WV School Garden Toolkit

written for and by west virginia school gardeners

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The “Snow Day” : an Unexpected Challenge

By Emily Landseidel, AmeriCorps Farm to School Coordinator, Greenbrier County, WV

For teachers and students alike, the phrase, “snow day” is a welcomed message. Indeed, I remember anxiously waiting, watching for my city’s name to scroll across the bottom of the news channel announcing, officially, “snow day!”, unofficially proclaiming: “freedom!”

Now however, as an AmeriCorps member working in schools, who is ultimately committed to a certain amount of service hours, regardless of whether or not school is in session, these weather-related days off are a challenge.  And oddly enough, I did not expect this to be such a big challenge (we have had 3-day school weeks the entire month of January). I expected to run into some challenges with getting students to stay on over the summer months but I naively thought that at least with greenhouses, throughout the school year, I would have the time to develop and refine my lesson plans and have a steady workforce.

Without this inclement weather school holiday today, for example, I had meetings scheduled with two classes. One was slated to help me do research and planning for the outdoor garden classroom we will be building in the spring (Today was going to be my third attempt at teaching this lesson to this group of students; all other attempts also thwarted by inclement weather). The second was to be transplanting tomato plants (that, after a few sunny 60F days in January, are wildly overdue for a move to a bigger home), introducing the tomato plants to dowels for vining support, and watering.

Let me say that I understand, totally and completely, why school needs to be cancelled, indeed, last night I was almost stuck on the other side of the county due to high waters after 8 hours of heavy rains but as a Farm to School Coordinator, with plants that need tending and gardens that need planning, regardless of the weather, “snow days” are no longer something I relish. Rather, I am beginning to despise them (almost as much as a burger from a fast food chain).


Now today, as a result of the inclement weather, I sit at home, in front of my computer, hatching plans and doing research, learning, pushing back my greenhouse maintenance plan (yet again), and hoping, always hoping, that I will not receive a text message that says, “UPDATE: All schools in xxxx County will now be closed on Fri. Feb. 1, 2013 due to weather conditions.”


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Wild in the Greenhouse: Hunting for Mushrooms

By Emily Landseidel, AmeriCorps Farm to School Coordinator, Greenbrier County, WV

That’s the title of a new lesson, hot off the presses; seems there is something wild growing in the greenhouse.

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I shouldn’t be surprised really; from what I have read, the growing conditions in this greenhouse are excellent for Mycelia germination and fruiting (because the mushroom is actually the fruit of the fungi). The greenhouse is almost always between 70-77F (ideal temperatures for this mushroom), damp, and compressed soil. (It looks as though I had some overzealous soil packers during transplanting. Some of the soil in these containers looks heavily compressed, leading to a lack of air and water flow; the Mycelia Mushroom delights in poorly aerated soils.)

Today’s original plan was a Hydroponics Lesson. Instead, I will take a cue from Nature. With a bit of quick research on my part, I think I have the basics of Mushrooms down. I now know for certain I will never be an expert but I am hoping with a little coaching my students will be able to keep these mushrooms at bay in the greenhouse. We do not want mushrooms crowding out our tomatoes, cilantro, sage, and parsley!

After a few basics on mushrooms, I will let my students loose to harvest wild mushrooms in the greenhouse. I learned that picking does not kill the underground spores but will help prevent reproduction and thus spreading. Thus today, they will be hunting mushrooms, not to eat but to pick fruits in order to prevent them from spreading their spores.

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Additionally, I am going to ask the students what they think we should do to curb mushroom growth in our greenhouse. There are a few methods we can try but would like the students to actively participate in this decision process. We can try: aerating the soil (for better water absorption), applying a nitrogen fertilizer (which will speed decomposition of the organic matter which feeds fungus), or reducing irrigation (creating a drier soil and a less ideal condition for Mycelia growth and fruiting).

**Post lesson update: One student suggested peat moss to help aerate the soil and absorb some of the moisture. We may try that next week, they all agreed that the moss may help us fight the fungus and are eager to get their hands dirty again.

Any other thoughts for curbing mushroom growth?

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Mock’s Greenhouse Farm Visit

By Tanya Hunt, AmeriCorps Farm to School Coordinator, Wayne County, WV

Fresh heirloom tomatoes and bibb lettuce in January? Yes please. Liza (F2S Coordinator in Pocahontas County), Emily (F2S Coordinator in Greenbrier County), and I enjoyed these, as well as local organic ginger when we visited Mock’s Greenhouse January 6 – 8.

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Jealous yet?

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What about now?

I cannot say enough good things about Paul Mock and his operation. Mock’s Greenhouse produces 30,000 pounds of tomatoes ad 225,000 heads of lettuce each year, along with watercress, basil, arugula, cilantro, raspberries, and ginger. Most of these crops are produced year-round, with the help of greenhouses and an elaborate, yet elegant, hydroponic system. Below you can see where water goes through small white tubes into a long box-like object where it runs over the roots of the plants that are placed in holes on the top of the contraption.

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This is me examining some roots.

Paul integrated the three of us right into his operation so we could learn on the ground level what is going on. We planted lettuce and tomatoes and watercress, harvested and packaged lettuce and tomatoes and watercress, clipped tomato plants onto their string trellises, saw how ginger is harvested (not like you think), and received a lot of instruction from Paul himself. We came away from the experience feeling a lot more informed about hydroponics and greenhouse growing.

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Organic ginger

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Emily, Liza planting young tomato plants.

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Worker David Bishop harvesting lettuce.

Greenhouse growing and hydroponics are really great for Farm to School programs because they provide year-round produce and are easy to integrate in to teaching lessons. Many schools already have greenhouses and hydroponic systems could use this space efficiently. We also learned about Paul’s experiences with the school system and how he had come to sell to his local school district. We will be taking all of this information back to our schools and using it to teach our children, inform our farmers, and integrate into our schools.

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Emily, Liza, and Paul in a sea of hydroponic lettuce.

Have you ever grown anything hydroponically? What did you grow? How awesome is organic ginger?