Sunday, June 3, 2012

I'm Lighting Candles as Fast as I Can, But It Just Keeps Getting Darker.

You've probably noticed I haven't blogged in awhile. You see, although I have been plenty bored this school year, it was not due to an overabundance of time. Acting on the notion that it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness (or at least, go ahead and light the candle while cursing under one's breath), I volunteered at the beginning of the school year to help with the gardening at school. The district still mows the lawns and trims the trees, but anything beyond that is basically being left to go to the weeds, as there is not enough money to pay for groundskeeping time. There are several other people who have said they want to help me, but when it comes right down to it, I am the one who shows up.

The Rose garden
Our previous principal was overly fond of roses. He got a grant to have these planted several years ago. I think it is mightily foolish to have prickle bushes on an elementary school campus, but they are here now- and they do bloom nicely, so long as I deadhead the spent blooms every week.

Natives/Butterfly Garden-
but WHY plant roses in the playground area?!
These native plantings don't require much of me other than weekly weeding, and I prune up the limbs on the young trees in an effort to encourage them into a shade-giving shape. Once the trees are mature, the district will (budgets allowing) take over maintenance, and most of the plants underneath will likely need to be removed due to lack of sunlight. But that is a few years away yet. For now, weed and wait.
This planting area outside the office used to hold palms trees, but the district gardening crew removed them because they thought the trees were cracking the pavement. I successfully grew both lettuce and broccoli there until the crew came back through and planted these flowers (amaryllis relative, can't recall the name). I added the pineapple guava shrub in the middle just to thumb my nose at them, and now I water and weed the bed weekly.

The Kindergarten Vegetable Garden
(Say that ten times fast!)
This was part of my older son's Eagle scout project, and it took a few hundred hours of time from me to help him raise the funds for those barrels. We originally wanted to build raised beds, but we couldn't build anything on campus without paying the carpenter's union for a foreman to come out and supervise. However, they didn't object to planters. These barrels are made in Canada from recycled plastic (I tried to find a USA source and simply could not, but I figured North American sourcing was better than shipping from Asia).
Jillian displays the merchandise.
We raised the money to buy them by collecting Capri Sun bags at lunchtime, cleaning them, sewing them into bags, and selling the bags. And when I say "we", I mean mostly "me". I had a few student helpers at lunchtimes, and Ben did come help with the after-school selling. (He was of course in charge of organizing the installation and planting of the garden.) But it is now the job of parents and kids to weed it- and me to water it every week (for obvious reasons, the school has the kind of spigots that require a special tool.)

These are some of the potted trees on campus. Aside from adding pleasant greenery, these often get used as set dressing when there is an event/concert at the school. Several years ago I salvaged five of these from the trash, where the janitor had put them because they died for lack of watering. I took them home and watered them. They came back to life. I brought them back to the school. I convinced the janitor to start watering them every week. Someone repotted them in cedar barrels. Many years later, the pots are rotting out, and the district no longer has the funds for that janitor. When Ben's fundraiser managed to come up with more money than was needed to finish the kindergarten garden, I started using the money to buy new barrels for the trees. And, of course, I water them.

One of several rows of bungalows on campus
My kids' school was built for about 500 students. Expanding the capacity to 1100 has required that a few dozen portable classrooms be added- not cheap, but cheaper than building new schools. To humanize the asphalt-ringed mazes of buildings, some previous PTA members placed pleasant succulents in cedar barrel planters in front of each building. But, as with the trees, the barrels have started to rot.

When a barrel goes bad.
So, when I finished with all the trees that presently needed new digs, I started on the planters. I have retained many of the succulent plants at home for some rest and recuperation- I remember loving to tear apart the leaves on silver dollar/jade plants when I was little, and apparently that hasn't changed with today's kids. In the meantime, I'm trying various other plants. On the row above are amaranth, tomato, squash, chard, artichoke, and strawberries. And of course, I will be watering them over the summer.

Sweet potatoes in a Barrel planter.
With so many bad things happening in our district (all arising from a lack of funds), I am trying to create a silver lining to the accumulating clouds. I have this grandiose notion that if the kids come back to school with a veggie garden already growing, I can positively influence the culture of the school in a healthy living direction. Also, people behave better when they are in well-tended, vegetation-rich environments. Having a clean, attractive campus is a real benefit to student well-being. I am aware of the possibility that summertime vandals will piss in the plantings and kill them all. I can only try.

This squash is happier here than the
same vine in my garden at home.
There are still 20 more cedar barrels that will need replacing in the next year or two. So I gotta keep making and selling the bags. But that's enough for today. Next time: More Food Action.