Those Raked Leaves Are Piled Treasure

This Thanksgiving season as brightly colored leaves fall from the trees, instead of thinking of them as a nuisance that you’ve got to gather up and put curbside, why not see them for the free resource they really are? Decomposed leaves are excellent mulch and all-purpose soil amendment for your flowers, lawn, favorite plants and vegetable gardens. Light and spongy, leaf mold compost has lots of air pockets, which encourage worms and other beneficial organisms to live in your garden soil. It is also slightly acidic, which can balance a pH problem in your vegetable garden if your soil is too alkaline (your pH is near 8 and you want to bring it closer to the 6.5 – 7 range).

At our November PTA Clean and Beautiful workday, Chesnut family volunteers and Chesnut Changer students joined forces to collect more than a dozen bags of leaves destined to be next year’s leaf mold compost. Meanwhile, Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone opened eight bags from last year’s compost project, adding the finished leaf mold to the cabbage and garlic beds.

So doing, we kicked off a new Chesnut tradition:  annual leaf mold composting to feed our school garden! Taking the abundance of our local renewable resources (fallen leaves from the school’s front lawn), and converting them into a soil conditioner for our veggie garden is a great example of a self-sustaining practice that anyone can adopt. Here’s how we do it:


AT-HOME ACTION: Make Your Own Soil Amendment – Leaf Mold Compost



1. Rake leaves into large construction-grade black plastic bags (wrapping an empty bag over a garbage can speeds the process). Compress leaves to pack as many as possible into one bag.










2. Tie the bag closed, leaving an opening to insert a hose and tuck the bag away in a part of the yard that gets rain.





3. Poke holes all over the bag’s surface with a screwdriver, scissor, etc. (to allow worms to enter).






4. Insert hose to soak the leaves.




5. Six months later, turn the bags over.

6. Compost should be ready within 12 – 18 months. Finished compost will be broken down into flaky 1″ particles of a rich, dark brown color. Add to garden beds when turning over the soil in between seasons or use as top dressing/mulch. If your black bags are in good shape, refill them with next year’s leaves!

The Chesnut Changers are grateful to PTA Clean and Beautiful Co-Chairs Andrew Hirst and Mona Henderson for their immediate and constant willingness to work with the ecology club on these sustainability initiatives. Part of the fun of combining ecology club projects with Clean and Beautiful workdays is meeting more Chesnut families who may already have or develop an interest in green practices as we work together. And of course the extra manpower is a huge help. Thank you!


Chesnut Garden Pesto — “It’s Epic”

Last month Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone welcomed Mr. Shiverick’s fourth graders to an outdoor garden-to-table pesto class. The outdoor classroom was fully utilized, with a serving station set up in front of the tree-stump seating, the pesto recipe written up on the mirror-cum-chalkboard, fresh herbs harvested from the garden, and the children’s pesto reviews posted on the “How Did It Taste?” board.

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Ms. Malone had thoughtfully prepared 25 job slips to pass out, so that every student could participate in the process. Individual jobs included harvesting and destemming Chesnut Garden’s organic basil and Italian parsley, preparing the garlic or lemon, operating the food processor, scraping the sides of the processor for even blending, slicing fresh bread, spreading the pesto and serving the final product.

Ms. Malone was very grateful for the four parent and grandparent helpers from Mr. Shiverick’s class, who kept everything running smoothly, and she reports that the kids “LOVED the pesto!” Many requested seconds, and a few girls very much wanted to use their fingers to “clean” the pesto bowl once all the bread had been spread.

The Italian word “pesto” is derived from the word “pestle,” as in mortar and pestle, which is traditionally used to grind basil, salt, garlic and pine nuts (or walnuts) before mixing in Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino cheese and extra virgin olive oil. While these ingredients are typical of the original “Pesto all Genovese” from the Ligurian province in Italy, pesto recipes now vary widely, to include other herbs, nuts (or no nuts), as in our recipe below – try it!

AT-HOME ACTION: Make Homemade Pesto

1 cup packed fresh basil

1 cup packed fresh parsley

3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup walnut pieces

2 cloves chopped garlic

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

Process everything except olive oil in food processor until smooth, stopping twice to scrape down sides.  Gradually pour olive oil into food processor until smooth. Spread on crostini, pasta, fish, steaks, or in rice. Basically, it’s delicious on anything!

Chesnut Kindergarteners Plant Carrots, Harvest Radishes

Last month Chesnut’s Kindergarteners were busy with fall planting and harvesting in the Chesnut Garden.

Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone coordinated with Kindergarten teacher and Ecology Club Sponsor Ginna Hobgood to work with all three Kindergarten classes. Each class carefully planted a different variety of carrots, using paper towel strips as a guideline. Ms. Malone has found this to be a useful method for children to clearly see where the rows are and where they have already seeded. Each child took a pinch of seeds and sprinkled them along the rows until they were covered, and then Ms. Malone demonstrated how to lightly cover up the paper towel strip with dirt.

The children planted Calliope Blend (a blend of yellow, red, purple, white and orange carrots), Cosmic Purple (purple on the outside and orange on the inside) and Tonda di Parigi (a round, golf-ball size carrot).

Ms. Hobgood’s class harvested all of the radishes, including the French Breakfast and Easter Egg varieties, which the children brought back to class to wash and serve with a bit of salad dressing. Judging by the smiles in these photos, the children were impressed with their harvest and enjoyed discovering what had been growing underground.

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Chesnut to Host Next DeKalb County Farm to School Meeting

SAVE THE DATE: 4th DeKalb Farm to School Stakeholders Meeting

**What is Farm to School? Farm to School programs are wide ranging, from local food in the cafeteria, to multi-disciplinary curriculum that ties in nutrition education. To find out more about Farm to School programs nationwide and at Chesnut Charter Elementary, please visit and**

When:  Thursday, November 29, 2012.  Tours of Chesnut Garden starting at 4:30pm. Stakeholders Meeting at 5:30pm-6:45pm in the cafeteria.

Why:  Learn how other DeKalb schools are using their gardens as teaching tools and expand our county-wide Farm to School program.

Where:  Chesnut Charter Elementary School, 4576 N. Peachtree Road, Dunwoody

Who: Anybody who is interested in participating in a DeKalb County Farm to School program. Parents, teachers, school nutrition staff, administrators, community members, Master Gardeners, farmers, organizations, government agencies, etc.

RSVP and Questions:   Contact Rosalie Ezekiel at

Does your school have a garden or a farm to school program?

We want to hear about it!

LOCAVORE BONUS! Light snacks generously provided by Farm Burger, newly opened in the Georgetown Plaza in Dunwoody.