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...