A Garden Grows

By Kristin Sanderson

Science teacher Kate Shapero was well aware of the traditions surrounding gardening at Miquon. For generations, Miquon children have tilled and planted, watered and watched their gardens grow. Over the years, gardens have been created in different spots around campus, measured into individual plots, and more recently made use of plastic dishpans to increase portability. One challenge not easily conquered, however, was the interruption in attention and ownership of garden plots during the summer months, and consequent lack of a rewarding harvest after hard work in the spring.

Kate brought a bigger vision to fruition (literally) when she initiated work on a community garden in the fall of 2011. The idea was to create a garden on a larger scale, so that children could witness the seasonal cycles of planting and harvesting different crops, and understand the relationship between growing things and creating food. After consideration of various possible locations, a plot was chosen in front of the Library and 3-4 classroom, right in the heart of the campus. Plenty of sunlight and access to a water supply were important considerations, as was the presence nearby of the Library bee colony.

In the early stages, Miquon’s 3rd and 4th grade groups were the lead gardeners. They put in many weeks of sweat and toil to dismantle and remove old raised beds, dig border trenches, and stamp pathways flat in the Lenape style. Logs from recent tree work were hauled, cut and placed into the trenches to contain the soil. As winter approached, the beds were planted with garlic, some flower bulbs, and a crop of winter rye intended to hold the soil in place over the winter.

Waking in March after the dormancy of winter, the garden was planted in cycles, and rapidly produced a succession of berries, greens and root crops, right through this fall. Snap peas, beans, kale, collards, mustard greens, beets, parsnips, strawberries, blueberries, carrots, potatoes and beets were followed by peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Harvests varied in size, but notably children have been able to collect, prepare and eat … 17lbs of potatoes, 60 carrots, and 10 lbs of parsnips! At this time, every group in the school is involved in helping with the various tasks around the garden.

The construction of an open lattice-work bamboo fence around two sides of the garden provided both support for climbing plants such as beans, and a pleasing “secret garden” feel to the plot. Bamboo was cut from – where else? – the Bamboo Forest and strips for weaving were created using a special Japanese splitting tool. This fall 5th and 6th graders helped build a cold frame that will extend the growing season and offer some protection during the winter. A composter is receiving classroom lunch scraps, and leaf litter will be added to it during the winter. And now that outdoor faucets have been shut off for the winter, water is available from a rain barrel installed at the corner of the Library building.

Kate quickly acknowledges the invaluable advice and help she received from others as this grand project took shape. Anticipating and avoiding problems meant surer and bigger rewards. Dottie Baumgarten, previously science teacher at Oak Lane Day School shared her considerable experience, and “Farmer Dave” Siller from Weavers Way Cooperative Farm was on hand regularly throughout the year to plan, guide, explain, and assist with tasks. Over the summer, several Miquon parents and camp staff volunteered time to keep the garden loosely under control.

But the real kudos go to Kate herself, who along with Farmer Dave has managed the entire project from vision to, well, consumption. Hearing Nursery kids exclaim over the amount of dirt that is harvested along with root vegetables, seeing a lesson on pH emerge from the need to fertilize blueberry bushes, watching a team of children figure out how to balance a wheelbarrow full of heavy logs, and notably (to a surprised parent) seeing a child who never touches vegetables nibble a leaf of kale and say, “Mmm, that’s good!” – all of these observations and more make it perfectly clear that important learning is going on at deep, and broad levels. Clearly, the Miquon garden produces a lot more than edible harvest!

Garden volunteers are always needed! If you are interested in helping out with the garden and have a few hours to spare, please contact Kate Shapero at 610-828-1231 or kates@miquon.org.