Friday, January 13, 2012

Compost is Serious Business!

One of our favorite signs in the Dreamkeeper garden reads "What I stand for is what I stand on." If you're walking among the purple, red and green raised beds in the garden chances are you're standing on something that we stand for: healthy, rich soil.

Soil is a key ingredient in our garden's success. Good soil gives us plants that stay healthy and productive, helps us minimize pests and disease, eliminates the need for artificial fertilizers, and ensures the long-term success of our garden. We build our soil by composting, a process that turns food and garden waste into new soil.

Each of our scholars contributes to building our garden soil. Every day during breakfast and lunch scholars stand up one table at a time to discard their uneaten fruits, vegetables and bread into compost buckets around the cafeteria. Inside the buckets sits a colorful mix of reds, yellows, browns, and greens. Our cafeteria workers do their part as well, giving us chopped up bits of vegetable scraps from the day's meals.

At the end of the week we use shovels to chop up pounds and pounds of apples, oranges, bananas, bread, and greens to make them easier for decomposers such as worms, fungus and bacteria to break down. In a good week, we'll fill up a dozen or more five-gallon buckets!

Next we add the chopped up food scraps to our compost pile followed by some sawdust or another carbon-rich material. The carbon in the sawdust mixes with the nitrogen in the food scraps to create the perfect combination for garden soil, a ratio of about 30 parts carbon to each part nitrogen. Finally we cover the new materials with a layer of sawdust to prevent the pile from smelling.

Now all we have to do is wait. As decomposers break down the compost pile their energy raises the temperature of the pile to over 120 degrees Fahrenheit! After about 6-8 weeks of decomposing we will turn the pile inside out to make sure all parts get enough heat to fully break down.

In just a few more weeks the heat and decomposers will turn our compost mixture into a beautiful, fragrant, dark brown garden soil that we will use to feed our flowers, vegetables, herbs and trees.

To review: food becomes food scraps, which become compost, which become soil, which we use to grow more food. Our compost allows us to create a cycle in our garden where nutrients flow in a closed-loop and nothing is wasted. That's something we can all stand for.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter Harvest

In most of the country January is a time when gardens go into hibernation. Trees release their red, yellow and orange leaves, plants that have given food for months end their life cycles, the soil transforms into a frozen brick and gardeners take a well-deserved break.

Not so in New Orleans! Here winter means hearty leafy greens, stout root vegetables, a warm winter coat, and work, work, work! Luckily for us at the Dreamkeeper garden we have some willing and hard workers! Scholars from kindergarten to fourth grade contributed to the garden's success this winter, each in their own ways.

Our Kindergartners helped us water every single plant they could find, pairing up and sharing watering cans as they wove back and forth between raised beds searching for dry spots.

First graders harvested radishes, carrots, cabbage, kale and lettuce, taking turns learning how to properly wield tools for harvesting.

Second and third graders transplanted seedlings into the ground, gently massaging the bottoms of soil containers before flipping them over to pull out the seedling with soil clinging to the roots. With trowels they dug holes just the right size for their seedlings, and after placing them in the ground scholars patted down the soil surrounding the infant plants to keep them happy and secure.
a scholar and his mother transplant a seedling together

Fourth graders searched for pests, brushing their fingertips along the underside of mint or bok choi leaves in a meticulous hunt for critters and bugs.

It's colder and the sun sets early these days, but the Dreamkeeper garden is alive and as colorful as ever!

Happy and healthy New Year from Langston Hughes Academy and the Dreamkeeper Garden!