Garden Trends: School Community Orchards

 

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 2.50.15 PM.png In recent years, more and more schools are planting orchards and creating outdoor classrooms. Pictured above is music teacher Albie Pickens who started a community orchard at his elementary school in Saratoga Springs, NY. Photo: Natalie Walsh

By Natalie Walsh

Albie Pickens, a fifth grade teacher music teacher at Geyser Road School in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., planted an apple and pear orchard with grant and community funding and created an outdoor classroom available to the entire elementary school.

His goal was to connect students with the natural world, a connection that was fostered in him as a child growing up in his father’s garden and that has stayed with him as an adult.

It’s important for students to understand where their food comes from, how much effort goes into a good crop, and the myriad things that can go wrong, he said.

From the beginning three years ago, his local and school community embraced the idea and funded the trees, picnic tables, mulch, deer fencing and other supplies that made it possible.

And if they didn’t give money, they gave of themselves. “We saved $8,000 by having volunteer labor,” Pickens said, adding that at least 200 people volunteered.

As a classroom, the orchard is one educational opportunity after another, Pickens said noting that he is a self-taught orchardist.

Students learn about insect pests, organic controls, grafting, pruning, harvesting and that growing food may not be simple but it is gratifying.

“It doesn’t have to be perfect to be a learning opportunity,” he said, adding that sometimes more is learned when things don’t go right.  You can solve one problem only to have another show up.

It’s real life, he continued.  Students learn what is takes to grow fruit, the damage insects can cause, the joy of eating a apple off the tree and connect with their world in the process.

And the orchard has been fruitful. At the Orchard Fest held in the fall, cider pressed from their apples is served.

To maintain the orchard of 20 trees, Pickens has organized an Orchard Team of teachers who are able to use the orchard in their curriculum and a Grow Club before school program for students.

He does most of the maintenance himself. “You can’t give a third grader a sharp clippers.”

Instead, he teaches why fruit trees need pruning, and hands out an illustration of an unpruned fruit tree. Students mark which branches they believe should be eliminated. Adults do the pruning.

In the future, he hopes to bring an arborist to the school who can hold a workshop so more people can learn about pruning fruit trees and help in the orchard.

His students have learned about different fruit varieties, grafting and root stocks and Pickens has some fresh grafted pear trees in a nursery for future planting.

“We have plenty of space,” he said, adding “The community orchard will only get better with time.”

Natalie Walsh, a board member of the American Community Gardening Association, is a master gardener and horticulturist who travels across North America writing articles about community gardening and orchards.  You can reach her at natalie.walsh@communitygarden.org

 

Early Signs of Spring in a Community Garden

strawberriesWho doesn’t love this time of year?

Everything is fresh and new and there is so much promise everywhere you look.

Even weeding feels good after a long winter away from the garden.

But don’t be tempted to plant tomatoes and peppers just yet in you live in a cold climate. It’s just too soon.  Wait a few more weeks until frost is no longer a danger. But you can plant lettuces, peas, spinach and other cold tolerant plants.

And if you just can’t wait, remember what Thomas Jefferson said: If you don’t lose a few plants each Spring, you planted too late.

He was motivated. Jefferson and his neighbors used to have a contest to see who could get fresh peas to the table first.  The winner held dinner and served, you guessed right, the early spring peas.

American Community Gardening Association Column for Community Gardeners

My first column for the American Community Gardening Association was published today in ‘The Cultivator.”

It is my hope that a dialogue will begin among the thousands of ACGA members as we share our experiences.

I hope you enjoy it.

Natalieprtraitshot

Ask Natalie

At ACGA we recognize that the collective knowledge of our members is our greatest asset.

And we know from your emails that you have interest in everything from the ground up, including issues such as soil quality, raising funds, supporting volunteers and building community.

There are concerns about what vegetables to grow, food justice, water purity and gardeners looking for tips on what makes a community garden sustainable in terms of the people involved, volunteer support, cost and garden practices.

To this end, we are launching this community gardening column.  The goal is to support each other by providing tried and true experience on what works.

Community gardeners can email questions and each month we will address different concerns, show you images of what other community gardens are up to, share successes and sage advice.

As a team we are supporting not only our own community but the network of community gardens that are our members.  We collectively have knowledge and know-how based on years of experience from all our garden members from Key West to Canada and from coast to coast.

As an organization, we are experts on this subject and can help one another. Each of us brings something to the table.

I am a journalist, horticulturist, Master Gardener and community garden creator.  In the past two years, I have traveled more than 15,000 miles from Maine to Hawaii talking with garden directors about their experiences.  I learned so much.

In the coming year, I’m hoping to share what I learned with you. Just as I am hoping you will share your stories with me.  How did you get started? If you were to start over again, what would you do differently? What tips do you have to share? What challenges have you faced? What do you consider your garden’s greatest success? Do you compost? Do you have any tips?

Even tips you may think of as small can have a big impact. For example, watering plots during the summer can be an issue. One clever gardener I met suggested that anyone who wasn’t going to be to able to water stick a blue colored stake in their plot to indicate they were away and asked their neighbors water for them.  It was a huge help to the gardeners. And an asset as neighbors helping neighbors builds community, friendships and trust.

I look forward to sharing dozens of other tips and answering your questions. Send your emails to: Natalie.walsh@communiygarden.org and look for answers in our monthly newsletter.

The actress Helen Mirren wrote that gardening is about “learning, learning, learning. That’s the fun of them. You’re always learning.”

This is an opportunity for us to learn from one another.

Thank you for sharing. I’m eager to hear from you.

Warmly,

Natalie Walsh, ACGA board member and an enthusiastic visitor of community gardens and orchards.

Community Orchards

I’m working on an article about community orchards. These are fruit or nut tree orchards grown as a community endeavor with participants sharing in the work and harvest, donating part of the harvest to others or selling produce locally. Often these orchards are part of a community garden, but not always.

The article will be published on the American Community Gardening Association website. I’m hoping to share what it takes to create and manage an orchard and include your personal experiences. As we know, there is a lot we can learn from one another.

Thank you, Natalie

New Lake Worth School Garden Prepares for the Season

Screen Shot 2019-01-22 at 6.38.30 AM

My husband teases that if there’s a community garden anywhere in the country, I’ll find it.

I can’t deny that it certainly seems that way but I think Community Gardens find me!

Yesterday morning, we brought our bikes to the Lake Worth, Florida and rode in a beachside historic district known for its very sweet and petite cottages. The entire neighborhood is one charming little house after another, some with pretty gardens, picket fences or sculptural banyan trees.

While we were exploring, I spotted a community garden buzzing with activity.  It’s planting time in zone 10 and the gardeners and helpers were busy in this revitalized garden located across the street from a school.

Lori Vincent, Managing Director of Aurora’s Voice, which provides opportunities for underserved youth, is lending support to the project which they hope will provide job training, business experience and give students hands-on gardening time to grow nourishing food.

Vincent, who has gotten other community gardens off the ground, said there is a real need in this community where 85% of public school students live below the poverty line.

Of course I shared information with them about the online resources for starting and organizing community gardens at the American Community Gardening Association website.

The new school garden is looking for volunteers and supporters. Jason Clements, head gardener, has many good ideas and if anyone in the area wants to lend their support, this would be a great place to be hands on.

You can get in touch with the garden organizers by emailing: Lori@aurorasvoice.org

Building Garden Structures with Sticks and Saplings

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 9.16.05 AMThis is my idea of fun.

Patrick Doughtery, a carpenter and sculpture, is creating a huge stick sculpture at the Mounts Botanical Garden in Palm Beach County, Florida from truckloads of saplings.

Dougherty, who is based in North Carolina,  has created his Stickwork projects in Scotland, Japan, Brussels and all over the United States, including Cincinnati’s Taft Museum of Art.

I’m looking at this and thinking…Hmm. Can we scale this down and make a sapling sculpture in a community garden? What would you create?

A tunnel for hanging gourds? A playhouse? A secret room?

Has anyone made one? If so, let me know about it please! And send pictures!

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 9.14.54 AM