Three weeks ago the garden club students learned how to take a soil sample to send to the IFAS extension office for evaluation to see what needs to be added to the soil to make it more fertile for vegetables. They also collected a soil sample in a large glass jar, added water to fill the jar and shook it to thoroughly mix the soil and water. This was left for a week to settle to see how much of the mixture was sand, how much soil and how much clay and humus. Sand is heaviest and settles to the bottom first. Soil settles on top of the sand. The smaller, lighter clay particles settle on top of the soil. The humus, remains of plants, floats on top.
The following week when we met to look at the layers in the jar and to discuss the soil results. We found that the soil has some sand, very little clay but a thick layer of soil. We were joined that week by Ms. Lesley Allen and Ms. Lois McLane from the Town N Country garden circle who have volunteered to help us. After examining the soil sample, we took them to the garden so they could see the size of the area and get an idea of the environment. We also showed them the compost pile and explained what we are doing to maintain it.
Our plan for the garden is to have the lower level developed into a butterfly garden with the younger elementary students caring for it with the help of Ms. McLane and Ms. Allen. The garden club students will each be assigned a row or two to weed, plant and maintain in the upper level.
Two weeks ago Ms. Allen and Ms. McLane worked with the grade 2 students to weed the lower section. After school, the garden club students transplanted tomatoes from the lower section to the upper section, and they put down newspaper and mulch around the tomatoes to stop weed growth. In the lower section of the garden, the garden club students planted plants brought in by Ms. Allen and Ms. McLane. Some of these plants will provide food for the caterpillars and some will provide food for the butterflies.
TheSt. Francis Garden and Ecology Club is getting ready to plant the first seeds of the season. We will care for the school garden and become involved in ecological activities in the area. At our first meeting 2 weeks ago, we cleared some of the weeds growing at the edge of the garden. We decided to leave the plastic in place to solarize the garden soil for anther week.
Last week we removed the plastic and began to prepare the soil for planting. Students were happy to clear the plastic and excited to have shovels and rakes in their hands preparing the soil for the seeds and plants.
Plants need soil, so asking what type of soil is in the garden is the first question a gardener should ask. The following experiment done by the grade 5 science students, is based on the Shake, Rattle and Roll experiment in the Junior Master Gardener Leader Handbook. Purpose: To identify the amounts of different sizes of soil particles that make up a soil’s texture in our school garden. Time: 20 minutes plus 24 hours to settle. Materials: clear plastic cups, plastic spoon, soil, water, permanent marker (The book calls for jars, but I try to use the cheapest and safest materials possible. A clear plastic cup with a plastic spoon to stir worked very well instead of a jar but I knew our soil was very sandy. If the soil is mainly clay, then a jar with a lid so the soil can be thoroughly mixed and suspended in water would work better.) Procedure: Students worked in pairs to complete the following
Use a permanent marker to label a cup so each group knows which cup belongs to which group.
Dig about 6 inches into the soil for the soil sample. Do not take the soil from the surface. Half fill the plastic cup with soil.
Add enough water to fill to within half an inch (1.25 cm) of the top of the cup.
Stir carefully with the plastic spoon to thoroughly mix the water and soil. Mash lumps against the side or bottom of the cup, then stir again until the soil is completely suspended in the water.
Place the cup on a solid surface. Do not disturb it for 1 minute.
Use a permanent marker to mark the side of the cup where the layers are.
Leave the cups for 24 hours without moving or disturbing it.
Observe and measure any changes in the layers. Record the results.
Particles floating on the top of the water are bits of organic matter.
The top layer of soil is clay, the smallest, lightest particles.
The next layer down is silt.
The bottom is sand, the largest and heaviest particles.
In the photo below, the clay layer is not visible. It was a very thin light tan colored layer on top of the darker silt layer.
Layers of Soil
Results: Each student created a graph comparing the different layers of soil particles. The graph below was done by a student in the class.
Depth of Layers of Soil
Conclusion: We discussed how knowing the particle size and soil texture would influence our decision about where to have a garden and what to grow in the garden.
Grade 5 students planted their seeds today. Each group of 3-4 students had a package of seeds and a portion of a row. They read the directions for depth for the seeds and spacing between seeds, then worked together to get the project done. They marked the area with small plastic posts indicating who was in the group and what they planted. Since we had time and energy, we created 2 short rows, perpendicular to the other rows. Students brought fresh soil from the pile at the end of the garden and put mulch down between the new rows. Flowers were planted in these rows. Students know it is necessary to attract pollinators to the garden and we appreciated the colorful flowers that the grade 8 students had planted in their area last the fall. At end of the process, we watered the garden. Now we wait.
We have the grade 5 section of the school student garden ready for planting again and with a lot of help from students. It never fails to amaze me that when I step outside with garden tools, students coming running to see what they can do. Three weeks ago after school, I entered the garden area with shovels and a bag of compost. Students in the school aftercare program were on the nearby playing field but I had 4 volunteers leave their game to help before I even started to work. The grade 5 science classes had removed the weeds the day before, so the aftercare group turned over the soil to loosen it, mixed in the compost and turned it again. They also added mulch to the walking paths between the rows.
Early this week at recess, I went out to work and again instantly had students volunteering to help, this time leaving their recess games to work. We have a new pile of soil beside the garden that the students used to build up the rows where we will plant. The garden was rained on since then, has had time to settle, and is ready for planting.
Tomorrow students will plant their seeds – the seeds that they gave me during Catholic Schools week. We have tomato, pepper, radishes, carrots and lima bean seeds. They are anxious to get started and anxious to see the first seed leaves poking through the soil.
Grade 5 section of the garden is ready for planting.