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THIS is How Our Garden Grows!

September 5, 2011

Last spring, an idea began to sprout for a possible school-wide community garden – and during the summer months, the idea took root. When Manlius Pebble Hill students and their families return to campus next week, they will find 1,700 sq. feet of raised beds and garden space ready for four seasons of food production and yearlong learning.

Tours of the new sustainable garden will be conducted during Thursday’s Back to School Picnic. The growing beds, which contain more than 30 cubic yards of compost and topsoil, are bordered by bales of straw – natural framing that is organic, economical, and safe for young children working in the garden. (MPH alumnus Chad Wart ’96 and his company, Earth Effects Lawn and Landscaping, did the preliminary work.)

While lettuce and garlic will be among the first plantings this fall, the garden will also produce tomatoes, cucumbers, peas, beans, squash, herbs, spinach, collards, kale, and other hardy greens.  Fruit trees (brown fig, dwarf plum and peach trees) and espaliered currants will also be planted.  The MPH greenhouse will be employed in starting seedlings as well as growing certain crops throughout the winter months.

The entire growing operation, being overseen by MPH science teacher Pam Stewart, is being deliberately and conscientiously tied to curriculum in all three divisions. Lower School students, for example, will study plant growth and life cycles and be introduced to the dietary benefits of various types of vegetables, as well as the benefits of consuming local produce. They will have an opportunity to plant crops and weed the garden spaces and develop personal ownership of the enterprise.

Fifth Graders will be engaged in scientific data collection for the raised bed that stretches along the back of the Bradlee building. Students will document their observations of daily weather, air and soil temperatures, sunlight, and rainfall and will create spreadsheets to help determine both what crops would best be planted in the space and how the growing season could be optimized. They will also undertake an engineering project – constructing a cover that will turn the growing bed into a mini-greenhouse and taking air and soil temperature readings to determine how effectively the cover extends the growing season.

Mrs. Stewart said the MPH garden operation will be linked to a composting project to be managed by Seventh Graders in “MishMash,” a class she will teach:  “MishMash will be tied to basic scientific principles about matter, how it breaks down and changes form, but it will also entail interdisciplinary instruction.”

In a math component, Seventh Graders will measure and compare the volume of raw material put into the compost bin with the volume of compost produced. The also will build a cover intended to hold heat in the compost tumbler so that it can be used throughout the winter.   Students will collect both pre- and post-plate material from the dining hall, mass it, test temperature and moisture levels in the bin, and computer track all data, using spread sheets and graphs.

As part of the engineering unit in their “Projects in Science” course, Eighth Graders will build greenhouse structures atop the beds on the south side of the McNeil building, tracking air and soil temperatures and producing both data spreadsheets and Word documents assessing how to maximize the growing season.

Another Eighth Grade project is planned, too. “There is a roof drain from the Bradlee building that empties into the garden area,” Mrs. Stewart said. “We’re going to see if we can sustain a rain garden with appropriate landscaping by cobbling the drainage area and installing a dry river bed that will hold water only during rain events.”

“The MPH garden is, first and foremost, a student-centered initiative,” Mrs. Stewart emphasized. “There are so many opportunities for learning. Plants will be labeled in world languages. Math and art will be incorporated. Grade level buddy programs will be involved, too.”

 The garden grew from an idea planted last year by the MPH Board’s Green Committee and the School’s Health and Wellness Committee. It has materialized into what will be both a community and a sustainable garden. Students in all grades will have a role in planting and tending plants during the school year and families will be invited to volunteer for a week at a time during the summer to weed and water crops. In exchange, they will receive some of the produce grown. 

Mrs. Stewart, who predicts that at least one day’s worth of lettuce alone will be produced for MPH lunches each week, says the garden enterprise may also sell both produce and seeds to the community.  Proceeds could fund the purchase of additional seeds and supplies and equipment for the garden.

Want to help right now? The MPH community garden currently needs hoses, hose reels, spray nozzles, children’s garden gloves and tools, and garlic sets. If you’d like to volunteer or contribute to the start-up operation of the garden, please contact Mrs. Stewart.

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