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Sep 09, 2011 | posted in Blog by seedlingprojects

Summer Happenings In A DC School Garden

A summer vegetable garden is incredibly quiet compared the usual bustle of the school year. The quest for carrots large and small; kids searching for bright red amaranth, and the excitement of watching pill bugs make their way through the dirt dies down once summer break starts. However, this summer E.W. Stokes Vegetable garden had a fair amount of activity thanks, in part, to the involvement of the school’s lead chef and cooking staff, the expansion of 13 raised beds to include a large, a traditional (in-ground) bed and the involvement of summer classes. For Seedling Projects’ program, Farm To Desk D.C., garden manager Jonna McKone spent the summer growing heirloom varieties of vegetables, establishing sustainable garden systems like composting, teaching classes with the school’s summer enrichment program and filling the beds with kid-friendly information.

During the summer Stokes grew: strawberries, onions, mustard greens, all sorts of cherry tomatoes including Sun Sugar and Black Zebra, Bianca Rosa eggplant, sweet peppers, potatoes (which did not do well – we are still trying to figure out why), endless varieties of mint, Genovese and Thai basil, string beans, flowers, radishes, turnips, lavender and rosemary. The school’s chef and cook staff used a number of the items throughout the summer to stock the salad bar and make lunches for the summer program.

In July, the garden had the pleasure of a group of regular visitors: a 2nd grade French class and a French class of pre-Kindergarden and Kindergarten students. For five weeks, each class would visit the garden at least twice a week to learn about the 6 parts of a plant – what we eat, how roots work, why leaves are shaped in different ways and how to identify what’s growing in the garden. We also started our seeds, weeded, dug up new beds, harvested and made pesto, tea and a basil salad with the school’s chef, Lisa Dobbs.

Once August started, the focus was on our fall seedlings and planning. We got some major projects out of the way like building a shed, starting a better compost system and creating an outdoor classroom of colorful tree stumps and tables. We got really lucky – a neighbor cut down a massive tree and donated their stumps to us. We also worked with a local non-profit Casey Trees that lent their tree moving expertise. Casey Trees managed the process of hauling the massive stumps with a forklift and donated the use of their dollys. We know have benches, tables and a sitting area for teachers to utilize. We hope the outdoor classroom gets a lot of use, both for garden-based classes and for general play and learning time. In addition, we developed a series of raised bed concepts for the garden as well as a brand new, in-ground bed! Right now there’s a perennial herb garden bed, a bed of fruits and coming soon: a bed of companion plants, native species and a “pizza topping bed.” Up next we will be building a sign and community board so parents, students and neighborhoods can volunteer more readily at the garden.

Now that school is underway and we are excited to get the kids back in the garden to learn and harvest!