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  • Writer's picturePaula Robertson

Bees are buzzing and brassicas are sprouting at the school!

Updated: Jun 3, 2023

Happy Spring!

May has been brimming with fun and exciting activities with our Green Thumbs and Intergenerational Garden Club.

On May the 1st, Mushroom Man, Colin Stevens, along with Anja and daughter Marlene popped by the Food Forest and harvested our first batch of Blue Oyster Mushrooms. Colin brought three logs to the Food Forest and inoculated them during our March break with our Intergenerational Garden Club. Colin is full of fascinating facts about mushrooms and an enthusiastic facilitator. We were fortunate to have Colin back to the school late May. He gave our Grade 1-4 After School Garden Club their very own Blue Oyster Workshop. The children mixed spawn (mycelium grown on rye grains) with watered down substrate (straw) in core pots and were instructed to keep their cups in tupperware containers with a loose lid to allow for lots of fresh air in a dark cupboard for 7-10 days, and then they can harvest. The children showed great interest and care with lots of questions for Colin! We also built together a cardboard box growing space, the same as the core cups. We wrapped it in a black plastic bag. Ms Avila Grade 1 class eagerly offered to care for it, in this fun process and share pictures along the way. Huge thank you to Colin for bringing mushroom growing to three of our Garden Programs! Happy Mushroom harvest!

Miss Baas' and Ms. Avila's Grade 1 Class have been busy in the school garden weeding, watering and transplanting. We are pros at the tricks of transplanting our cauliflower, broccoli, and nasturtiums in our garden beds. We're happy to report most of our seedlings have not been damaged by the cabbage moth. We secured the cover cloth over the trough and checked it every few days! Fingers crossed we will have brassicas to share this summer! Sowing peas in pots, measuring their growth, building trellis and inserting sticks to support them as they grow, giving them pinches of worm castings and watering them each week, for the children to take them home, has been another exciting time of learning with our Grade 1. Special klecko to Grandma Grace for helping out in the gardens each week!

Ms. Bruhwiler and Ms. Holt's Kindergarteners have been growing marigolds and zucchinis in their classroom this past month. Marigolds are great in a children's garden because they can get involved in all aspects of growing the plant and they produce flowers quickly. Some children were able to see the flower buds before they took them home. Growing zucchini and marigolds close together may help discourage pesky bugs and help attract the bees with pollination. As an experiment Mrs. Holt's class has left their zucchini indoors in a south facing window while Ms. Bruhwiler class planted theirs out in one of the troughs. Which one do you think is producing zucchini? You're right, Mrs. Holts!

The children (15 buzzing bees) all took turns hand pollinating the female flower by gently rolling the male flower onto the stigma in the centre of the female flower. One week later and the zucchini is now 5 inches. Well done Ms. B. and Ms. H. Kindergarten class.

Our After School Garden and Intergenerational Clubs have been exploring the world of mason bees. Did you know that they are native to North America? Before honeybees were brought over from Europe, they were our beautiful and gentle pollinators. Mason bees do not make honey, they collect pollen, whereas honey bees collect nectar. Mason bees like to nest in holes and lay their eggs rather than in a hive with a queen. Females form an egg chamber in the deepest part of their hole and seal it with mud, repeating the process until the hole is full of eggs. We were so excited to build nesting boxes out of paper and wood! We were about to place the Mason Bee cocoons in their new homes in the Food Forest, when we opened the box and several of the bees flew out. We were able to see them up close. How fascinating. Did you know the males hatch first and swarm the house waiting to mate with the females as soon as they hatch? Next winter we will check to see how many cocoons grew. How do you support mason bees in your yard?

We all have been putting our thinking caps on as the sun has been with us for three long wonderful weeks, yet very little rain. Garden Sustainability is one of the many new phrases we are learning about. As part of our sustainability in our gardens we are growing perennials, seeds saving, composting and mulching. This year our Food Forest is perennial except for a few flowers we planted that we hope will self seed for next year. We have been thinking about how we can water efficiently. The children have learned that the straw holds in moisture, so we don't have to water as often; it shades out weed seedlings; and it composts into nutrients and amendments for the soil. We also leave the leaves and flowers from the plants that have died to regenerate and create multiple layers that support each other and require very little maintenance from us. We have added our compost we created this year to amend the beds. We have a volunteer kale that comes up every year in our Food Forest. We don't usually harvest it as we know it attracts pollinators.

Each week in our troughs, greenhouse and lower gardens, we do the simple soil finger test. Who doesn't love getting the fingers dirty? The children know to find a spot near the plant so we can test the soil near the roots. We plunge our index finger at least half way down. If it isn't easy we know it's dry and compact. That means we have to water a lot for many days. Next, we gently lift our finger out and investigate the soil stuck to it. If our fingers have lots of soil stuck to it, we have happy moist soil. If it's clean, then it's dry soil and needs watering. If we come across a worm, we have the best soil and do a huge hurrah and high five! Now that almost all our beds are planted with strong little seedlings, with gentle fingers added tiny pieces of straw.

Production gardening for us means having each student, staff and senior in our gardens program having a taste test of each type of plant we sow, grow and harvest. From vine, tree, root and bush we hopefully can eat an array of veggies and fruit. We are watching as the strawberries are beginning to ripen and are having nibbles of rhubarb. Munching on sorrel and fennel are our favourites, mustard, arugula, romaine and bok choy come in second. Pansies and calendula are a huge hit. Walking onions, chives, mint, oregano and sage, surprisingly, many children enjoy. Fingers crossed and we will have peas, their leaves and stems to eat before school lets out for the summer, courtesy of our greenhouse. We also have an annual plot to pot harvest leek soup for our students.

June is National Indigenous History Month. We have begun studying agricultural techniques that have been used for thousands of years in North America. One of which is the "Three Sisters''. We planted 4 areas with corn, beans and squash. We added to the family by transplanting sunflowers and pumpkins. We learned that this is called companion planting. Corn provides support for the bean vine, beans add nitrogen and squash leaves shade the soil, preventing the weed growth and animal pests. We are grateful for this teaching and look forward to a wonderful harvest to be shared in the fall.

Gardening is the study of life. Huge thank you to all the parents, teachers, grannies, grandpas, aunties, and uncles who have passed on their love of gardening!

See you in the garden!

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