Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Garden Predators!

Yesterday we went on a garden safari in search of fierce predators in their natural habitat. It was just like a nature show. The students used their 5 senses, hand lenses, and Mac's Field Guide to California garden bugs as their only guide.

We had to be very quiet, patient, and observant. At first the garden seemed empty. We thought there was nothing to see. But as we moved in, and got right up close to the plants, a whole world of action, aggression, predation and pollination unfolded!

We identified insects and other creatures by the number of legs and the type of wings they have. Then, we tried to figure out what they were up to based on where we found them (like crawling on a plant leaf or flying near a flower).

We saw these aphids (bad for the garden - they eat our crops!) snacking on a sunflower.

Then, we noticed this ladybug and daddy long legs hanging around near by. The ladybug looks hungry! (good for the garden - predators who eat insects that eat our crops)

Finally, Luis and Jimmy noticed this huge bug. It had the looks of a fierce predator (seriously, it's like an inch long!), but Mr. Alexander identified it as a Squash Bug, an eater of plant juices and destroyer of crops, according to Mac's Field Guide. What do you think?

In the end, we decided that all these interdependent relationships between bugs and plants are very important to the garden. Insects need plants for food, insects need other insects for food, and plants need insects for pollination and therefore to reproduce and keep their species alive!

We marveled at the diversity of critters in our small, urban garden. Wouldn't it be a tragedy if we wiped it all out by spraying pesticides? The ladybugs will do a great job if we just give them some habitat! This approach is called Integrated Pest Management.

If you'd like to use our bug safari worksheet, contact us!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pre-Gopher - For the Record!

For the record, here are the beds we have planted at the June Jordan / SMSE garden so far.

See! No gopher damage! Well, OK, those few empty spots MIGHT be from just a small, snacking gopher. But look at our beautiful straight rows! In case the area is ravaged in a week, the proof is there.

I know, everyone's been telling me we've got to start trapping the little suckers. Any volunteers to help us out??

Look carefully at this sunflower photo.

Can you see why sunflowers are members of the Composite family? The middle yellow part of the sunflower is actually hundreds of tiny flowers, each one with a full set of reproductive parts, and each one makes its own seed. Can you see the ovary of each of the tiny flowers swelling up to turn into the seed? and the ring of tiny petals that makes up each individual flower? Many tiny flowers make up one big composite flower, the sunflower!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Search for Meaning

In Food class at June Jordan, we're starting to talk about cultural foods and the marketing of foods. I think lots of us have an instinctive disgust for processed foods, fast foods and the like, because those foods are so empty of meaning. We are being "sold" these foods, with TV ads, media images and celebrities. On the other hand, the rice and beans that grandma makes just give you that warm, fuzzy feeling of home. It's about foods with MEANING, that deep, inside, gut meaning that you just FEEL.

It's the same thing in my Fundraising class, where I'm a student. Think about this question for a minute: what is the most meaningful gift you've ever given someone? How did you feel? If you're like me, it almost makes you want to cry thinking about it. It felt so good. On a deeper level, authentic. It's not something you can teach someone, or explain, but if you get it, you know what meaningful giving feels like. It's so different from the exchange of buying and selling.

The search for meaning is easy in the garden. I mean, who can resist a young person discovering beans inside a pod, or worms in the ground? Every story in the garden has meaning. But the rest of the time, when we're not in the garden, it's harder.

I went to a meeting today, a group of garden education leaders who are working to promote garden-based education and elevate it to higher visibility and support. We talked and talked about how to take school gardens to the top, with district support, state support, legislation, etc. It seemed like such a long battle for a newbie like me.

Today, Delaine Eastin was in attendance (originator of California's "A Garden in Every School"). She spoke with experience of all the fights to fight and all the ways to take action and change the system. It sounded like a long, weary struggle. But when asked how she found meaning as state superintendent of schools, in the face of all these battles, Delaine said she always spent one day a week visiting a school. There, she'd find the one kid who runs up and gives you a hug. And tough as she is, it brought tears to her eyes. That's meaning. It's what gives us hope and keeps us real. And look how far school gardens have come!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Winter Crops on the Way

Students are busy at all three Urban Sprouts gardens, pulling out big, old raggedy plants, mixing in compost, smoothing it all out, and giving the new baby plants a cozy home.

We're starting over at the beginning of the school year, with a mix of students who gardened last year and students for whom this is all completely new. In the classroom there is some excitement, some anxiety, and with the middle schoolers, lots of fidgeting. But as soon as we get outside, we're seeing positive energy, cooperation, and delight.

Here are some step by step photos of the re-planting process, taken by student Karen Hu, from June Jordan.