School Gardens Update: Mimicking Nature, Bed Prep How-to

Adding water with each layer of amendment gets the beneficial soil microbes going.

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” ~ Arthur Ashe

Rescued From Grass

The last time I posted on the school gardens was early in the week that Hurricane Harvey showed up. The entire garden space at school had been over-taken by field grasses. It was quite depressing from the outside looking in.

Too bad we don’t eat grasses…

Following several days of some of the heaviest rain brought by a storm that refused to go — more than 40″ of rain fell in three days at our home! — I was sure that the gardens would be a complete disaster when I went back again. It was so, so sad to see our neighborhoods under water.

The school, thankfully, was spared any damage.

Levee Failure — Neighborhood 4-ft Under
Photo credit: Google Maps capture

Gettin’ To It

Fast forward two weeks. The flood waters had (finally) receded, the insides of homes were demolished, children were back in school again, and the garden grass got a much-needed trim. It was still quite a mess back there, but I could now walk among the beds without getting tickled in the knees.

No one has to tell me twice to get dirty.

With only a few minutes to spare that morning, I squatted alongside the demonstration bed, and — one-handed, to keep one clean — removed the plastic from 10 bags of compost. I then crumbled and spread the compost evenly on top of what was left of the layered cardboard and removed any remaining traces of field grasses along the edges.

It worked exactly as I’d planned months ago. Yippee!

Good as new again … in only a few minutes.

Autumn Bed Prep (30 Minute Exercise)

Next is what I like to call the lazy bed prep. For that business, Mother Nature knows best — I copy her rather than reinvent the wheel. We will attempt to create an ecosystem where one is lacking.

So I loaded up the van for an early morning delivery:

  • Garden hose and nozzle
  • Bags of leaves
  • Bag of grass clippings
  • 4-tined spade
  • Garden rake

Earthworms are the aerators of the soil, but aside from the dozens of beings I brought in earlier in the year, there still isn’t an over-population of the wrigglers as yet. Little pockets of oxygen are necessarily required for microorganisms to set up shop. I will manually place these mini-caverns with my favorite tilling tool: the 4-tined garden spade.

This method gently tills/aerates the soil so that I don’t kill any of the wrigglers.

Simply step on it to insert it deeply into the soil, then rock it backward to ‘pop up’ the earth a bit, and finally forward to introduce air and move it forward.

Walk backward from your work so you aren’t undoing every thing you do along the way. Then water the bed well, to get moisture down into the soil, into the caverns you just created.

The garden now looks hilly and cavern-y. This is easily fixed with a light raking along the surface to smooth the lumps and bumps. Water again.

Next, add some nitrogen. You can buy nitrogen as a fertilizer product at the store, but why do that when you can get it for free? Nitrogen feeds bacteria, further building a desired balanced soil ecosystem. Bacteria will break down the grass and make the nitrogen ready for plants to absorb. Mother Nature does this in a different way: animals who come to eat the plants, then poop the nitrogen-rich fertilizer on the ground where they eat. But we don’t do that. Grass clippings taking from my neighbors’ curbs work just as well and are easy to broadcast in a thin layer by hand.

Oh, and water again.

Lastly, put a 2-3 inch layer of leaves, to lock in all that water. The school soil isn’t yet the rich humus we want it to be, but it’s coming along quickly with all these organics added back in. Mulching prevents evaporation at the surface as well as adds additional carbon to build the humus we so desire.

Carbon is the building block for sugars — plants’ food made with the sun’s energy. You know this as Mother Nature’s best invention, photosynthesis, and the reason we all even exist on Planet Earth in the first place. Unfortunately for animals, there is no mimicking this process. We (animals) simply must get our energy by consumption of plants, whether it be eating directly or indirectly (eating other animals).

There’s no escaping it: plants water guarantee our survival. So why not grow our own edibles? Where we are? With what we have?

Stay tuned! Seed planting is next.

8 thoughts on “School Gardens Update: Mimicking Nature, Bed Prep How-to

    1. I’ll plant whatever the kids and teachers choose! Probably cool weather crops like squashes, beans, peas, beets and brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kale). I’m hoping for mustard and turnip as well!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow Shannon, this is really fantastic information. Many people skimp on the soil stage, which is unfortunate because it is the most important one. You are a soil guru extraordinaire. Looking forward to the next step. Great post!


    1. Hey Jet! I can happily say that is back to normal here when I’m hiking the coastal prairies (yesterday) and digging in the earth (today). Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Perhaps stealing some more organics from curbs? LOL Thanks as always for being a part of DirtNKids. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

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