Reaching for the Sky

So you planted peas in your school garden, and they’re coming up! Now what?
It’s time to put a trellis in place so they can climb to their full potential. This can be a great way to facilitate some small-group creative problem solving in the garden.
Trellises can be made out of just about anything. We happened to have a lot of branches yarn, and extra fuzzy pipe cleaners on hand. We divided classes into small groups, gave them their materials, and let their imaginations run wild. Younger students wove yarn between branches stuck in the ground, and our 5th grade class completed some pretty awesome feats of engineering to make a giant standalone pyramid-shaped trellis. Some classes even stayed out in the garden through recess to finish their projects. We had a little too much fun with the fuzzy pipe cleaners along the way 🙂
Some technical notes: 
  • You will want to make sure that your trellis is close enough to the ground and is thin enough for pea tendrils to grab onto. It’s easy to add a layer of yarn, bird netting, or chicken wire to the outside of any grand trellis structures your class creates (this is our plan for the pyramid trellis). Make sure it goes all the way down to the ground, so the peas are resting against it.
  • Peas can reach heights of 6 feet tall, so often at our elementary schools, the peas outgrow smaller trellises that you see younger classes designing in these pictures. If this happens, it can be easily remedied by acquiring 6′ stakes or branches, pushing them into the corners of your raised bed behind the shorter trellises, and stretching bird netting (available for about $6 from most home & garden stores) between them. Lean the overgrown peas against the new trellis and they’ll do the rest of the work.
  • Trellises can either be pushed deep into the soil of the raised beds (make sure it doesn’t wobble at all when you push it!), or nailed or screwed to the wood of the raised beds.
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Ms. Vaughn’s Garden Story

Angela Vaughn is a Second Grade Teacher at Shaw VPA Elementary. She works with her Second Graders in the garden. The following is an interview with Angela Vaughn and Gateway Greening’s Youth Educator, Punita Patel.

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How did you get started with gardening at school?

About three years ago, I began working with an architecture program and we made birdhouses in the garden area. The garden just seemed so peaceful. So we would take the students out and work at the picnic benches that are there. The kids would love walking around and just observing. So when I moved to the second grade, I thought it would be a great hands-on experience for them to have a garden.


Why do you stick with it?

I feel like the students today don’t have enough one-on-one contact and communication. If you think about gardening together, you have to talk. It is not like looking at computers all-day and letting the computers think for them. They have to help each other out. There is a lot of teamwork involved in gardening.


Do you see your students doing things in the garden that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do indoors?

What I see in the garden is them working together, playing together, and being more social. They are very playful, but at the same time, they are serious and look forward to the end result. We want them to see that we are planting the seeds of academics and education in their minds. So we do a compare and contrast with that. We plant these seeds in the garden, which then grow from the earth. But then you come into the building and we plant another type of seed that stays in the mind.


What do teachers need the most in order to use the garden successfully?

More time and manpower, more volunteers. Why? We want the students to be excited about school. When I say the word “garden” or “Ms. Punita,” their faces light up as if I said we’re having candy all day, every day, for the next year. They are excited and I want them to be excited about school.


What have you done in the garden so far?

We worked with Gateway Greening’s Sweet Potato Challenge last year. The sweet potatoes that we are growing indoors right now happen to be sweet potatoes that were left over from the Sweet Potato Challenge last year! This year, we’ve planted the greens and the cabbages. I think the most exciting part for us as a school was during out PTO, we were able to share with our parents. They were so excited to receive free produce! They said “My children grew this?” Yes!


What is your best garden story?

The Sweet Potato Challenge. The children were digging for those potatoes like they were digging for gold. They were working together, and they had glowing faces. It wasn’t anything we had to go to the store and buy or return. To me, that will stay in their minds forever. They were in it to win it!

The Thrill of Discovery

discovery1When is the last time you discovered something new and wonderful about the world? Do you remember how it made you feel?

The best part about outdoor education is that it makes room in the school day for discovery, and for the pride and excitement that come along with it.
Yes, we lead many structured academic exercises out in the garden, but sometimes the best learning takes place when we give students unstructured time to explore and discover. What have we discovered this week? At Clay’s garden, we’re digging a pretty deep hole in the lawn. So far we have only discovered worms, but there are some hopes that treasure is down there. We discovered the centipedes and mycelium that live under the stumps in our stump circle. The first ladybug of the season landed on a 4th grader’s hand, to delighted screams. A 1st grade class, chasing robins across the field, developed a fierce desire to help the birds build their nests. After a class full of discovery, one student desperately wanted to share something with the class, and I initially didn’t let him because I assumed it would be something off-topic. When I finally did let him talk, he said, “Excuse me everybody, did you know that worms and plants have a symbiotic relationship! That means they help each other grow!”
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I am putting together some lessons for next week on bird nests, centipedes, and symbiotic relationships as we speak. If you give children the space to make discoveries on their own, I think you’ll be delighted with the direction in which they take their education.

Community Gardens – bringing neighbors together one connection at a time

Hi! My name is Erin, and I’m the new Communications & Fundraising Americorp VISTA at Gateway Greening this year. Although I’m normally found haunting the office, last Saturday I managed to escape to the Bell Demonstration Garden for the first volunteer work day of 2016 There’s nothing like taking advantage of a sunny day to work in the garden after a Midwest winter!

Being new to Gateway Greening and community gardens in general, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect from the experience. I tried to imagine how the day might go… maybe I’d learn a new skill? Meet some interesting people? Get over my irrational fear of chickens? Regardless of how the day turned out, I was sure it would wind up being a memorable experience, and I was right – but not for the reasons I’d imagined.

There were a lot of great moments throughout the day as volunteers, Americorp VISTAs, and staff worked together to wake up Bell Garden. Corny garden jokes and calls for “more greens for the compost!” were flying fast as everyone worked to turn soil, cut back perennials, and every other task imaginable in a spring garden. It was great to see everyone out and having a good time! But the best thing was seeing people who had never met before, sharing backstories and getting to know their neighbors.

1st Saturday (10)
Moving and securing frames for this year’s bean crop.

For me, the most memorable moment was watching two of our volunteers discovering that they lived in the same neighborhood – one that had an existing garden! Within moments, Gail and Emily were swapping contact information and chatting about the possibilities. We can’t wait to see them in action in their own neighborhood at the Botanical Avenue Garden!

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Volunteers Gail Keelin and Emily Peters, neighbors meeting for the first time in Bell Garden. Classic connection!

By the end of our busy work day, it wasn’t the skills I’d learned or even the chickens I’d met (not scary at all!) that struck me. It was the overwhelming sense of community and connection I experienced that I found truly memorable.

1st Saturday (2) Connection
Manning the pitchforks to turn the soil!