Butterflies, bees, annuals, perennials and bulbs

Monarch madness!

We work so hard at Armstrong growing specific plants which act as host and nectar plants for the lifecycle of the Monarch butterfly.  We are so lucky here in North Texas to be on the migration path for the thousands of Monarch butterflies on their way to warmer climes in Mexico. We do our best to provide Texas Native plants like milkweed for the caterpillars to munch on, Turk’s cap, frostweed and Gregg’s Mist for butterflies to draw nectar from, thereby encouraging them to visit  our particular corner of North Texas even more. We are proud to call Alice’s Garden an official Monarch way station as a result!  It’s so exciting to see student and Dallas County Master Gardener efforts rewarded by our favorite, stunning black and orange visitors. Of course we are always happy to see other pollinators in our garden too – this fall we have seen lots of bees gathering pollen and other butterflies too like swallowtails and gulf fritillaries.

Cross Curriculum Pollination

We love to know that what we learn OUTSIDE in the garden ties in so well with what Armstrong students learn INSIDE the school.  Second graders have been creating some gorgeous butterfly pictures in Art class which are currently brightening up the second grade staircases !

 

Annuals and perennials

We have some wonderful new landscaping beds at the front of the school after the construction over the summer – a perfect opportunity for students to beautify the front of the school and learn about the difference between annual and  perennial plants whilst planting violas (“Johnny Jump Up”  fall annuals) and dianthus (perennials).

Bulbs

Students always love learning about bulbs – it’s such a magical part of gardening. Investing a little hope and faith in a bulb that will sit in dark, dormant  earth all winter but bring joy, color and new life come the spring – a real symbol of hope and a signal that the weather will be warming up soon. We planted lots of daffodil bulbs up at the front of the school which will give us a cheerful yellow display come February.  Needless to say the children loved watching Ms. Jana Beth using her mean, clean drilling machine to dig holes deep enough for the bulbs.

 

Bee presentation for 4th graders creates a real buzz!

4th grade has been literally buzzing these past 2  weeks caused by a VERY special visitor to Alice’s Garden – Harold Wright and his wife Araceli Wright. The Wrights own and run local bee removal company Bee Safe

Bee Safe Removal

and both of them came to present to all 4th graders about the work they do with bees. The Wrights are a local family, 2 of their 5 sons were former Armstrong students! Harold talked about how important bees are to Alice’s Garden in terms of pollination to help our veggies grow so well. He showed us a miniature hive, a fresh honeycomb and answered  bunch of questions that the students had about beekeeping in general, honey making, wax candles, wasp sting strength versus a bee sting,  venom sacks, the life cycle of the queen bee and much much more. We can’t wait for him to come back! Thank you so much Harold and Araceli!

 

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Seed Power and Kindness Rocks

Students in Alice’s Garden have been learning all about the mighty power of the tiny seed! Master Gardeners led class discussions on what seeds need to germinate.  They used the example of  ‘the bean and the cent’  to show how one tiny bean seed is powerful enough to reach through the soil and push over a one cent piece! Students had fun planting radish, carrot, lettuce and arugula seeds that we hope will grow in our raised beds for a delicious harvest in November!

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planting and watering in new seeds

Making Seed Balls

One of our favorite yearly activities in Alice’s Garden is making seed balls –  a wildflower mix  (made up of pollinator friendly, native plant seeds that will tolerate the clay soils  and lack of rain we have here in Dallas)  is combined with little lumps of clay and soil to form a ball.  Once the balls have dried,   students will throw them in to the flowerbeds around school and let them create their own magic –  minus human intervention!

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Being “allowed” to get dirty is definitely one of the most fun parts of being in the garden!

 

Kindness rocks

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Thank you to these wonderful 4th graders who painted and decorated beautiful “kindness rocks” with meaningful slogans and thoughtful messages,  which are a perfectly pitched and  well-matched addition to this unique and magical corner of Armstrong!

 

Off to a fabulous start in Alice’s Garden!

Students, Master Gardeners and our wonderful parent volunteers are all so happy to be back in our favorite place! Lessons on Tuesday focussed on a recap of our garden rules, what plants need to survive and basic tool hygiene to prevent pathogens and diseases spreading. We planted broccoli, swiss rainbow chard, kale, artichokes and some new mint and cilantro plants.

Sampling Mexcian Spinach

 

We love encouraging our students to try new tasting new things and there’s no better opportunity to do this than with freshly grown garden produce. This Mexican spinach is growing profusely near our entrance to the garden – looks so pretty and tastes even better!

New local “Turn” compost business visits Armstrong

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Lake Highlands Master Gardener Lauren Clarke (pictured above with students and two of her team) has set up her own business “Turn” compost – now offering residential and commercial food scrap pick up.

75205 and 75225 residents can now help Armstrong’s school garden flourish! With Turn, your family’s monthly subscription can turn into directly donated supplies and compost to specifically benefit our outdoor classroom. Helping the environment AND Alice’s Garden! Win Win!!

More details here

http://www.turncompost.com

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Your Garden Team & Parent Volunteers now able to sign up on Volunteer Scheduler

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Your 4 Master Gardeners who are ready and raring to go for another new season are Caroline Trotman,(PTA Garden co-chair) Jana Beth Eidson, Jennifer Sorrells (PTA Garden co-chair) and me, Eleanor Wroath (PTA Garden co-chair)

Our parent volunteer coordinator is Noelle Petty.

Parent Volunteers can now sign up easily on the PTA website – just as you might for the cafeteria.

http://www.armstrongpta.com

Please stop by and say hello to us on a Tuesday – we always love visitors and of course, helpers!

 

 

 

Wiggly worms, tea parties, caterpillar hunting, donating 100lb potatoes to local Food Bank and “THANK YOU DR. MORAN”

fullsizeoutput_8d0Caterpillars make us smile!

We work hard in Alice’s Garden to make sure we have lots of butterfly friendly native plants to act as hosts so it always makes us smile when we spot a black swallowtail caterpillar munching away on this rue plant, getting ready to metamorphosize!

There’s a worm at the bottom of the garden….

 

One of the students’ favorite activities this year was our vermi-culture lesson.  Master Gardener Jennifer Sorrells brought in her tub of red wigglers to show the students, which she keeps in her garden at home. She explained how she adds old vegetable and fruit peelings, newspaper, coffee grounds and water to the soil and lets her happy crew of red wigglers decompose it all to create rich ‘black gold’ organic matter for her plants. Recycling at its wiggly best!

Time for tea?

 

Students had a wonderful time at our garden ‘tea party’ over the last two weeks. We made freshly picked mint tea and had a very civilized time. Students had fun  practicing their British accents as they drank from the china cups Master Gardener Caroline Trotman had collected from a recent Dallas Estate Sale.

Pot Pourri and planting seeds for Mother’s Day

 

Students gathered petals from the flowering dianthus down on St John’s Ave which Master Gardeners took away to dry out –  dried lavender and a drop of scented rose oil was mixed with the dry petals to make beautiful sachets of pot pourri for students to give to someone special on Mother’s Day.  4th Graders had the  opportunity to plant seeds in ceramic pots to make similarly attractive gifts.

How many Armstrong boys can you fit in one compost pile?!

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Harvesting 100 lb potatoes for the North Texas Food Bank

Students dug up masses of potatoes from our raised beds which were washed and dried and taken by Master Gardener Caroline Trotman to the North Texas Food Bank.

We also harvested lettuce, carrots and radish which we sampled with ranch dressing.

THANK YOU DR. MORAN

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Dr Moran helping build the garden in 2014

A big shout out and huge thank you to our amazing principal, Dr. Moran who has been such a champion of Alice’s Garden from the beginning. He worked tirelessly with Master Gardeners Jana Beth Eidson and Caroline Trotman to get the project off the ground, back in 2014 and to make it the huge success it is today. He believed in the magical power of  gardening  and had the vision to see it as an exceptional resource for learning across all platforms.  He made that a reality for Armstrong students and a key piece of their elementary experience.  Memories to last a lifetime have been created right here in Alice’s Garden because of that vision. He even watered the entire garden himself over this past spring break as the irrigation system had gone down because of all the garden construction – that’s how much Alice’s Garden means to him personally. We will miss you sorely Dr. Moran and hope you will regularly stop by on the corner of St John’s and Cornell to see the garden continue to flourish and grow.

 

 

From soggy beginnings to harvesting, propagation, planting out, real life cockroaches and more!

Rain stops play

It was a slow start out in Alice’s Garden this spring as Dallas recorded its third wettest February since records began, 120 years ago. We missed a whole month of garden which delayed our plantings for the new season. Master Gardeners and Armstrong Eagles have worked SO hard to catch up and now we are back in business!

Harvesting

We had a LOT of fun harvesting, washing  and eating freshly pulled carrots and radishes which had survived over the winter. “Oh wow! I can see better already” said one enthusiastic carrot munching first grader – “they taste SO good”

We also cleared the beds of the broccoli and cabbages that hadn’t made it through the very cold snaps.

Propagation

Every year the Master Gardeners teach an excellent lesson on propagating our own plants – creating new baby plants from a bigger, mother plant,  which the kids always find fascinating. Ms. Pierce sent me this super picture of the Aloe Vera plant 4th grade propagated last Fall and  have been nurturing ever since on a sunny windowsill in their classroom. As you can see they have been doing a wonderful job!

Planting out potatoes, tomatoes, peas, lettuce, strawberries and planting sunflower seeds

Over the course of various Tuesdays in March, Armstrong Eagles were very busy planting seed potatoes, various seeds (lettuce, carrots, radish, peas) and transplants (strawberries, tomatoes and some melons).  We also planted 5 different varieties of sunflower seeds in the flowerbeds along the wall on St. John’s Drive, below the cafeteria. Each grade planted a different variety and color so by late spring/ early summer we should have a splendid display! We plan to harvest the sunflower heads in the Fall and save the seeds for next spring, reinforcing  life cycle lessons.

 

KIDS LOVE COMPOSTING!!!

I have to tell you that every time we get out in the garden, these kids LOVE to work the  compost pile. Digging, turning the earth over, mining for ‘black gold’ to help our plants grow by adding pure organic matter to help amend our heavy, black clay soil.

“Bug Ladies” are a huge creepy, crawly hit

For the second year running, we have been exceptionally fortunate to have Master Naturalists Judy Meagher and Elaine Ackley come spend the day at Armstrong to lead sessions on insects and to educate us all on just how beneficial insects can be to a garden and to our wider ecosystem as a whole. The kids absolutely love this experience though some draw the line at stroking a cockroach!

 

 

Ladybug release

Following on from our “Bug Lady” visit, children released lots of ladybugs into the raised vegetable beds to encourage them to eat any unwanted aphid visitors who might be damaging our crops.

 

Winter news from Alice’s Garden

Armstrong’s very own “Project Mulberry”

I hope you are all enjoying “Project Mulberry”  as much as we are in our house,  for One School One Book week. Who remembers that we have our very own beautiful mulberry tree growing right next to Alice’s Garden?! Here are some pictures which were taken last spring of students enjoying picking mulberries fresh from the tree.. and another showing how it looks right now in the depths of winter. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have our own silkworm project right here at Armstrong? Let’s make it happen!

Frostweed

Ever wanted to know why our beautiful, butterfly attracting, native Texan plant (“the bluebonnet of winter”)  is actually called Frostweed — just look at this fantastic picture Mrs. Trotman took this week from our butterfly garden and you’ll see why……

When wintry weather brings the ice, the frostweed stems exude water which freeze into these crazy shapes!

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Butterflies, Bulbs and more

Last week saw us wrap up our final classes for this growing season out in Alice’s Garden.  Students have been working so hard and learning so much and we have been blessed with some lovely cool Fall weather.

Master Gardener, Miss Jana Beth, metamorphosized into a butterfly herself as she taught first graders all about the life cycle of the Monarch caterpillar!  Students learnt how fortunate we are to live here in Dallas, as we are right on the migration path of the Monarch butterfly as it flies south to Mexico for the colder months.  We have worked very hard at Armstrong, building up our butterfly garden with particular plants like milkweed and frostweed to specifically attract the Monarch butterflies so they will lay their eggs here.  We are now an officially recognized Monarch WaySation!

 

 

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Milkweed and resident Monarch caterpillar

 

 

As the temperature had dropped, we were a little disappointed to not see many monarch butterflies on our designated ‘butterfly’ lesson day,  (though we saw countless in previous weeks) but to everyone’s excitement, we saw a preying mantis making its home and (hopefully) laying eggs in our butterfly garden!

 

 

Soil and Bulbs

The last two weeks of classes saw younger students learning all about soil and just how difficult it is to grow things here in Texas because of its high clay content. Kindergarteners and 1st graders helped ready the flowerbeds for bulb planting by pulling out the pentas,  which have flowered so beautifully all summer long but will not make it past the first freeze. They then mulched and improved the soil with new compost:

 

2nd through 4th grade worked incredibly hard digging holes and planting tulip and daffodil bulbs all around Alice’s Garden itself and by the large flowerbed along St. John’s en route to the cafeteria.  We can’t wait to see what this colorful display will look like come the spring.

Harvest Time!

Of course, the most fun part of Alice’s Garden lesson time is getting to taste the produce fresh from the garden.  We harvested radishes, lettuce and spinach served up with a delicious splash of ranch dressing. Lots of remarks were made about the more aromatic, peppery lettuce that has grown well this year — some students loved it– others were definitely NOT so keen!