While the blogging has been lax, the garden has remained as busy as ever over the last two months. We finished winter classes with a special guest speaker, Sarah Marie Leone. Sarah engaged the students in a very lively discussion of all the creepy crawling creatures that live in the garden. This is the subject in which we receive the most questions and the kids get the most excited about, so it was great having Sarah there to provide good answers. We can’t wait to have her back!
After the long holiday break, we began a new round of classes with the second graders. They have learned about composting, planting seeds for spring, and harvesting daikon radishes to make into Do Chau (Korean dish of pickled radish and carrots). We are also working with the school to train the 4th and 5th graders to take control of composting their lunches every day. I think we are going to need more compost piles! But I should let the last 8 weeks describe themselves in pictures:
Rainy days were such a drag when I was a kid. Stuck under those florescent lights for another hour?! Watching half a movie instead of recess, lunch, or even learning?! The worst. Now of course I am grateful for every rainy day. Each drop nourishes the soil, our plants, and washes the city clean. We made the most of the rain today by moving the bookmark-flower art project inside the classroom. Maybe not as good as being physically in the garden, but a pretty awesome day nonetheless. The kids stuck them in their Goosebumps books and wrapped the tape around their wrists as a bracelet.
Children have a unique viewpoint in the garden. I am usually looking down at the plants whereas they look straight ahead and see amazing hidden things. In this case, one observant third grader spotted this guy:
My eyes had scanned it from afar, but I was fooled. (Imagine it without the orange “tongue”, which only emerged later after being agitated.) As I later learned on Wikipedia, “As larvae, Spicebush Swallowtails have two stages of mimicry. While the larvae are in the early stages, they are dark brown in color and thus appear to resemble bird droppings, which encourages predators to leave them alone…. When the larvae have progressed and are nearly ready to pupate, they turn a yellow-green color and are marked by two large black dots with a white highlight. The placement of these dots on the swollen thorax creates the illusion that the caterpillars are common green snakes. Mimicking snakes help the caterpillars to ward off predators, specifically birds. The caterpillar Spicebush Swallowtails enhance the physical resemblance behaviorally, as they have been observed to “rear up and retract the actual caterpillar head. The osmeterium of the caterpillar also helps to enhance the resemblance to a snake. When attacked, the larvae will expose the osmeterium, a y-shaped organ typically folded up within the caterpillar. For many Spicebush Swallowtails, the osmeterium is red in color, thus creating the illusion of a snake tongue and even further enhancing the disguise.”
Amazing! And in a few weeks that strange-looking creature will metamorphosis into one of the biggest butterflies in the world! We are constantly amazed at the wildlife that have made our small garden off Martin Luther King Blvd their home.
In less exciting, but no less important news, between our water emergency and the Thanksgiving holiday, the garden needs a great deal of TLC. The last two classes have learned mostly about important garden maintenance activities: planting fall vegetables & flower seedlings and how to make compost. Here they are transplanting nasturtium seeedlings from my own overgrown garden into the common space. We really hope these edible flowers take off. To help them do so, they built forts around them to help protect them from playful feet. Next week I can’t wait to tell the kids what that crazy caterpillar is, and a special thanks to my Aunt Kim for identifying it.
It is fixed, hallelujah! Nothing can grow, especially vegetables, without a watering system. It is THE life force. The gage was off for over a month but we didn’t realize it until two weeks ago when newly planted seeds refused to sprout. The established plants appeared to be just finishing their life cycle. The school had apparently shut off a water valve to repair a drinking fountain and didn’t realize the same valve was also supplying water for the garden! I stopped by today to water everything by hand but was relieved to see a fantastic LAUSD repairman, Tom, trouble shooting and ultimately restoring the water. Nevertheless the soil was extremely dry and everything needed a good drenching. Lunchtime volunteers helped me water everything. They were excited about the garden “bonus day” this week I also cleaned a few beds of the dead plants and spread a bag of compost in each one. The garden makes its own, but not quite enough for so much space, and I felt the soil could benefit from a boost while we are switching seasons.
Today we began a new five-week session with two third-grade teachers and their classes: Mr Chow and Ms Mendoza. Again we spent the first ten minutes silently observing a part of the garden and writing down the observations using all of the five senses. From these observations, the students developed questions. This is how all science begins! Then we discussed what was observed in small groups. New vocab word: hypothesis. I like this website for all Monarch related questions (currently the focus of many observations).
The water system is broken, and the plants are obviously feeling it. The seeds planted weeks ago have yet to sprout and the summer plants are dying precipitously. We hope it gets fixed this week! Until then Mrs. Hopson has agreed to water them on Wednesday. A bucket at a time, however, will not be a solution that lasts long. A long-term project may be to build a rain-collection tank from the school buildings for use in the garden…
Ben and Danielle led Mrs. Gonzalez’s class through another fun garden art project this week. They took magnolia seed pods, covered them in peanut butter, rolled them in bird seed , and hung them from the garden’s trees. I had to miss it, so I don’t know much about the details, but I hear everyone loved it. Here are a few photos:
The weather has been adamantly fighting us on our fall/winter planting schedule. Everyone in Los Angeles feels it this time of year. A few days of cool, rainy autumn weather easily give way to another string of 90+ degree days. -sigh- This week we went ahead and planted a few of our fall crops anyway. All the seeds were harvested from the prior year’s plants at Trinity: leeks, beets, broccoli, and radishes. What an example of sustainability! First the beds were cleared of summer melons, butternut squash, and tomatoes and then we spread a layer of compost. The students planted their seeds and watered them in. They are all excited to watch them grow throughout the academic year. Here’s hoping in January we’ll be harvesting our second-generation veggies and planning for the third! Here’s a photo from last year’s winter veggies (baby leeks, cabbage, and cauliflower):
This morning, after both recesses and then watering the plants with the special ed class, we had our absolute favorite garden activity to date: flower-pressed bookmarks! First we gathered eight different kinds of flower petals from around the garden:
Then each student made an artful arrangement on a plain bookmark:
The design was kept in place with a piece of blue painter’s tape and then smashed with a hammer.
Once the tape was removed, the students had a beautiful new bookmark! Check them out:
This week we took an extensive look at one of Trinity garden’s most prolific vegetables: Rainbow Swiss Chard! One of the garden beds is overrun with it after the plants from last year dropped hundreds of seeds. Luckily the 5th graders just completed a science segment on vascular plants (ie celery) so they knew more about the plant than we did! Each harvested a beautiful leaf to eat raw, and I also made beet and swiss chard risotto the night before as a snack. Not all were convinced to try out such a new concoction, I think our eating segments are better received when the children make the food themselves, but at least something new was put in front of them to experience.
In other news, Governor Brown signed a bill this week to allow school gardens to sell their produce and use the profits to support the garden program. Although not every school garden will be able to take advantage of the new law, depending on its size and management, this is an exciting development! School gardens are becoming more and more prevalent and integrated into school curriculums and campuses.
We’ve ramped up slowly at Trinity to get ready for the new school year. For the first three weeks we were only open during recess, but this week we welcomed our first group of classes! The students for the most part are interested in all the wildlife that has moved in over the last year: different butterflies, moths, beetles, and grasshoppers are easy to spot, although not always easy to photograph! Ben luckily brought a California Audubon Guide so we could finally answer all their questions and identify them!
In addition to recess time, we will have Mr. Sanatana’s special-ed class and Ms. Gonzalez’s 5th graders in the garden classroom. The special-ed students enjoy exploring the garden and absorbing all it has to offer the senses. The 5th graders began with a 10 minute silent observation period. They drew pictures and wrote down what they saw. Then we asked them to come up with two questions they have about the garden or what they observed and to research the answers during the upcoming week. Next week they will report their answers and/or hypotheses (new vocabulary word!). We finished by planting sunflower seeds harvested from the garden last year. It’s good to be back!