Saturday, September 8, 2007

Ice Cream Social

Why are these people marching?

There was a party at the Washington Youth Garden yesterday where children and parents who've been tending their plots came out for an afternoon of games and ice cream.

There was mural painting, flag making, musical instrument construction, old-fashioned ice cream churning, a jazz band playing tunes from "Sesame Street" and "Scoobie-Doo."

And a long line of people waiting for a cup of Ben & Jerries.

The kids could also choose to have their faces painted with a choice of butterflies. Then they pulled on their costumes--a salad selection of vegetables--and marched around beating their drums, shaking their noise makers and waving their flags with garden coordinator Christopher Turse taking the lead.

Needless to say, a good time was had by all. Especially if you got to the ice cream (five or six times) before it melted.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Our New Pond

I've been meaning to write forever about all the work Elizabeth did in the Spring to build a pond in the middle of hour herb container.

We built our herb container large--eight-by-eight-feet square--to be the centerpiece of our school garden. We knew we wouldn't be able to reach into the middle of such a large space so we built a second box, half the size, and set that in the middle of the first box, turned 90 degrees to make a sort of compass effect, since the theme of the garden starts with the four compass points. We've been growing herbs and flowers in the space between the two boxes.

We put a lid on top of the inner box, thinking eventually we would use it as a platform for some kind of fountain. But then Elizabeth had the brilliant idea of removing the lid and lining the smaller box and filling it with water. So on any given day you could find Elizabeth sitting in the box, lining it first with sheets of rubber to make it leak-proof, then breaking up ceramic tiles and cementing the pieces to the box to make this very cool ceramic enclosure.

Elizabeth also purchased a small solar-powered fountain for the pond and we finally had our water feature. It wasn't until this week that I finally got around to focusing on some plant life for our pond. I stopped at Bittersweet Nurseries outside Annapolis for some ideas and walked away with several plants, including a water lily, cattails, a water hyacinth and several others that are very familiar but whose names I do not know.

These are all perennial plants that will come back year after year, even if the water freezes. The water lily will set out lovely yellow blossoms at some point. You can also buy annuals that float on the surface and make flowers. A few small fish from the pet store should help with any mosquito larvae that may try to make a home in our pond.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

We've Got Hose!

We planted our garden more than a year ago and today we finally have a hose to water it with.

Up until now, we've been filling watering cans in the big stainless steel sink in our lunchroom. That's a lot of watering cans to fill, and during the summer, we need to water almost ever day.

A few weeks ago, Mama Willie, our school accountant, found a plumber to fix an outdoor spigot on the wall just outside the garden. Then, thanks to a grant from our local Neighborhood Advisory Commission 1B, we ordered a professional quality aluminum reel and 100 feet of high quality, 8-ply garden hose.

Today we picked up our reel and hose from the hardware store. Some assembly was required. But as you can see from the photo above, already Baba Oron is taking advantage of the hose and the watering wand to give our thirsty plants a big, long drink. And we don't have to run inside to the lunchroom any more for water.
We have some new additions to the garden: an apple tree that is leafing nicely, two clematis vines and a bignonia vine. We are hoping the vines will cover much of the chain link fence that surrounds our garden. We also have two yellow jasmin vines that are beginning to fill out.

Sadly, the dwarf peach tree we purchased has not broken dormancy and looks as though it did not survived its purchase from Miller's Nursery in New York State. We will have to order a new one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

We've Got Benches

Notice anything different about this picture?

Take another look.

Look closely...

That's right! These girls in our After 4 gang are all sitting down. That's something new for our garden. Because up to now, we've never really had anything to sit on.

But thanks to the good people at the Wardman Court Condominium Association, we now have five new park benches.

The association, located just up the hill from us at 13th and Clifton Streets NW here in the District of Columbia, recently donated the benches to Children's Studio School so that visitors to the garden can have a place to sit and relax.

People like to eat lunch in the garden or contemplate the beautiful flowers and herbs. They should have a place to sit and enjoy our space.

Our good friend Darren, who also helped build the garden, lives at the Wardman Court. He heard that the condominium association was looking for a new home for these benches and thought of us. Darren also helped disassemble the benches and transport them to Children's Studio School.

The benches are a cool green color--just like most of our plants--attached to black-colored iron legs. The legs are actually very long because they are designed to be sunk into the ground or into concrete. The legs have to be shortened so that people can sit in the benches. Baba Jose and Mama Elizabeth are working with a metal grinder to cut the legs down to the correct height.

Four of the benches will be installed around our central herb planter, where Mama Elizabeth and the After 4 gang are now assembling a solar-powered water fountain (we can't wait to see that). The fifth bench will be placed in the playground area where it will make a huge difference for our artist/teachers, who up to now have had to find folding chairs in order to sit while they are supervising children on the playground.

These benches are making a huge difference in the garden and on the playground. Thank you, Wardman Court Condominium Association, for thinking of us and making such a great donation!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Garden in Bloom

One of my favorite displays in the garden right now are the clusters of Sweet William and dianthus blooming next to the silvery lamb's ears. We have multicolored flowers of pink and crimson and almost purple, and the small flowers look so perky next to the fuzzy, floppy lamb's ears.
Also the roses are putting on a big show right now. We have one rose climbing against the wall that has a profusion of pink blossoms. Two roses set on either side of the entrance to the garden from the sidewalk have big blooms of creamy peach.

The rock cress, with the tiny little sky-blue blossoms, are only now beginning to fade after a rioutous early Spring blooming. Many of the daisies look like they are getting ready to pop. And you can just see the beginnings of flower buds on the Black-eyed Susans and the cone flowers.

Lately we have been planting lots of different kinds of lettuces because they do so well in the garden and we can make salad for the whole school. We've also been planting a number of flowers, including the marigolds whose seeds we saved from last year, and Shasta daisy, asters, cosmos, zinnias and nasturtiums.

Next week we hope to plant several different kinds of sunflowers. But we have to put more soil in our planter boxes first.
And here's a surprise. We received a note from our friends at the Garden Club of Annapolis. They sent us a very kind donation. So we went right out and bought two winterberry trees, a male and a female, and ordered some clematis vines that will help cover the chain link fence around our garden. We also want to order some small fruit trees, such as peach and plum.

Thank you Garden Club of Annapolis!
This is a picture of our friend Helen holding our even newer friend, Hazel. They came to the garden to help us plant seeds. Wasn't that fun Hazel?
Please come again soon...

Monday, April 30, 2007

Anacostia Haikus!

Recently the girls in After 4 have been learning how to write haikus. Here are a few inspired by their Anacostia boat tour.

Fish have cancer there.
When sun shines in the river
the water is blue.


River in D.C.
It is really polluted
And it has sewage.


Dashes to river
just like a big rocket ship
Flying high in sky.


Students write about the Anacostia trip

The After 4 gang wrote about their experience going to the Anacostia. Here are some excerpts from those writings combined.

"We went to the Anacostia River. We got there by vans, trucks, and cars, and we rode on a little boat. Mr. Josh's company name was Earth Conservation Center-- the ECC. Mr. Josh was a boat rider/captain. We learned about sewers and ducks and birds and flowers and fish. He told us that if you litter and it starts raining, it will come out at the Anacostia River. Then, we saw a bird flying with a fish; it was very odd."

"I've never been on an exciting boat ride. Josh said we shouldn't litter, because then the earth won't be healthy. I learned that a park is better for a river than buildings. The best thing for the edges of a river are wetlands and miles of trees, especially the Weeping Willow. Then, we have a healthy river.

The Indians discovered the river first. They called it the "Country Trading Center." The one thing I noticed was everywhere we went there was lots of sewage and Captain Josh said, if you litter on the ground, the trash will go to the river. "

"Captain Josh told us about littering, then Nia started chanting, "No more littering!" Captain Josh said maybe you should save your energy and say it to the buildings. We all said it loud to the people on the bridges and in cars."
--Aiyana, Princess, Quennie, Devinity

Thursday, April 26, 2007

No More Litter!

The After 4 gang has been learning about our precious water resources and some of the issues we need to think about to protect the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Part of that watershed is the Anacostia River right here in Washington, D.C. This river is only 8.4 miles long, running from Bladensburg, MD, to the Potomac River.

The Anacostia is mistreated in many ways. For instance, long stretches of the river have been stripped of all the trees, which help filter water before it enters the river and also help stop erosion along the river banks.

Even worse, the Anacostia is badly polluted. Many species of fish live in the river. But an estimated 60 percent of all the catfish suffer from some form of cancer.

People simply dump their trash into the Anacostia. Storm drains from the District of Columbia empty into the river. And when it rains heavily, much of the city's sewage system overflows and spills into the river as well.

That's right: When we get a heavy rain, your toilets dump right into the Anacostia. Hard to believe, but true.
Yesterday the After 4 gang took a boat ride with our captain, Josh, of the Earth Conservation Corps. They have an office in an old building on the river in Southeast Washington near the new baseball stadium. The building used to contain pumps that sent water from the Anacostia to make steam heat in the U.S. Capitol building.

Josh takes people on tours of the Anacostia almost every day. There is still wildlife on the river. He showed us osprey nests. We also saw cormerants and seagulls and a great blue heron.

We also saw some Canada geese. But Josh says the geese are a problem: They eat important wetland plants. Wetland plants along the river's shoreline act as a filter, remover harmful pollutants from the river. We need more wetland areas, but they have to be fenced to keep the Canada geese out.
Imagine a time when the area around the Anacostia River was inhabited only by native Americans. There were no buildings or cars, only lots of trees everywhere along the river and wildlife. The natives, or Necostans, considered the river their own special market, because it supplied so much of their food.

Now, people give the river hardly a thought. They also dump their automobile tires into the Anacostia. Josh said the Conservation Corps at one point cleaned up a small portion of the river and collected more than 400 automobile tires. Also, everywhere you look trash is floating on the river, mostly soda bottles and plastic packaging.

This past weekend, the Conservation Corps filled 320 bags with trash from Kingman Island near RFK Stadium. But when we passed the island yesterday, the trash was back. Lots of trash.

The reason for so much trash is that people litter everywhere. And the litter gets washed down the storm drains and into the Anacostia. So the After 4 gang began to chant: No more litter! No more litter!

The chant grew louder and louder. It went on and on.

We hope you will take up the chant. Tell all your parents and all your friends. Help the Anacostia and our Chesapeake Bay watershed.

No more litter!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Recently in class we've been focused on learning about photosynthesis and vascular plant systems. These images show a papier mache tree the gang made. The leaves are made from their handprints, and if you look closely, you can see that built onto the side are papier mache layers that fold out, labeled: Outer Bark, Phloem, Cambium, and Xylum.

The class got so excited about their knowledge of how trees use light energy to make glucose, that they expressed a great interest in having a play on the subject. In this image, the kids are cutting out different lengths of light waves as costumes. There was much fuss over who would play the sun, so in addition to that role, we designated girls to play different lightwaves that penetrate our atmosphere, and thus a tree's leaves. Shown here are three little smiling rays!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Things Are Blooming

Our garden is in its second year now and clearly some of the plants that we started last year from seeds are very happy. What a great thing to see them coming back so vigorously and in such good health.

At left are rock cress in full bloom. They make perky little purplish flowers in a great profusion. We planted the rock cress to surround our new crape myrtle trees in large, concrete planters situated in the corners near the entrance to the garden. I remember last summer when the sun was so hot and the garden was driest it wasn't clear at all that the rock cress would survive. There were just small clumps of it here and there, hiding from the blistering sun it seemed. But this spring they've come back in full force and we are really glad.

Last year we had good success with our strawberry plants. Every morning, the kids would come to school excited and asking if they could pick the latest strawberry they'd found on the verge of ripeness. We harvested quite a few.
These plants bear moderately size berries in the spring only. Some other strawberries bear fruit all through the summer. Our farmer friend Mike Klein, who owns and operated a food subscription service from his truck farm in Prince George's County, allowed us to dig these plants from between his strawberry rows. Strawberries like to spread by sending out "ruuners" that then make new roots. Earlier this year we divided quite a few of the plants--enough to start another crop of strawberries in one of other big containers in our garden.
Yesterday the After 4 gang took a walk around the garden and the whole school property to try and identify the things that are growing. We found blossoms on our pussy will and lots of lush new leaves on the butterfly bush, or buddlea. The witch hazel that bloomed so beautifully in March also is sprouting leaves, so we know it is healthy. We have lots and lots of thyme and parsley and bronze fennel. Also a salad herb called salad burnett that tastes like cucumber.
Over in the flower boxes, the black-eyed Susan plants are big and bush. The pinks are starting to bloom and it looks like we have many purple coneflower plants that we thought had died during the winter. The crape myrtles also look a little dead, but now they have leaf buds all over.
On the other side of the school building is one of our favorite trees around. It's an old red bud that is just now covered with tiny purplish blossoms. Did you know that you can eat the blossoms of the red bud tree?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

We've Got Steam!

We try to make sure our Mantis composter gets at least a couple of turns every day. This helps the bacteria inside breathe. In the morning I check to see what's happening with our compost and guess what? Yesterday it was steaming!

I didn't have my compost thermometer with me, so I couldn't check the temperature. But steam is a very good sign. It indicates that the bacteria are happy and are eating away, making heat in the process. I placed my hand over the compost and it was plenty warm. This means our work is paying off.

We are trying to pay greater attention to our compost this year, making sure we have enough carbonaceous or brown material along with our nitrogenous or green ingredients. Nitrogen gives our microscopic decomposers quick fuel, while the carbon supplies a real meal. These ingredients need to be kept in balance, along with the right amount of water and oxygen.

During our recent garden cleanup, we made sure to cut all the garden debris into small pieces before placing it in the composter. Also, Mama Jenny has started bringing bags of old produce from the food co-op where she works. That needs to be sorted through and cut into pieces as well. Ideally, the old leaves from last fall that we've stored also should be shredded before going into the composte. All this work to break things into smaller pieces helps the decomposers do their job. And Baba Oron has started collecting coffee grounds from our local Starbucks. Coffee grounds add nitrogen to our compost.

Now we just have to keep turning and checking and watering until we have compost we can use in our garden. I'm guessing it won't be more than a month or two.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

We're in Garden Rant!

The story of how our garden got started--how we built this garden from scratch on an asphalt lot next to our school--appears today in the Garden Rant blog. Garden Rant is read by editors, designers and gardeners here and across the Atlantic in Great Britain. Check it out at

Monday, March 19, 2007

Doctor, I Think It's Alive!

Tomorrow is the day of the Spring equinnox, otherwise known as the First Day of Spring, so we took the After 4 Gang outside to see if they could find anything showing signs of life. I prompted them with a few questions, then wrote down their answers and snapped a few photos. See if you can identify the plants we are talking about.

This has a bright yellow flower and green leaves. It's standing up and it's not falling down.

Can you name this plant?

If you said daffodil, you are CORRECT!

This tree looks dead. Why?

Because it doesn't have any leaves.

Then what are these little things all over the branches.

They look like buds.

And what color are they?


Can you guess what kind of tree this is?

If you said Red Bud tree, you are CORRECT! (The Red Bud tree is one of the first to bloom in the spring. Did you know the flowers are edible? Put them in a salad...)

Now, look at this bush. Is it alive or dead.
It looks dead.

Then what are these things growing on the branches?

Those are little leaves. It's alive because it's making leaves. But what are these round things?

Those round things are hips, left over from last year. Do you know what plant this is?
If you said a rose plant, you are CORRECT!
And what are these other things in the rose planter. Are they alive?

Yes, they are healthy, because they are rising up. That's how you can tell they are alive.

Do you know what this plant is? If you said tulip, you are CORRECT!

We also have mint and salad burnett that survived the winter and are green, green, green. Also thyme and chamomille. And the climbing hydrangea is starting to spread and form buds. In our garden, there are signs of life everywhere.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Witch Hazels are Here! The Witch Hazels are Here!

By the After 4 Gang

Today we visted the garden. It was sunny and warm and lots of plants are getting old and some are alive. We saw some witch hazel. Witch hazel is a tree. There are two witch hazel trees in our garden. They are blooming. The blooms are yellow and orange and they look like octopuses.

We also found some plants that tasted like grapes. Baba Ed said they are called sorrel and should taste like lemon.

Then we smelled some thyme plants. They smell like peppermint. Mama Jenny told us that thyme will make you have good dreams. You just smell it. Even if you smell it in the daytime you'll still have good dreams at night.

Note: Witch hazel is a native American tree. Native Americans used the oil from its seeds to treat cuts and abrasions. Witch hazel is traditionally sold in bottles as an after-shave lotion or treatment for skin irritation. Early colonists used the forked branches of the witch hazel for dowsing, or locating underground sources of water.

With hazel is neither a witch, nor a true hazel. The name comes from old English, in which a word for pliable branches was "wych."

Certain varieties of witch hazel bloom in very late winter, or very early spring. They broadcast their seed with a popping explosion that spreads the seeds far and wide.

--Ed Bruske

Friday, March 9, 2007

Our Bookmaking Project

For the past couple of wintry months, as our class has been somewhat confined to the indoors, we thought a book/paper making project would be a hands-on way of teaching this Eco-Art class about recycling. Salvaging old paper that would otherwise have been thrown out from classrooms around the school, the students were able to recycle and make the beautiful handmade pieces you can see in this book. The girls created from scrap cloth and pressed flowers the unique covers below, and then bound all of the materials together by sewing up the spines of their books with dental floss (a cheap and readily available alternative to other waxed threads used for book-binding!) The finished books are seen here...but read on for the students' account of how to make your own recycled journal.

As a side anecdote, there was much fun to be had with the leftover pieces of cloth that we used to make the covers. As the class is made up predominantly of girls, I anticipated the desire for 'dress up' with the material. I did not however anticipate the plots of their pretend games to center around the theme of 'zombie queen wars'...wish I'd gotten some images of these interactions. They were very entertaining.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Signs of Life

Things are just starting to warm up again here in the nation's capital after a few weeks of unseasonably cold weather. We got snowed in a couple of times and also experienced ice and freezing rain. So everything in our garden is pretty much dead, right? Well, not excatly. A close inspection shows quite a bit of greenery, such as this Salad Burnett on the left (it tastes just like cucumber) and these Black-Eyed Susan plants just snoozing. I brought some of our After 4 kids out to look around and start pulling weeds. But mostly they were interested in throwing snowballs.
Very soon, we will be working in the garden in earnest, cleaning out debris from last year and adding more soil mix to our containers. We should also be planting seeds indoors for transplanting in the spring. Stay tuned...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Soaking the paper

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Laying paper in the press

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Finishing the paper

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Oh, if only our garden still looked like this. These photos were taken a few weeks ago when Washington was still experiencing a winter heat wave. Lately we've been hit by a blast of frozen air, with temperatures about 10 degrees below normal, and today the city is covered with snow and frozen rain. But this recent class just proves that kids can have fun with broccoli and cabbage. They even enjoy eating these hearty winter vegetables when they are freshly cooked and seasoned simply.

Besides cabbage and broccoli, the brassica family includes a huge variety of familiar vegetables: cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnips, rutabaga, arugula, radishes and Chinese greens such as tat soi and bok choy, to name a few. The fruit-bearing vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts often are slow to develop. In our garden, which gets a limited amount of sunlight because of its location next to our very tall school building, it took nine months from the time of initial planting before the broccoli was ready to havest. Even then, we did not gather the florets, but allowed them to grow their long flower stems and produce seed pods. We were hoping to harvest our cabbage eventually, but this long recent freeze may have dashed those plans. Oh, well. A gardener has to deal with the weather as it comes.

In the After Four session where we focused on brassicas, we cooked broccoli the simplest way possible. Just bring a large pot of salted water to boil, drop the florets in the water to cook for a few minutes until the are just tender. Season lightly with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Yum.
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