Garden Trends: School Community Orchards

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.50.15 PM.png In recent years, more and more schools are planting orchards and creating outdoor classrooms. Pictured above is music teacher Albie Pickens who started a community orchard at his elementary school in Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo: Natalie Walsh

By Natalie Walsh

Albie Pickens, a fifth grade teacher music teacher at Geyser Road School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., planted an apple and pear orchard with grant and community funding and created an outdoor classroom available to the entire elementary school.

His goal was to connect students with the natural world, a connection that was fostered in him as a child growing up in his father’s garden and that has stayed with him as an adult.

It’s important for students to understand where their food comes from, how much effort goes into a good crop, and the myriad things that can go wrong, he said.

From the beginning three years ago, his local and school community embraced the idea and funded the trees, picnic tables, mulch, deer fencing and other supplies that made it possible.

And if they didn’t give money, they gave of themselves. “We saved $8,000 by having volunteer labor,” Pickens said, adding that at least 200 people volunteered.

As a classroom, the orchard is one educational opportunity after another, Pickens said noting that he is a self-taught orchardist.

Students learn about insect pests, organic controls, grafting, pruning, harvesting and that growing food may not be simple but it is gratifying.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a learning opportunity,” he said, adding that sometimes more is learned when things don’t go right.  You can solve one problem only to have another show up.

It’s real life, he continued.  Students learn what is takes to grow fruit, the damage insects can cause, the joy of eating a apple off the tree and connect with their world in the process.

And the orchard has been fruitful. At the Orchard Fest held in the fall, cider pressed from their apples is served.

To maintain the orchard of 20 trees, Pickens has organized an Orchard Team of teachers who are able to use the orchard in their curriculum and a Grow Club before school program for students.

He does most of the maintenance himself. “You can’t give a third grader a sharp clippers.”

Instead, he teaches why fruit trees need pruning, and hands out an illustration of an unpruned fruit tree. Students mark which branches they believe should be eliminated. Adults do the pruning.

In the future, he hopes to bring an arborist to the school who can hold a workshop so more people can learn about pruning fruit trees and help in the orchard.

His students have learned about different fruit varieties, grafting and root stocks and Pickens has some fresh grafted pear trees in a nursery for future planting.

“We have plenty of space,” he said, adding “The community orchard will only get better with time.”

Natalie Walsh, a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, is a master gardener and horticulturist who travels across North America writing articles about community gardening and orchards.  You can reach her at natalie.walsh@communitygarden.org

 

New Lake Worth School Garden Prepares for the Season

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My husband teases that if there’s a community garden anywhere in the country, I’ll find it.

I can’t deny that it certainly seems that way but I think Community Gardens find me!

Yesterday morning, we brought our bikes to the Lake Worth, Florida and rode in a beachside historic district known for its very sweet and petite cottages. The entire neighborhood is one charming little house after another, some with pretty gardens, picket fences or sculptural banyan trees.

While we were exploring, I spotted a community garden buzzing with activity.  It’s planting time in zone 10 and the gardeners and helpers were busy in this revitalized garden located across the street from a school.

Lori Vincent, Managing Director of Aurora’s Voice, which provides opportunities for underserved youth, is lending support to the project which they hope will provide job training, business experience and give students hands-on gardening time to grow nourishing food.

Vincent, who has gotten other community gardens off the ground, said there is a real need in this community where 85% of public school students live below the poverty line.

Of course I shared information with them about the online resources for starting and organizing community gardens at the American Community Gardening Association website.

The new school garden is looking for volunteers and supporters. Jason Clements, head gardener, has many good ideas and if anyone in the area wants to lend their support, this would be a great place to be hands on.

You can get in touch with the garden organizers by emailing: Lori@aurorasvoice.org

What Should We Name Him?

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With the help of Charlotte and George and the addition of a little more stuffing and a hat, our scarecrow is looking better.

He is standing guard over the tiny sunflowers on the west side of the garden.

And so far, no crows have landed near him. Good work Mr ???

Our brave scarecrow needs a name. What shall we call him?

Scarecrow Joke:

Why did the scarecrow get a promotion?

He was outstanding in his field.

Got another joke?

 

 

Scarecrow

 

 

Livestock Troughs as Planters

Anyone have experience with using galvanized steel livestock troughs as raised garden beds?

I’ve been pricing materials for raised beds and searching online for what other gardeners have used: the costs and designs. One idea that caught my eye was using livestock troughs as planters.

Online, I’ve seen 20 gauge galvanized steel livestock watering troughs measuring 3 feet by 10 feet, 24 inches tall for about $240.

Advantages: Less expensive than using some long lasting wood boards, ready to use, taller beds make gardening easier for all. The height of the bed should discourage rabbits and the bottom should keep voles and moles out. Lifespan: 5 to 20 years.

Disadvantages: Some websites posted concerns about zinc leaching into the soil. So I did what journalists do, I researched.

Source One

Alana Hochstein, a corrosion Engineer with the American Galvanizers Association noted in an emailThe Food and Drug Association (FDA) has approved the use of galvanized steel for food preparation and conveyance for all applications with the exception of foods that have a high acid content, such as tomatoes, oranges, limes, and other fruits. For more information, see our website:

https://www.galvanizeit.org/hot-dip-galvanizing/how-long-does-hdg-last/contact-with-food

Source Two

The National Gardening Association (https://garden.org/about/intro/president)

I emailed NGA President David Whitinger about whether zinc was a concern. He wrote: “Plenty of people use galvanized containers for gardening and I’ve never heard of anything to suggest that it’s not safe.”

I also noted online that community gardens and restaurants are using galvanized steel as beds. Still, I needed more information.

Third Source

I looked for data from Cornell University. Cornell soil extension agent Robert R. Schindelbeck emailed: “The zinc can leach from the metal object into the soil. Generally this is OK as zinc is relatively “safe.” He referred me to this link titled Healthy Soils, Healthy Communities:

http://cwmi.css.cornell.edu/Metals_Urban_Garden_Soils.pd

Excerpts follow.

“What levels of metals are acceptable in garden soils?

“There are no standards protective of public health specifically for metals in garden soils in NYS, but there are guidance values developed for other purposes that gardeners can consider.”

Zinc is naturally occurring. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the NYS Department of Health developed guidance values. The guidance values for zinc are 2200 parts per million (PPM). Levels found in NYS soils in rural areas were 10-140 ppm and in urban areas 64-380 ppm.

“Human health: Small amounts of zinc in the diet are essential for good health.

“Plant health: Zinc is an essential micronutrient for plants, but it can be toxic to plants at higher soil levels, even below those that are a concern for human health.”

That begs the question: What are the zinc levels for soil in a galvanized trough? This question gets answered by the fourth source: Rodale’s Organic Life article written by Deb Martin, November 13, 2014

http://www.rodalesorganiclife.com/garden/when-sheet-metal-meets-soil

Is it safe to use galvanized sheet metal to build raised garden beds? —Susan Taylor, Monticello, Utah

Over time, compounds used in the galvanizing process will leach from galvanized metal into surrounding soil. Climate and soil conditions such as moisture and salinity affect the rate and the amount of leaching. While the by-products of corrosion are unlikely to occur in amounts that pose any risk to human or plant health, gardeners who are considering growing in galvanized containers or metal-framed beds should be aware of the potential for zinc and other materials to transfer into the soil.

Zinc, the main ingredient in the galvanizing “bath” used to prolong the life of steel, is an essential micronutrient that occurs naturally in North American soils at an average background level of 0.07 milligrams of zinc per gram of soil. For the sake of comparison, the Daily Value (an approximation of our dietary need) for zinc established by the FDA for adults is 8 to 11 milligrams.

While studies of zinc levels in the soil next to galvanized structures have found increased amounts of the element, those levels often are comparable to background levels and within EPA guidelines, says Dan Barlow, a corrosion engineer with the American Galvanizers Association.

Zinc does not migrate readily through soil, so elevated zinc levels tend to be found only in the immediate area of a galvanized container or structure. Soil pH, organic matter content, and other soil characteristics affect zinc’s ability to be taken up by plant roots. As much as 90 percent of zinc in soil may be unavailable for uptake by plants.

Due to zinc’s limited bioavailability in soil, there is little chance of ingesting too much zinc through plants grown in proximity to galvanized metal, says Eric Van Genderen, Ph.D., manager of environment and sustainability for the International Zinc Association. “You will likely never get even your recommended daily allowance from your produce, much less too much,” he says.

Because galvanized metal corrodes faster as pH decreases, Van Genderen says it’s probably not the best container material for plants that require acidic conditions.

Other corrosion by-products may show up in the surrounding soil, Van Genderen says. He notes that levels of other metals found in galvanized surfaces, such as nickel and bismuth, typically would be “so low that you’d probably never see a difference in the amount coming from the galvanized metal versus the background levels.”

The health of beneficial soil microorganisms that are exposed to galvanized metal is another consideration. “There is no question zinc can kill some of the soil’s microbes and that others love it,” says Jeff Lowenfels, author of Teaming with Microbes: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to the Soil Food Web, Revised Edition (Timber Press, 2010), and Teaming with Nutrients: The Organic Gardener’s Guide to Optimizing Plant Nutrition (Timber Press, 2013). “I am willing to let the arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi take up excess zinc, feed the plants what they need, and hold the rest,” Lowenfels says. His research has convinced him that “any damage done to the soil food web [by excess zinc] is quickly corrected by it if the soil food web is a healthy one.”

Troughs in the Garden

Want to see more? 

If you search Google, you’ll find dozens of examples of troughs that have been painted and made pretty.

The nicest I’ve seen is at http://www.nwedible.com/the-most-attractive-veggie-garden-ever/. Check it out.

Tips on Painting a trough: https://www.gardenista.com/posts/steal-this-look-water-troughs-as-raised-garden-beds/

Tips on making a trough self-watering.

http://www.insideurbangreen.org/2011/07/galvanized-horse-or-cattle-troughs-make-cool-looking-planters-but-ive-never-seen-them-converted-for-sub-irrigation-aka-erro.html

 

 

 

 

School Gardening in the Northeast

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Puzzler: How to create a school garden that produces vegetables, flowers and fruits before the end of June and after Labor Day in the Northeast?

The weeks in the middle are actually our prime time for gardening here in upstate New York but this is also when schools are closed. This can present a challenge for schools that want to have a garden.

Here’s a possible plan I put together for a garden club meeting this morning at a local elementary school. Turns out, this garden has found creative ways to deal with some of the challenges other school gardens experience.

School Garden Plan

The following planting plan includes plants that perform while school is in session.

In late May, plant rows of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, bachelor buttons, Jerusalem artichokes and marigolds. These plants will still be blooming in September and attract beneficial insects and butterflies.

The Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) have edible underground tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked and have yellow flowers attract beneficial insects.

If soil is moist, plant swamp milkweed for the monarch butterflies. Also include larvae plants such as dill to create a habitat. When possible, plant the pollinator garden where it can be viewed from classrooms or hallway windows. Add birdhouses for even more enjoyment and learning opportunities.

In an area designated for perennials, plant rhubarb. And, if there is someone to diligently weed the first year, plant an asparagus bed. This will be harvested before school ends.

When school is back in session in September plant garlic, which should be ready to harvest the end of  June. A school garlic sale could be a great fundraiser for the garden program.

Also, plant lettuces, mache, sorrel and spinach which will be “salad” ready to harvest in six weeks. Walking onions are another possibility.

Plant Pansies. They are an edible flower that you can add to the salad. And pansies bloom until hard frost.

In October, plant spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and scilla. These are in their glory before the school year ends.

If there’s room, an apple tree orchard using dwarf trees would be an asset. This would bloom in the spring and fruit in the fall. Perfect timing for a school garden.

sow seed twoSchool Garden Club 

Today, I was invited to visit the Division Street elementary school garden club in Saratoga Springs. They are ahead of the game. They have an established garden and have some summer help keeping the garden growing.

The school district also has a grounds supervisor committed to creating school gardens and educating the next generation about what it takes to grow healthy food.

Today a group of young gardeners planted kale and beans in seed trays. Kevin Templin, grounds supervisor for the Saratoga Springs school district, talked about the plants and showed the club members how to sow the seeds.

It’s an impressive group. One seven-year-old was able to explain cross pollination. Several others were experienced gardeners having grown vegetables and fruits with their families.

Along with a high level of enthusiasm, this south facing school garden has two other advantages. First, it is well situated. It has a courtyard feel with brick walls on three sides. This will help to extend the garden season and protect the garden from animals and strong winds.

The gardeners already have garlic growing in the ground. They also plan much more,  including a pollinator garden that draws butterflies and beneficial insects.

And they have volunteers willing to tend the garden during the summer months when school is not in session. In addition to staff support, families of the garden club members are asked to adopt the garden for one week during the summer. Sharing the responsibility in this way has worked well for them.

If you have other ideas on how to create and maintain a school garden, please share them.

Your experiences are valuable as we all work to teach the next generation about growing food and cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

Thank you to the young gardeners and their leaders for welcoming me today.