30 08, 2021

Volunteer salute: Johanna and Joel

By |2021-08-30T06:12:41-06:00August 30th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

Volunteers are the lifeblood of almost every garden. So it’s a bummer when Ancona’s best teacher-gardener, Johanna, shown here with her partner Joel, moves on to garden elsewhere.

Johanna contributed buckets and buckets of compost from classroom and home. She devised bilingual garden labels. She imported seeds for Puerto Rican specialty peppers. She fed chickens. Joel built the raspberry bed. Both of them watered wilting plants on brutally hot days.

Que tengas muchas plantas hermosas siempre, Johanna y Joel.

28 07, 2021

Why don’t people like Swiss chard?

By |2021-07-28T10:54:06-06:00July 28th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

We grow lots of kale and collard greens in our school garden, and they’re always easy to give away. We also grow many beets, which are equally popular.

There’s a similar crop that nobody ever wants, though: Swiss chard.

Chard’s lack of popularity is mysterious. Chard is actually in the beet family, so the taste is not unfamiliar. It’s no more bitter than kale or collards. And it arguably looks better than most garden crops.

My wild guess is that there are no classic fall recipes involving chard. In autumn, people crave roasted root veggies and greens richly flavored with smoked meats.  The traditions around these dishes must make bitter tastes more palatable somehow. But chard is not associated with an American tradition or region as far as I can tell.

So we harvest and donated a chard bunches to a nearby Love Fridge. Hopefully somebody can use it. If not, we’ll rip it all the chard and plant something more popular.


12 07, 2021

One family’s Saturday harvest

By |2021-07-12T12:26:20-06:00July 12th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

Here’s what one Ancona family took home from the garden on an average summer Saturday. This is their “payment” for watering the plants and feeding the chickens.

For those keeping score at home, they harvested

  • 1 medium cabbage (approximately 5 cups)
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1 cup chard
  • 2 c beets + 1 c beet greens
  • 2 bunches herbs
  • 3 eggs (not shown)
for a total of 15 servings.
27 06, 2021

Why we count the harvest, and how

By |2021-08-25T10:21:04-06:00June 27th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

Whenever someone takes produce from the Ancona garden, we estimate how many servings they harvest and record it in a log. We use the USDA definitions of servings. One egg is a serving. A cup of fresh kale is a serving. A half-cup of strawberries is a serving.

This system is less perfect than simply recording the produce by weight, which is what most urban farms do.

But it’s far better suited to the lives of our families. Most parents can’t easily picture two pounds of broccoli. But they know exactly what the equivalent, 10 servings, looks like on the plate and would be thrilled if their child ate two servings.

There also many tougher questions that we can’t answer without harvest data, questions like:

  • Is our harvest growing with each successive year?
  • What crops produce best on our campus?
  • What vegetables are most popular with students?
  • What’s the financial contribution of the garden?
  • What should we grow next year?
  • Are we have a meaningful impact on families’ diets?
21 06, 2021

Learning to savor herbs

By |2021-06-21T14:47:40-06:00June 21st, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

This spring, Ancona was fortunate to win one of ten grants given nationally by the Herb Society of America. The grant paid for the supplies needed to build this rolling herb garden destined for our playground. Ancona grandparent Gary Neighbors did the carpentry. Students filled it with growing mix and transplanted in lavender, chamomile, mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, and lemon sorrel.

The grant also supported a series of garden lessons, such as making our own herbal tea blends and preparing a salad with a fresh-herb vinaigrette. The focus wasn’t just on herbs’ flavors but on learning to mindfully prepare tea and other traditional dishes by hand. With herbs, a big part of the experience comes from eating slowly and savoring the freshness.

Finally, students started enough lavender and chamomile plants for third through sixth grade students to take one of each home.



16 06, 2021

Watering in a drought

By |2021-06-16T05:52:26-06:00June 16th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

Intrepid parent volunteers have kept our crops watered through this unusually hot, dry spring.  The first thunderstorm of 2021 didn’t arrive till this past Saturday. We could be in for a prolonged drought. Please consider signing up to water plants and feed the chickens on weekends. Even if you’re not signed up, you can grab the hose and water anytime you’re at the garden.

Watering properly takes practice and focus. Students tend to flick water at the plants, or water weeds instead of crops, or dump water on leaves and ignore the root area. So we practice a lot, and students have really improved.

Besides rain, the best way to water garden crops is via an automated drip and sprinkler system. Such a system deliverly exactly the right amount of water to the plants at the perfect time (usually early morning). This summer, hopefully there will be time to install minisprinklers in our largest garden bed.

If you have a home garden, here are some watering tips to sustain your plants without wasting water. Overwatering is a common problem, and it often contributes to plant diseases.

9 06, 2021

Graduation flower success!

By |2021-06-09T13:49:01-06:00June 9th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

This year we successfully grew the flowers handed Ancona graduates at the final assembly of the year. It’s taken a few seasons to get the timing right; early June is after most spring flowers are done and before the summer blooms open. We’ve found success with dianthus, also known as sweet williams.

This year’s graduates started more plants, so that next year would should be able to give every graduate a small bouquet rather than a single stem. The symbolism is fitting: Every class plants for the class that follows.


7 05, 2021

Chickens make triumphant return

By |2021-08-26T09:50:16-06:00May 7th, 2021|Ancona Farm News|0 Comments

As usual, our four laying hens arrived in the garden a few weeks ago. They’ll stay through November. Students provide much of their daily care while exploring the birds’ roles in history, agriculture, and the food system.

Ancona families are invited to sign up to care for the chickens on weekends. The hens love treats in the form of human leftovers that would otherwise be thrown out: stale rice, fruit scraps, expired salad bags or yogurt, and so forth. This is a cost-effective way to turn food waste into eggs.

For the first time this year, we have two hens that were with us last season (ie, in 2020): The silver-laced wyandotte and the cinnamon queen. Like children, each bird has her own personality. The barred rock is, at least for the moment, the most timid of the bunch, while the wyandotte is always the first to investigate visitors.

Graphic by Wren

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