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!

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016


First Praying Mantis spotted in the Garden a couple years ago.

It all started a couple of years ago when we first spotted a gorgeous praying mantis on our Garden sign. I was thrilled to see it taking up residence in our garden as we were having some problems with pest bugs and  we are an organic garden that doesn't use chemicals of any sort. 

It was a gorgeous specimen. I'm not sure if it was male or female as I'm not a bug expert. They have very unique personalities. It would seem to listen to me when I talked to it during my morning watering sessions. It would tilt its head to one side to give the impression of hearing what I was saying.

Mantis mating
Toward the end of the summer I noticed this amorous couple. It has been well documented that the female will bite the head off the male once mating is complete. I'm glad I didn't capture that!
I kept looking to find egg cases as further evidence that the mating was successful. Either they were really hidden or the female decided to choose some other venue to host her egg cases. This year after finding THREE egg cases deposited in the Garden I realized where we had gone wrong. At the end of the summer we routinely cleaned out all of the dead plant material and put them in the compost bins. This year we didn't. The mantis had no where to lay her egg cases before and now she did.

This is the first case to hatch this year.

So what stressed me out as being inefficient (not cleaning the beds at the end of the season) turned out to be exactly what the mantis needed to have a safe place to deposit her egg cases. My husband meets me in the Garden on Club day and gets things set up before I bring the students out. Today I get a text "The mantis egg cases are hatching!" As the students were walking into the library to meet me for Garden Club they were met with a librarian squealing like an excited 6 year old! I couldn't help it, I just get so giddy when it comes to anything nature related. The students immediately caught my enthusiasm and starting asking "what is it? what's going on?" When I told them the mantis' were hatching they said "well, hurry up lets get out there!" Needless to say, I had to stop a group of children from running to other classrooms to gather the rest of our Club members. Every time another student walked into the library they would all say "the mantis eggs are hatching, we need to hurry up and get out there!"

starting to emerge

hatching is hard work

sometimes siblings just get in the way

made it!
Last week I found a YouTube video that showed an egg case hatching. The mantis seemed to swarm out of the case and the people creating the video were soon inundated with hundreds of newly hatched mantis. The children and I thought we would be witnessing the same phenomena. Not so much. Our hatch lings seemed to have a harder time coming out and only a few emerged at at time. Once out, they quickly disappeared into the oregano plant to stay safe and find food. The children were very lucky to see the few hatching they did. Every time they went back to check, there seemed to be more hopping around off the case.

Now to find some food!

I've read that only 1/5 of all hatch lings survive. Praying mantis are quite carnivorous and will eat siblings if a food source isn't readily available. Here's hoping they find a nice crop of aphids or other tasty pest so they don't have to eat each other! We are all looking forward to seeing many grown mantis out and about in the Garden this summer. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Weather Or Not, Here We Grow!

Seedlings planted 4/28/16!

Despite the cool dreary weather things are really starting to sprout in the garden and in the school library's growing station. The pumpkin seeds the students saved from last years Garden and planted in soil blocks are up 3 inches and are starting to get their second set of leaves. The squash seeds (also saved from last year's harvest) are taking a bit longer, but as of Friday, they are just starting to break through the soil. 

During the last Garden Club meeting we made ready the new boxes for our organic strawberries. We started off by reading the book The First Strawberries by Joseph Bruchac. 

In this Cherokee legend of how strawberries came into existence, the author tells of how the Cherokee people are reminded that kindness, respect, and friendship are as sweet as the red ripe strawberries. We thought this would be a fitting metaphor for the students at Oswegatchie to remember whenever they are working in the Garden. We purchased Jewel and Cabot organic strawberries from Johnny's Seeds.

The children worked really well together removing fresh compost from our bins and filling the boxes.

We had to add a little more organic soil to the boxes as there wasn't quiet enough compost to do the trick.

Unfortunately, that was about all they were able to get done before the skies opened up on them. We went back on Saturday and finished planting the strawberries.

With all of the rain we have had the past week, the perennials are starting to pop. It still hasn't been warm enough for the praying mantis egg cases to hatch but we are keeping a close eye on them.

Next week during Garden Club we plan on putting in the lettuce and kale seedlings the children started a few weeks ago. We are hoping the sun will decide to shine sometime soon. We sometimes worry that inclement weather will put the children off working in the Garden. However, the look on this face tells us fun is had whatever the weather brings!