Monday, June 6, 2016

Celebrating the Harvest

We begin planting in mid March and on into early April, both seeds and little seedlings.
We add water, compost nutrition, observation and love and we are rewarded with beautiful tender spring greens, hearty turnips, vibrant beets, sassy radishes, and elegant herbs and edible flowers. Our annual Harvest Tasting is an opportunity to celebrate the fruit of our labor in delicious nutritious dishes.

We supplement what isn’t ready in our garden, like carrots, or other ingredients we either can’t or didn’t grow with produce and ingredients from other local farms. We found carrots and Napa cabbage from Mattawoman Creek Farms, eggs from pastured chickens from Full Quiver Farm, creamy goat cheese from Goats Are Us, and freshly baked authentic sourdough bread from Commune Restaurant. In sourcing local ingredients to create our Harvest Tasting dishes we carry our local eating lesson through to the students to show that it is possible to eat primarily locally, especially in the heavy growing seasons.

The creation of our dishes was truly a communal effort. Parents and teachers helped to make dishes like kale chips, chocolate beet cake, and beet tahini snack bars. They showed up early to help the students assemble dishes and even stayed late to help clean up. Nicole Turkenkopf, a Linkhorn parent and owner of the flower truck The Wandering Petal, created beautiful flower arrangements with her peonies and herbs and flowers from our LIONS Garden. Kirsten Romero, a dietitian from Mind Body Works, generously volunteered her time to help the students and parents to put the finishing touches on our delicious, and nutritious, feast.

Some of our dishes received numerous requests for the recipes we used. Our Asian-inspired Noodle Salad is from Pioneer Woman. The creative Beet Tahini Snack Bars are from Golubka Kitchen. The spinach pesto that topped the sourdough bread along with a mix of goat and ricotta cheese is from And our always popular Chocolate Beet Cake is from the gorgeous cookbook Brown Eggs and Jam Jars by Aimée Wimpish-Bourque.

Thank you to everyone who made our 2016 Green LIONS Garden Group possible. As always we learned a lot, laughed a lot, got our hands dirty a lot and planted many, many literal and figurative seeds; seeds that resulted in food we grew ourselves and seeds of passion and interest in the minds of our newly graduated Student Sustainable Ambassadors. They now have all they need to teach their peers, their families and the world all about how to live sustainably!

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Education Gamification

The Green LIONS Garden chased fellow classmates, made a yarn web and collaborated on answers posed as questions at our last couple of gatherings in a variety of games to weave all of the lessons they’ve learned this spring together. While we focus on sustainable gardening in our program, this subject would not be complete without tying it to the bigger community and world. If we can learn to not harm the environment in our gardening practices, find ways to utilize waste in the garden instead of disposing of it through methods like composting, and also fully enjoy the fresh, nutrient-rich produce—then we can learn to reduce our use of chemicals at home and at school, and reduce our own waste in our lives. We can go even further and begin sourcing what we don’t grow or make ourselves from local farmers and craftsman, reducing our carbon footprint through sourcing items close to home, and supporting our local community members and economy.

First, they played an energetic game of Pollination Freeze Tag! A handful of students were our honeybee pollinators with self-made wings taped to their backs. The rest were fruits and vegetables and held pieces of paper with a common fruit or vegetable pictured on one side and a flower on the other. In the center of the flower was taped a cotton ball—the flower’s pollen!

The chase ensued. If a honeybee tagged a flower, the flower must freeze in place and give the honeybee its pollen cotton ball. If the honeybee already had a cotton ball in her possession she passed this on to the flower to “pollinate” her. Alternatively, the flower had to wait until a honeybee came back by to hand off a cotton ball to be pollinated. Once pollinated the paper with the flower picture was turned over to reveal the resulting fruit or vegetable. This helped students understand how important pollinators are to our food system.

Next students discussed, in depth, ways we can reduce our waste in our own families. Did you know that the average American produces five pounds of trash a day? That is more for an individual than any other country in the world! We can do better.

Students learned ways they can reuse items, or to use re-usable containers and water bottles for lunches and sports events. They explored different options to reduce waste when grocery shopping—like taking their own containers to fill from the bulk bin, using re-usable shopping bags and produce bags, and not choosing too many items packaged in plastic when possible. Students also learned how to conserve water and electricity through simple, mindful actions at home and at school—like turning off lights in rooms they aren’t occupying, turning off the water when washing their hands or brushing their teeth, or plugging the tub drain before turning on the water instead of waiting until the water is heated up.

Conservation also refers to protecting our waterways. Choosing to not use chemicals on our lawns, not only helps the pollinators and other beneficial insects in our neighborhoods stay healthy, but it prevents chemical run-off into our watersheds which helps keep our waterways clean and marine life safe.

We then had an eye-opening discussion about the importance of eating locally and how much this choice can favorably impact our environment. Local, small farms, even if they are not certified organic, generally use more biodiversity and more sustainable methods than industrial farms. When produce is recently harvested this is when it is not only fresher, but more delicious and nutritious. You can only find the freshest produce from locally grown sources. It is truly more value for your grocery dollars.

Students explored all of the steps taken to bring a food item to our plate through a fun yarn weaving activity. We posed the scenario of making a pizza and needing pizza sauce. We went through 16 steps to create our web from planting the tomato, through its route of being made into sauce and packaged and finally landing on the shelf of your grocery store. Then we proposed the scenario of finding local tomatoes, herbs and garlic at a farmers’ market or your own garden and making your own sauce. We reduced our web to only three steps! Now that is a small carbon footprint. While convenience may be the easier route, taking some time to live in line with your environmental values makes a huge difference, and is entirely doable.

Finally we wrapped up our gaming adventure with an exciting game of Garden Jeopardy. Students are challenged to questions about pests and beneficials, conservation methods, plants in the garden, and sustainable gardening and farming methods. Garden Jeopardy is a fun way to wrap up to see how all of these topics are interwoven.

We will conclude our spring garden program with our Harvest Tasting in a couple of weeks so come back for pictures of the delicious dishes the students and parents create to celebrate our bountiful harvest! Here is a preview with this picture of the beautiful salad created for the Teacher Appreciation Luncheon entirely from the LIONS Garden.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Friend or Foe

In any natural garden setting humans are not the only beings working, eating and traveling through. Insects, birds, small animals, microbes and more are consistently present. To successfully grow a garden without the use of chemical pesticides is to recognize which organisms may cause enough damage to your plants that your interference may be required. And when that interference is required, what might that look like?

We could easily mix up an organic pest spray using toxic-free ingredients like garlic, onions and
dish soap, and sometimes this is the best choice. Or we could investigate further and determine
why the pest is present. Are our plants or soil deficient in some way? Are there other insects or animals present that include the pest in their diet? Perhaps we can even be patient and let nature
take its course.

In trying to take control and dominate in a garden we may in turn hurt creatures and organisms that are peacefully living there and not doing harm. They may even be helping our garden, like in the case of earthworms. If we try to isolate a bug or insect we see as a pest and deal with it separately out of relation to the ecosystem in which it lives, we work against nature.

Students in the Green LIONS Garden Group learned all about common creatures we may find in our school garden and which ones may be friends and which ones foes.

A common visitor and voracious eater we see on fall and spring plants is a cabbage worm. These are the caterpillars of the cabbage moth which are the delicate white butterflies we frequently see flitting about the garden. They lay their eggs on plants of the Brassicas family and once the eggs hatch the caterpillars get busy eating. You can easily determine if cabbage worms are present from leaf damage to the plants and their droppings which are frequently seen in the center of the plant.

Another common and unwelcome visitor is the tiny aphid. These insects live in clusters and may feed on many different types of plants. But if you see the vibrant ladybug in your garden too then you can rest assured that the aphids will be kept in check. Aphids are like candy to a ladybug. If you have an out of control aphid problem you can even purchase live ladybugs to release into your garden. They are very effective aphid disposal machines.

The praying mantis is another welcome garden inhabitant. And like the ladybugs a gardener can purchase praying mantises for her garden in the form of praying mantis eggs. Praying mantises like to eat many different kinds of insects including many pests in the garden. It is exciting to find the presence of a this elegant insect in any garden.

While we love to see the majestic black swallowtail butterflies in our garden, and they are
important pollinators, they also leave behind their eggs. Once their eggs hatch the caterpillars on members of the carrot family, including green carrot tops, dill, fennel, chervil and parsley. If a gardener is simply aware of this and monitors the caterpillars’ “portion control” these caterpillars can be fun to observe without eating too much of our plants. This one is mostly a friend, but in large amounts may be foe-ish.

When we choose not to use chemicals on the plants that we will eat, it makes sense to also reduce the amount of chemicals we put on our skin. Students learned a simple recipe for a natural mosquito repellent to use throughout mosquito season. By mixing filtered water with witch hazel and essential oils they made a spray that not only smells nice, but will not harm them or the creatures in their environment.

Natural Mosquito Repellent Spray

This recipe is for a 2 ounce bottle. Increase amounts if using a larger container. It is important to use an amber or dark bottle to protect the oils in the spray from UV light.

dark glass or plastic spray bottle
filtered or distilled water
witch hazel
vegetable glycerin
essential oils of citronella, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus, cinnamon

Fill the bottle half way with water and then fill the rest of the bottle almost to the top with witch hazel.

Add 1/8 teaspoon vegetable glycerin.

Add 3 drops each of each essential oil.

Label your bottle, attach your sprayer, and enjoy being mosquito bite free.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Try This Green Thing at Home

Our Try This Green Thing at Home Family Challenge
for this week is to Compost!

We have all heard the environmental trilogy of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But there is another—Rot! By composting our fruit and veggie scraps, our newspaper, staple-free tea bags, coffee grounds, dryer lint and more we can save a great deal of garbage every year (even every day!) from going to the landfill.

You may think, well food is biodegradable so why can’t it just be thrown away to rot? When food is disposed of in plastic bags in a landfill, it is compressed and deprived of a healthy environment to naturally decompose. Trash releases methane gas into the atmosphere which contributes to the greenhouse effect. Composting our food is a simple way to provide a huge benefit to our environment and planet.

Choices of compost bins abound and anyone can search online for the best system for their home. One tricky part is managing the ratios of greens and browns, also known as the nitrogen and carbon, in a compost bin. This balance is known as the Nitrogen-Carbon ratio. The nitrogen materials are the fresh and moist materials, and the carbon materials are the dry materials. Composting microorganisms require the correct proportion of nitrogen for protein building and carbon for energy. A good balance is 1 part nitrogen to 30 parts carbon, 1:30. As you can see composting microorganisms need much more carbon than nitrogen. Too much carbon and the composting act slows down, too much nitrogen and the compost begins to release ammonia gas
and smell.

Many people collect veggie and fruit scraps in crocks in their kitchen to eventually transfer to their compost bins. An easy way to provide more carbon than nitrogen when you make this transfer is to re-purpose egg cartons! Tear up a half or whole egg carton into your empty crock, add a touch of water, and then add your produce scraps. When you empty your crock into your compost bin you’ll have a healthy nitrogen-carbon ratio!

Seeds, Soil and Sunshine

Spring is here in all of its glory and so begins the gardening season. To prepare our own spring garden students strategically planted seeds, dug small holes to drop in infant seedlings, and learned all about the soil in which we are growing our garden. With water, sunshine and careful nurturing, our spring garden will grow steadily and provide a bountiful harvest in just a few short months.

Students learned the difference between planting by seed, which is called direct sowing, and planting seedlings that have had a head start in a greenhouse. They learned which plants like to be directly sown and which like to be transplanted from a small container to the garden bed. Some plants are very particular to their planting method, and some are flexible and can successfully grow from either seed or transplant. Leafy greens are examples of flexible plants, and root vegetables are examples of plants that must by directly sown.

Students planted root vegetables at one meeting which included radishes, carrots, sugar snap peas, turnips, and beets. At the following meeting students planted leafy greens, herbs and flowers including lettuce, kale, chard, arugula, onions, tatsoi, spinach, and nasturtiums. Farmer John Wilson from New Earth Farm, our consistent mentor and farming consultant, came out to plant with the students and tell him all about his chemical-free and sustainable farm. Farmer John’s visits are always highly anticipated, fun and educational.

The quality of our garden plants depends heavily on the quality of our soil. Healthy soil equals healthy plants. We are fortunate to be able to acquire nutrient-rich compost from New Earth Farm to amend our soil each spring to give our plants a huge energy boost. Students received a basic understanding of the mini eco-system that makes up our soil—like microbes, insects and other organisms—and gained an appreciation for the delicate balance of nutrients the plants need. While they now know that it takes time to develop this healthy soil balance, we can help our soil along the way by adding nourishing amendments like compost.

Students learned about vermi-composting and how to set up a worm bin. Worm bins are great ways
to turn trash into treasure and a sustainable way to dispose of our food scraps, instead of having them rot in a landfill releasing methane gas. Worm castings make an excellent compost for a
chemical-free garden.

The importance of water and proper irrigation for a healthy garden was also covered at our Green LIONS Garden Group meeting. We are fortunate to have a drip irrigation system in our garden. While using city water is not the most sustainable way to water, a drip irrigation system allows our garden to be watered regularly since it is in a school setting and not, for example, at someone’s home where they could easily water whenever it is convenient. A drip irrigation system is more eco-friendly and efficient than say a sprinkler system, because the water drips slowly and there is a 90% absorption rate instead of high evaporation.

Students learned about how we also collect water in our rain barrel and they are able to use watering cans with collected water to water the garden at our meetings.
Did you know that 3o% of water used in our urban area is used to water lawns and gardens? 
Did you also know that 35% of municipal electricity is used to treat that water?
Collecting water through rain barrels or using well water is a much more sustainable way to grow healthy lawns and gardens without depleting our natural resources. Of course, rain is the best irrigation of all! And if we received one inch of rain in a week we should not have to water established vegetable and fruit plants at all. Now that would be convenient.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Plants Rule the Planet

The Green LIONS Garden Group explored the concept of photosynthesis at our last gathering. Students took on the roles of plants, water, carbon dioxide, sugar, light energy, and oxygen to perform a creative skit for our teacher volunteers. The skit helped students to understand the vital role plants play in our survival and the survival of the planet. Through converting light energy from the sun, carbon dioxide from the air and water absorbed through their roots to sugar energy, plants then release oxygen to our benefit and the benefit of all living beings. Because plants can make their own food, they are producers and self-sufficient in optimal conditions.

Once photosynthesis was clearly grasped students and plants placed on their rightful throne, students shaped themselves into a food chain pyramid. Plants represented the largest group, then insects, then small animals and birds, then larger animals, and finally a lone human at the pyramid’s top. The question was then posed to the students, “what if there were no plants?”

If there were no plants then the insects would have nothing to eat and they would die off. If there were no plants and insects, small animals and birds would have nothing to eat and they would die off. If there were no plants, insects, birds and small animals, then larger animals would have nothing to eat and would die off. If there were no plants, insects, birds, small or large animals, then humans would have no food and would go extinct.

However, if we reverse this hierarchy what would the results be? What if there were no humans, then large animals, then birds and small animals, and finally no insects. Plants would thrive! They don’t need us, but we are completely dependent on them. Plants rule the planet!

We then just had to take advantage of our ten pin bowling shape to do a little human bowling!

To end our gathering, Sustainable Student Ambassador Cassie Carbonneau’s mother Mindy, an environmental science teacher in our school system, brought two cute and fuzzy members of the food chain for the other Sustainable Student Ambassadors to ooh and ahh over. The little chicks pecked at the grass exhibiting their taste for plants and insects in a food chain. If chicks are involved...then spring has sprung!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Try This Green Thing at Home

A new feature we are unveiling for the participants in the Green LIONS Garden Group and their families is our Try This Green Thing at Home eco-friendly challenge.

This week we are challenging our families to Switch to Cloth Napkins!

Making this change is a simple and enjoyable sustainable act. Using cloth napkins makes any meal, even a school lunch from your lunch box, seem like a fancy one. Buying or making napkins with patterns can easily hide stains. Linen is a more environmentally-friendly choice over cotton but even cotton is better than paper.

It is estimated that 28% of all trash is made up of paper products. The U.S. uses more than 160 billion paper napkins annually. This adds up to 4 billion pounds of paper waste.

Have fun with your napkin print choices. Allow your children to choose napkins with favorite characters or themes. If the napkins aren’t dirtied by an especially messy meal, then allow them to be used more than once. Perhaps assign a special napkin ring to each family member to keep the napkins separate and available. Switching to cotton napkins easily saves a family money and teaches a sustainable practice they can feel good about.