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!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dirty Hands, Happy Hearts

My Mom always used to say that you could tell how much fun you had by how dirty you were at the end of the day. If this week's Garden club is any indication, they all had a blast! 
While they were getting dirty, they planted tomatoes, basil, artichoke, walking stick kale, eggplant, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, squash, bush beans and sunflowers. They worked hard clearing a pumpkin patch, and tasted the sprouts they started last week.

Seedlings ready to go in.

More seedlings.
I love how this club is really starting to work like a team to get things done. They communicated really well with each other to get the tasks accomplished.

Getting a pumpkin bed dug is hard work but this team persevered and got the task done.

I love proving time and again that when children take part in the process of growing their food, they are more likely to try new things and enjoy them as well.

Enjoying alfalfa sprouts

"These are yummy"
At every club we try to provide time for quiet reflection and journal entries. What we are really doing is incorporating literacy but they don't need to know that!

The perennial beds are becoming quite impressive. One child dubbed the center perennial bed "the heart of the Garden because you can tell there is a lot of love here."

After the snow delays this winter caused, we are finally back into building mode. The garden shed is nearly complete. We only have to put on the door, roof, and siding. Right after we get that done, construction on the greenhouse can begin.


peppers, sunflowers, oregano

walking stick kale (will grow over 6 feet tall)
I hope we can encourage you go to out and get messy with your own kids!
Happy Gardening!!

Water droplet on kale

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sense of Wonder

One of the reasons we started this project is so children could connect with nature. We began to realize that many children did not know where food comes from or how to be outside and just explore the world around them. The Garden seemed like a logical choice for both situations to be rectified. Rob and I both grew up in places that lent themselves to hours of uninterrupted exploration of both woods and gardens. We share our love of nature with our own children and wanted to extend that sense of wonder. We were ecstatic when we came across Kelly Johnson's website Wings Worms and Wonder. She embodies the exact spirit we hope to infuse into our Garden project. Part of today's Garden club was inspired by her Draw Yourself Back to Nature art class Rob and I are taking online. Children were encouraged to go into the Garden and sketch what they were drawn to. Here are a few more examples.


The recent warm spell has caused everything to pop in the past couple of weeks. Some of the seeds we planted last week are starting to come up as are seeds that fell from last year's fruits and flowers. 

sunflower planted last week just starting to sprout

self-seeded morning glories
self-seeded tomatoes

corn starting to sprout

peas are now over 6 inches tall

Kale growing nicely
Since this project is funded primarily by profits through Rob's Etsy shop and by us, we needed to get creative for bringing in more donations for the Garden. We want it to be self-supporting and want the children to be able to learn about a small business model so we came up with the idea of saving seeds to use as a fundraising project. This week we had the children package the seeds we have saved from last years crops. We have popcorn, three types of beans, sunflowers, lettuce, kale, and greens. All of the seeds are organic heirlooms. We will be making them all available and asking for a fair "donation" in exchange. All of the "profits" will be put directly back into supplies and materials for the Garden. When Rob tested each variety for germination rates we were astounded with an unheard of 100% germination rate. Most germinated within 24 hours. Like I always tell the children; "There is magic in the Garden!"

This project continues to be rewarding.  Every week we are inspired by the children to  bring them activities that will spark their sense of wonder and enjoyment of the natural world. If we haven't said it already, thank you Kelly Johnson for refueling our creative juices! 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Companion Planting

Gardening is a never ending learning process. We are constantly adjusting the garden plans or incorporating a different method of planting to work around issues that always seem to pop up each year. It can be challenging at times, but for me that's part of the fun in gardening.

The first year in the garden we encountered an infestation of garden pests. We knew that our soil didn't contain many nutrients and had little to no organic matter so we weren't really too surprised. The topsoil was amended with aged manure, but it would take several years for the nutrients and organic matter to build up the soil.

 The garden is grown organically, meaning we don't use any chemicals or chemical fertilizers on the plants or in the garden. We tried some organic methods to deal with the pests, like making a pepper and soap spray to apply to the plants to keep the bugs away or using sticky tape to trap the beetles. That seemed to work, but once one pest was controlled another seemed to appear.

The next year when planning the garden we wanted to try using a natural method so we decided to try companion planting. Companion planting is when you plant certain types of plants together that work with each other to naturally help deter pests, attract beneficial insects and help to rebuild and replenish the soil. 

We planted carrots, beets and onions together...

onions help repel the carrot rust fly

Tomatoes, basil and sunflowers together...

planting basil with tomatoes makes them more flavorful
Corn, beans and squash together...

the three sisters
And many others like peas with marigolds, potatoes with beans and onions near the tomatoes.

Companion planting made a dramatic difference in the garden. The plants seemed much healthier, we noticed more beneficial insects on the plants and there weren't any infestations as in the previous year. 

This year we have already begun incorporating companion planting in all of the beds. 
Yesterday the garden club planted sunflowers in the back two beds. 
The sunflowers are spaced 24" apart as shown in the diagram above. When the sunflowers are half grown they will be under sown with crimson clover. Sunflowers provide carbon and organic matter when you till the dried stalks back into the soil and the clover provides an added nitrogen fixation. 
Planting sunflowers with clover can quickly replenish depleted soil. 

We also planted our potatoes. 
The potatoes were planted in the center of two beds, in a trench about 12" deep. The soil was piled on both sides of the trench. Potatoes were planted 9" apart, as shown above, and covered with 3" of soil from one side. When the potatoes start to poke through the soil, we will cover with the remaining soil from one side and plant beans 6" apart. When the potatoes start to poke through the soil again, we will cover with the soil from the other side and plant more beans. Beans and potatoes work together to deter insects.

The kids also planted corn in the four large corner beds, the first planting for the three sisters (corn, beans and squash). The corn was planted in the for corners of each bed, 12" apart. When the corn is about 4" tall we will be planting the beans and squash. The beans add nitrogen to the soil and the thorny vines from the squash keeps animals from getting to the corn. 

Gardening using natural methods, such as companion planting, helps keep your plants healthy, naturally replenishes the soil by adding back nutrients and organic matter, and keeps those pesky bugs from devouring your plants.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Seeds, Seeds, Seeds

Today was all about seeds. We planted them, painted them, counted them, matched them to pictures of their grown up versions and just plain old explored them. The children worked in groups at centers that explored each theme. The pace was unhurried and child driven. Just being outside in the fresh air with no strict agenda you could see the children letting go of whatever the day dropped on their shoulders. 

In the art center children used magnifying glasses to study dried seed pods. They were then able to sketch what they saw and apply watercolor paints to the line drawings.

a closer look at basil seeds

adding color to the garlic seed picture

line drawing basil


some of the finished masterpieces
We added a little math to today's session by including an estimation station. The children used marigold seed heads and mustard green seed pods (both saved from last year's garden) to estimate the number of seeds in each pod. They recorded their findings.

After looking at the journal entries we discovered that each marigold seed head had about 14 seeds in it.
"I guessed 17 and the actual number was 14. The smell was really good" -Paul  "The seed I chose has 13 seeds inside. My estimate was 15 so I was 2 off." "My estimate was 17 and in my seed pod I had 14 seeds. I was 3 off because 17-3=14 seeds." "My estimate was 14 and there was 14 in my pod so 14-14=0"

Another way students explored seeds was by trying to match seeds with pictures of the grown plant. "I can't believe THAT tiny seed grew great big kale leaves!"

Sometimes just being able to sit and listen to nature while exploring the garden stirs creativity.
"Water is life. Food is life. Garden is life. But gardening could be so much more than that." Brooke
Other garden inspired poems:

As it grows straight and tall,
It's green buds grow.
Kale has something
Everyone needs to know.
Its taste grows after
the snow.
by Kyra

The spiders are crawling
everywhere with egg sacks
on their way back trying
to find a new spot
to lay their lovely babies.
by Jaileen

Since we haven't had rain in a while, the children made up a rain dance in the Native American tradition and performed it in the Garden. Only time will tell if they appeased the rain gods. :)

Books we found helpful for seed study include:

A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston
A Fruit is a Suitcase for Seeds by Jean Richards
From Seed to Plant by Gail Gibbons
Seeds by Ken Robbins
Miss Maples Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
If You Hold a Seed by Elly McKay
From Seed to Pumpkin by Wendy Pfeffer