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