecticides. My turkeys were phenomenal at keeping bugs out of my garden. In fact, all summer long I had absolutely no problems with insects. Many farmers will say that the only insect that the turkey won't eat, is the insect it can't catch. Turkeys are great at pest control. In fact, my turkeys ate so many insects and even seeds from weeds, that they hardly ever at their feed, yet they remained healthy and fat. Now, that the Lyle Center has my old turkeys, I haven't yet come up with a plan to keep insects at bay. I may end up raising just one more turkey just for the sake of keeping pests away. But be careful, they will eat seedlings and young plants.

Raising a jake (baby turkey) can be a great experience for kids at a school. It is relatively easy and there are feed stores that can help you all over the inland empire. I suggest it for anyone that is looking for a natural pest control option, and for anyone that wants to teach more biological and ecological sciences. Also, the turkey poop will make great fertilizer!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Sign up for the FREE Environmental Education Workshop Series with Santa Ana Watershed Association

My friends over at the Santa Ana Watershed Association is hosting an Environmental Education Workshop Series for educators. It is completely free!

The first of the series will be Project Learning Tree and will be held on January 21, 2012, 10:00am - 3:00pm

The second will be Project Wet on January 28, 2012, 10:00am - 3:00pm

and third is Project Flying Wild on February 4, 2012, 10:00am - 3:00pm

All the workshops will be held at the Mary Vagle Nature Center at
View Larger Map
You'll have to bring your own sack lunch. But, you'll receive a free curriculum guide along with the workshops.

To register, contact: Carrie Raleigh at or 909-280-1120

Friday, November 11, 2011

Tips for Maintaining and Sustaining Your Garden

Photo courtesy of California School Garden Network
  The California School Garden Network (CSGN) has compiled a booklet entitled: 'Gardens for Learning: Creating and Sustaining Your School Garden'. This helpful book offers advice on incorporating the garden into classroom curricula, as well as funding your garden and general planting information. CSGN also offers a supplement to this book which was designed to assist teachers in incorporating the garden into the California state standards curricula (see link below).

During the Fall and Winter seasons when the garden may not be in peak operation, there are still several things you can do to maintain and sustain your garden. The following suggestions come from Dorothy Peterson, School Garden Coordinator in Davis Joint Unified School District. These can be found on page 85 of 'Gardens for Learning'.

  • Create a garden logo. Logos are a great way to create an identity for the garden and they make the garden more recognizable to funding sources. Also, have your students help create a catchy tagline for the garden.
  • Make sure your school gardens have a strong marker on the school's website or its own webpage. This provides visibility for parents and promotes communication about the garden to the community. It also gives you a reference page for funding sources.
  • Write a "Garden Corner" piece in the school newsletter. The newsletter should be printed in English and any other language common among the student population.
  • Recruit gardening parents at Back-to-School Nights. Remember to follow up recruitment with a couple of training sessions that will accommodate both stay-at-home and working parents.
  • Send out a letter of request for donations. This can be done during the Fall or Winter.
  • Look for unique funding opportunities within your school and community. Check for grants outside of the school district that focus on water wise planting, alternative curricula, healthy schools, etc.

To access 'Gardens for Learning' as an online book, click on the following hyperlink:

A free copy of 'Gardens for Learning: Linking State Standards to Your School Garden' can be requested or downloaded directly from:

Monday, November 7, 2011

What's Up With Purple Pipes?

Photo of purple pipes courtesy of "freshelectrons"
 Water is a precious resource that needs to be conserved, particularly in the semi-arid and mediterranean climates of Southern California. Although roughly 75% of the Earth's surface is covered in water, only 1% of that water is potable (drinkable) water. The supply of potable water is dependent on many environmental factors: adequate snow fall, drought, climate change, etc. The natural variation in potable water sources occasionally produces shortages in our water supply.

Humans use potable water for many processes: clothes washing, electricity generation, crop and field irrigation, etc. Interestingly, not all of these uses require potable water. Oftentimes recycled water can be used as a substitute for potable water. California's plumbing code mandates that recycled water flow through purple pipes. Many of your schools have either already installed purple pipes or they are currently doing so. This means that your school may already irrigate its landscape with recycled water!

So what is recycled water and how is it made? Modern plumbing systems use potable water to transport wastewater from our homes and businesses to a reclamation facility, like the Inland Empire Utilities Agency (IEUA). This wastewater is then put through a tertiary treatment process that mimics nature's cleansing process. Solids are screened out of the wastewater in the primary phase of the treatment; then, in the secondary phase, the wastewater is subjected to an aeration process, where microbes and other bacteria are allowed to consume and dissolve the remaining organic material. Finally, in the third phase of the tertiary process, the water is filtered again and disinfected. The result is a highly purified type of water called recycled (or reclaimed) water.

To learn more about recycled water and purple pipes, visit If possible, schedule a field trip to the Inland Empire Utilities Agency to learn more about the water treatment process. While you're here, you can check out the Chino Creek Wetlands and Education Park ( ).

Here is a link for young students to learn more about the water cycle and the many uses of water: .

Wonderful Worms

Photo of earthworm, courtesty of "Dodo-Bird"
 There are over 3000 species of worms on the planet. The most common worm that we are familiar with is the earthworm. In scientific terms, earthworms are termed "megadriles" because of their large size. In fact, the earthworm is the largest member of its subclass Oligochaeta. However, earthworms are not the largest worms on earth; some worms can grow to be 22 feet long! These gigantic worms can be found in Australia or South America.

Worms are invertebrates, meaning they do not have a spine. They do however, have a digestive tract, reproductive organs, and multiple hearts. They have an interesting property of regeneration, meaning they can regrow parts of their body should a piece get cut off. A popular belief is that worms will regenerate into two distinct worms if they are cut in half; this is not usually the case. Worms tend to regrow only smaller parts of their anatomy.

Worms benefit humans in many ways; they serve a vital role as oxygen providers, decomposers, and nitrogen builders. Their presence in soil is considered a sign of soil health and vitality. Worms have pliable, moist bodies, which allow them to move through the soil easily. As they move through the soil they eat organic matter, small insects, and bacteria. The tunnels that worms leave in their wake actually aerate the soil, meaning it provides a space for oxygen to access the soil. Finally, the excrement of worms is called a "casting". Castings are nitrogen rich deposits that enrich the soil and help plants grow.

To learn more about worms, check out the following website:

It provides a Read and Answer Quiz about earthworms.

Information for this post was found on and the site listed above.