Spring gardening is more fun than fall gardening for most people, but some things must be done each year. The fall clean-up is often called "putting the garden to bed." Our mild November weather let the third graders finish a lot of end-of-season tasks in and around the pre-k garden. Third graders raked and bagged leaves; weeded and transplanted strawberries; gathered seeds from cosmos, dill, cilantro, and zinnia plants; picked up trash; pulled up dead plants and composted them; and moved mulch. The next day, first graders watered the transplanted strawberries. This area of the campus is ready for gardening to begin again next spring!
Our biggest fall gardening project has been adding daffodils to the edges of our campus. All but a few students in the school have been involved in planting them. Each class that planted had 100 bulbs to put in the ground. First grade classes counted bulbs so we could keep up with how many we were planting. The bulbs were a gift from a plantation home in Alabama, and the varieties are over 50 years old. We know they are primarily yellow and white flowers, but we won't know which varieties are where until they bloom in the spring! Not all the bulbs will bloom the first year, but if we can keep them from being mowed, they will be on the campus for years to come and will continue to multiply.
Students have been enjoying harvesting, preparing, and eating food from the garden in the past two weeks. Our first experiment was salsa, made with our own tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro. Several teachers who tasted it asked for the recipe, but we think it was not the recipe that made it so good--it was that the ingredients had just been picked! This week we harvested our basil and made pesto. In both recipes we used garlic that had grown all last winter and was harvested in the summer. Our lucky principal dropped in just as we were serving and got to sample the pesto with angel hair pasta.
The Secret Garden in our courtyard garden. It is both inside and outside. The best part is that it doesn't get visits from deer or groundhogs. But the shade from the building impacts the amount of light it gets. Last spring, third graders planted vegetable and herb seeds and transplants. The garden has done well, and now we are harvesting tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, cilantro, peppers, and basil.
The first plant that we added to our pollinator garden was Jewel weed. It has flourished! It is now making seeds and I am confident that it is there to stay. Another plant that is well established is Monarda (bee balm). We can see new plants coming up around the roots of those we originally planted in the back of the garden. Rudbeckia (brown eyed Susans) are also well established and blooming now. We've had excellent bloom from the coneflowers we planted and have high hopes that they will come back next year. Surprisingly, our Blue Lobelia is doing very well, considering that this is a dry year and it is not in an especially wet spot. New York Ironweed is growing well though it did not bloom this year. Liatris bloomed earlier but may not have survived the dry weather we've had. False Indigo did not bloom but is established, and we plan to add more False Indigo seed to the garden before cold weather. We have Cranesbill Geranium that bloomed well and survives, and plan to add more. As we learn more about our site--for example, it is sunnier than we realized it would be since it is against a wall of the school--we will be better able to select plants that are appropriate for the light, soil, and water that we have.
I came into the process of developing the pollinator garden half way. The children had already placed cardboard over the site to kill the grass and prepare it, and I had already seen their excitement about what was going to come. The development expanded beyond the second grade class that had identified the site as we enlisted afterschool program students to add more cardboard and make suer the grass was adequately covered as spring arrived. Then we engaged middle school students to bring bags of mulch to cover the cardboard. The first planting was Jewelweed--which was difficult for me to see since my previous experience with Jewelweed had only been to pull it up! Nonetheless, the students were excited about the first plants to go in. Then the perennials arrived! A volunteer from the community helped us create a plan for their arrangement, and the second graders went to work. Adults dug holes in the mulch, students removed plants from their pots, and into the ground they went! We had color in the garden throughout the summer, and as fall arrives, still have blooms to enjoy. The pollinator garden remains a work in progress. Last week, third graders began the process of places stone that they brought from home to create a border around one side of the garden. Yesterday, afterschool students became very excited when they found a moth next to the brick wall. I suggested they move it to the pollinator garden. Today, we plan to harvest some seeds from the garden, and next week, we will plant more!
Rain led to a slow start to our first gardening workday, but the rain stopped at 9 and we were able to get a lot done! We weeded the Little Diggers' garden which will be a pumpkin patch this year. It has some dill, cilantro, spearmint, and some flowers that have come back from previous years' seeds. Check it out next time you are at the Valle Crucis campus!
Middle School students planting asparagus!
It cooled off quickly this weekend and the days are really getting noticeably shorter. I have pulled most plants from my in ground garden although I really hoped that this could have been postponed. Late season tomato blight arrived in what seemed to be just one day. Came home Thursday of last week to see all my tomatoes with dried and withered leaves. Ouch! Pretty depressing since days earlier I'd had the best looking tomatoes I've ever grown with 4-5 ft high plants covered with big tomatoes showing first signs of ripening. Picked 33 lbs of greenish tomatoes which I will attempt to ripen but ultimately not sure what I'll get. My detroit beets were also pulled amounting to about 5 lbs of medium to small fruits. Not impressive. Pulled 8 lbs of corn which was also small in size and not fully developed. I knew the light conditions in the garden were not great so perhaps I should be content. I'm still getting beans and I will leave these plants in for awhile longer along with zinnias. The Secret Garden is doing pretty well for the time being but as I've said before it's a race with time. Sun is quickly disappearing. Starting some cabbage and lettuce with the after care kids. They are having fun and we'll see if we can't keep some things growing. I have learned so much this growing season. The climate in the mountains is truly unique. Next spring I will take what I've observed and try to get things to the next level.
Has been gardening for over 20 years and has her Master Gardeners certification. She is especially interested in propagating native plants and apple grafting. She is now the After School Program Coordinator and Garden Coordinator at Valle Crucis.
Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture Office
Lower Level 171 Grand Blvd
PO Box 67
Boone, NC 28608