Introducing Chesnut’s New Garden Club

Many thanks to School Master Gardener and 1st grade teacher Ms. Jodee Christian for starting up Chesnut’s new Garden Club! Ms. Ginna Hobgood, School Master Gardener and Kindergarten teacher and Mr. William Betz, previous Ecology Club guest teacher and new Chesnut para, joined her in welcoming 3rd, 4th and 5th graders for weekly Garden Club meetings in the first semester. The group planted, harvested and used our new mobile cooking cart from the Captain Planet Foundation Project Learning Garden grant to prepare some delicious whole food recipes.

In second semester, the Garden Club has a new roster, giving the younger grades a chance to participate in these after-school meetings. Never fear, our first graders were still learning in the garden in first semester. Here they are harvesting the sweet potatoes they planted as Kindergarteners. Harvests aren’t always bountiful, but certainly do always teach a lesson. This year we learned about the food chain and photosynthesis when deer munched on the sweet potato vines over the summer, thereby dwarfing our sweet potato crop. (Chesnut’s Facilities Action Team is working on a fencing solution for next year).

Chesnut Earns AdvancED STEM Certification and Sets Gardening Capstone (Grades K-1) and Hydroponics Capstone (Grade 2)

One of the most exciting pieces of news yet for Chesnut’s Gardening and Farm to School programs is that in earning AdvancED STEM certification (awarded last May) the faculty chose to set Gardening as the K-1 capstone and Hydroponics as the 2nd grade capstone. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and ultimately permeates all core subjects by encouraging children to innovate and think critically, whatever the task at hand. STEM activities teach that a setback is a normal part of a work-in-progress, because students are expected to learn from their previous efforts and apply those lessons until they succeed.

Some may not at first see the connection between food production and engineering or technology, but any farmer can tell you it is most certainly a daily reality! Chesnut faculty developed our own Engineering Design Model which trains student engineers to 1. Ask a question, 2. Imagine the possibilities, 3. Plan a solution, 4. Create it using materials they select, 5. Test and Modify it, then adjust and repeat until successful.

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For example, last spring when the fifth graders were out in the garden, they worked together to solve several problems surrounding irrigation. In a daisy chain of rain barrels, the fourth rain barrel had become disconnected, but was three-quarters full of water. Students had to analyze the situation, diagnose the problem (the rain barrel had shifted too far from the connector), try various solutions (pushing it back into place, first with one person, then with the strength of several), until finally finding a way to tip the barrel from side to side to take advantage of the force of the swaying water inside to generate enough force to push the barrel close enough to connect.

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Next, upon going to fill up a watering can from the rain barrel, they discovered a leak in the watering can. Again, the solution process began. Ultimately they found a material to plug the hole that would hold, and allow them to use the watering can to water their newly planted radish seeds. In the radish seed planting, there was of course a math lesson, as we calculated the maximum number of rows, space 6″ apart, would fit inside our raised garden bed dimensions. And there was a social studies tie-in, because the fifth graders had been discussing World War II food shortages and the answering swell of victory gardens in the United States. Like those 1940s families, we were challenging ourselves to maximize production in a small plot of land.

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While some students planted radish seeds, others were learning about the plant life cycle by tasting this science lesson. Students pulled up lettuce plants that had gone to seed and passed out lettuce leaves, which they of course found very bitter. We discussed how the chemicals inside the plant change during its life cycle, and the students theorized why a plant would turn bitter as it prepared to drop its seeds.

One visit to Chesnut Garden afforded our children access to hands-on, real world, science, math, engineering and social studies lessons. And now that our K-2 STEM capstones involve the garden and hydroponics, we are encouraged that Chesnut Garden will serve even more as a learning lab for our students. We thank our teachers for adopting it as such and look forward to sharing more reports of hands-on learning in Chesnut Garden.

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Kindergarteners and First Graders Study Pumpkin Life Cycle in Chesnut’s Pie Garden

We call them “volunteer plants” — seedlings that push up out of the garden unexpectedly, sometimes from a predecessor who left its seeds behind after decomposing in the compost pile.

Last August when the students returned to school, in addition to pumpkins they had planted, they were surprised to find other varieties that had cropped up out of a rotting pumpkin left to decay in our compost pile, whose soil had then been added to the Pie Garden.IMG_2774First grade teacher Ms. Radford seized on this opportunity to demonstrate the plant life cycle — a science standard — to the students, who observed the pumpkins (fruits) ripening on the plant vines. They chose one pumpkin to study its decay in Ms. Radford’s classroom all year, after which the students harvested those seeds for replanting in the Pie Garden.

Meanwhile, parent Garden Leader Carissa Malone put those squash to good use – by turning them into homemade pumpkin pie! The kindergarteners who had planted the pumpkins were treated not only to Ms. Malone’s delicious cooking, but also to a presentation she put together to demonstrate how their school-grown produce became a delectable treat. This reinforces a basic Farm to School objective, which is to debunk a misconception our children can sometimes have:  that food comes from grocery store shelves. In this case, it came from their school!

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Urban Farm Scavenger Hunt in Decatur This Saturday, 3/19

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Come visit a real-life science lab – an organic farm! This scavenger hunt will feature hands-on interactive activities and engage kids and adults on all levels. Participants will explore pollinators, micro-organisms with microscopes, and nutrition plus we’ll have a tasty science activity with local Chef Phillip Meeker and a tractor ride!

What: Georgia Organics family event in partnership with the Atlanta Science Festival at Love is Love Farm
When: Saturday, March 19, 2016 from 12 p.m.- 5 p.m.
Who: Families with children (activities geared towards children 5 -12 years old)
Where: Love is Love Farm in Decatur,Georgia
Cost: $4 for Georgia Organics members, $5 for non-members

REGISTER HERE 
Note: there will be a tasting station, but no lunch served at this event.

Installed! Chesnut’s New Math “Pie Garden” (The “E” in “Pie” Is Intentional)

Who doesn’t love a good math pun? Even if you don’t, you’ll love the results of Chesnut’s most recent Clean and Beautiful workday. C&B Chair Andrew Hirst once again led us in a well-planned project with professional outcome.

We’re talking about the final installation of Chesnut’s Math Garden, now dubbed the “Pie Garden,” by our clever Garden Leader Carissa Malone, so that we can grow produce that would either top a pizza pie, or be the filling of a delicious fruit pie. This garden was conceived by Chesnut’s School Master Gardeners, kindergarten teachers Mark Chicoine and Ginna Hobgood, 2nd grade teacher Leah Little, and school counselor Betty Sule, who also all act as Ecology Club faculty sponsors.

WP_20150328_001WP_20150328_006WP_20150328_003Several Chesnut families worked together to level the land, add concrete block edging, infill with gravel and finally relocate the recently constructed pie slice planters in their proper formation. The end result is meant to mimic a large pie, with one slice missing. Now when our students need to study their shapes, they’ll find triangular-esque pie slices (or can the kids figure out which shape they could really make by filling in the missing slice?), circular tree stumps and herb planters, and rectangular raised beds outside in Chesnut Garden.

WP_20150328_009WP_20150328_008In our final hour we also managed to rehang the “How Did It Taste?” sign and construct a compost bin out of salvaged pallets our master gardeners had collected for this purpose. The new large composting stall will allow room for any cafeteria scraps (kudos to our cafeteria staff who has begun composting!) and end-of-season plants to begin breaking down, before being moved to our compost tumblers for the final product – nutrient-dense compost that will feed a future garden crop.

Coconut Collards for All!

In March’s Ecology Club meeting, the fourth and fifth graders accomplished much in only one hour. First they harvested three planters of collard greens that were going to seed, and cleared all the decaying plant parts to the compost pile. Then they washed up and divided their harvest into bags they delivered to more than a dozen teachers of their choosing. Meanwhile, some cooked up a batch of greens for tasting, while others made hand-written copies of the recipe to attach to the teachers’ collard greens bundles.

Whistling While We Work

The students paired off to efficiently harvest more than a dozen collard green plants Ms. Little’s 2nd/3rd grade Ecology group had planted in Chesnut Garden. One partner snipped away, while the other made trips to the compost pile with decaying leaves. The students were so content performing this task that they started up a cheery work song — the theme song to the “Little Einsteins” children’s show. No one felt too old or too cool to join in. They were like happy worker bees. And they were very pleased with the outcome of their efforts – they filled up one tall yard waste paper bag!

While we worked, Mrs. Renals quizzed the students on their gardening knowledge, and they were quick to help each other deduce:

  • Smaller collard green leaves taste more tender and sweeter than bigger/older leaves.
  • We remove all decaying material from our garden because it attracts decomposers who might eat our new plantings.
  • Collard green flowers look and taste like broccoli because the plants are related, as they are to all cruciferous vegetables, including brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and bok choi.
  • Dark leafy greens are a rich source of calcium, in place of dairy.
  • Perennial edibles that don’t have to be reseeded every year in Georgia include: herbs like rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, mint; fruit trees, berry brambles, grape vines and asparagus.

Coconut Greens Gift Bags – Chesnut Changer Approved!

The students were proud of their bounty, and so, as soon as all hands were scrubbed, Ms. Sule organized the distribution of greens. Ms. Renals’ favorite part was the students’ excitement at choosing the recipients: “Can we give a bag of greens to Ms. Q?!” They loved making personal deliveries, and in one case, Mya Burrowes left a note in her teacher’s mailbox, telling her where to find her stashed bag of greens in the teachers’ lounge. They were like garden elves, and they loved the giving. They made more than a dozen bundles, attaching a “Coconut Collard Greens” recipe to each one.

Meanwhile, Sofia Renals and Madison Hummel worked together to cook up a small batch of Coconut Collards for tasting. Students and teachers alike came back for more, and the kids were impressed at how delicious something so healthy could be.

At-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142At-Home Action: Make Coconut Greens

  • One bunch greens (like collards, kale, swiss chard, cabbage, bok choi)
  • One tablespoon coconut oil
  • Salt

Chop greens into 2″ squares. Heat coconut oil in skillet on medium heat. Toss greens in skillet for 5 to 10 minutes. Salt to taste and enjoy!

Making a Home for Mason Bees at Chesnut

IMG_0524When the fourth and fifth graders voted on second semester Chesnut Changer activities, they agreed they wanted to do more to take care of animals in our environment. Some suggested building birdhouses or bat houses. Then we remembered that insects are part of the animal kingdom, and we might do something that was beneficial to both the bugs and our garden.

So in our February meeting, we read this article together to learn how honeybee populations are suffering, making it difficult for these pollinators to handle all our nation’s crops. We watched excerpts from this “Growing a Greener World” episode about mason bees to discover how this native bee is a hard-working, gentle pollinator that rarely stings.

Then we got to work using recycled materials (paper grocery bags, toilet paper rolls, reused flower pot) to create a place for mason bees to nest. We also filled two reused canisters brought from home to send more mason bee nests out into the world. The students finished by drafting a letter to the Facilities Action Team Chair to ask for help with the Chesnut Garden installation:ScanAt-Home Action Icon canstockphoto2179142AT-HOME ACTION:  Raise Mason Bees to Grow Our Bee Population

By making your own mason bee nests, and participating in the Crown Bees company’s “Bee BuyBack” program, your family can help increase our country’s pollinator population. For more information, go to the “When to Do What” tab on the Crown Bees website.