John C. Crosby Elementary School - Big Backyard Garden
Raised Bed Garden - First Planted May 2009
What we have grown to date- Lettuce, nasturtiums, tomatoes, onions, peppers, basil, oregano, parsley, snow peas, green beans, pumpkins, carrots, beets, sunflowers, and marigolds.
Other Gardens we have created - a wild flower garden and a decorative lily garden.
The students have also planted seven Heritage Birch trees with help from a local landscaper to fix a water drainage problem on the playground. A “pond” that was a water hazard on our playground that would also attract Canadian Geese is now a soft grass meadow. The students have enjoyed watching the water reduce in size and the trees grow.
Two other gardens that have graced our property for a few years were a combined effort of our special needs class, teachers, and a few master gardener volunteers. These two gardens showcase beautiful flowering perennials and are maintained by our special needs students. Sunflowers and marigolds the Brain Booster program grew from seedlings were a nice annual plant addition to these beautiful places. The addition of tools from the Green Challenge have been a great help in maintaining these spaces!
Our Brain Booster Gardening Program
In the fall of 2008, a group of Sabic Innovative Plastics Volunteers came to Crosby Elementary School to make improvements. Working alongside students, parents, and teachers, a raised bed garden space and outdoor classroom was created. The students of Crosby have tended their gardens with very little help from teachers and volunteers. They have pulled weeds, cut out sod, turned soil, and planted. They direct sowed lettuce, nasturtiums, onions, snow peas, green beans, and wild flowers. In the late winter, the students designed, requested funding support for, and built seedling shelves to start marigolds, peppers, pumpkins, sunflowers, tomatoes, and herbs. The shelves were customized to hold trays and tools while fitting specifically along the cafeteria windows. We learned that self-watering trays are a great way to keep the plants alive during vacations and weekends! The Brain Booster spring group created journals to showcase their knowledge of planning a garden and comparing a hydroponic growing system, specifically an AeroGarden, to traditional soil growth. Jeanne Nailos, a Grade 4 teacher and a coordinator and teacher for the schools after school “Brain Booster” program commented:
“I have continued to be amazed at how respectful the entire school has been in regards to the seedling stands in the small cafeteria. There has been no destruction and there have been endless discussions during lunch about what is growing, the watering tables, and when it will be planted outdoors. It also was remarkable that when you (Ms. Sauve) were not available to teach for a week last year during the summer, how campers were worried and took it upon themselves to water and see that the plants did not die. Quite an investment in personal involvement and pride...Finally, especially with the fifth and fourth graders, we had many students that had their first Brain Booster experience with the summer camp. I overheard on more than one occasion, students explain to the 'newbees' how the gardening thing works. I loved hearing the kids explain in their own words how we take care of the seedlings, water the garden, use the tools and take care of the outdoor gardens. I was wonderful to hear the message coming from them.”
Our garden is organic, so all students during the July 2009 “Brain Booster” program were able to enjoy snow peas right off their vines – thank goodness it was a colder, wetter spring. The spring and early summer of 2010 was not as gracious, so we immediately rotated our crops to pumpkins, but kept our nasturtiums and marigolds to help fight pests. We're hoping to return to the school in September to a nice pumpkin patch. The gardening after school Brain Boosters program, ends in early June and then the summer Brain Booster program doesn't start until July, so we plant and cross our fingers that June is good to our garden! The timing doesn't always produce as plentiful a garden as we would like, but we are always optimistic and happy to get our hands dirty. In July 2009, the students made bruschetta with their garden tomatoes, basil, and oregano. That same summer, we learned that there are deer that visit our property and they enjoyed our green beans. Ms. Nailos shared with me “Last year, you had kids make pizza/bruschetta with items from the garden. I overheard more than one kid say that they never knew that was where tomatoes and other spices came from (referring to a garden). They thought it came from the grocery store (like it was made in the back room or something). I found this to be quite compelling that there were kids that really had no idea of source to table when it comes to the things they eat.” The 2010 summer program the students worked with a local green market (Berkshire Coop) to learn about healthy eating and cooking.
The students also understand that gardening means attracting beneficial insects and birds. They cut in a wildflower garden (that sometimes our city ground crew gets confused and cuts it down with the weeds). This planting was done by a ratio of seeds to sand. All students loved getting their hands in the mixture and throw seed in the bed. They created bird feeders by recycling onion bags. The students also made hummingbird feeders by recycling plastic bottles and containers. We also had a second grade group work to build fairy houses to attract another very important garden visitor—even their fairy houses included mushroom and moss gardens!
Gardening also means building. In addition to the seedling shelves, the summer of 2009 grade five students created a garden trellis to add to our perennial garden. In the 2010 summer grade five designed a rack to hold all of our garden tools that was built by both grade four and five. The students know how to properly use and care for our garden tools. We also learned the importance of accurate measurements in building. We created teams to check our measurements, and used our earlier mistakes for boards for our tool rack.
Crosby likes to share its garden. The garden is tended and appreciated by community partners, neighbors, teachers, administrators, custodians, students, and families are offered participation to water, pull weeds, or pick vegetables. I look forward to our new garden projects – I wonder what students will want to take on next. It is amazing how the students are developing with the program. I am now gardening with seasoned gardeners and I get to take the journey with them.