The Garden at Oswegatchie School is a sustainable organic garden where children get a hands on experience learning where their food comes from while developing an appreciation and respect for nature. The Garden will be a learning center to teach gardening as well as incorporating art, music, literature, math and science. It is a place where children are encouraged to join in and participate in the process of creating, developing and maintaining the garden!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Harvesting  Rainwater

Our goal is to make the school garden a sustainable system, one that doesn't depend on outside resources. We work to achieve this by saving seeds and bulbs each year to replant in the spring,  making our own compost using leaves from the surrounding trees and debris from the garden, and by companion planting to help with pest problems so we don't need to use pesticides.

One major problem we've encountered was that we relied heavily on the city water from the school to keep the garden irrigated each season, especially throughout the summer months. Dragging the garden hose 150' to the building to hook up to the water supply was a chore in itself so we decided to take advantage of the free resource and harvest rainwater from the roof of the shed. 

We purchased two 60 gallon rain barrels, already set up with a cover, screen to filter out leaves, spigots to hook a hose up to and over flow valves.  We installed gutters and downspouts on the shed and hooked up both barrels. 

Before deciding to try harvesting rainwater we needed to calculate how much water we could collect off the roof of the shed.

Its a simple calculation:
(length x width of the roof in inches) x (inches of rainfall) divided by 231
(because 1 gallon = 231 cubic inches)

The shed roof is 62" x 100" per side.
(62 x 100) x 1 divided by 231 = 26.84 gallons per inch of rain!

We have rain barrels on both sides of the shed so we need to double that number:
26.84 x 2 =  53.68 gallons of rain collected for every inch that falls!

Thats's quite an impressive amount of rain from a small shed!

This year we have gotten approximately 42.54" of rain so far! If you plug that into the equation:

(62 x 100) x 42.54 divided by 231 = 1,141.77 gallons, for each side of the roof, double that to account for both sides of the roof and we could have potentially collected 2,283.53 gallons of water!

Needless to say, the rain barrels collected more than enough rain water to keep the garden irrigated for the entire growing season and they are both still full! We haven't had to use the water from the faucet at all so it we have achieved the goal of keeping the garden irrigated sustainably!

We did water the garden by hand from the rain barrels, which was still a bit of a chore, but we didn't mind because it gave us time to really look at the plants and closely observe how everything was growing. The idea of putting a solar pump on the barrels to move the water through a hose to the beds was considered, but after much research we decided to try using ollas (pronounced oy-yas) next year.

Ollas are terra cotta vessels that are buried in the garden and filled with water. The water is released when the surrounding ground becomes dry, providing irrigation to the plants. Ollas have been used for thousands of years. Depending on how dry it is they only need to be filled every 3 to 5 days. We add a lot of organic matter to the garden and plant densely using different height plants spaced close together to create mini microclimates. This helps to keep the soil covered, minimizing evaporation, allowing the soil to hold on to more moisture, so we usually don't need to water that often.

In the spring we are going to put a couple ollas in two of the beds to see how well they work.

Gardening in harmony with nature, instead of trying to control it, seems to be less effort and offers greater rewards by means of minimal pest problems and greater harvests.

We've been noticing more and more critters showing up in the garden as well. It's nice to be able to observe so many forms of nature just foot steps from the school!


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Many changes are happening in the garden!

 I can't believe it's been a year and a half since we posted last! 

Just like a garden in the winter, we needed time to rest and recollect our thoughts. We needed to look at what we have done so far and figure out what we want the garden to grow into. 

This year we are off to a great start and looking back at the last post, we have already begun taking steps to make the changes we mentioned.

One of the new features we recently added is a bug hotel. 

We want to attract beneficial insects like ladybugs and bees to our garden and what better way than to have a place for them to live. Not only does it serve a purpose, it also makes a nice art feature that can be added to while using the garden.

We are trying to bring more art into the garden so we have added a couple weaving looms where garden materials such as vines and dried stalks can be woven to create art pieces that can hang on the fence to provide birds with nesting materials.

We've added more perennials to the garden like rhubarb, asparagus, grapes and also replanted more strawberries that were runners from our original plants and overwintered in the greenhouse.

Organic rhubarb
Seedless Grapes along the fence
Strawberry plants overwintered in the greenhouse from last years runners

We want the garden to be a self-sufficient system and part of that is being able to deal with the feeding and watering the garden. The compost bins have been producing quite a bit of compost to amend the beds in the spring. We fill them with plant debris and leaves in the fall and in the spring we have nice rich compost to top off the raised beds.

This year we are trying vermicomposting, which is another way to produce high quality compost, using worms. 

We have a worm bin set up at home that we are trying out. We add all our kitchen scraps to the bin and the worms turn it into nutrient rich compost. If it works out well we will create a worm bin in the garden.

The rainwater collection system was just installed yesterday, just in time for todays rain. With just 1/2 inch of rain this morning we already collected 13.5 gallons of rainwater. 

With every inch of rain we should be able to harvest 28 gallons of water, and when we add a gutter to the back side of the shed we should be able to fill the 60 gallon barrel! 

We average about 46.5 inches if rain each year, that's about 2,496 gallons of water collected from the runoff of our small garden shed!

Another way we are trying to make the garden self-sufficient is to have it be self funding. This year we are going to try selling items that are grown in or come from the garden.

Our first fundraiser is selling dwarf sunflowers that we started from seed in our greenhouse at home. We are pleased with what we have raised so far and it will go along way in funding all the things we have planned for the garden this year!

~Rob & Cynthia

Monday, November 14, 2016

Growing In A New Direction

 The growing season has come to an end at the garden,
time to cover the beds and let the garden to rest until next spring.

Garlic was planted in October, from seed that has been saved consistently over the past three years, resulting in enormous cloves of delicious and fragrant garlic that has been adapted to our area. We haven't bought seed garlic since the first year because we save the largest heads to replant each fall.

Bulbs have been planted in some of the beds so there is an array of color in the spring while we wait for the perennials to come up. Last week we had a small group of kids help plant some of those bulbs and collect leaves to cover the beds for the winter.

 We were originally thinking of planting a fall/winter crop this year, but have decided not to after realizing that we need to do things differently to get the results we are hoping to get from this project.

Since the summer, we have been assessing the garden program and have realized there are some areas we need to improve upon. We've noticed that the soil is extremely depleted and the ground is compacted from the construction of the new school. We've also been having a difficult time keeping up with the weeding and watering, especially during the summer when school isn't in session and we've also come to realize that the kids need to have a greater appreciation and respect for nature.

Our original purpose for the garden was to build a self-sufficient eco-system that would produce plenty of yields, create a space that attracted wildlife (and people) while offering a space for children to learn the importance of healthy food. While those original goals haven't changed much, the way in which we wish to achieve them has. 

We've decided to turn the garden into a permaculture garden and change garden club into a nature education program. We believe it's important for children to have a respect for nature before they can really learn the importance of growing healthy food. 

Permaculture, if you are unfamiliar with the term, comes from the words "permanent agriculture". It's the idea of planting an ecologically designed garden where plants are planted in groupings so they all work together. Each plant has an interconnection that will create a healthy, sustainable whole. Some might add nutrients the other needs to grow, and others might attract beneficial insects.

"An ecological garden both looks and works the way nature does. It does this by building strong connections among plants, soil life, beneficial insects and other animals, and the gardener, to weave a resilient, natural webwork" 

     ~Toby Hemenway, Gaia's Garden


There are many concepts to permaculture but these are just a few that we will be concentrating on to bring to the garden:
  • Deep nutrient rich soil that is full of organic matter
  • Plants that add fertility to the garden by pulling nutrients from the deep soil, air and rainwater
  • Planting in layers to create habitats for other creatures
  • Creating mutual relationships between plants, insects, birds, and people
  • An emphasis on perennial plants
  • Creating closed cycles so that we will need very little from outside sources. The garden should be able to provide most (if not all) of the fertilizer, mulch, seed and new plants to keep it going.

 The other big change, as I mentioned above, is to use the garden for a nature education program. Cynthia has already begun getting the children excited about nature by having them collect items they found in nature to share with other "nature pals" (children from schools in other parts of the United States). The children have been enthusiastically collecting items and are equally excited to see what "gifts" they receive from other schools. Everyone seems to be learning a lot by getting out there and exploring nature!

Over the winter I will continue to study, learning how to turn our garden into an ecological garden. I will also be planning for the spring planting and collecting seeds and plants so we can begin building the new garden as soon as the ground thaws next spring!

We have high hopes for turning this small piece of land into a self sustaining Eco-system that will attract many insects, birds and people and will be a place for everyone to reconnect with nature.
We feel we are finally on the right path to doing that,
and we hope you will continue to watch this area grow!

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Last Session of the School Year

Working together to plant the seedlings.
We held our last Garden Club session of the school year this week. It was a scorcher compared to the past few weeks but the students worked really hard to plant all of the seedlings they started so many weeks ago in the Library Grow Lab. They planted watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, squash, and tomatoes. According to the Stella Natura calendar, today was the perfect moon phase for planting fruit. 

We haven't done much cooking from the Garden this year so we thought we'd end the school session with a quick and easy recipe. The children made a Massage Kale Salad. This salad is the easiest salad to put together. Our kale in the Garden isn't quite ready yet so we used local organic ingredients instead. The base of the salad is kale, olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. You can then add any other ingredient you like our have available. To keep it really simple we just added fresh organic cherry tomatoes. Some children have never used a knife before. It is our philosophy to give children the proper tools so they may become adept at any skill. They all took turns cutting, juicing and tearing the ingredients.

Tearing kale.

"I love slicing lemons, they smell so lemony!"

adding the juice

Massaging it until it is soft


Final product

I let the students add the ingredients as they deemed appropriate. Cooking is all trial and error and every opportunity for mistakes is a teachable moment. After the tasting, some children thought the dressing was too lemony while others thought it was just right. We talked about how cooking is all a matter of personal taste and how we can do things differently based on weather we are making a dish for ourselves or to share with other people. 

After their healthy snack the students got busy getting the seedlings into the ground. They worked as a team planting each bed together.

The plants directly sowed into the Garden over the past few weeks are doing well as are the perennial beds. We saw evidence of several praying mantis nymphs so have deduced that the other two cases have hatched. We also saw a very large grasshopper. I hope he doesn't decide to snack on the new mantis nymphs. We are off to a great start leading to the Summer session.

Mantis nymph searching for food.

Ants and peony seem to have a symbiotic relationship.

blue eyed grass

strawberries coming along nicely