School Gardens Update: ‘Summer’izing

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Summarizing…

Since the last post of this project mid-February, my job has been all but done. Kids learned about healthy soil, how it holds water, and how organics work their magic. They also learned about seeds and their amazing power to harness the sun to make food for our energy needs.

The only thing left to do was to drop in occasionally and watch the little plants grow into bigger ones. (And occasionally pick some off to stuff in our faces.)

Watching Lettuce Grow

There were not many rain days in the time in between, and problems with the water key and a burst hose meant put the plants at the mercy of a few 90-degree days.

Some grasses were allowed to take over the spaces in between as the leaf-mulching exercise was omitted entirely. Thankfully, no invasives like Bermuda had taken hold.

No worries. The water reservoir of in-ground compost layers gave the roots of our veggies some place to go — down deep.

That’s the beauty of the layers and watering with each step as you lay them down. The carbon (leaves, cardboard) holds the water and plant matter (cafeteria, grocery store green waste) works in concert with carbon, breaking organics down slowly.

Lasagna remains to be my favorite garden recipe. As long as the water is already there, seeds will know what to do. All kids have to do is get dirty!

Carrots, Turnips

Gardeners like to call the period of time between harvest and the next planting ‘winterizing.’ We call it ‘summerizing’ here in Texas since this garden space will sit untouched for three months until the fourth grade Dirt Keepers come back in the fall as fifth graders. Soil untouched except for the scorching triple-digit heat and what little rain may fall.

Giving Back To The Soil

Once the root veggies (and as many future grass ‘weed’ seeds are removed), the green waste — carrot tops, plant stems, weed carcasses — get laid across the top of the beds as green manure. In a perfect closed-loop, edibles take up micro-nutrients from the soil, those micro-nutrients returned when our waste after eating those plants is put back in. But eeewww!!

We don’t do that for obvious health reasons. And there is plenty of other organic matter around to be found to mimic nature’s brilliant process. However it is done, these rich organics must be returned to the soil if a future crop is to grow.

With only two weeks left in the school year before summer, we lean on just two products in addition to this available green waste:

  1. Compost (costs $$, funded by PTO)
  2. Cardboard (free)

The Fort Bend Recycling Center just happened to have a stack of flattened corrugated laying around for the taking. They were happy enough to help me load it into the van for a one way trip to the school.

Thank you, Jessie!

Giving Back
Free Cardboard = Worm Food

This cardboard will be used as sheet-mulching, that is, it will be laid down over the ‘green manure’ and be weighted by bags of compost, bottoms slit open. The carbon layer will keep contact with the moistened soil inviting the underworld beings to begin their work process, breaking things down. They’ll eat through the cardboard, find the compost, and mix things up thoroughly.

Cardboard is food for the real workers behind the scenes — earthworms, grubs — and compost is rich with bacteria and fungi that will re-nourish the soil as well.

Carboard Sheet Mulch
(Green waste center, underneath)

When the kids are done with their sheet-mulching exercise this week, the Dad Volunteer Crew will come in to move 50-lb. bags from the pallets to the beds, one bag at a time. They’ll no doubt have that job knocked out in an hour or so; they’re awesome muscle men.

Earthworm ‘Cupcakes’
Slit-open bags of Compost

Next year, we’ll add compost cages to the garden so that the soil can be refreshed on-going by the children alone. These kids are entirely capable of managing an edible garden space all by themselves.

Kids have exactly what it takes.

Once the summer is done, the beds will be ready to plant again. We’ll just remove and recycle the plastic bags containing the compost, spread evenly across the surface, and plant seeds in square foot style, repeating the process from spring.

Dirt play gardening is so cheap and easy, even a child can do it.

Related Posts:

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Night-night, garden beds.
See you again in the fall!

14 thoughts on “School Gardens Update: ‘Summer’izing

  1. What a fantastic project, and we never came across the cardboard approach before. A long road trip this summer has forced us to limit our gardening ambitions to containers, but we’ll have to keep this method in mind for future summers.

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  2. As a non-gardener, so much of this is new to me — especially the cardboard. On the other hand, I follow a farmer in Iowa who uses Ruth Stout’s method of hay mulching, and swears by it. Of course, he has a farm, and good hay, so there’s that. But the process is much the same.

    I just found out that land for personal gardens is available over at the Johnson Space Center. Who knew? You have to be recommended, I think, and be approved for entrance (of course) but still — there are more and more opportunities for people to get engaged, one way or another.

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    1. Thank you for your information, Linda! I’d not heard of Ruth Stout, but promptly looked her up. Her using hay is much the same as my using stolen leaves (and cardboard), but she has a hay field — I don’t. For both of us, it’s use what you have and layer like nature does. It really works!

      The big difference between her and me is that I no longer fertilize in any way. I simply ‘give back’ to the soil by layering spent green matter with other (free) organics, then plant right in it. I’ve stopped calling it ‘lasagna’ and now lovingly refer to it as ‘lazy’ gardening. So easy a kid can do it.

      Ruth and I have the same purpose to new growing practices: eliminate the tilling, micro-managing. It is a crime what the past few generations have done to kill healthy soil, so a few of us so-called soil conservationists are recovering it one small plot at a time.

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    2. Another distinction. It’s important to remember that hay is not grown to cover fields with mulch. It is grown to feed hungry mouths, mouths that are adapted to eat these grasses. Mouths of bovines and porcines. I say our valuable land real estate would be better used growing our food directly rather than sustaining an old and unnecessary food chain. A lot less energy would be used in the process. Just my two cents, Linda. πŸ˜€

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    1. If you’ve read the ‘About Me’ me page here, you know that I am quite UNoriginal! Patricia Lanza coined the layering term ‘lasagna,’ even wrote a book on it. Nature loves layers (and I do too).

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      1. “dirt and kids belong together. It’s a match made in heaven on earth” – I completely agree, remembering my days as a kid! πŸ˜‰

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