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!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Our vision for "The Garden" or why we grow the way we do...

Our Vision for "The Garden"

This garden project started as an idea to create an organic school garden where we could share our passion of gardening and healthy food with others and as a place to teach children where their food comes from.

When we began this project last April, we wrote a mission so we could outline what we hoped to accomplish and list what goals we wished to obtain.

Here is an updated  outline of our vision:

The Garden at Oswegatchie School is a sustainable, organic garden where we grow strictly open pollinated, organic and heirloom varieties while using only natural practices to grow in harmony with nature. 

The Garden is a place where children will not only learn where their food comes from but also get a hands-on experience growing, harvesting and preparing food.

It is a place for children to connect with nature and develop an appreciation and respect for the earth.

The Garden is a learning center to teach organic gardening and sustainable agricultural practices as well as incorporating art, music, math, literature and other subjects.
We are working on developing an eco-cycle model by creating a closed eco-system, relying on examples from natures to grow sustainably while replenishing the soil. Our growing practices include the following:
· building the soil by adding organic matter
· starting seeds using soil blocks, eliminating the need for plastic trays
· applying compost tea to add nutrients and grow healthy plants,
· planting bio-intensively to reduce water consumption, reduce the need to weed and achieve greater yields in less space, all while replenishing the soil,
· planting winter cover crops to build and protect the soil
· crop rotation
· companion planting to attract beneficial insects, reducing the need for pesticides,
· organic pest management
· seed saving, growing out regional heirlooms that are adapted to our area, protection the diversity of seeds
· winter gardening to provide fresh greens year round
· composting
· growing for nutritional value
We are also working on developing sustainable practices to reduce the impact on the earth. Some of the practices that are currently in development are:
· developing a rainwater collection system for irrigation
· designing a self-sufficient greenhouse that can produce its own electricity to run heating mats, cooling & ventilation system, drip irrigation system (collected rainwater) and lights.
Our intention is to make The Garden a child friendly place where children are encouraged to join in and participate in every process of creating, developing and maintaining the garden.
We plan on incorporating the food grown in the garden into the school lunch program as well as offering a natural school snack and vegetarian lunch option. We also plan on creating an Oswegatchie CSA and Farmer’s Market for local families to participate in and provide food to families in our community that otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford healthy, organic food.

Some people have asked us what specific terms mean, like sustainable or open pollinated, so I'll try to explain the meanings and why we chose to grow this way: 

Sustainable - Means capable of being continued with minimal long term affects on the environment.

We want the garden to be self-sustainable, meaning that once it is up and running, it will be able to support itself. The garden will do this through processes like composting to build the soil structure and saving seeds to reduce the need to purchase seeds each year. It will also do this financially by the selling of seeds and seedlings from the garden in the spring.

Organic - Organic means without chemicals.

We grow using only organic seeds in the garden because we don't want chemicals in our food or food grown from seed that was sprayed with chemicals. It's been proven through scientific studies that organic food has a higher nutrient content than food grown with chemicals.

Open pollinated - Open pollinated means pollinated by insects, birds or nature.

 Selecting open pollinated seeds means that when you save your seeds, you will end up with the true variety you are saving from. If a seed is a hybrid, it will revert back to one if it's parents and won't grow true.

Heirloom - Heirlooms are non-hybrid, open pollinated varieties that have been grown for generations and saved because of their characteristics like taste or adaptability.

We choose to grow mostly heirlooms because these varieties have history. They have been passed down from generation to generation and connect people all over the world with the stories they hold. Growing heirloom varieties and saving seeds also helps preserve varieties that may become lost due to the creation of hybrid and GMO seeds.

Bio-intensive - Bio-intensive planting means planting intensively, spacing plants as close as possible.

Bio-intensive planting reduces the need to water because the leaves shade the soil, reducing the amount of evaporation. It also reduces the need to weed because weeds usually don't grow in the shade.

Soil blocks - A compact square of soil used to grow seedlings in.

Using soil blocks not only reduces the need for plastic seedling trays, it is also better for the plants because it reduces root shock when transplanting. The seedlings will grow to the edge of the soil block and stop, sending the energy into the plant instead of becoming root bound. The result is healthier plants.

This has been one of the most rewarding projects we have worked on. We get inspired each time we set foot in the garden. Seeing it come to fruition and grow, as it has in the past year, has been an incredible experience.

We have so much more in store for this project. The teaching possibilities are endless and we plan on taking full advantage of this resource to bring awareness of healthy food and the importance of preserving our food supply to as many as we can!

~Rob & Cynthia Terry

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Enjoying another Spring day!

A garden is work. Lots and lots of work. It takes time and patience and sometimes a sense of humor. However, as exhausting as the process can sometimes be, a garden can be a little piece of heaven on earth. This is the way we feel about our school garden project. My husband and I have devoted countless hours to planning, preparing, teaching, and learning. We do this because it is important. It is the right thing to do for the environment and for the children at Oswegatchie Elementary school. When children tell me they like being in the garden because it is pretty and they feel good being there, I know all of our hard work is worth it. We call the garden OUR happy place because early in the morning as the sun is coming up and the birds are calling to each other while we water the tender plants, we can feel the weight of day to day nonsense melt away. We can feel our souls bubble over with joy and become energized. It's amazing what a little patch of soil and some seeds can sprout in you. 

Okay, I've been told I "gush" too much about the garden but I am so profoundly proud of  what our students accomplish every week that I just can't help myself. Here is what we've been up too this week. :)

We have encouraged the children to check the rain gauge and thermometer every week and chart their measurements. We want to teach them that when gardening, temperature and precipitation trends are important. You can look back and see what the conditions were like from year to year and compare plant growth to conditions.

We were able to "harvest" some black gold from our compost bin. My favorite comment all afternoon was "look at those big juicy ones!" when a child discovered numerous worms at work.

Removing winter mulch and weeding the onions.
Planting companion zinnias to the bean bed.
Planting Connecticut Field and New England Sugar Pie pumpkins.

Using the "old fashioned" mower to cut the grass.
Planting more sunflowers.
Mrs. Dyjak brought a beautiful assortment of home canned goodies and we discussed what people did before there were grocery stores and prepackaged foods. We talked about how preserving the food right from the garden is what many, many people used to do. We also talked about different ways to save food like freezing, canning, salting, and drying. 

Our students are LOVING creating their Fairy Garden. Today they got to work creating amazing, well thought out structures like bridges and zip lines. Mrs. Bunnell is encouraging the children to think about the size and habits of fairies when creating their designs. It is inspirational to see the children collaborating and testing their ideas.

Mixed greens.

Our pizza garden. Tomato, basil, and oregano.


2nd year oregano.


Vermont Red Kernel Popcorn


Kale and Swiss Chard.

Sugar snap peas.

School will be out in less than a month but our project will continue all through summer. Looking back through the photos from last year it is mind boggling to see how fast everything fills in. Even from week to week the growth is amazing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Busy, busy, busy!

Mrs.Dyjak started our session today by talking about different types of scents and flavors that come out of the garden. The children got to experience mint, lavender, garlic, vanilla, and cinnamon. We talked about what we can get from our garden verses what we get from other places. 

The children had a choice of flavoring their water today with either mint or lavender. Most preferred the mint. We also talked about experiencing your meals with all of your senses. How we enjoy our food more when it looks, smells, and tastes great. Even hearing food cooking can excite your taste buds.

Organic sprouted greens were added to the garden today
The Garden was a busy, busy place this afternoon. One of the first things the children did was plant a potato and bean bed. I never would have thought of putting the two together but according to Sally Jean Cunningam's book Great Garden Companions "Potatoes and beans always travel together as a family in my companion garden. The beans and potatoes share space well, and they repel or confuse some of each others' worst pest enemies." We decided to give it a try.

Conventional produce rots, organic produce sprouts.

In the middle of two beds we planted seed potatoes.
In the corners of the same beds we started beans.
Montcalm dark red kidney beans

Cannellino Lucchese beans
Instead of growing regular green beans this year we decided to grow Jacob's cattle, Red Mexican, Montcalm dark red kidney, cannellino lucchese, and black turtle beans.These types of beans are typically  used in soups, chili, and burritos.

Next the children got to work planting kale and swiss chard.

After that they planted a bed with tomato, basil and sunflowers. The basil will make the tomatoes tastier and according to Sally Jean Cunningham, the sunflowers go well visually.

As always, the children were eager to add to their growing fairy garden. They were able to stroll through Oswegatchie's beautiful nature trail to gather materials.

This time of year is so exciting because changes happen lightning fast in the garden.
The sunflowers we planted last week have sprouted.

The butterfly weed has grown 6 inches since last week!

The garlic is growing like a weed.

The peas have grown 2 inches since last week.

All of the perennials planted last year are making a beautiful comeback. We just got our Monarch Way station certification and should have our certificate shortly. If all goes according to plan, our fence will be up this weekend and the shed by the end of the month.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Boom Chicka Pop.

We are so grateful to Angie's Boom Chicka Pop. for their generous donation of a garden cart and organic popcorn seeds! The children were so excited to hear we are planting Boom Chicka Pop in the school garden. If all goes well we can enjoy it during the school's movie nights in the fall! Check out this link to see how you can get your own Boom Chicka Pop. to grow.

As usual it was a busy and productive day in the Garden. Mrs. Dyjak taught a lesson about the number of steps it takes to get most produce that is bought at the supermarket to our tables. Using bananas as an example the children realized it takes more than 6 steps to get bananas to our tables. This process wastes valuable resources like fuel and the produce isn't even at it's peak freshness when it reaches our tables. This means we aren't getting the full intended nutritional benefit from food that is shipped here from far away.

Whereas, if we eat food right from our own garden it takes two steps to get it to the table, we can let it naturally ripen to get the most nutritional benefit, and there is less waste because we pick as we need it from the garden. It is always ready, always perfectly fresh.

After this lesson the children got right to work getting the newly dug beds ready to plant.

I have to say this group of children LOVES getting their hands dirty, so the beds were ready for planting in no time! It's easy to see that they are very interested in what they are doing and know that their hard work reaps huge rewards.

After the beds were cleaned out they got to work planting Angie's Boom Chicka Pop. popcorn seeds as well as Vermont Red Kernel popcorn seeds from Solstice Seeds in Hartland, Vermont. Some children didn't realize popcorn came from actual seeds and can't wait for harvest!

After all that hard work the children got to check for progress in the garden.

The peas have almost reached the first support. Soon we'll have to add strings for them to climb.

The garlic and leeks are over a foot tall! Waiting for harvest will be rough.
The spinach, kale and chard are just starting to make the smallest appearance. Still waiting to see signs of the carrots, beets and chives. Waiting is the hardest part. After progress checks the children had a few minutes to reflect on today's lessons and do some journaling.

Our perennial bed is starting to fill in nicely. The children were able to add their creations from last week's rainy day project to the fairy houses. 

We lost most of our crew early this week to various spoprts practices and games. However, we managed to keep a couple to help us plant the three height sunflower beds.

Great teamwork!
It seems like we will have to wait forever until the veggies are ready. Nothing teaches patience quite like a garden. As anxious as I am for the children to be able to taste the sweet results of their hard work, I know in due time they will be able to.