The ICS St. Francis Garden club worked really hard last Friday. They pulled weeds in the upper part of the ICS garden, turned the soil to loosen it for new plants, mixed in compost to add nutrients to the soil, formed the rows with levels for walking in between the raised levels for planting, added newspaper and mulch to the rows to stop the growth of weeds and to mark where students can walk.
The students also harvested the carrots growing in the garden and fertilized the tomatoes.
Each student will be assigned a row to plan, to plant and to keep up this spring.
We thank the Town N Country Garden Circle women for their help with the club and with the butterfly garden again this week.
This week the ICS St. Francis Garden and Ecology Club met in the science classroom for a discussion about the science of a compost pile (see Restarting the Compost Bins). One of the science classes had put the hay in the compost bins last week, but the garden club had not added anything to the pile or discussed it. I showed them the compost thermometer and explained that we want the compost temperature in the green range which indicates a healthy growing population of microorganisms and a good rate of decomposition.
When the garden club went to the garden, we inserted the compost thermometer in the hay to check the temperature. Students were amazed that they could feel the hay was warm to touch. The temperature indicates that the process of decomposition is occurring at a satisfactory rate. Using hay rather than straw or leaves or grass clippings promotes a quick start to the decomposition process. We talked why we have not added any nitrogen to the compost pile yet. They understood that since this is the Florida rainy season, that we don’t want fertilizer washing off lawns, gardens or compost piles and into Tampa Bay. We don’t want the fertilizer polluting the water. Fertilizer can be purchased in Hillsborough County again in November, but if the temperature stays in the green range on the thermometer, maybe we will not need to add a bag of fertilizer at all.
Correction: I was at Home Depot today and saw fertilizer on sale! They told me last month that they wouldn’t be allowed to sell fertilizer or compost again until November 1, but were able to begin selling fertilizer again last Monday, October 1.
Clearing and restarting the compost bins was the other project students worked on last Tuesday. The compost produced during the last school year was spread on the garden to enrich the soil before the soil was covered with plastic to solarize it for the summer months. Now it is time to get the compost bins started again. Students cleared the weeds and lined the bottoms with newspapers to stop the weeds from growing back. (I have collected newspapers for months for these projects and for lining the paths of the garden.)
The family of one of the students bought and delivered three bales of hay. Yesterday, one of the science classes opened the bales and spread them in the compost bins. We would like to add a bag of commercially produced fertilizer to speed the composting process, but of course that will have to wait until November when we can buy fertilizer again. The compost process needs a ratio of 25 – 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen. The hay provides the carbon. The fertilizer provides the nitrogen. In a school garden we cannot add any fertilizer other than commercially produced varieties. Although we have access to chicken droppings and horse manure, we cannot use either. Commercially produced fertilizer is treated so potentially harmful microorganisms are not accidentally added to the garden via contaminated fertilizer. Our kitchen staff is supportive and will provide vegetable leftovers on a regular basis throughout the school year. These vegetable scraps used to be thrown away, now they give to the fertility of the garden soil.
We will put the compost thermometer in the bin on Monday. As the microorganisms decompose the hay and the kitchen scraps, heat is released. If it gets too hot, it will kill the microorganisms. Keeping the mixture moist but not saturated and turning the mixture once a week to get air to all layers will control the temperature and will create a healthy compost atmosphere (see Make Compost Like Yoghurt). The composted material will be added to the garden next spring to increase the fertility of the garden soil.
Bales of hay delivered to start the compost process
Hay distributed through the two compost bins.
Vegetable scraps from the kitchen are added to start the compost bin.
We had two half days of school this week so we missed our St. Francis Garden club meeting. We had work to do though, so after school on Tuesday, we gathered a group of garden students and asked them to volunteer to help. Within a few minutes we had work groups organized. One of the projects students worked on was to set up raised garden frames to start herb gardens for our youngest students. Herbs such as rosemary and basil will be planted to help students use their senses to study the plants.
After discussion with the Parish staff, we decided on a location for four raised garden frames that is out of the way of the various weekly Parish events but was close to classrooms. The beds will get up to 8 hours of sunlight each day, and a source of water is nearby. We placed the raised beds in position, and then garden club students lined each with layers of newspaper. The newspaper will stop grass and weeds from growing up into the soil in the raised beds. Finally we placed potting soil in the frames. Potting soil is a mixture of substances with some fertilizers included. It is generally more fertile and easier to use than the local sandy Florida soils. Happily the Parish staff had picked up the bags of potting soil from a nearby garden store, and moved the bags to our new raised bed location. Their efforts helped us to get the beds organized quickly and efficiently. We’ll get plants started in the frames soon.
Setting up the raised beds for the herb gardens
Newspapers line the bottom of each frame, then potting soil is added.
Last week the St. Francis Garden and Ecology Club members got out shovels to prepare the soil for the garden. We created the paths to walk on, and heaped up soil to build the rows for the seeds. We placed newspapers, 4-6 pages thick, on the paths and then covered them with cypress mulch. The newspapers help to stop the weeds from growing in the paths between the rows. The mulch does the same and holds the newspapers in place. Both the newspapers and mulch also help to hold moisture.
We cannot buy fertilizer at this time of the year in Hillsborough County Fl. The new limitation is to cut back on the amount of fertilizer flowing into Tampa Bay during the heavy late summer rains. We can buy potting soil, so we mixed a little potting soil with the soil in the rows before planting the seeds. Students read the back of the seed packages to find how deep to plant the seeds and how far apart. They measured carefully to try to get the correct depth and placement for the bush bean, carrot and beet seeds. We also planted some flowering plants that were brought in by Dominic, one of the club members. The upper level of the garden will be planted in vegetable seeds. The lower level will be planted in flowers to develop a wildlife habitat, especially for the butterflies.