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

 

Look What Kim Did!

 

Kim F. decorated this chair as a throne for the Fairy Queen who will arrive at the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens Fairy Gathering this Saturday at 1 p.m.

The Queen will lead children though the gardens weaving her tale sure to delight. She will be followed by Paula, our fairy dance mother, who will dance a fairy dance with everyone who wants to participate.

Surely the queen will love all the preparations the fairy godmothers have done. There will be flower fairy crowns, wings and wands available for purchase. And children will have many hand crafted houses on display.

Raffles of hand-made fairy houses and a centerpiece, a fairy doll, a fairy garden and fairy inspired art works and a beautiful scarf.

Festivities start at noon and run to three p.m.  There will be field games, more games, a food truck from Nine Miles East,  free Ben and Jerry’s ice cream while supplies last and live music for all to enjoy.

The sunflowers in the sunflower contest will be measured at 2 p.m. and prizes awarded.

Come to the fairy gathering and be enchanted!

Pitney Meadows Community Farm is at 223 West Avenue in Saratoga Springs, NY.

What a Great Morning in the Community Gardens

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.01.22 PMThere was a lot happening in the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens this morning.

Faye Mihuta read books to about a dozen children as part of the Sunflower Hour held each Saturday in the gardens.

Then Jess Clauser helped those who wanted to plant flowers in the Children’s Flower Garden as well as in peat cups they could take home.  It was wonderful to see children participating in all aspects of gardening and exploring the plots.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.01.35 PMAnd not everyone participated in the program. The sandbox, play farm and a toy excavator saw a lot of use much to everyone’s delight. Great photo opportunity for grandmother.

Compost Tea

We had the great pleasure of having Chris Cameron, an organic gardener and supporter of PMCG,  in the gardens this morning to talk about the benefits of compost tea and how to make tea at home.

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 12.17.39 PMChris explained how using compost tea improves the soil by promoting healthy bacteria and other microorganisms that nurture strong, robust plants.

Thank you Chris. Your enthusiasm is inspiring and your lecture was informative.

If you want a copy of Chris’ handout, it will be available in the gardener’s shed.

And if you see Chris on the farm, feel free to ask him questions about compost tea.  He has been brewing for years and can show you the positive results in the plants he has been treating in the community gardens.

I’m so glad Chris is part of the team!

Gardening Class

After Chris, my lecture for our Gardening class was about what to do to minimize damage done by the cucumber beetles, squash bugs, cabbage loopers and the cutworms we found in the gardens this week.

About 10 participants learned how to identify the insects, the different ways to apply diatomaceous earth as a control and all had access to the organic remedies to use. They also learned how to find squash beetle eggs on the underside of leaves and how to remove them.

Finally, we talked about fertilizing. It is now time to fertilize with an organic fertilizer such as fish emulsion. Check your bottle, for my gardens I use 1 ounce in a two-gallon watering can and apply it to the soil every week for robust vegetables.

My bottle has an NPK of 2-4-1.  If the brand you have as a higher concentration of nutrients, you can treat it every other week. Watch your plants and how they respond. They will “talk” to you with a rich, green color, strong stems and vigorous fruiting.

Our next class is next Saturday.  All are welcome. 

Like today, we will walk through the garden and discuss what is happening and what we can do to keep the garden strong and robust.

I will also be working in the gardens on Thursdays from 8 to 11. You can come and see me then about chores to do or any garden concern.

Thanks for making this place great.

See you in the gardens, Natalie Walsh

From Caterpillars to Chrysalises

They grow up so fast!

Our three little caterpillars became chrysalises yesterday.

Jess C. reported that they started to spin silk and in a short amount of time attached themselves to the net sides of the butterfly habitat where they will remain until Spring.

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If you look closely you can see the silk the caterpillars use to attach themselves.

They are in safe, competent hands and are another thing to look forward to next season.

Just as our gardens are tucked in for winter, so now are our butterflies.

Thanks, Jess and Charlotte, our butterfly caretakers.

Saratoga Bridges Harvesting for EOC

Today a group from Saratoga Bridges cleared out their raised bed and brought the Swiss chard and corn salad they grew to the EOC food pantry.

They also harvested the heads of the sunflowers they grew this year. The weather couldn’t have been nicer. Next week, the annual rye will be planted and Saratoga Bridges will be coming again to water. Thank you.

 

Frosty Morning marks the End of Growing Season

 

Last night’s temperature dipped to 29 degrees, and our garden showed the impact this morning.

The icy crystals on the remaining plants and herbs reminded me of crystallized flowers that decorate cakes.  It is very pretty to look at as the frost clings to the edges like lace on a party dress.

It’s time now to clear the beds, we will be sowing annual rye next week and tucking the garden in for the winter. The compost is scheduled to be delivered and the bags will be placed on gardener’s beds on Thursday.

I will be in the garden Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday mornings.  If you are available to help organize the shed and a few other chores, I would appreciate the help.

We tallied the volunteer hours logged and some gardeners haven’t volunteered for the six  hours of service required of every gardener, this would be a way to make up the difference. Remember, you have to have your hours in to be eligible to keep your plot for next season.

See you at the meeting tomorrow, Wednesday night, 7 p.m. at Spring Street Gallery, 110 Spring Street.

Warmly, Natalie

 

Great Sunflower Wreath Making Class with Suzanne Balet-Haight

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.56.40 PM Suzanne Balet-Haight taught a wreath making class in her greenhouse on Nelson Avenue Extension this morning using the sunflowers grown in the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens.

It was great fun and each person’s wreath came out very different.  There were Adirondack style wreaths, country cottage wreaths, and even a very elegant wreath.

What did they all had in common? Sunflowers and lots of them.

Suzanne, an excellent teacher, showed everyone the proper way to attach the sunflowers using 22 gauge wire. She demonstrated making bows with grasses and how to secure different flowers she had on hand to the grapevine wreaths. Participants used marigolds, amaranths, Dallas blue grass, cedar, statice, sedums and more.

Lots of Fun and Beautiful, Too

She began by demonstrating how to make floral sprays to attach to the wreath.  Everyone in the class heard the same instructions, but the results were an individual as the participants.  A truly creative experience.Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.55.30 PM

Suzanne teaches floral decorating and wreath making throughout our area. She has taught classes on creating Christmas and hydrangea wreaths, and boxwood tree centerpieces.  If you’d like to try your hand at one, contact her through her website,  Balet Flowers and Greenhouse. She is a talented artist and knowledgeable teacher.

Also, a generous one.  The proceeds of the class today were donated to the Pitney Meadows Community Gardens to put towards the Spring fairy gardens the girl scouts are creating. Thank you, Suzanne for sharing your time and talents.