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4th & 5th Grade Lessons



Welcome to the 4th and 5th Grade Garden Class Page!

4th grade students dig deep into soil. We get up close and personal with decomposition and the fungus, bacteria and insects that make it happen; collect food scraps from lunch and tree and leaf waste from campus to build a compost pile; learn about keeping nutrients in the garden soil; make tea and practice mindfulness in the garden; play team building games; and do lots of cooking, planting and garden care.

5th grade classes put together all they've learned about humans, animals, plants, cycles, soils, and the environment to look at the garden as a sustainable, interconnected ecosystem. They spend lots of time working in the garden and doing projects from start to finish. Over the winter, they are responsible for planning and planting our spring and summer garden. After spring break, the whole fifth grade votes to choose their own activities based on the things they remember enjoying in all their years in garden class. 

Making Itchy Salve and Herbal Vinegar

 Before modern medicine, people used plants medicinally for thousands of years--and we still can today! We learned about different medicinal uses of plants growing in our gardens and in the schoolyard, many of which are common weeds, and collected them to make an herbal preparations for our skin! With the fourth graders, we made a healing salve to put on your skin to help with itchiness, bug bites, bee stings, cuts and scrapes, swelling, and dry skin. You can even use the salve we made as lip balm! With the fifth graders, we infused a vinegar with plants specifically useful for treating poison oak. We also learned some of the folklore about magical uses of the plants we used. Here are some of the plants we included in our concoctions:

Calendula flowers--helps to heal your skin when you have small scrapes and cuts

Chickweed--helps particularly with skin itchiness

Plantain--particularly good for drawing out stingers and splinters

Lavender--an anti-inflammatory that helps bring down swelling

Mallow--this plant, related to the marshmallow plant that marshmallows were once made of, is moisturizing and soothing to the skin

Mint--this plant is cooling to your skin, so it can be nice to put on inflamed itchy spots

Ceonothus--this California native plant is specifically go for helping decrease the itching of poison oak. It was also used by the Native Americans of this area for soap and to stun fish!

Mugwort--this plant is a specific for treating poison oak, too, and it's magical use is that if you sleep with a leaf under your pillow, you will dream a true dream about your future!

Making Salve:

We heated olive oil gently, cut up the plants and added them in stirring constantly. We let the plants heat in the oil for about 10 minutes, making sure not to heat it so much the oil started bubbling or smoking. Then we added some beeswax and stirred it until it melted before straining the plants out of the oil. Once the oil was strained, we poured the plant infused oil into salve jars and let them cool--the beeswax gives them the consistency of lip balm, making it easy to store and use!

Making Vinegar:

We collected the plants, cut them up as small as we could, and covered them with white vinegar in a jar. We left the jar for two weeks, turning it daily, and then strained out the plants and were left with a pinkish/purplish infused vinegar to use on your skin!

Flower Parts and Pressing

This week, we learned about the entire purpose of a flower--to make a seed! And to make a seed, a flower has to combine it's pollen with the ovary of another flower--this is called pollination! Amazingly enough, most flowers have both male and female parts, but usually a flower cannot pollinate itself or flowers of different species. The male part of a flower is called the Anther, which is full of pollen while the female part is called the Pistil with a sticky Stigma on the tip. When pollen gets on the Stigma, it moves down the Pistil until it reaches the ovary--and then the work of the flower is done! The ovary begins to grow into a seed, and the flowers fall off! An example of this is a pea or a bean. They all start out at flowers, and when they get pollinated the ovary begins to grow into a bean or pea pod full of--SEEDS!!

Flowers usually need pollinators like bees, butterflies and other insects to move their pollen from one flower to another, although some plants (like corn and grass) have pollen that is moved by the wind. Pollinators are attracted by the colors and patterns on the petals, as well as by the sweet nectar hiding deep inside most flowers. Who knew that flowers existed for more reasons than to look beautiful!

We searched around the gardens and collected flowers, finding their pistils and anthers as we went, so we could add them to our flower press for making cards later in the spring...

Lemon Pepper Broccoli

All of this rainy weather is giving us lots of perfect opportunities to cook some of the vegetables that we have been tending all year--this recipe is one of my grandmother's favorites. Simple but delicious, and very nutritious. A head of broccoli is actually just a bunch of closed flowers--if you leave them on the plant, they open into yellow flowers that are also edible! Broccoli is high in calcium for your bones, teeth and muscles. It is also high in iron, which helps your blood carry oxygen. Broccoli is related to the dark leafy greens kale and collard greens, and is considered a "super vegetable" because it is so packed with nutrients. It is even being studied as a cancer preventative! And did you know that broccoli leaves are also edible and equally good for you?

Lemon Pepper Broccoli

1 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp broth (optional)

Lemon pepper to taste

Sautee the ingredients together until the broccoli is tender. You can even make your own lemon pepper by zesting a lemon and mixing the zest with pepper!

Rainy Day Soup

What better recipe to make on a rainy day than rainy day soup! This soup has a little bit of many of the delicious plants growing in our garden, with just a dash of rainwater as the magic ingredient! We always say thank you to each plant we put in our recipes, to the gardeners, and to the chefs--but this time, we included a special thanks for the rain!


Rainy Day Soup

2 cups broth

2 cups water

A dash of rainwater

1 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 potatoes, cubed

1-2 leaves swiss chard, cut into small pieces

1-2 leaves collard greens, stemmed and cut into small pieces

1-2 leaves dinosaur kale, stemmed and cut into small pieces

A handful of broccolini or broccoli florets

A handful of sweet peas, cut into small pieces

5 garlic chives, diced

1-2 cloves garlic

Pinch of oregano, thyme, rosemary, and summer savory

Salt and Pepper to taste

Simmer ingredients together until potatoes are tender, and enjoy hot! Sprinkle some parmesan cheese on top for a garnish if you'd like!


Spring Planting

It's not quite time to start warm weather seeds outside, but it's time to start seeds in the greenhouse for plants that like to grow in warm weather! One way to think about plants that tend to grow well in cool weather are plants that we eat the leaves and roots of (although root crops will grow faster in the warmer months). Plants that grow in the summer tend to be more colorful, and we eat the seeds or fruits of.

Some plants that like cool weather (just to name a few):



Collard greens

Swiss chard




A couple of exceptions to the leaf rule:

Broccoli and cauliflower-we eat the closed flowers!

Fava beans--the only bean that grows well in winter!

Sweet peas

Roots and bulbs (although most will grow faster in warmer months)--carrots, beets, onions, turnips


Plants that grow best in warm weather (just to name a few):


Bell peppers

Hot peppers



Squash (including pumpkins)

Beans (they come in all colors!)



Roots and bulbs--beets, carrots, potatoes, onions, turnips

We planted seeds, continued mulching, turned the compost, harvested calendula, and rotated through lots of other garden jobs and had fun imagining the spring and summer ahead in the garden!

Chickweed Pesto

Who knew that some weeds are edible, medicinal, and even delicious! Well, we found out this week! The fourth graders got to meet one of our more common weeds: The Chickweed! We talked about the many uses of chickweed:

Food--we made chickweed pesto and munched on it raw

Tea--a hot tea of chickweed can help bring down a fever

Itch ointment--if you put chickweed on bugbites, rashes, and other itchy spots on your skin it can help the itching go away!

We also talked about the importance of good identification when you're collecting weeds, and discussed how many weeds are NOT edible and you don't want to mistakenly harvest the wrong one! We made the first page of our Botanical Identification book where we drew chickweed and labeled the things that make it identifiable. These include white flowers, a line of hair up the side of the stem, and opposite leaves. Then off we went to harvest the wild chickweed! When first learning to identify plants, we always double check it with an adult who knows to make sure we've got the right one...

When we had harvested enough, we made Chickweed Pesto!

Chickweed Pesto

1 cup chickweed

1/8-1/4 cup olive oil

1 clove garlic

1/8 cup shredded parmesan cheese

1/8 cup sunflower seeds

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

Blend ingredients together and serve on crackers, pasta, or bread

Making Cookbooks

We started in on designing and putting together our garden cookbook for this year! Everyone gets to design their own and customize it with their own artwork--we'll be adding to the cookbooks as the year goes on, and at the end everyone will go home with all of the recipes from the garden we've used this year!


The Boy Scouts donated a bunch of shredded up Christmas trees to Bay Farm school to use in landscaping--the best use for shredded trees is mulch! So what is the use of mulch?

1) Weed control--If you spread mulch on the ground, it acts as a barrier between the sun and the ground to keep weed seeds from germinating. This can help immensely in controlling weeds! Also, evergreens are acidic and the acid further helps in controlling weeds, but DO NOT put acidic mulch in your garden beds around your vegetables! It's too acidic for vegetables, but can be perfect for controlling weeds in paths through your garden. If you want to mulch in your beds, hay is a much better for around vegetables.

2) Water conservation--If you spread mulch in your garden beds around your vegetables, particularly in the summer when it's so dry, it can shade the ground to keep it cool and to keep water from evaporating so quickly. This can mean watering less!

We had a great work day of using pitchforks and wheelbarrows to move and spread mulch around our garden!

Planting Potatoes

Did you know if you put an organic potato in the ground, it will grow into more potatoes? Well, with the 5th graders we tried just that! Some farmers suggest only planting "seed potatoes", which are potatoes you can buy from seed companies that are guaranteed to be disease free just in case the ones you buy at the store or farmer's market aren't but so far I have never had problems growing potatoes without buying seed potatoes! When you plant a potato, you will end up with lots of new potatoes that are genetically exact clones of the potato you put in the ground! The growth of a potato looks something like this:

We split into teams, and each team got a potato to get acquainted with--we drew the potato, counted the eyes (these are where new roots or shoots will grow), gave them names, and some groups even made their potatoes Birth Certificates! Then we jumbled them all up together in a bag to see if each group had gotten to know their spud well enough to pick it out in a crowd.

Then for the planting! We planted our potatoes in garbage cans, believe it or not! We filled the garbage cans about 1/4 full with dirt (making sure they had holes in the bottom for drainage) and planted our potatoes--as they grow and the leaves above the soil get taller, we will add more dirt. This is called "hilling" and encourages more potatoes to grow stacked on top of each other as you add more soil. Hopefully they're be ready to harvest by spring. Harvesting from a garbage can is easy--you just tip it over and out roll the potatoes!

Collard Greens

Collard greens are another cool-weather loving plant in the Brassica family (other plants in this family include kale, broccoli, cabbage, etc.) that is amazingly tasty and also incredibly good for you! Our collard greens were ready to harvest--they have enormous waterproof leaves, so on these rainy days they can also second for a rain hat! Collard greens are high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Iron, Calcium, and omega-3 fatty acids to name just a few--in other words, they are one of the most nutritionally dense vegetables. They are also amazingly easy to grow, and can even survive freezing temperatures!

We have two types of collard greens in the garden:

Annual Collards--these collards are big green leaves that fan out from the center and, like any plant that is an Annual, usually only grows for one year before making seeds (although in California, our weather is so mild sometimes they'll hang on for a few years!)

Perennial Collards--these collards are called Tree Collards because they grow on a stalk that looks a little like a tree. They're leaves are much smaller, and often have some purple in them. As any plant that is a Perennial, the Tree Collard can live for many years

We cooked our Collards with coconut oil to sweeten them up a little--they can get a little bitter, particularly as the plant gets older!

Collard Greens

Collard Greens, stems removed

1 Tbsp coconut oil

1-2 Tbsp broth (vegetable or chicken)

1 clove garlic, pressed

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

Take the stems off the Collards, roll the leaves into a burrito shape and slice them thinly (the smaller the pieces, the quicker they cook!). Then sautee all of the ingredients together until the Collards are bright green and tender. YUM!

Mushroom Hunt

The fourth graders talked about the many wonders of fungus including:

Decomposer--fungus plays a really important roll in helping decompose things that were once alive and turning them back into soil

Food--many fungus are delicious to eat, although you should never eat mushrooms you find in the wild unless you are with an experienced mushroom expert!

Medicine--fungus has been used as medicine for thousands of years! Some medicinal fungi include the Reishi mushroom used in Traditional Chinese Medicine, the Cordyceps mushroom, and even the relatively modern antibiotic penicillin!

Bioremediation--Oyster mushrooms are being studied for their use in cleaning up toxins from the environment, including oil spills. Whatever a fungus is growing on, it is eating!

Communication Highway--The underground part of the mushroom, the mycelium, can act as a highway in the soil to help nutrients and water get to plant roots more efficiently, and to help plants send chemical messages to each other. Forests with healthy mycelium under the ground tend to be healthier overall!

Then we talked about a typical fungus lifecycle, which includes the mushroom (or fruiting body), spores dropped by the mushroom (sort of like mushroom seeds), mycelium that starts to grow from the spores, and mushrooms that grow up from the mycelium--and around and around it goes! We went on a mushroom hunt to see how many wild mushrooms we could find growing on our campus, and to see what they're eating. We even found a mushroom eating our school!

We collected a few mushrooms and left them cap-side down on some aluminum foil for a few days to see if they would drop their spores--spores come in lots of different colors and are used as a tool for identifying mushrooms. A few days later we checked the foil for the spore prints to see what colors we had found!

Cooking up Kale

Often on rainy days, we enjoy the fruits of our labor and cook a recipe using vegetables from our garden. Kale is an amazing vegetable that likes to grow best in cool weather. It is related to broccoli, collard greens, and other plants in the Brassica family and like other plants in it's family is being studied for it's potential to prevent cancer! It is also very high in Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and Calcium just to mention some of it's nutritional value! A favorite in our garden is the dinosaur kale--

We sauteed up our kale in the following recipe-what a delicious treat!

Sauteed Kale

Kale leaves, stemmed

1-2 Tbsp olive oil

1-2 Tbsp broth (vegetable or chicken)

1 clove of garlic, pressed,

pinch of salt

pinch of pepper

Sautee the ingredients together until the kale is bright green and tender--a simple but delicious recipe!

Rosemary Salt and Lavender Sugar

For holiday gifts, the 4th graders made Rosemary Salt along with a recipe for Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, and the 5th graders made Lavender Sugar along with a recipe for Lavender Sugar Cookies! The rosemary and lavender, of course came from our very own garden! A few reasons these plants are ideal for this time of year:

Rosemary warms you up by increasing your circulation--perfect for this time of year!

Lavender calms you and helps you cope with stress--again, perfect for this time of year!

Rain Barrel Installation

Aaron Pratt, craftsman of Aaron's Rain Barrels (, generously crafted and donated two rain barrels made of 100% recycled plastic to Bay Farm school so our students can learn about water conservation by water catchment. Water catchment simply means collecting rainwater, usually from the downspout from a rooftop, for use during times of little rain. This is a particularly valuable water conservation tool in places like California with our Mediterranean climate and our frequent droughts! It also keeps water from rooftops from simply pouring into downspouts and becoming run-off that ends up in storm drains.

We will use the water we collect in our rain barrels to cut down on our use of city water in our garden, and to help return the rain to the ground so it makes it back to the water table rather than running down a storm drain!

What we did: (please take a look at the slide show on the right for pictures of the process)

1) How much water we can collect? Amazingly, each square foot of roof yields about 0.6 gallons of water per inch of rainfall! We measured the roof we'll be using and found the total square feet of rooftop. We then multiplied that by 0.6 gallons to find the amount of water we could collect from just one inch of rain--the results were amazing:

47 ft (length of building) X 24 ft (width of building) = 1128 square feet of roof

1128 square feet of roof X .6 gallons/inch of rain = 676.8 gallons of rain can be collected from just ONE inch of rainfall on our roof!!!

2) Paint our rain barrels! We had TONS of fun sanding our barrels, putting on a base coat of Krylon spray paint, and then painting designs with acrylic paints. Our rain barrels are now super colorful--and completely kid designed and painted!

3) Installation! Our two rain barrels are attached to one another, so when the first one connected to the downspout fills it will overflow into the second one. There is also an overflow valve in case both barrels fill up that we will attach a hose to and run it into the garden.

This was a really fun and extremely practical project to help us learn how to be more responsible with water, a natural resource that we need to be particularly mindful of here in California--thank you Aaron for your generosity! You are welcome to visit his Rain Barrel site at to learn more about what he does. You may even be inspired to install rain barrels on your own!

Garden Fresh Salad

This week, there were salad makings ready to harvest from the garden! Pairs of kids went out foraging for our ingredients including produce and edible flowers--our salad featured:

  • Lettuce! We harvested four different varieties of lettuce and talked about the nutritional comparison to iceburg lettuce which is mostly water--the richer the color, generally the more nutrients!
  • Radishes! We harvested icicle radishes--they are long and white like an icicle, and not as spicy as the red radishes. Radishes contain as much potassium as bananas, and quite a bit of Vitamin C. Good for this time of year to help prevent illness!
  • Broccolini! We harvested fresh broccolini to add some calcium, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C and that sweet fresh broccolini taste to our salad.
  • Calendula! This edible flower is also sometimes called Pot Marigold (different from a true marigold)--the petals of the flowers really brighten up a salad! Calendula is also used in skin creams to help cuts and scrapes heal, and is used as a tea to help clean out your body after a sickness by acting on the lymphatic system to help "take out the trash". It also helps attract pollinators to the garden!
  • Nasturtium! This edible flower has a distinct peppery taste, and is also beneficial for your garden because it attracts pollinators, and it also attracts aphids and black flies to keep these garden pests away from your vegetables.

We made our own salad dressing, too, with garlic harvested at the end of last year:

Garlic Mustard Salad Dressing

1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup water

2-3 tsp. balsamic vinegar

1 clove garlic, pressed

1 tsp dijon mustard

Whisk ingredients together--the mustard helps bind the oil and water, which usually separate. Serve on salad-yum!

The Wonders of Bulbs

This past week we learned about the wonders of bulbs! Examples of bulbs include onions, garlic, tulips and daffodils.

Some amazing bulb facts:

1) Bulbs don't even need soil to grow! Inside each bulb is a tiny embryo of a plant, and when it's ready to grow the surrounding bulb is the food source for that embryo to get going--if you put an onion, for example, root-side down on the top of a glass filled with water the green part of the plant will start growing and the bulb itself gets softer and softer as it is consumed by the growing plant! Then, when the green leaves start photosynthesizing, they send sugar back down to the bulb and it firms up replenishing it's supply for the next time around!

2) Bulbs have an internal clock--Many bulbs need to go through a cold period before they will begin to grow. In California, sometimes we have to simulate this by putting bulbs in the refrigerator for a few weeks before planting them! The bulb can tell when spring arrives and weather gets warm enough for it to start growing--that's why we see tulips and daffodils in the early spring

3) Bulbs can grow year after year, always producing a plant that is genetically identical to the one produced the year before--because it is growing from the same bulb!

We spent part of the day planting garlic--to grow a bulb of garlic, simply get some organic garlic (conventional is sometimes sprayed with a chemical to keep it from sprouting), take off a clove and put it root-side down in the ground. Cover the area with straw or dry leaves to keep weeds from growing--garlic doesn't compete very well with weeds when it is first sprouting. If you plant it in the fall, it should be ready for harvesting by early summer when the leaves begin to turn brown. Then dig them up, hang them to dry, and you have garlic to use in the months ahead!

Planting Day!

We started garden this past week, as usual, with tea made from plants in our garden--this week we used spearmint and talked about it's use in treating headaches and helping you feel better when you have a cold. Very useful for this time of year!
We were glad to have narrowly avoided the rain because many of the seeds we started in the greenhouse were ready for planting and, in fact, were already sending roots beyond the bottom of their pots! So we got our beds ready and started getting some winter crops in the ground. We built a trellis and planted sweet peas to climb it, planted a bed of lettuce, and watered the carrot and beet seeds we recently planted. We have also planted other winter crops at this point including fava beans, collard greens, celery, and kale just to name a few!

We also worked on turning the compost, digging the grasses out of one of our garden beds, and watering the remaining plants in the greenhouse--a fun, down and dirty working day!

Composting with Worms (Vermicomposting)

This week we learned about composting using worms and harvested worm castings from two active worm bins to add to our garden!

Worms are amazing decomposers--they can eat our kitchen waste and turn it into worm castings, an incredibly nutrient rich treat to add to your garden soil! To make a worm bin, you simply need a plastic bin with some holes in it for air, some shredded damp newspaper for bedding (they will also eat the newspaper!), some food scraps for the worms to eat (not oil, meat, or dairy products), a handful of soil that the worms eat for grit to keep in their gizzard to help grind up the food, and some worms!

The worms that are best for worm bins are not earthworms, but red wigglers. Earthworms like more space to roam, but red wigglers like being in smaller spaces--they also reproduce much more quickly, meaning you have more worms to eat more of your garbage!

Worms do not have eyes, but have some light sensitive cells on their "head" end so a great way to harvest the castings is to make small piles of the finished compost from your bin and wait for the worms to wiggle to the bottom where it's nice a dark so you can harvest the finished compost from the top! Worms need to be kept moist, because they breathe through their skin and need to be damp to allow the air to pass through so when we were harvesting we were careful to return the worms to their bin where it's dark and moist. We also returned the cocoons we found in the castings back to the bin, because they will hatch into more worms to decompose more food waste.

For more detailed instructions on how to make, take care of, and harvest a worm bin, follow this link:

Halloween in the Garden

During garden class this week, we talked about Halloween and it's origins as I have learned about them from an old European holiday called Samhain (pronounced "Saw-ayn").

The time around Halloween is a time of year in much of the world when the days are getting short, the weather is getting cold and the snow is not far off. It is a time when people in colder climates used to gather in all of the remaining harvest from their fields to store for surviving through the winter. It was a time before supermarkets with food from all over the world, and a time when people were not sure that the sun would come back again in the spring if they didn't have the proper rituals such as sending the villagers and their livestock marching between two bonfires to purify and protect them through the winter. It was also a time of year when people thought that the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead were very thin, and people believed spirits were walking the earth...

Many of our Halloween rituals may have roots in some of the Samhain traditions--

Carving Pumpkins--In the tales I have heard, people used to carve not pumpkins but turnips! They would carve their turnip with a symbol that their ancestors would recognize and put it in front of their house next to a candle and a plate of food--the hope was to appease the ancestors and avoid haunting!

Wearing Costumes--This was a way of protecting oneself, in hopes that any spirit that wished them harm would either not be able to recognize them or be frightened away by the costume!

Trick-or-Treating--One story I have heard is that trick-or-treating actually came from the tradition of Samhain that allowed people to go from door to door asking for food to help them through the winter if their own harvest had not been plentiful enough!

Then off to gather in our own harvest--we explore the gardens to find ingredients for making Magical Mediterranean pesto. Magical because people have used plants magically for thousands of years around the world, and each pair of students heads out with a card to tell them medicinal and magical uses of the plants they find, and an example of the plant to help them use their senses to discover where they are growing.

Magical Mediterranean Pesto

1/2 cup Basil
1/4 cup Parsley
1 tsp-1 Tbsp Thyme
1 tsp-1 Tbsp Oregano
1 tsp-1 Tbsp Rosemary
1 tsp-1 Tbsp Summer Savory
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1/4 cup olive oil

Blend ingredients in a food processor and serve on bread, crackers or pasta-yum! We start with 1 tsp. of each herb and add more to taste (up to 1 Tbsp)

We also roasted some pumpkin seeds in olive oil and tasted them too--Happy Samhain!

Tea Time and Planting Time! 

This week we had Tea Time in the garden! We have tea most mornings in garden class made of things we have grown, but today we harvested and prepared the plants together to make a tea blend by dashing around the gardens with examples of the plants and finding and gathering ingredients for a delicious tea--we found lots of plants to put in including:

Fennel--This plant tastes like black licorice and is used for easing digestion after a big meal! It also attracts the Anise Swallowtail butterfly, who lays it's eggs on the fennel because the caterpillars love to eat it!

Peppermint--This plant can both cool you down and warm you up, depending on how you drink it! It can also help with headaches

Lavender--This plant calms and relaxes you, and is actually a great anti-inflammatory! We talked about putting lavender in your bath for sore muscles

Calendula--This beautiful yellow flower has edible petals, and is very healing for your skin. It also makes your tea pretty!

Rosemary--This plant helps with circulation, so can help warm you up and wake up your brain!

There are a number of other plants we will grow and use in tea over the course of the year.

Garden Tea Recipe

1 tsp plants per cup of hot water
Steep for 10-15 minutes

Pour the tea through a strainer and enjoy!

Other activities during the day included planting seeds we harvested during our seed-saving class a few weeks ago, watering, preparing more beds for planting, and continuing to work on our compost!

Herb Spiral Construction

This week with the 5th graders we started construction of an Herb Spiral--this is a way of planting in a way that allows you to grow plants that like many different conditions all in one bed!

An herb spiral is a mound of earth about three feet tall and three feet wide that you secure with a spiral of bricks, cement, or other stack-able material (see picture on side of page). The spiral stays the most dry at the top, as the rain percolates down through the spiral leaving the bottom moist. The herb spiral is tall enough, too, to create sunny conditions on one side and shady on the other.

We looked at a diagram of an herb spiral and talked about (and smelled and tasted) some plants we had in pots and the kids decided where they might go on the spiral:

Sage--likes sunny, dry conditions-so we plant it towards the top on the sunny side
Mint--likes moist, partly shady conditions-so we plant it towards the bottom on the shady side
Lemon balm--likes medium moisture and can be in sun or shade-so we plant it somewhere about halfway down our spiral

We spent the work part of the day excavating the area where our old herb spiral was, planting seeds we had collected during our seed saving day, adding to our compost, and preparing more beds in the garden for planting.

Acorn Processing

On last week's rainy day, we were able to test out the waterproofing on our Outdoor Learning Center during the rain storm! Because it was too wet to work in the garden, we focused on an alternative to growing gardens--gathering your food from the wild!

We talked about hunting and gathering as one of the main ways California Native Americans secured a food supply as they moved with the seasons to areas where food was most plentiful. Although gathering food is not the same as gardening, we are beginning to find that the Native people of California actually did tend the wild to ensure that they had enough food to eat from year to year. One of their main food sources was, in fact, the acorn! And to ensure productive acorn crops they would "tend" oak trees--this included burning oak savanna around the trees to destroy any diseases and pests and to create nutrients for the oak trees. A current disease killing our oak trees, called sudden oak death, is thought by some people to be occurring partially because people have stopped using the acorn and honoring the oak trees.

We spent our rainy day learning to process acorns using acorns I collected from a Black Oak:

Shelling--to get the acorn meat out!
Pounding--we pounded the acorns into flour and looked at pictures of "Matates" where the Native people use to pound acorns
Leaching--we poured water through the pounded flour to remove the tannins that make the acorns bitter and inedible. This is a VERY important step!

After everyone had had a chance to try every part of the process, we made delicious pancakes with the acorn flour we made.

ACORN PANCAKE RECIPE (makes one very large pancake or many small pancakes--double the recipe for more!)

2- 3 Tbsp acorn flour

1/3 cup Wheat flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/4 cup milk

1 egg

1 tsp honey

1 Tbsp melted butter

pinch of salt

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Melt the butter and add it to the dry ingredients along with the honey and egg. Mix quickly, then add to the hot pan you melted the butter into and cook until the pancake(s) bubble in the middle.

Stem Cuttings!

This week with the 5th graders, we talked about and experimented with different ways to propagate plants.

Seeds are one way to start plants, but the plant you grow from a seed will not be an exact genetic copy of the plant it came from. This is because seeds are made when pollen (from the male part of a flower) joins with the ovary (the female part of a flower) to create a seed! Just as none of us are exact copies of our parents, neither are seeds!

But we can create exact clones of some plants--so this week we experimented with Stem Cuttings. Some plants can grow if you take a small cutting of it and remove the lower leaves from the nodes they grow from. Once you remove these lower leaves, the nodes are freed up to start growing roots if you put them in the soil! From a stem cutting, you will grow a plant that is an exact copy of the parent plant you took the cutting from.

Plants that are easy to "clone" with stem cuttings include rosemary and mint, so each student chose one of these plants to make a stem cutting of that they will be able to bring home once their new roots establish.


This past week we talked about compost--we grow gardens to feed ourselves, but to grow healthy food we need to feed our gardens, too! How? With compost!

Here's the recipe for making compost (we started a pile):

BROWNS--Browns are important for adding CARBON to our compost. What counts as a brown? Most any dry plant matter (dry leaves, straw, dry yard trimmings, newspaper, etc.)

GREENS--Greens are important for adding NITROGEN to our compost. What counts as a green? Most any wet plant matter (vegetable scraps, fresh yard trimmings, etc.)

WATER--Our compost needs to be as moist as a wrung-out sponge to decompose best!

AIR--We need to turn our compost regularly to mix air into the equation. The more often we turn it, the faster it will decompose!

We need living organisms in our compost to help it decompose--I call these the Compost F.B.I.

F is for Fungus! Fungus (mold, mushrooms, etc.) is a VERY important decomposer and is in every healthy compost pile!

B is for Bacteria! These critters are so small we can't even see them, but we know they're there for certain when our compost pile starts heating up from the decomposition going on.

I is for Insects! Insects are also in every healthy compost pile helping to break things down.

We started making our first compost pile of the year, and used compost we picked up from the city composting program to start to feed our garden and get our beds ready for fall planting. This is an exciting year to use the compost from the city because this year it includes Bay Farm cafeteria waste! So our own food waste is feeding our garden!

Seed Saving

Almost all plants eventually "bolt", or make flowers that are then pollinated to make seeds if they are left in the ground long enough. With food plants, we often harvest them before they make seeds--and if you do let the plants go to seed often they don't look much like the original plant when they're done! If you learn to save seeds, once you have a garden you never have to buy seeds again. And if you collect seeds from your garden for many years, they will be genetically more well-suited to your particular garden each year.

We also talked about (and experimented with) the different ways seeds travel to plant themselves in different places:

 Wind --seeds can move by wind with parachutes (like a dandelion seed) or helicopters (like a maple tree seed)

Animals --seeds can move by sticking to things (some seeds have burrs that cling to hair, clothing, etc.) or by covering their seeds in something delicious so an animal eats it and then "deposits" it elsewhere (like fruit!). Some plants actually have seeds that need to go through the digestive tract of an animal to germinate! We can simulate this by rubbing these kinds of seeds with sandpaper before planting them.

Water --some seeds have an air pocket inside their fruit that allows them to float on water to plant themselves in new places (examples are coconuts and cranberries).

Then we went off into all of the gardens and collected seeds from last year's plants for starting this year's garden!

Three Sister's Garden

The "Three Sisters" are corn, beans and squash. We planted them last spring and this week we talked about a traditional Native American way of planting these plants in such a way that they support one another and provide balanced nourishment for people. Then we went on a scavenger hunt in the garden to find the plants and used the harvest from our three sisters garden to make and taste black bean salsa! We worked in pairs to find, learn about, and collect the plants for our recipe.

These are the three sisters and what we learned about them:

Corn -
Some nutritional uses: High in carbohydrates (give us energy), combine corn (or any other grain) with beans to get a complete protein

How they interact with the other "Sisters": Corn provides something for the beans to climb up

Some nutritional uses: High in iron (helps our blood carry oxygen through our bodies), combine with a grain like corn for a complete protein

How they interact with the other "Sisters": Beans are "NITROGEN-FIXERS", meaning they help add nitrogen to the soil--and corn needs lots of nitrogen to grow! The beans also climb the corn stalks

Some nutritional uses: High in Vitamin A (helps with eyesight and keeping skin healthy) and Vitamin C (good for your immune system)

How they interact with the other "Sisters": Squash vines are a "living mulch", spreading out over the ground to shade the soil and keep weeds from growing. They also help keep the soil moist (rather than dried out from the sun)


1/3 cup black beans (cooked)

2 Tbsp corn

2 Tbsp salsa (make your own to add if you like!)

1 tsp lime juice

1 clove garlic

tortilla chips

If using dry beans (like we did!) you have to harvest them ahead of time and soak them overnight before cooking them in twice their volume of water for 1-1 1/2 hours. Taste to make sure they're done. Then strain, rinse, and refrigerate until you use them. If using canned beans, strain out the liquid first.

Blend all the ingredients in a food processor and serve on tortilla chips--yum!