Category Archives: Instructional Activities

Soil Testing

removing asphalt

Removing Asphalt

Soil testing is sometimes necessary when putting in a new school garden especially if asphalt has been removed. Even an existing  garden can be tested to make sure the soil contains all the proper nutrients and is free from contaminants.

Los Angeles County Master Gardener, Herb Machleder, offers this recommendation from Peaceful Valley Organic Garden and Farm Supply, located in Grass Valley, Northern California:

1) “Complete Soil Analysis with free booklet” #SVS200 $49.98

This is a very complete analysis of major, minor, and trace nutrients and minerals and all the usual soil characteristics; pH, cation exchange, etc. The booklet is very helpful for interpretation, and also indicates any amendments that would be appropriate and how to order them, on the same web site. The kit includes full instructions and a small addressed package to return the sample for analysis. For a small extra fee, they offer a phone call service with their staff soil expert, to discuss the analysis, if questions remain. I’ve used the service for several of the school garden orchards, when we really weren’t sure of what kind of soil we were dealing with. By using the recommended amendments we very pleased with the fertility results. The phone call service was stated as $10 per minute, but no additional bill was sent for up to 30minutes. They seemed very eager that the results be interpreted properly, and any amendments needed were appropriate.

2) A more limited soil test is called: “NPK Analysis” # SVS100 $29.98 . It also comes with complete instructions and a sample-taking kit. The price is all inclusive.

The print catalog is full of great information on beneficial insects, green manure crops, etc. The website is www.groworganic. com

 

4 Tips for Starting a School Garden with Students

If you’re an elementary school teacher and searching for a way to get your students more engaged with the outdoors and less glued to computer monitors and TV screens, you should consider starting a school garden. Since Michelle Obama started the White House garden as part of her healthy eating and living initiative, many teachers across the country have taken to a project of this sort, thanks to its simplicity and interactivity advantages. Though it may seem mind-boggling to begin with, the reality is that a school garden is actually rather simple to start. All that is needed is a small outdoor space with at least six hours of sunlight, a nearby water source, and the seeds and/or transplants to get started.

Tip #1: Start Small Grow Bigger
It is much easier to expand a small garden then to manage a large garden for those who are inexperienced. One or two raised beds are plenty for an average size class. Choose plant varieties that are easy to manage and quick to mature like radishes and lettuce. Even if you can only invest an hour a week in the garden with your students you will still be able to see spectacular results. After all, a small garden teeming with produce is lot better than a large garden too big to manage.

Tip #2: Don’t try to control everything
One of the best parts of having a school garden is having your class take the reigns with this project. Engage students in the planning process and allow them to choose what plants they want to grow. Have them make signs so they can establish “ownership” and feel proud of their accomplishments. Try giving out individual silk flowers to students who see early successes. The silk flowers will last a long time and are perfect mementos to help keep the students motivated early on.

Tip #3: Do more than just planting
Not everyone has a green thumb, so perhaps some of your less gardening-apt students can help out with other highly important features of the garden. You can have some students paint patio furniture that blends with the colors of the flowers growing in the garden. Patio furniture in bright, summery colors will look great, and the final pieces will give the students more reason to congregate in the garden even just for reading purposes.

Tip #4: Rinse and Repeat
If you’ve raised edible vegetables having a harvest party is a great way for the students to celebrate their success and eat a fresh, healthy meal in the process. Making a big salad that can be enjoyed by all is a great way to go. Then, if the project worked out well for you, think about growing other types of edible gardens like a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers and onions, or a three-sisters garden with corn, beans, and squash. Once your students experience the joy of tasting the fruits of their labor they’ll definitely want to repeat the project in the next semester or next year.

Edible Weeds

Dandelions
To some gardeners weeds are the bane of their existence, to others they are nothing more than plants growing where they shouldn’t. To some enlightened gardeners weeds are a delicacy. The secret really is knowing which are good weeds and which are bad weeds.

Good weeds I will define as edible plants that are growing in places you don’t want them to grow. Bad weeds are everything else.

purslane
Some good weeds are dandelions and purslane.

Dandelions are packed with Vitamins A, C, & K. Purslane has an abundance of Vitamins A & C.

Here’s a recipe for Sauteed Dandelion Greens. And here’s a recipe for Purslane and Parsley Salad

Next time you’re clearing out your beds make sure your not throwing away lunch.

A Child’s Garden of Standards: Linking School Gardens to California Education Standards

seddlings

The California Department of Education has a free publication for downloading regarding school gardens and curriculum. A Child’s Garden of Standards: Linking School Gardens to California Education Standards links garden-based education activities selected from several published educational materials to specific academic content standards for grades two through six in science, history/social sciences, mathematics, and English language arts.

Free download version available here (PDF; 5.22MB; 112pp.)

Chayote Harvest

chayote vine

Chayote never met a fence it did not like or could not cover. The longest vines are well over 10 ft long. It’s amazing to believe it all started from one chayote fruit planted in early spring.

chayote fence

Approximately six months later we are now harvesting the beginning of what appears to be a huge harvest. We just need to be careful not to allow the fruit to grow through the fence.

chayote female flower

Chayote is in the Cucurbitaceae family aka squash family which means seperate male and female flowers. The female flower is easily distinguishable by the baby fruit (ovary) sitting at the base waiting to be pollinated.

The harvest will last approximately 2-3 months depending on the weather, after which the plant will die back. At that point we will prune aggressively for the winter and allow this perennial to resume its growth the following spring.

How to Sell Produce at a Certified Farmer’s Market

winter squash

For any school or urban gardener wishing to sell produce at a Los Angeles County Certified Farmer’s Market a Producer’s Certificate from the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commissioner Weights & Measures Department is mandatory.

First step is to call their South Gate office at 562-622-0402 and arrange for an inspection. An inspector would them come out to view the product and estimate production. If the school or individual then puts in another crop in the Spring, the inspector would then have to come out again to view the crop and estimate production. The annual cost for the certificate is $63.00.

I had several questions regarding this certificate. Ibrahim Abdel, Pest Exclusion & Produce Quality/ Agricultural /Weights & Measures Inspector was kind enough to answer.

1) Is a certificate necessary to sell the produce to a restaurant?

The certificate is not required to sell your products to a restaurant or at school.  If you sell the products to a restaurant without having the certificate, then you are not exempt from the standard size and the labeling for the products.  If you have a certificate and want to sell the products to a restaurant, you have to provide the restaurant with a receipt showing your name, the commodity, the amount sold and the price in this case, you are exempt from the standard container and the product labeling.

2) Is a certificate necessary to sell the produce at the school?

No, the certificate is only required to sell your products at a certified farmers’ market (CFM).

3) If I have a garden at my home or community garden would I also need a permit to sell at the farmer’s market or am I covered by the Los Angeles City Ordinance 181188 (aka Food and Flower Act)? My understanding is the certificate is only necessary to sell at the farmer’s market. To sell to a restaurant or others I do not need a certificate. Is this correct?

Yes. To sell the products grown at your home at a CFM, you need a certificate.

4) Last question, if a school (or homeowner) is to sell to a restaurant without a certificate how do they compose the standard size and product labeling? What is required?

You can find the requirement for each product in the California Code of Regulations, Title 3, Division 3, Chapter 1.

Basically the following is required:

1) A declaration of identity – the name specified by applicable Federal or State law or regulation, or common name, or generic name or other appropriate description of the commodity.

2) A declaration of responsibility – that includes the name, address, and zip code of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor, however, the street address may be omitted if this is shown in a current city directory or telephone directory.

3) A declaration of quantity – by count or measure.

For further information visit the County of Los Angeles Agricultural Commissioner Weights and Measures website.

Flowers for a School Garden

snapdragons

Snapdragons

There is no rule that says school gardens should only be about edible plants. Adding flowers to row ends or borders, containers and window-boxes is a great way to add color and beauty to any outdoor classroom. Since we are planting in the fall and want flowers fairly quickly we are limited to what varieties we can grow.

Nasturtium

Nasturtium

The following is a list of easy to grow annuals that all can be planted now and will flower within the school year:

Bachelor Buttons, Calendula, Nasturtiums, Pansies, Phlox, Poppies, Snap Dragons, Stocks, & Violas

stocks

Stocks