Field reports from

Toluca Lake Elementary School

The garden at Toluca Lake Elementary School, designed with help from Ryan Drnek, was completed in Summer 2015. There are raised redwood beds, picnic tables, and an outdoor sink and kitchen area.

Marigolds and Dia de los Muertos at Toluca Lake

With a very high population of Hispanic students, we were thrilled to celebrate and talk about Dia de los Muertos! We also have the movie Coco to thank for getting kids educated and excited about this holiday. We are now working with fourth grade students and our main concept is diversity. We discuss native plants…

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Worms!

  I’ve never quite understood the fear that follows worms. From my experience, about 1 in every 100 kids fears worms but maybe 1 in 20 adults is scared of them. Why is that?  Somewhere along the way people are taught to hate them.  I believe it’s because they don’t understand them! Not only are…

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Flower to Seed to Flower

It was a beautiful day in the garden this morning at Toluca Lake Elementary! Many of the plants are flowering and the garden is fi lled with vibrant colors and buzzing pollinators. The students were also buzzing with excitement to be among the plants in the sunshine. Today’s lesson was about pollination and flower reproduction….

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Spring Blossoms and Pollination

Today’s garden lesson was all about the blossoms- what is a flower, why do they blossom and who the heck cares? A colorful and fragrant flower, aside from a great byproduct of being alive, is a signal a plant gives a pollinator- it is communicating that it is ready to to offer its nectar and…

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In with Spring, Out with Winter

Seasonal change is upon us!  Tuesday is the official first day of Spring- but the transition has been in effect for weeks! Warm showers and frost-free nights have let to springtime blooms and sprouts.  At the same time our winter plants are on the way out.  We know this because the lettuce, chards and cabbages…

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Xylem, Phloem and Chloropyll

  I hosted garden class inside this morning because we were hit with a beautiful rainstorm this week! A few weeks ago the kindergarten teacher requested that I do a seed planting lesson so that the students had some plants to take care of in the garden.  Today was a great day to do just…

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Flowers, Seeds and a Chicken

This unseasonably warm winter we’ve been having as flowers blooming left and right. In my own garden at home I have some holly hocks that bloomed and went to seed. Because the flower grows in a tall stalk it is a great tool for demonstrating the order in which a plant produces flowers. At the…

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Bee Business at Toluca Lake

Today’s lesson in the garden was the culmination of a 3 week series of lessons all about bees.  For the past 2 weeks we’ve been learning about pollination, flower anatomy, fruit production and lives of bees.   As a “Last day in the garden treat” my brother, a bee keeper himself, agreed to come to…

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Wormania at Toluca Lake!

Today at Toluca Lake Elementary I introduced my students my vermi-composting bin- an old minifridge filled with earth worms and decomposing food scraps.  Worms are fabulous decomposers! They break down organic material to make the nutrients available for plant uptake.  They also turn the soil as they tunnel through the earth.  Their poop, or “worm…

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Makin’ Manure at Toluca Lake

Today in the garden we talked about the poop cycle, AKA the nutrient cycle! Gardens are a great example of a closed loop system.   In theory, a garden would be able to provide its own nutrients and soil amendments through composting practices.  Animals add to this cycle by consuming plants and bugs and turning them…

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The Herb Scavenger Hunt and A Garden Tea Party at Toluca Lake Elementary

                        This morning in the garden I set the kids off on an herb based scavenger hunt.  I laid out a handful of leaves and we identified each one through their smell; sage, chives, sweet basil, lemon basil, mint and lemon verbena.  We then…

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Fall Fixin’s at Toluca Lake elementary

Fall is upon us.  And while the weather is in the 90’s, the climate is turning more and more chilly everyday; which happened to be the theme of today’s lesson! We discussed exactly why half of the year is warm, and the other half is cool- it has do to with the earth’s tilt, and its…

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Back in Business at Toluca Lake Elem.

We’re back in business in the Toluca Lake garden!   After a long summer it feels great to back with the kids and the plants.   Luckily the students remembered who I am, and mostly remembered all our garden agreements. After a quick reminder we jumped right into our lesson for the day- plant families…

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Toluca Lake Elementary School

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Garden Pizza Party

T’was our very last day of the year at Toluca Lake Elementary.  As the 5th graders graduated in the auditorium, across the playground I celebrated with my kinder and 1st graders in the garden! As a special farewell treat Andrea brought fixings for some fabulous garden pizza!   We were able to break down the…

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Birds and Gardens

A garden is not just plants in the ground. A garden is an entire ecosystem from microbes to predators interacting with one another. Today in the garden we learned about one of the pieces of that complex system: birds! We usually welcome birds in our garden because many of them prey on the caterpillars and…

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Corn Pollination at Toluca Lake Elementary

The students at Toluca Lake got a first hand lesson in pollination this morning. We learned some new corny vocabulary words like tassels, silks and kernels. The corn in the garden has begun to flower which means the tassels have “bloomed” and the silks have begun to show their hairy heads along the stalk. After…

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Natives at Toluca Lake Elementary

The garden topic of the day at Toluca Lake was Native plants and flowers. Many of the plants we grow in the garden have been manipulated by humans through years by selecting seeds and sending those seeds across continents and hemispheres. We are grateful for the food diversity that an ever globalizing world has brought…

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Tea Party and Leaf Anatomy in the Garden

It was a brisk and overcast morning at Toluca Lake, but not too cold for a tea party!  My kindergartners warmed up with some garden yoga to get their limbs moving. We then toured around the garden hunting for interesting leaves. I explained a bit about leaves and plant anatomy; leaf veins are much like…

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Leaf Hunt and Seed Discovery at Toluca Lake

We had a new rotation at Toluca Lake Elementary School Garden this morning. I and my new intern, Andrea, welcomed the students into the garden by challenging them to a leaf scavenger hunt! We split off into groups and each group was given a handful of leaves.  They were tasked with finding the plant they…

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Where Our Eggs Come From…

Today’s lesson at Toluca Lake was centered around Red, my fabulous travelling hen!  It was the last day of the rotation and Red was a special parting treat for the students as we said goodbye until next year.  Because it was such a windy day, I brought the hen into the classroom. The teachers were…

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Spring Cleaning at Toluca Lake Elementary

Today in the garden we accomplished many tasks that needed our attention.  The last of the lettuce bolted, along with the spinach. The sugar snap peas finally slowed down there production and soil levels have been low.  The students today helped me remove the winter plants and put them in the compost.  We spread new…

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California Native Seed Bombs

We did another round of seed bomb making at Toluca Lake Elementary and, again, it was a huge hit with the kids and the teachers! The younger ones simply had fun learning to mix soil and water to make structures.  We can only hope that the pre-kinders remember that the seeds inside their mud balls…

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Food Preservation and Flower Presses at Toluca Lake

My students today at Toluca Lake Elementary school learned about food preservation.  We talked about what really happens when we accidentally leave an apple on the counter top for too long and it rots.  What is “rot”?   If we zoom in, we can see that rot is really micro-bacteria eating our food- turning into…

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Lookin’ at Leaves at Toluca Lake Elem.

Today at Toluca Lake Elementary we took a look at the diversity of leaves we have in the garden.  Big ones, small ones, some the size of your head!  The young ones took time to draw and color the leaves.  My older classes were asked to write descriptive words next to their drawings.   Because it…

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Fossil and Corn Tortillas

Today’s garden class at Toluca Lake Elementary School combined cooking with paleontology. We celebrated our last day of the rotation by cooking corn tortillas and talking about dinosaurs! We followed a simple recipe to make the tortilla masa- corn flour, water and salt. Most kids had eaten tortillas, but none of them had made them…

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We Love Manure!

The garden was full of giggles and squirming children at Toluca Lake Elementary School this morning as we talked about animal manure and it’s value in the soil.  Last week the students met my hen “Red”.  Part of the lesson was understanding that her poop contributes to a healthy soil structure and gives and extra…

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Chickens in the Garden!

Outdoor and garden education can be tied to all subjects in academics, especially in grade school.  My lessons have included art, math, history, science and more!   Today I brought one of my beloved chickens to class and she prompted some very lively and rarely-spoken-of topics of discussion.   Primarily the kids were just thrilled…

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Fruits, veggies and so much more…

Today’s garden class at Toluca Lake Elementary was once again confined to the classrooms as the storm of the year raged on outside.  Never the less, we had a comprehensive lesson on plant properties. Today’s topic:  What do plants give us? First, we thought of the obvious answers: Food, clean air, shelter, healthy bodies.  …

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Seed Anatomy at Toluca Lake

Today at Toluca Lake Elementary School I visited each class with my travelling popcorn show.  This class rotation is laid out conveniently in that I have a Kindergarten/Pre-K class, then 1st graders, then 2nd!   My Pre-K and Kinders are happy just wandering around the garden, smelling the plants and touching the colorful corn.  There’s…

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Veggie Testers and Descriptors

In this morning’s rain I found myself indoors with my students.  I tried my hardest to bring the garden inside as the winter harvest is peaking and someone has to eat the veggies!  I brought in dino kale, cabbage, mint and broccoli flowers for some plant identification and taste testing. To practice our writing skills we…

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Winter Harvest and Seed Bombs

My students today at Toluca Lake Elementary got their hands muddy with some Native Seed Bomb making.  They were troopers on this brisk windy morning.  I heard some apprehension about cold hands as I was explaining the lesson, but once we got our hands muddy everybody seemed too distracted to care. We filled our little…

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Garden Math Magic

Today at Stevenson Elementary it was yet another rainy day on campus.   Once again I held garden class inside.  I applied their math skills to a seed production problem.  I gave them all 5 blue corn seeds and told them that on average one ear has 200 seeds and one plant has 4 ears….

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Seeds: The Gift That Keeps on Giving

On yet another rainy day at Toluca Lake Elementary School I held garden class indoors. (not that I’m complaining about the rain)  It was the 6th and final class rotation.  As a parting gift, I gave everyone 6 blue corn seeds.  And while 6 may not seem like a sizable amount, the kids and I…

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The [plant] Variety Show

What a storm we had last night!   The much needed rain made for a very soggy and dewy morning in the garden at Toluca Lake Elementary School. I held the first part of garden class outside.  The classes had time to wonder about the beds, searching for emerging cauliflower and spotting caterpillars.  Everyone got…

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The Gardens

Pheww!  What a busy day in the garden at Toluca Lake Elementary!   I arrived almost an hour before class to prep some beds for more winter planting.  The tomatoes have finally gassed out, and the crazy toma-to-topia jungle that once was, is no more.    (Tomato-topia is a word I overheard a student use…

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Garden Bingo

My new rotation of students in the garden were lucky to come at the height of winter growth!   I wanted to be sure that my new garden friends were able to check out the flourishing plant life for themselves, so I put together garden bingo for them.   In pairs, they roamed about the garden,…

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[seed] Bombs Away!!

Today at Toluca Lake Elem. I tried a new lesson with my students.  We made what I call “SEED BOMBS“! When I was in college, I made these with friends.  Basically you create a mud/adobe ball combining clay, sand, compost and water.   Then you mix in some seeds and set them to dry for…

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Caterpillar-mania at Toluca Lake Elem.

Today at Toluca Lake Elementary School we found so many holes in our brassica plants!  (brassica = cabbage family.   Broccoli, cabbage, kohl rabi, etc.)  Before our lesson, we had a chance to explore the garden and catch those pesky cabbage worms.  They may turn into lovely white butterflies, but they are hungry, hungry caterpillars…

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Rainy Daze at Toluca Lake Elementary

Hooray!  It rained this morning! I can almost hear the sigh of relief from the all the plants around Los Angeles that have been sticking it out through the long, hot, dry summer. Luckily for our edible garden, we run a drip irrigation system, so all our plants continue to be watered through the dry…

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New Rotation at Toluca Lake Elementary

The Toluca Lake Elementary School garden is buzzing with life this week, new and old.   Today was the first day of a new rotation of classes in the garden.   Garden introductions are a great way to build a sense of place, belonging and responsibility among students.  Although all of my new 5th graders…

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Plant Reproduction

It was a bitter sweet day with my Toluca Lake Elementary students; today was the last day of gardening class!!  (with these 3 classes, anyways) Though it was sad, that didn’t stop us from getting some serious garden learning and garden work done. Today’s topic: Asexual vs. Sexual Reproduction in Plants When we think of…

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Herby Days at Toluca Lake Elementary

Today’s garden lesson was about food preservation. Why does food go bad in the first place?  Why is food preservation important?  How do we do it?   In the garden today, we fused science class with snack time.  Our world is full of living things too small to see with human eyes;  Micro-organisms are everywhere….

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“We hit the jackpot today!”

                                          “We hit the jackpot today!”                                                     -An excited Toluca…

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Down with Food Waste!

Wow, what a great first day in the Toluca Lake Elementary School garden!  Our students today all remembered how to behave in the garden, so we got to jump right into the day’s activities. Today’s theme was “good bye summer, hello winter”.   Have you noticed the change in weather?  The garden sure has.    Any farmer/gardener…

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