Another season is coming to an end, meaning it’s a good time to reflect on the past year. For garden coordinators, this means taking stock of our work with students, teachers, and the living things that inhabit our gardens.
Students began the season by planting greens and root vegetable seeds. In addition to traditional rows, our spring vegetables were planted in different shapes, like hexagons, triangles, and circles. This allowed our younger students practice identifying shapes while providing older students with a real-world application of their measurement skills and knowledge of angles. As the season progressed and our young plants developed, what once were clearly defined shapes became a thick mat of edible vegetation.
After the furious winter of 2014-2015, we were pleased to discover that the winter wheat planted by 5th and 6th grade students the previous September was still alive when the snow melted! This crop represents the second generation of the Ancient Grains Project, a community collaboration that brings social studies, from dawn of agriculture to early American history, to the garden. Though we were excited by our hardy wheat, the harvest would have to wait until…
The mirror image of our brutal winter, this summer was a hot one.
From the 84 degrees of May 4th through the 70+ degrees of early November, the summer heat lingered around the shoulder seasons of spring and fall. Though peak summer was relatively dry, it was a time of great energy and growth for our students and our gardens.
Middle school interns quickly grew to love the space in which we worked, despite the sometimes oppressive heat. They harvested our wheat crop, saved the best, and ate the rest by grinding the grains into flour, then baking it in pizza dough. They built trellises for vining vegetables, worked in teams to present on futuristic farming techniques, and cared for Hare Jordan, the baby rabbit that took shelter beneath our kale. When Hare Jordan sadly passed away, the students gave him a proper burial in the hopes that his decomposition would help our plants grow next season.
As the summer marched on, the interns observed a sudden, inexplicable decline in our squash plants. Upon further investigation and research, we learned that our plants were suffering from an infestation of squash vine borers. However, we noticed that a few squash plants were still flourishing. It turns out that squash of the Cucurbita Moschata species, such as Butternut, Tromboncino, and Musque de Provence, are very resistant to vine borers. Noted: next May, plant only Moschata.
As summer vacation came to its inevitable end, the gardens and their gardeners geared up for the final push through the growing season. After a productive summer, there was still cider to be pressed, vegetables to be grown and harvested, and students to be taught.
Students were thrilled to harvest from the Three Sisters garden they had planted in the spring. Strawberry Popcorn, Calypso Beans, and our hardy Musque de Provence pumpkins were picked and their seeds were saved for another growing season. As autumn air settled into the gardens, students harvested cool-season vegetables for salads and planted seeds for a winter harvest from our hoop houses.
As encroaching frost gradually killed our tender plants, students applied layers of leaves, compost, and seaweed to the garden beds to add organic matter to the soil and prepare it for a productive harvest in 2016. Students also used their math skills of measurement, area/perimeter, and multiplication/division in planting garlic cloves, which will over-winter and be ready for harvest in the summer.
As the garden season draws to a close, I am feeling thankful for the students and teachers with whom I have had the pleasure of working. I am grateful for the opportunity to care for four school gardens and to learn so much more each growing season. As we settle into the colder, slower season, we can’t help but keep one eye on the past season and the other on our next.
Greg Beach is the CitySprouts garden coordinator at the King Open, Haggerty, Tobin, and Vassal Lane Upper Schools of Cambridge, as well as the Mather School of Dorchester.