How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part Three

Here is the long overdue update on our gardening endeavours at school.

It has now been a couple of months from when we planted our veggies and some flowers and it’s been a mixed bag of results.

Our raised boxes are doing well. Even though they had to be moved a few weeks ago, the plants have re-cooperated and are lush and green.

In fact we have already had a harvest of string beans. The children cooked them with fresh dill and radish leaves from the garden. The harvest was not big enough to feed the entire school so we added some store bought carrots. The result was a tasty treat of buttery-garlicky bean and carrot salad! The fact that it was from our garden made the salad all the more delicious.

harvesting dill

harvesting dill

A week ago we were able to harvest enough dill to send some home with the elementary children as well!

Dill to take home ...

Dill to take home …

... all packed and labelled

… all packed and labelled

The gourds, yam, sunflowers, morning glory, pumpkin and other plants look happy and healthy.

Under the Teepee

Under the Teepee

The news is not so good with the keyhole gardening patch of the children though!

ALL the seeds that had germinated died due to heavy rains. We put up a canopy above the patch to provide some protection but it came too late. The only plants to survive were the turmeric and lemon grass. Now, we are going to have to start the planting  all over again!

Fortunately, the failed experiment with the keyhole garden patch of the elementary children hasn’t really dampened their enthusiasm.

Instead they have become a little more interested in ‘how’ a plant is looking; are the leaves yellowing, is the soil too wet, is the stem bent? Maybe the timely harvest of the beans helped.

mulching the keyhole garden

mulching the keyhole garden

It has been interesting to observe the children’s responses to the garden over the last couple of months.

Many children have become better observers of what is growing around them. A new bud, a flower that has just bloomed or a tiny fruit that is appearing now catches their attention. They have seen day after day the bean flower’s ovary slowly elongate into a fruit. The first purple bud of the morning glory drew much attention. Funnily the big, bright yellow sunflower growing right next to the sandpit where most of the children play, went unnoticed!!!

sunflower

Today a child guided me by the hand to show me a new ‘chilli’ that she spied growing. It was in fact the tender shoot of yam, all curled up,  just emerging from the soil. This was enough to spark off a walk through the outdoor environment. A group of us walking about and noticing more keenly all that grew around us … the massive banana flower, the young and shiny new leaves, the little dot of a chilli just emerging …

“…what most develops a feeling of nature is the cultivation of the living things, because they by their natural development give back far more than they receive, and show something like infinity in their beauty and variety.”

~ Dr. Maria Montessori

Earthworms are Superheroes

earthworm

All too often children get mixed messages about nature.

On one hand adults romanticise nature to children and expound liberally about how important it is to ‘save’ mother earth and we wax lyrical about the beauty of nature. On the other hand we all too often prohibit them from playing in the rain and slush, use the word ‘dirt’ synonymously for ‘soil’ and cringe when we chance upon a ‘bug’ or worm or ‘creepy-crawly’. When a young child instinctively bends down to pick up a tiny creature she comes across we hasten to get it out of their hands!

The fact is children come unconditioned about the creatures they share this planet with and slowly take on the prevailing attitudes of those around them. This is an important evolutionary step. It is how we learn about our world from the experiences of others. We learn what to stay away from and what to seek. In times long past it was the line between life and death itself!

A parent who delights in the simplest things of nature usually has a child who delights in nature too. I have a young friend, just past 3 years who LOVES ‘bugs’. She enjoys looking at them, handling them and talking about them. They make her world interesting and magical. You don’t have to look far to find out where this fascination comes from. You just have to meet her mother!

Upon hearing the word, ‘worms’ most people cringe, right?

Walk into school and you will find an entirely different mind set when it comes to earthworms! They inspire awe and the children are truly fascinated by them. The child who has found an earthworm wriggling about on a cloudy, rainy day, feels s/he has chanced upon true treasure.

The internal anatomy of the earthworm has been sewn onto cloth and made into  soft toys with the shiniest beads used to denote their 5 hearts. Clay models have been fashioned, poems have been written and thick books completed, paying homage to the earthworm.

They are the ‘new’ super heroes at school.

Upon hearing about the great work that earthworms do one child pondered, “Just like earthworms don’t know the important work they do for earth, do we humans also not know some great work that we are doing?”

Earthworms

by Valerie Worth

Garden soil,

Spaded up,

Gleams with

Gravel-glints,

Mica-sparks,

and

Bright wet

Glimpses of

Earthworms

Stirring beneath:

Put on palm,

Still rough

with crumbs,

They roll and

Glisten in the sun

As fresh

As new rubies

Dug out of

Deepest earth.

How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part Two

To continue the documentation of our garden experiments at school, here are the sketches of our plans that were designed by our wonderful parent volunteer. She shared them with us yesterday and in turn I am sharing them with you. I want to mention here, that these plans might change as we start implementing them, just like the plans for presentations we make for ourselves in the classroom.

RAISED BEDS ALONG THE KITCHEN PASSAGE

Kitchen Passage

Kitchen Passage

List of plants in the raised beds in the kitchen passage:

Box 1:

Corn – 2 varieties (Rainbow Corn and 1 other); Bhindi (Okra) – Sri Lankan; Brinjal – 2 varieties ( Apple Green Brinjal and ‘Hiltalu Brinjal’); Capsicum – Prima Bella

Box 2:

Tumeric; Drumstick; Sunflowers; Marigold; Chilli – 2 varieties ( Cayenne and 1 other); Garlic; Tomatoes – 2 varieties ( Round and Cherry)

Box 3:

Beans; Celery; Cosmos; Radish; Cauliflower

SEMI-CIRCULAR RAISED BED NEXT TO THE WATER MOTOR ENCLOSURE

Next to the water motor enclosure

Next to the water motor enclosure

Here we have Dill, Onions, Beetroot and Cabbage

AROUND THE COCONUT TREES

Around the coconut trees

Around the coconut trees

Coconut tree one (or the tree with the parrot)

This tree has a pre-existing boundary ledge in concrete going around it in a square, which means we have little choice but to stick with the square shape.

Here will be ‘maggay’ cucumber; nutmeg; lime and ginger

Coconut tree two ( or the tree with the sandalwood!)

This tree had no pre-existing boundary in concrete so a ‘yin yang’ design was made.

Much to my delight, when we rented the school space there was a sandalwood tree growing next to the coconut tree. It was just a sapling but now has taken firm root and is growing well. This is a much sought after plant in India, and is used widely in religious ceremonies. The tree further reached mythical proportions in popular culture thanks to Veerappan, a notorious dacoit who poached sandalwood and evaded the governments of 3 states for 20 years! Thefts of even the smallest sandalwood trees are quite common.

We plan to plant some sponge gourd as well. Loofahs are made out it’s fruit when dried. You find these loofahs in most cities in India, often times with seeds still in them!

Stinging nettles! – The nettle plant found us rather than the other way around. So, they have a bad name and yes, the plant at school is a little toxic but they are also loved by some caterpillars, butterflies and moths and us at school! The children are fascinated by their red cherry-like fruit and their leaves that sprout thorns along their mid-ribs. The nettle definitely stays.

Additionally we will plant lettuce and carrots.

CHILDRENS GARDENING PATCH OUTSIDE THE ELEMENTARY ENVIRONMENT

Children's Gardening Patch

Children’s Gardening Patch

This area is just below a splendid rain tree with a sprawling canopy, which means that it probably does not receive enough sun to grow vegetables and flowers. But herbs and leafy greens should work well here.

Yesterday we laid out a keyhole design. The herbs and greens that should do well in this area are listed below. Being the first round of planting, we have done the planning without the children, keeping the soil, sun, water conditions in mind. By the time the second round of planting comes around, having tended the plants and observed the space, the children will be able to participate in the planning stage as well.

Basil; Rosemary; Lemon Grass; Parsley; Sage; Chakramuni; Red Amaranth; Spinach; Corriander; Thyme; Oregano; Fenugreek; Mustard; Golli Soppu; Green Amaranth; Mint and in the centre – Cosmos.

To better understand what will grow and won’t in this area we will plant some veggies in pots and place them around the patch. If they don’t do well then we can always move them to a sunnier spot.

Here are the proposed veggies for the pots. When the children come from their summer break, we will plan which veggies to plant together:

Tomato; Lettuce; Capsicum; Beans; Brinjal

“When we understand that man is the  only animal who must create meaning, who must open a wedge into neutral nature,  we already understand the essence of love. Love is the problem of an animal who  must find life, create a dialogue with nature in order to experience his own  being.”  ~ Ernest Becker

How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part One

Each time I heard about the food forests that were planted, the townships that had metamorphosed into edible landscapes and the wonderful things people were growing on their tiny terraces, I felt intrigued. I also felt ignorant. My experiments with gardening were limited and at best, free form. I had done some planting with the children in previous years but not as a sustained effort.

I knew that we really ought to be gardening with the children… growing veggies, herbs and other plants. Through this contact children would be inspired to observe and understand the interconnectedness of all things; to experience the power of nature and her cycles. Even with my most cursory readings on the topic of permaculture, I could see the connection between permaculture, cosmic education and education for peace that we strive to follow in Montessori schools. BUT I felt inadequate to guide the children. I hesitated and failed to follow the enthusiasm and fascination children display in natural processes. This was a big, gaping missing piece at school.

Thanks to committed and passionate parent volunteers who have taken on the job of preparing our outdoor environment the missing piece has been found and put into place. They have opened up new ways for us to look at things – educating and guiding us.

I have only just started learning about different aspects to permaculture and am excited with this door that has been opened.

This is my attempt to document our learning and our plans.

A week ago we made three raised beds along a passage wall outside our kitchen.

First bags of cocoa peat, compost, soil and rolls of cardboard and tarpaulin were brought in.

compost

Wood from our woodworking room was converted into frames for our raised beds. Additionally, discarded coconut shells were purchased from the neighbourhood coconut-water seller to make even more raised beds. The first time we saw this was during a school visit to Vanastree where they also used the coconut husks to make steps around the farm!

To make the raised beds we first lined the concrete on which the beds were to sit with tarpaulin, then inside the wooden frame sat a layer of corrugated cardboard and in went the rich soil, compost and cocoa peat.

3 beds

All that was left to do was the sowing.

sowing

We planted all manner of treasure – 2 varieties of chillies, brinjals and tomatoes, lemon basil, turmeric, sunflowers, maize, marigolds, capsicum and drumstick, using companion plants as much as possible.

packets of seeds

On top went a light layer of mulch.

mulch layer

It was such a happy experience for us.

Already the corn, capsicum, tomatoes and chillies have germinated.

Corn

Corn

In the meanwhile  we have found that the soil in the gardening patch for the children is seriously depleted. It lacks aeration and has too much of clay. We have done a ‘double dig’ and planted leguminous seeds to do their magic. Observing the soil and how things are going, the patch is going to need some more time and care to get things going. Eventually we plan to have a ‘keyhole’ design utilising the edge effect.

Most of our hanging baskets are no more filled with just ornamental plants. They have been converted to herb baskets, holding plants like ‘Jalla Bhrami’, Mint, Thyme, ‘Ajwain’ or Bishop’s Weed, interspersed with a few ornamental flowers.

Around the coconut trees we have planted gourds which should climb up toward the sun.

And then there are other features planned:

water body in the front garden made using a recycled child’s bathing tub. Hopefully it will demonstrate an aquatic eco system and bring in the frogs and birds. I have been promised some papyrus cuttings from a friend which should do nicely in it. (The children are going to be thrilled with the papyrus. Not only because of their fascination with all things ‘Ancient Egyptian’ but also because it has a triangular stem!)

A spot for our cacti and succulent garden. This is will grow slowly, getting filled over time.

A tiny tepee in the back garden, sitting close to our banana plant. Creeping and entwining through it will be a bean plant.

In phase two we will look at recharge wells to replenish ground water.

Some of the plans may work and others may not. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and why and then think about what we should do next.

Watch this space for more updates of our experiments at school.

“How often is the soul of man–especially that of the child–deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature” – Dr. Maria Montessori  (from Childhood to Adolescence)