We’ve been fortunate to have numerous animal guests over the years. Recently, Ancona sixth grader Marie Benson brought three of her pet ducks to the garden for a one-day residency.
Nearly every student in the school came out to meet and feed them, and some came multiple times. We learned about ducks as a species, bird care basics, and the difference between domestic animals and wild ones.
Thanks to Marie for her vision and persistence and to her dad Steve for helping make it happen.
One of our favorite fall traditions is to collect pumpkins from Ancona families and neighbors for composting. They’re a huge amount of biomass that would otherwise go to waste!
First, though, we give them a good a smashing so they’ll decay faster.
For a live-action look, download this nine-second video. It’s well worth the time!
Ancona has been teaching students to compost for two decades. We accept compostable goods from the school building, from students’ homes, and from the school’s immediate neighbors. In a given year, we divert 2,000-3,000 gallons of organic waste from landfills.
Now that it’s fall, please consider bringing in bags of leaves from your yard. Leaf mulch is a terrific soil conditioner.
If you’d like to participate, here’s a list of what we accept. And here’s an Edutopia blog about how composting fits into our curriculum.
What we compost
- Fruits and vegetables
- Tea and paper tea bags
- Coffee grounds and filters
- Grass clippings from unsprayed lawns
- Used paper towels and kleenexes (as long they’re not greasy or doused in cleaning spray)
- Shredded office paper (white paper only)
- Cut flowers and potted plants
- Paperboard takeout containers (rinsed)
- Brewing mash
- Nut hulls
- Egg shells
- Oyster and mussel shells
- Pet waste from rabbits
What we do not compost
- Seafood and meats
- Pet waste from dogs, cats, reptiles
- Plastic tea bags
- Pulled weeds or diseased plants
- Pencil shavings–never, ever, ever!
- Dental floss
- Disposable cleaning wipes (they’re made of plastic)
Compostable goods can be left in the buckets outside the Kenwood garden gate or at the gate from the playground to the alley.
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.
For the first time, an Ancona alum has a personal plot in the school garden.
Thank you, Val, for being a plant-loving role model for younger students. May many follow your path.
Also, you have quite a lot of chard to harvest now.
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.
Kudos to Olivia, whose mug-and-pepper scene won her three freshly laid eggs.
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)
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?