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, June 27, 2013

Summer Reading

by Edith Hope Fine
Okay, I feel like a slacker. I'm the Librarian at the school and I haven't posted any book suggestions. I have been a little busy with actually taking care of the Garden, wrapping things up in the Library, and taking care of my family so I will try not to be so hard on myself. 
I am an avid reader. I read ALL the time. I devour books. My husband wishes I would frequent the Public Library more but when I fall in love with a book (which is daily) I strive to adopt it into my personal library. Fortunately, Rob understands my obsession to adopt homeless books and has added a line item to our personal budget to include books. Thank goodness for The Book Barn in Niantic, CT. My favorite branch by far is Midtown. They have the best children's selection. 
I could give you pages and pages of suggestions for children's books as I adore children's books. They always seem to leave the reader hopeful even if the ending isn't happy (except for Grimms's tales, those dudes were demented in a real life isn't even close to a fairy tale kinda' way. I still appreciate them!). This is a blog about gardening with children so I will keep my suggestions related to the content. In our research, Rob and I found many, many amazing books to help you start and maintain a successful school garden. For today, I will stick to storybooks as I like for children to read about things as they experience them. Here is a list of a few of my favorites in no particular order.

Water, Weed, and Wait by Edith Hope Fine, illustrated by Colleen Madden. This is a story about a group of children who take a sad part of their school playground and turn it into a garden. In the process they learn about community and making new friends. It's in my favorite list because it showcases the importance of children being involved in a school garden project.

Katie and the Sunflowers by James Mayhew. This fun story starts out with Katie planting sunflowers with her Grandmother when rain sends them indoors to the art museum. Mayhew's sweet illustrations make the works of van Gogh, Gauguin, and Cezanne come to life in a way you would never have expected. Fun romp for children who like to "picture" themselves in the art or stories they experience. 

Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. Wesley is different from the other children and doesn't seem to fit in anywhere at school. As a summer project Wesley decides to take what he learned at school and start his own civilization beginning with a staple crop. He turns a patch of his yard into a garden plot. Overnight mysterious seeds blow in and begin to grow. From this small piece of land Wesley cultivates more than a garden. This one is a must read so I am not going to give anymore away. 

Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. Alice learns from her grandfather that it is our responsibility to make the world a more beautiful place. Follow adventurous Alice on her life-long journey and see how she decides to carry out her grandfather's instructions. Heartwarming tale and gentle reminder how it doesn't take grand gestures to make the world more beautiful.

June 29, 1999 by David Wiesner. Multiple Caldecott Medal winning illustrator Wiesner never disappoints. This oldie but goodie is no exception. His detailed illustrations make the absurd wonderfully believable. See what happens when student Holly Evans decides to set seedlings aloft into the ionosphere for her science experiment. This one is best appreciated when you have time and inclination to gather your little ones in your lap and spend lots of time exploring each page. This gem of a book is a feast for the eyes and imagination. It  will have your little ones looking at veggies in a whole new way!

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Little Liam is curious about what would happen if he tends a struggling garden in the middle of a drab city. The chain of events he sets off is miraculous and heartwarming.This one may inspire your little one to tend their own little patch of land.

Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals, illustrated by Ashley Wolff.
The catchy rhyming text highlights the importance of composting. It also outlines the dos and don'ts of composting in a fun simple way. 

A Handful of Dirt by Raymond Bial. This non-fiction text outlines in wonderful detail how dirt is a living microcosm and what you need to make and keep it healthy. The text is lengthy but full of amazing (and sometimes gross) photography that will keep a young reader engaged. The reading level is for 4th or 5th graders but younger readers will be engaged by the vivid pictures. Worth a look.

All of these fine books can be found at your local Public Library. If they don't have them on their shelves they can get them for you from another library. I have included links with these books so you can look at the covers and see what other folks are saying about them.I have 11 other books sitting on my desk right now that I wanted to add to this list but didn't want to overwhelm you. If you liked any of these let me know and I can give you the rest of my list :)

Early Results Look Promising

Squash bug within minutes after spraying
I don't want to get overly optimistic but the Bug Juice seems to be doing the trick! We debated watering this morning as rain is predicted for later this afternoon. The sky is overcast but I'm not convinced the clouds aren't going to burn off so we watered this morning just to be safe. The Garden is in an open field that gets direct sunlight for more than 8 hours a day. Water evaporates quickly and we don't want to take any chances with this project. 
After watering, I sprayed the tall sunflowers behind the Garden sign. Rob is overly cautious and didn't want to spray the veggies right away. Before spraying I noticed 2 Japanese beetles, 8 cucumber beetles and 3 squash bugs on the plants. As I began spraying, the cucumber beetles took off immediately! I made sure to thoroughly coat the tops and bottoms of the leaves as well as the stems. I walked away for 5 minutes to look at the rest of the garden. When I came back all of the cucumber beetles were gone, the squash bugs were belly up, and the Japanese beetles were motionless. Rob picked it up and confirmed it was dead. We watched as cucumber beetles circled, landed briefly and took off again. That coupled with the fact that the squash bugs were belly up convinced Rob to spray a bed of squash. We are still taking a wait and see approach before doing the whole garden. As Rob sprayed the squash, the cucumber beetles were leaving 
in a swarm!  
Rob applying the Bug Juice to the squash. If you look closely, you can see a cucumber beetle leaving.

We noticed lots of critters in the garden this morning, I'm happy to see some beneficials as well. I wish I brought my camera with the macro lens to get really good close-ups but am pleased with the ones I did get. Can you tell the good from the bad bugs?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Good News, Bad News

A cucumber that has been hiding for a while.
I'll start with the good news. We have abundant cucumbers, beans, squash and tomatoes. The plants are lush and seem to be thriving in this oppressive heat. The pumpkins the children sowed directly are springing up and growing daily. The corn is almost knee high. I heard an old farmers adage that corn needs to be "knee high by July" for the crop to be successful.  The tomatoes are getting so big Rob had to stake them last weekend. The beans are just starting to produce slim beginnings of what I hope to be an abundant crop. Take a look:

another cucumber I think there are about 6 this size.

Ms. Messina's  purple beans.

Mrs. Leal's string beans.

Yellow squash

 Now for the bad news. We have bugs! I knew that a first year garden was bound to have some set backs. I got overly confident that we had reached such a lush stage in the garden without encountering an attack. I spoke too soon, the attack is happening now. Here is why. Our soil hasn't had a chance to become properly amended. What I mean by that is our soil doesn't have enough organic matter components to make it healthy enough to be pest resistant. Yes, we have organic matter in it but not enough yet. Just like a healthy body is more resistant to illness and disease, healthy soil is more resistant to pest and disease. This is what is trying to infect our garden:

Squash bug
cucumber beetle
Looks like a ladybug but actually a Mexican Bean beetle

This is what we are doing about it. As I write this Rob is brewing up a batch of organic pest repellent. It's kind of burning my eyes. Here is the recipe:

1 large onion
1 jalapeno pepper
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp Dawn dish soap
gallon jug
chop all veggies making sure to leave the seed in the jalapeno. put in a food processor until it makes a paste. boil paste in a gallon of water for 20 minutes. strain liquid into a jug and add dish soap. mix well and apply through a spray bottle every few days. 
This recipe was found at  

We have decided to call it Bug Juice. What we are going to do is "test" it on a few plants before introducing it to the whole garden. We are pretty sure the only thing it is going to do is make the pests leave but better to be safe than sorry. We also pick the pests off the leaves as we see them and give them a nice  resting place in a jar of  soapy water. Rob has ordered an organic product called Sticky Yellow Traps. Apparently, the bugs are attracted to the yellow flowers so this product is literally a yellow sticky paper that will trap the little buggers. Will keep you posted with the results. In our research ( by "our" I  mean Rob's) we found that companion plants to keep these critters away are radish, nasturtium, and tansy. Good to know for next year. Companion planting buckwheat, catnip, or borage will attract beneficial insects.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Morning Zen

I think I may have found my new morning routine. Rob and I went to the Garden to water this morning around 5 The sun was just starting to breech the horizon and song birds greeted us with a full concert. While Rob set up the hose I meandered around looking at the garden trying to imagine how children would see it. I want children to look forward to exploring in the Garden and whenever I try to look at things from their perspective, I get new ideas for what to do next weekend, next month, or next year. I hope you enjoy some of the scenes that inspired me to keep this project moving forward.

If you need a place to find some breathing room come to the garden. Each time of day in the garden brings a different kind of magic. Come see which suits you best.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wrapping Up the School Year

Squash taking over the garden bed!
It seems like forever ago since we started the Garden. It has only been 48 days since we first built the beds and filled them. 48 DAYS! It is amazing how much has happened since then. The children were skeptical when we first planted those tiny tender seedlings. Yesterday in Garden Club the delighted cries of "oh my gosh look at that!" or "everyone come over here I found a cucumber!" then "these plants are giants now!" made me realize that the many, many hours we have poured into planning and preparation and research have been worth it. 

On Tuesday the children planted annuals in Mrs. Macione's Butterfly Garden. They added petunias, zinnias, and marigolds to accompany the butterfly weed, bee balm, yarrow, and shasta daisies. The center bed is a buffet for butterflies. We can't wait to start seeing the pollinating visitors! After they planted, the children added a layer of mulch to the bed to retain moisture and keep the weeds at bay. 

Tuesday's children also learned about the importance of dead-heading, pinching dead blossoms off of a plant to keep it producing flowers. Since the goal of this garden is to be self-sustaining, we showed the children how to make their own seed packets to save marigold seeds for next year. For instructions on how to make your own seed packets see Bepa's Garden link.

The Garden's tomato plants are coming along beautifully. It was time to prune off the bottom branches so the energy will go into producing fruit instead of leaves. With every snip, the delicious aroma of tomato was released into the air. I heard one child saying "I wish I could eat them up right now, it smells so gooooood!" The children asked for the cuttings to put in their journals. A few children just enjoyed the olfactory experience of the cut tomato branch. Another used the branches for a hair accessory.

Thursday's Garden Club got down to the business of weeding the pumpkin patch. The original pumpkin seedlings we planted are struggling so  last week's the Fun Friday enrichment group planted more seeds directly into the patch. In only one week they have started to sprout! After weeding the children got to finish planting the remaining elements to the Three Sisters bed beans and squash. 

After the hard work of weeding and planting the children had some time to write about the progress they have noticed in the garden.

The school year may be coming to an end but the work of maintaining and keeping a garden is just beginning. The children were anxious when they asked what would happen to the garden during the summer. We assured them they were welcome to come as often as they like to weed, water, or just enjoy the peace and quiet the garden offers. Rob and I will be frequent visitors to the Garden and have some more building projects planned. When I told the children of the opportunity to help build more things one child threw her hand into the air and said "Oooo, building? I'm your woman. I LOVE to build things!" The only thing I could think of was: not as much as I enjoy watching you thrive doing it! I feel blessed to have the opportunity to help children find things they love doing and giving them the venue to practice, and learn from their mistakes in a supportive environment. 

As always, thanks for coming along with us on this journey.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Progress in the garden ...

The school garden is really starting to take shape, and it is so nice to see the beds starting to fill and vegetables beginning to develop on the plants!

Tomato plant with cherry tomato forming.
Tomato plants growing strong!
This project began as a simple idea my wife and I had to share our passion for organic gardening with the children at Oswegatchie School. We both have a deep love for gardening and feel strongly about the state of our food system and the need to educate others on the importance of proper nutrition and healthy eating. What better way to do that than with a school garden?

We feel it's important to teach children where their food should come from and also give them the tools and knowledge to be able to grow it themselves, hopefully inspiring some to start gardens at home or even want to start a farm someday. Gardening used to be an important part of peoples lives, teaching life skills to generations, and bringing families closer as they harvest, cooked and ate meals together.

That's why we are devoting so much of ourselves to this project.  

Squash taking over one of the beds.
Bush beans.
I just recently finished reading Edible Schoolyard by Alice Walters.
It's about how an influential chef, Alice Walters, and a small group of teachers and volunteers created an organic garden at a run down school in Berkley California, bringing wholesome food to inner city kids who normally wouldn't experience it.  The schoolyard has since grown into a universal idea of Edible Education that integrates academics with growing, cooking, and sharing wholesome, delicious food. 

This book was very inspiring and motivating and gave us even more drive to continue to grow our school garden. It reaffirmed our belief that children should be involved in every step of the process because they will retain more by doing and take ownership of a project if they work on it themselves.

"When children are encouraged to grow and cook and enjoy wholesome, delicious food all together, from seed to table and back again, in an atmosphere of caring and beauty, they fall in love with it's lessons."   

~ a quote from Edible Schoolyard~

Yellow crookneck squash forming.
This project has been a long time in the making, and it is so satisfying to see all the hard work of the children and families that helped build the garden begin to pay off. I am humbled by all the support and interest in this project.

During the after school garden clubs that we run on Tuesdays and Thursdays we have been getting some interesting questions and observations from the children. Most of the smaller kids are curious about how seeds grow into plants. We showed them time lapse videos on seeds germinating to help them understand. They became extremely excited during the next class when someone noticed a squash forming on a plant that they started from seed. 

Some of the older kids had never seen a garden and ask a lot of questions about starting one at home. Last Friday we had a child ask if the plants will still be growing when they return to school after summer break. We told her that we will be maintaining the garden all summer and everyone is welcome to come help water, weed and enjoy the harvest from the garden and that the garden will still be growing strong when they return in September. We told them how we will be growing a winter garden, growing lettuce, carrots and greens throughout the winter in cold frames and everyone cheered!

That's what makes this project worth while!


Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Some may see a storm rolling in but I choose to enjoy the brilliant blue sky behind the clouds.

The School Garden has been in place for just over a month now. While the majority of the feedback we've received has been positive, the negative comments are the ones that seem to stick with me. Instead of letting the comments fester and turn into something ugly, I stopped and thought about the reason for this project in the first place. 
Rob and I envision The Garden as a place where children can come to wonder and question and observe nature. Where mistakes can be turned into learning opportunities and all points of view are welcomed. Where the effort is more appreciated than the outcome and celebrations held for the smallest of victories.
The children come to the garden every week bouncing with enthusiasm and prepared to work. Delightful cries of  "Mrs. Terry look, it's a food growing!" or "that sprout wasn't there last time, look how big it is!" send me reaching for the tissues every time. When parents pick up their children and share with us how their child was excited to tell them everything they learned about in the garden or how their children are happy to start and tend their own small gardens or cup full of seeds I know in my heart we are are the right path in our journeys.
Yes, I know the pumpkins aren't doing great right now. I can see for myself that there are bare spots in the cucumber bed. It's okay that the beans the children planted directly into the bed aren't in neat rows and don't look as picturesque as some would like. The gardeners are children and children make mistakes. It's okay. They are learning by doing and having a great time doing it. If you choose to see the good in what they have done you will be amazed.
Bean plants flourishing.

more beans

Beans sown directly into the beds last week!

Ms. Menno's class squash that grows inches daily.

Companions sunflower and morning glory

Ms. Menno's squash from the bug's eye view.

same bug's point of view from a different angle.

Squash stalk the size of a redwood, it's all a matter of perspective.