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Wednesday, December 19, 2012's magic

I don't know how many of you compost. If you do, then you know how amazing it is to start with food scraps, and garden debris and moldy leaves--the perfect mix of "green" and "brown"--and after some high temperatures and good active bacteria and fungi, you have something called compost. Which looks a lot like really dark brown dirt.
   Last year, thanks to SKEF and Learning Gardens, we got a nifty 3-bin compost system. The way it works is you layer brown and green garden debris, in one bin, and as it "cooks" down and looks more like dirt, you shift it to the 2nd bin. You keep adding new food to the 1st bin, shifting to the 2nd bin, and then to the 3rd, and so on. Now, this is kind of the cliff-notes version of compost. I, am not a master composter. But I have met one. Yes, they exist just like master gardeners and master preservers. I really don't know much about composting other than what I just told you. So I'm learning a lot, just like our students.
   This is the first year that all cafeteria waste at McKinley is being composted by our local refuse hauler, Allied Waste. You should see the amount of "garbage"that is generated by a school of 300 students. It's actually not much at all when you can recycle and compost nearly everything you use. It's amazing, actually. Gosh, that sounds like a Math and Science investigation waiting to happen!
A few weeks ago several brave souls worked in the garden to get things tidied up for the winter. One of the things we did was move our compost system. I call it a system, but really that's just for lack of a better word. Suggestions? Anyway, here are some pictures from our work day, where you can see compost in action.
Here's the compost bins with some pretty green stuff piled in. But notice the brown stuff on the bottom...

Time to take a look at what's on the bottom of these bins.

Whoa. Compost. Well...more like moldy dead plants from the garden. But it could be compost! eventually...

What's sleeping under that straw?

Straw is a great mulch. Well, it's not the best, but it is a pretty warm blanket for sleeping seeds and future plants. The first graders had a chance to learn about garlic this month. They took a close-up look at a head of garlic, and split it into individual cloves. If you were going to plant a clove of garlic, which end do you think should go down and which end should go up? These 1st graders are pretty plant-saavy already! They could use their skills of observation and see that those little stringy things on one end looked a lot like roots. That end goes down. Right!
    So room 5 came outside and planted some garlic. It takes a long time for garlic to grow. Did you know that? Like, 6-8 months! And we are lucky because we got some early-maturing garlic that should be ready before school is out. This is going to be great! We can learn about all the different parts of the garlic plant and other alliums (that's the fancy name of the family garlic belongs to along with onions). 
       Ever heard of garlic scapes or garlic whistles? Well you will be seeing some of those come Spring and the 1st-graders will get to taste them. Be ready for some stinky garlic-breath!

This, is our garlic. Sleeping peacefully and snug under it's blanket of straw.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Wow. It's November and it hasn't frosted yet!

 This is that awful aphid-infested cabbage from a month ago. Well, I didn't get out there to spray it with soapy spray, but it has rained a lot the last few weeks and the cabbage is looking a lot better, and the aphids are looking a lot worse.
Better, right? I think we better harvest this and eat it before the aphids come back!
Do you like cauliflower? What about a really lovely magenta-colored cauliflower?! It's almost too pretty to eat!
I think this was a really delicious meal for many birds and maybe a few squirrels too. Kind of dead looking now. It's done it's job.

The 2nd, 3rd, & 4th graders have been busy getting some of the garden beds ready for the winter.
2nd graders planted cover crops of vetch and rye grass in two of the beds. The cover crops will grow over the winter, and nourish the soil. We will dig them into the beds in the Spring to make the soil even healthier for the plants to come. 
3rd and 4th graders prepped their beds for some hoop houses and winter greens (they did this last year with great success). There is still some chard, cabbage, onions, and parsnips that will grow a bit longer in the cold weather.
1st graders will be planting garlic next week. They will learn all about the many parts of a garlic plant you can eat. 

Isn't gardening great?!
Come out and help put the garden to bed for the winter on Monday, November 19th. Look for a flyer coming home with more information in your child's backpack this week.

OCTOBER--Pick of the month--APPLES

If any of you pay attention to that lovely garden calendar your child brought home, you would know that the "pick of the month" for October is/was apples. Do you know what the "pick of the month" is? Well if you don't, let me tell you more. 

Oregon has a bounty of crops that are grown here, especially in the Willamette Valley. And the Oregon Department of Agriculture has a program called "Harvest for Schools." This program features one crop a month--we try to make it seasonally appropriate--and they provide posters with all kinds of great information. Lesson ideas for teachers, recipes for families, and interesting facts about crops grown in Oregon.

At McKinley we will have a tasting table every month that highlights the Pick of the Month. Students will get to try the pick, in various forms, and learn about that particular food crop. In October, we had 8 different varieties of apples to try, and they were all grown in Salem!! EZ Orchards and Wandering Angeus donated the apples. Parent volunteers and Miss Chelsey, our Food Corps volunteer, manned the tables. Students voted on their favorite.

Here are some pictures from the day.

5th graders learning about their apple choices
from Miss Chelsey

Hmm...I have 3 kinds I can try.
Is this the one I want?

The Winner!!
The sweet & delicious Liberty!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

October and it's still sunny!

Boy, have we been enjoying a long, late summer this year. I guess it's making up for the sloppy wet Spring we had. Is that el Nino or la Nina? Either way, it has helped our garden grow, grow, grow. So what's happening on the ground?

The cosmos and tomatoes are so tall you could get lost out there. And if you need a spicy addition to your salad, try some nasturtium flowers. They won't last much longer!
Take a look at this carrot. Planted by 1st graders last year. It's just about perfect, huh? This young gardener must know how to pick the good one's.

Uh oh. What's up with this cabbage?
There are a lot of holes in the leaves and that gray stuff??
Aphids, and millions of them!
This poor little cabbage is getting the life sucked right out of it. Literally!
Time for some action. A blast from the hose or a little soapy water will scatter those aphids elsewhere. Or some very hungry ladybugs.
Stay tuned for blow by blow details of the cabbage rescue!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

How does a school garden survive over the summer?

That's a great question! Each school garden--or anyone's garden for that matter--has a unique way of keeping itself going. At McKinley, we have a small, dedicated group that volunteers to water and maintain the garden over the summer. These volunteers get to eat a lot of great produce, and we've had enough to donate some in the past as well. Our garden and farm to school program would not be what it is without the energy and passion our volunteers put in. 

Did I mention it's a small group? This is our 3rd year (maybe 4th?) since starting a farm to school program and we are looking for new families to come join us and sustain the incredible program has started at McKinley. 

Come to our next meeting!
 Tuesday, Sept. 18 (in the library) at 2:00 pm
 find out how you can participate. 

Here are a few highlights 
of what's happening "on the ground."
Pumpkins!! We have a whole lotta pumpkins. 

and Sunflowers. Have you ever really gotten a birds-eye view of a sunflower? Well it looks like a lot of really delicious sunflower seeds, like this one here. If you go to the garden, you will hear the crows and blue jays fighting it out over the seed heads. They are both VERY loud. 

Ahhh...tomatoes. One of the best things about summer is fresh tomatoes. There are so many varieties in the garden this year. And the Pick of the Month for September is Tomatoes! So try some green zebras, yellow pears, purple cherries, and BIG RED heirlooms. Delicious!!

During the July garden potluck, we tried some square foot gardening. We sectioned off one bed and planted different seeds in each square. With this type of planting, you are planting a variety of plants densely. That will discourage weeds and give you lots of food in a small space. Efficient, no? I wish I had a "before" picture. You can see some cucumber climbing over the edge, with beans in the background, and cabbage to the right. Then if you could see more, you would see some tiny little parsnips, radishes, purple cauliflower (purple!), and tomato. In case you are wondering (which I'm sure you curious gardeners are), parsnips are very persnickity. They don't germinate well, and you are lucky to get a few plants from a pack of seeds. The seed packet even says so! So it will be very interesting to see how our few plants thrive the next month or so. That's quite a lot in one bed. Here's hoping for a late frost so we get cucumbers and beans, and not too many cabbage worms.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Why garden education is important

I bet a lot of you are parents that realize the importance of a well-rounded education. And you try and feed your kids healthy food most of the time. And gardening is a great outdoor activity and learning opportunity. And it's important to understand the connection between the food we eat, where it comes from, and who grows or makes it. But does garden education really have an impact? Here are some resources and research that says, "Yes! This makes a difference!" Check it out here.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

August already??!!

Oh gosh, where oh where has the summer gone! I guess it's been whiled away with family, and camps, and bar-b-que's, and beach trips, and...gardening! Yes, this is the season for prolific zuchinni plants and lots of tomato salads and all kinds of berry jam. If you have a CSA, you are probably eating a lot of kale chips. Well, the McKinley garden is growing and thriving thanks to the great families that volunteer to water and weed and tend to the beds. 

The mosaic is complete and if you haven't gone down to see it, you have to. 
HAVE TO!! It is truly an amazing piece of art, especially when you think that every students at McKinley had a part in making it. A great time to come see it would be August 22nd, the last summer garden potluck at McKinley. We have had a fun time connecting with school friends, sharing delicious food, and pulling a few weeds. 

This post is dedicated to the kindergarden gardeners. Their pumpkins and sunflowers are truly amazing!
I like to call this the 3 sisters jungle. There's corn and green beans and all kinds of squash. You can see the mosaic in the background too.

I mentioned squash? I think this will be a pumpkin eventually. It's already big, just really green.

Oh, the sunflowers. These sunny faces will welcome back all returning students when they race down the sidewalk to school in September. Thank you Mrs. Nelson!

This is one of our first apples from the orchard. The next week I went back to check it's growth, it was gone.  : (
Hopefully, someone enjoyed it.

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Take a look at the wall here. This is right next to the garden. It's pretty big, blank, generic. Although it does have nice, clean new siding (thank you SKSD facilities). We looked at that wall and thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to put up a mural or something like that?"  
So you take a little idea like that and add some creative, energetic people and ideas and The Tree of Life garden mosaic idea is born. Art is something that the McKinley community values. Part of the fundraising we do goes towards an artist in residence program, where each classroom, and each student works with an artist and creates a unique piece of art to take home. 

This year, Lyn Takata worked with students to create a garden mosaic that will be installed on that blank wall I mentioned earlier. All the mosaic pieces were created by the students. Here is the first stage of installation. Pretty good progress thanks to an awesome crew of volunteers. 

Come down to McKinley Sunday and lend a hand and see the artistic work happening!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The garden in July

Is it already July!?? Well, just barely, really. But one great thing--one of the many great things about July--is the hotter weather. I say hotter, because I have often said summer doesn't start in our part of Oregon until after July 4th. And it's hotter, and it's going to get even hotter probably. Which is great for things like tomatoes and green beans. Not so much for the peas and lettuce. So if you haven't gotten over to see the beautiful red lettuce and crisp heads of romaine, do it now because they won't be there much longer.
Speaking of hot weather loving plants, here are some of those tomatoes I mentioned. Look at them!! They look great! I think these were planted by a 5th grade classroom. There are 3-4 different varieties, one of them is even a purple tomato. Yum.

Check out these healthy plants. We've got some potatoes and onions living happily together planted by the 3rd & 4th graders.
 Have you heard of companion planting? This is the idea that certain plants are  happier together than others, and benefit each other. Onions keep away the Colorado potato beetle, a nasty little pest that looks like a lady bug, but it's yellow and has black stripes instead of spots. If you see it, squish it.
Or find it a better home, away from the garden.

Remember the garden in progress? Well this is what's happening in that new patch of dirt. There are corn stalks standing tall, and pole beans starting to want to wrap around something, and big, old pumpkin plants leafing out and flowering. The bees love the squash flowers. They are huge, yellow, and very inviting if you are a bee.
Go, pollinators!

Ok all you McKinley creatives, what can this space become? Here are some ideas to get you going:
1.outdoor classroom
2. native plant garden
3. stumpery--home to decaying wood and the insects that love them.
4. and...

The possibilities are endless.
Send me your ideas.
I need 'em!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Party in the Garden, CSA, and picnic-potlucks

McKinley's Farm to School initiative does 2 community dinners a year, both supported by generous donations from Bon Apetit. We have the 100-mile Fall meal and the Spring Garden Party. Here are some pictures from the party in June.

Here are a few of our dedicated garden committee volunteers. Did you know that our Farm to School program is completely volunteer-run? We have a pretty amazing and talented school community! This is a school-wide program and we want to invite and include anyone that is interested, so come to the next potluck and get involved. (more info below)

Speaking of volunteers, look at these awesome McKinley graduates that always come back and help out. Not to mention the teachers! Here is Mrs. S working with some students to create crowns decorated with flowers and herbs. And ribbon!

A finished crown, delicate little lavender flowers.

What are these kids looking for? Bugs?
Somebody lose their keys?
No!! They are releasing ladybugs!

In case you are wondering, the insect world can be divided (not exactly cleanly) into beneficial insects and pests. Beneficial insects do good things for the garden and our plants. Pests eat our plants and can wreak havoc on a lovely garden. Ladybugs (beneficial insects) love to eat aphids (pests!), which love to eat juicy green leaves. More ladybugs, less aphids, more of our garden crops for us to eat. Here, students got a handful of ladybugs to release into the garden.
I think it was the high light of the night!

McKinley CSA
You know, maybe it's time this garden started paying for itself, pulling it's own weight a bit. This June at the Garden Party we raffled off a "CSA box" from the McKinley garden. Last summer we donated quite a bit of our produce. This year we thought, why not have McKinley families enjoy it, since it's McKinley students that are planting and starting the garden. Since the garden is small, the raffle winner will be receiving 3 boxes of plenty from our school garden. (We hope it's plenty.)
This is the first box for our lucky winners.
They received:
romaine lettuce
red leaf lettuce
parsley, oregano & rosemary

Wouldn't you love to get a box of yummy garden goods like this? Well pay attention because you may have the opportunity to  buy some of the garden's bounty in the next month. There will be more lettuce, peas, radishes and tiny carrots (maybe).
Later in the summer we will have green beans, tomatoes (there are several heirloom varieties!), potatoes, herbs, herbs, herbs, squash will just have to see what grows!

Don't forget!!
Next garden picnic-potluck is July 25th, 5:30-7:30ish
Come and reconnect with school friends and families for a casual, easy dinner in the grass.
Bring a dish to share, blanket, frisbee, guitar...

Friday, June 8, 2012


Hi, I'm a guest blogger for the Mckinley School Garden. This is Mr J's  3-4  class's handiwork. Overflowing with Anemones, this bed has been replanted with peppers, tomatoes and nasturtiums. It got a makeover-cucumber facial mask, body cleansing, pedicure and manicure plus a deep tissue massage. A new hairstyle of choice was also thrown in. The 3rd and 4th graders (soon to be 4th and 5th graders) have been working in the garden a lot this year.  Rebbeca and Erica have been generous enough to volunteer their time to work with them every Thursday. One great thing is that everyone wants to help.
Bye Bye, Anenomes!!

What's happening in the garden

Look at all that stuff growing! Broccoli and peas to eat soon. Nasturtiums and marigolds to keep the bad bugs away. Those yellow little petunias in front are from Mrs. S's class and their Georgia O'Keefe art project. Remember what I said about the hogsfuel? Well the South Salem cheerleaders did an outstanding job of making our garden look a little more tidy.
Thank you thank you!!

This, my friends is a work in progress.
All those little stakes indicate a historical companion planting: The Three Sisters Garden. Native Americans used to prepare a mound and plant corn in the middle. Then some pole beans, that would climb up the corn and use it as a support and fix nitrogen into the soil. Then a squash plant at the base whose leaves shade the roots of all the plants and help retain moisture. A perfect combination! So Mrs. Nelson's K's saved their pumpkin seeds from October, sprouted them in the classroom and here they are in the garden. Those little gardeners can come back in the Fall to pumpkins (hopefully)!
The 2nd graders planted the corn and beans for the other sisters. They will come back in the Fall and see the cornstalks, and maybe even some beans--depending on the summer weather. Don't worry, I will keep you posted on the gardens progress all summer. 

This is another project of Mrs. Nelson's kindergardeners. If you didn't know, Mrs. Nelson loves sunflowers. Really loves them and likes to plant them every year. These are sunflower seeds recently planted that will create a bright sunny yellow curtain of welcome along the fence as kids come to school in the Fall. Won't that make for great mornings? 

This is a very blank wall, isn't it? Well, not for long! If you haven't heard, Lynn Takata has been working with McKinley students to create a garden mosaic that will be installed on this very blank, boring wall in July. She is the artist extraordinaire that created the mosaic downtown on the YMCA building. Every student in McKinley has helped create the mosaic in some way, the ideas all come from our kids. Have I mentioned how great SKSD Facilities Dept. is?  They heard about our project, looked at this wall, and said, "We should replace that siding and get that wall ready for your mosaic." Well, maybe they didn't say that exactly, but they are replacing the siding so that it will be ready for the mosaic. This is not just a school project, this is a community art project.
So please come down to McKinley the weekend of the Art Fair
in July and help install our mosaic

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Garden May 2012
I thought it would be interesting to look at how different a garden can be from year to year. This is where we are at today. The Spring has been wet and soggy, and things have gotten planted much later than last year. This bed used to be filled to the brim with kale and greens. Now we've got some broccoli, and...I'm not really sure. This was planted by the 3rd-and 4th-graders. I'll have to ask them next time I see them. Behind this bed is the 2nd graders peas which are really happy and starting to climb.

Garden May 2011
This is the garden one year ago, May 2011, our first season. If you recall, we built the raised beds in March and had dry enough weather that we could plant some cool weather crops like lettuce and peas. All these starts came from Minto Island Growers and they were fantastic! I ate that lettuce all the way into July, when summer really starts in Oregon.

Do you notice the nice mulching in between the beds? We call that hogsfuel if you were wondering and I don't think it has anything to do with pigs, but I might be wrong. We had a huge pile delivered to freshen up the paths and keep things a little less muddy. But it's been so rainy we haven't been able to spread it. So do you know what happens when you have a really big pile of dirt unattended at an elementary school?
See below:

Some adventurous, imaginative children created a...what? Castle? Fort? Ladders to the top of the mountain? Whatever you call it, I bet it was a lot of fun to play on! Needless to say, we cleaned it up before McKinley students saw it because there would be no way to keep them off of this dirt pile with so much fun to be had. Isn't it great to see kids looking around at a bunch of wood, wire fencing and shredded bark, and creating something entertaining and cool with what's on hand, outside. No electronics or plastic toys needed. Now that is creative thinking and problem solving in action!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What a healthy school lunch might look like

The Berkeley school district has revolutionized and changed the way their community looks at school lunches, and what they are serving their children. Alice Waters and the Edible Schoolyard were pioneers in this effort.

What can we do here in Salem-Keizer? The link above will give you a little inspiration.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mark your calendars!!

Party in the Garden
June 1st, 5:30-8:00

BBQ, music, activities for kids, and much more! Look for a flyer in your child's backpack soon.

Tuesday garden work days

Calling all enthusiastic gardener's! 
Doesn't the sunshine and warm weather make you want to dig in the dirt and plant things and transform a landscape? Well I have the perfect place to do all those things! 

Come linger awhile after school on Tuesdays and help clean up the garden.
We have a list of things we would like to do, and would like as many people as possible to come get involved and make your mark on the school garden.

Are you really, really anxious?
You can come this Friday too! 

Don't forget the McKinley school carnival is Friday night. You can help out in the garden, grab a quick dinner in the cafeteria starting at 5:30, and enjoy the fun!

 You don't want to miss it!!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Helpin' my school!!

Some of Mrs. S's 3rd- and 4th-graders came out on Monday to clean up one of the beds that was in bad need of weeding. They came out in shifts, generously giving up some time in Math to yank some weeds, and tidy up the grounds.

You can't see me!

The next time you walk in from the parking lot near the gym, take a look at the dandelion-free ground cover and less weedy berry patch (I think there's a raspberry and blueberry bush out there...).

Is this a weed? Why yes it is.

Check it out! A HUGE earthworm!
They must have some good dirt to eat around here.
One student put it perfectly, he was "helpin' my school!" Exactly! We all pitch in when and where we can to make McKinley the best school it can be. It's a community effort. If anyone is in need of some enthusiastic weeders, let me know. I know where you can find them.