In the Johnson Garden

Posted by on Nov 16, 2018 | Comments Off on In the Johnson Garden

In the Johnson Garden
written by Rick Harden, Johnson Garden Coordinator
With 15 classes scheduled over the course of the week (one to four each day Monday through Friday); the addition of some new activities and several ongoing projects, we’ve had a busy fall in the Johnson Garden despite a less than successful growing season. We are making progress turning the upper garden into a butterfly and bird sanctuary (with lots of flowering plants), designing a mud kitchen, and rebuilding our bug motel — all with input and help from the Johnson community of teachers, students and families.

After our extremely wet summer, many of our vegetables did not fare as well as they have in the past. Normally we have lots to eat when the school year starts. Luckily, our cherry tomatoes have been our saving grace and went a bit crazy. According to Ms. Pattie, a first grade teacher, students were snacking on them at the bus line as they left every afternoon. In addition, we did successfully grow brown, green and white cotton in our Garden for the 3rd year in a row.

Despite a less successful growing season, our students have been engaged with lots of other activities. With our 25 new clipboards and colored pencils, the students found leaves to do rubbings and for tracing and coloring. There was also lots of free drawing which produced some great art-work and also provided me with the opportunity to see the garden through the students’ perspectives. Students also enjoy measuring any and everything in the Garden and recording their results. We also try to use every opportunity to learn more about the bugs that help the garden grow, and thus talk a lot about pollinators besides the obvious bees and butterflies. Day moths, flies, flower beetles, hummingbirds and even ants are pollinators. We watched and learned that the straw like proboscis is what butterflies and moths use to suck up liquids and small particles.

 Last year, one of the kindergarten teachers, Mrs. Sokol came up with the idea of adding a mud kitchen to the Johnson Garden. Mud kitchens provide great developmental opportunities for children to work on communication, sensory, and fine motor skills through imaginative play. Teachers can also use a mud kitchen to introduce math and science concepts, through measuring and experimentation. With support from Johnson’s Parent Teacher Organization and CSG, I have continued to work to try to make the Johnson Garden Mud Kitchen a reality. I am continuing to work on the design, and will be looking for help as we move forward with this project throughout the year. We are hoping to have a small roof and catchment system to collect rain for our sink, and to make sure that any additional water used by the children remains in the garden. We will also include an erosion table, counter and cabinet space, as well as a separate work table with storage underneath.

The garden is always evolving. In addition to our efforts to transform the upper garden to better attract birds and butterflies, we are transforming what was a small turtle habitat into a space for berries and grapes, and working to reconstruct our bug hotel. Although there have been reported sightings of Pumpkin and Spice (our former turtle tenants) on school grounds, the two have clearly abandoned the small habitat that the Johnson community created for them in the Garden. We have reclaimed the habitat as our berry patch; with Blackberry, Dewberry and Concord grape vines growing and plans to add raspberry in the spring. The bug hotel, originally proposed and built by Ms. Branson’s kindergarten class, is also undergoing some refurbishment. Using wooden pallets, sticks and bamboo, our new bug hotel will be bigger and better. It will offer bugs deluxe nesting “facilities” and refuge from the winter weather. The bug hotel has been a fun and educational addition to the Johnson Garden. Given the popularity of finding worms and other critters, and the importance of all types of bugs to the health of the garden and our ecosystem, the value of something so simple seems a lesson in itself.

We have talked about how the excessive amount of rain would have impacted us as a community if we lived in a time without grocery stores. How we can adjust our Garden if this weather change continues and is the new normal? Also how important it is to work together to make OUR Garden successful.

During Farm to School Week we had Patricia Brodowski, head gardener at Monticello and Mary Martinez-Rigo, Master Gardener and alpaca farm owner visit the Johnson Garden. First grade teachers Ms. Pattie, Ms. Bahn and Ms. McKinney each had their classes out separately. Pat and Mary’s presentations were informative and very interactive. Pat brought out cotton and flax, handing it out, explaining and demonstrating how both are fiber that is perfect for clothing.  Soft and they will take natural dyes very well. We also saw indigo blue dye made from plants and a red dye made from plants and bugs, that was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson. Mary brought a huge bag of alpaca fleece, enough fiber so that the kids could hand spin the different fibers and take them home. Thanks to both Pat and Mary for such a wonderful presentation.

Spring can’t here soon enough.