School Gardens (Overdue) Update: Let It Grow!

“I can’t imagine anything more important than air, water, soil, energy, and biodiversity. These are the things that keep us alive.” ~ David Suzuki

Previous postMimicking Nature, Bed Prep How-to, October 2017

It only took a few days to ready the 10 garden beds for the classes to plant after the summer last year. Thanks to some free organics (aka hoarding of leaves and cardboard) and thanks to my neighbors’ lawn crews (bagging up the last lawn clippings of the season) and local grocer (produce waste) the school gardens were back in business for autumn.

That was six months ago.

While I was busy indoors helping kids to become the next generation of Soil Experts, the kids adopted (aka rescued) a few Monarch caterpillars from the cool autumn temps of the outdoors. They turned into pupa right before our very eyes (be sure to watch the last molt video, embedded below), and when they emerged as adults, we released them with great pomp and circumstance in the garden space where they were born.

Off they went for the long migration south to Mexico to spend the winter with millions more like them, only to return again come spring. It’s been happening that way for millions and millions of years.

Bye bye, Little Buddy!
Safe travels.

We took soil samples from each of the beds and compared them with soil from my garden (which is already rich with organics). Kids learned about the different layers that settle out in the jar when shaken up and let to sit overnight: sand to the bottom, silt and clay above that, minerals in the milky layer of moisture, and humus floating at the top.

Garden Soil – Looking Good!

We learned about the relationship between fungi and plants — mycorrhizae, or the Wood Wide Web. This is what we’re really growing in the garden space; edibles are just the side bonus of this symbiotic relationship.

We watched organic materials — leaves, coffee grounds, cardboard, vegetable waste — break down with microscopic decomposing organisms whose job it is to do just that. Nature knows exactly what to do, after all; we just need to not mess it up.

We learned how to enjoy but not micro-manage our domestics. Kids learned to respect all living things in the garden space and were eager for their weekly treasure hunts, searching for signs of a functioning soil food web and a healthy garden ecosystem.

They found lots of treasures!

Leaf Mold — Decomposition

Mycelium-infected Cockroach
Hyphae ‘Delivery System’

Mama Spider Carries Egg Sac
We are careful to give her space.

We mulched.

We built compost.

We gridded.

We planted seeds.

We got our hands dirty.

And we got our share of Vitamin D too. Sunshine!!

4th Grade Girls Skip Recess
Build Center-Compost and Plant ‘3 Sisters’

What we didn’t do is spend money on materials or waste time watering our gardens. Materials were all waste for the taking and the moisture was already locked in with the organics as they were added. Mulching with leaves both feeds the fungi which feed the plants and conserves soil moisture from evaporation. Why take compost to the plants when you can plant right into the compost?

When it was time to harvest, those seeds became edibles to be sampled in the classroom or right there in the garden space. Some were delicious (peas are sweet!) and some notsomuch (radish and turnip and mustard are spicy!). And some make for great lipstick (beets).

Let it grow!

Beets, Peas, Lettuce

Apple Tree

Green! Yum, Yum.

Dinner Tonight

Mushrooms – The Edible Kind
Back to the Roots Home Kit

Soil is the foundation for all terrestrial life on our planet — including us; when we steward the soil, the soil, in turn, cares for us. There is no need for us to work harder than we have to, fixing problems that we create when we go against the way of Nature.

Getting dirty with a bunch of kids sure is a whole lot of fun.

Photo-bomb Anime Carrots

Tell me .. are you a soil evangelist?
What’s growing in your garden?

32 thoughts on “School Gardens (Overdue) Update: Let It Grow!

  1. Where do I even start. I suppose, your latest post (Let it grow – the Beetles’ version? Let it bee? sorry?) is a good place! So happy to be back here, Shannon. I have missed your stories, your family’s badassery, and your love for all things furry, feathered or crawly.

    Gonna read the rest of your posts over the weekend, wish me a happy journey!


    1. Nice to see you back too, Christy. A year in blogging time is like 20 years in real time. It’s whole different ‘family’ now over here, not sure how it is at Verseherder. I really would like to be back to regular weekly blog posts (I have so so much to share!) but it requires dedicated time at a computer. I’m rethinking how I do things so I can squeeze some time in.

      However it is, you are always welcome here. Kick your shoes off, settle into my swing under the trees, and stay a while. I’ll go get some lemonade. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. The photos are awesome! What a great project for the kids to be involved with! I’m terrible impressed by it all. It is too bad there isn’t something like this at ALL elementary schools! ❤


    1. Hi Courtney! You ended up somehow in my spam folder; I found you nonetheless. Delighted that you took the time to comment, and about being impressed .. I agree this should be in ALL the schools. I am but a mouthpiece for a fantastic kingdom of decomposers called FUNGI (a loud one at that), but I truly know now how it is I can ‘lazy garden’ and still enjoy all the fruits! Fungi are doing all the hard lifting for me, like little magicians and trapeze artists (I should ask them to play my lotto numbers).

      No one will be more sad than me to see it all end this month.


    1. If only I could be back, Tanja. Still so so much to keep my mind (and type-y fingers) occupied. Perhaps by the end of summer? I do have a couple of posts that I will spread out of the next few weeks. There is just too much amazing stuff over here for me NOT to share!! Like drinking from a fire hose.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Superb post on a genuinely exciting way of life, Shannon. When I was a kid-in-the-dirt (mid 20th Century) we lived near a large dirt farm that served the local area. It was a great idea then and it still is. You guys inspire the heck out of me. And hey, I raised a monarch in a jar too. Walking around barefoot in the grass led to many a bee sting. I’m a mycophile too BTW 🙂


    1. We have much in common, Bill, and it starts with dirt. Nice to see you here after the long absence. I thought of you and your new ears while I was chasing flycatchers to record yesterday!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No, it’s on May 14–the regular meeting’s the second Monday, but it’s late this month because of the way the days fall on the calendar.


  4. That’s fantastic, what you do Shannon, to educate the kids in “all ways green”. Out world needs that.
    Have a wonderful May, and “May” things grow,


    1. Thank you, Pit! There’s something in it for me too; I can’t plant certain veggies in my yard due to hungry deer. Summer’s okra, eggplant, and melon — as well as some corn, squash and beans — are thriving there too, will feed me over the school summer break. I have the key!! I too hope you are having a fabulous spring. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hm, now THAT’s an idea as we have deer too, and therefore are very restricted in what we can plant. Maybe we should do a school gardening project. 😉
        For now, we have a small fenced-in area, the former dog kennel, where I have my nursery and where, having started it this year, my wife grows some veggies [beans, squash and tomatoes] and some herbs.
        What we’re hoping for now is that May lives up to its reputation as the wettest month of the year. We desperately need rain. Well, there’s some in the offing for this week. Hopefully it’ll materialize.
        Take care, and enjoy gardening,


      2. In the Houston area, we are used to 30-40″ of rain every year. Last year we got it all in a day (Hurricane Harvey), and it’s been pretty dry since. Hope we both get some much needed sky water!

        Have you looked into keyhole gardening? If you are in the central Texas region (where I think you are), you could attend Dr. Deb’s keyhole workshop. She is the master of gardening with deer and drought and using sustainable methods.

        PS – You absolutely SHOULD do a school project! If you need resources, I’ve already tapped into them, so let me know if you need anything at all. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, indeed it is. We’ll see how she goes next year; the principal wants to extend it to all 950 kids. I only worked with 8 classes of 25 each. This project will need a lot of volunteers, and parents don’t (generally) like to get their hands dirty. The future is literally in their dirty hands.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post. You just explained more to about soil than a certain soil expert I heard speak last year. It seems to me there’s not a bit of difference between a kid and an inexperienced adult when it comes to these things. I think the soil expert really was an expert, and that he knew his business, but he assumed too much about his audience. Of course many who heard him could have taught your class and in fact have designed curricula. Still — great, informative post, and clearly a great year for the kids.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. For children, it helps that they can touch and see and taste — all the senses are present in the gardens! Respect for others (and I’m not talking about people) is probably the single most important lesson of the year; they no longer scream when a wasp flies in or when a cockroach scuttles across our deer. When they find a grub or caterpillar, I hear, ‘Awww! Cute!’ because that’s what we do when we see babies.

      It’s official. I’m a mycophile. And now I want to go back to school too! Do you remember the name of the soil expert?


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