October in the School Garden

Cool, wet days and nights with temperatures below freezing become regular in October in the high desert. All but a few of the plants in your school garden have began decomposing, either in their beds or in your compost depending on what clean up method you chose. Moving garden activities inside the classroom or greenhouse will be tempting, and maybe necessary if there is an early snow. Despite the cold weather there are still some great opportunities for getting outside this fall!

October Garden Activities

Practicing Season Extension

Despite our short growing season and cold nights, with some season extension practices you can grow cool weather crops into early winter! Season extension is any practice that allows a crop to be grown outside of its usual season. Some examples of season extension methods are growing in high tunnels or greenhouses, using plastic mulches, and employing the help of row covers. The season extension techniques you might want to use on a small scale and in your school garden, are row covers and plastic mulch.

To create a row cover, you only need spun bond reemay cloth, available at most farm stores as well as online. When nighttime temperatures hit 32 degrees Fahrenheit, drape the cloth over your vegetables and secure it every few feet on either side of the row with sandbags or rocks. Reemay is a good investment for a high desert school garden, as it can be used season after season and has many functions such as insect protection and shade in the hot summer months. If you want a more permanent and slightly more effective row cover, purchase PVC hoops and create a hoop row over your garden bed, then drape the reemay over the hoops and secure on the sides. Reemay is a good investment because it can be used season after season if you use it gently and it can also be effective as insect protection and shade in the hot summer months.seasonality-chart-hdffa

Plastic mulch will keep your soil warmer than if it is left bare or covered with an organic mulch. The soil beneath the plastic will warm up faster in the spring, and stay warmer into the fall, extending your growing season! Clear plastic captures more of the sun’s heat than black plastic, but can also promote weed growth. Black plastic is generally the best choice for a plastic mulch. Using black landscape fabric can also capture more heat and keep down weeds in your garden, while landscape fabric does not raise soil temperatures as high as black plastic, it is still an effective season extension method. If you are trying to grow warm season crops like tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, eggplant, or okra black plastic mulch is a must.

Some crops that do particularly well in high desert fall are carrots and kale. Check out this seasonal harvest chart created by the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance for ideas of what to grow for fall in Central Oregon.

Store Equipment

Don’t get caught off guard when snow hits! Having to do last minute equipment clean up in the snow can lead to a disorganized tool shed. Make sure that all tools and equipment are stored for the winter, and no stray trowels or garden stakes are laying in beds. If you are working with older students or volunteers, tool conditioning can be a good activity. Gently sand and oil all wooden tools, you can purchase wood oil that is food safe (and safe for kids!) at your local hardware store. Have seed that you plan on using next year? Store it in an airtight plastic container. No matter how secure you think your seeds are, rodents will get to them without a thick plastic barrier.

Host a Garden Clean Up Daygloves

Need some extra hands to turn the compost, glean the last of the harvest, and mulch the perennial beds? Ask your community to help! Hosting a garden cleanup day can be a rewarding event for both your garden and your volunteers. Invite your school and neighborhood community to help you with some larger scale tasks, and reward them with seeds, snacks, and hands-on garden education! Make sure to bring a volunteer sign up sheet with you to recruit community members for future volunteer events. If you can find a waterproof, portable speaker, some garden tunes can give an energetic atmosphere to your work party.

October 30 minute lesson

This lesson can be done indoors or outside, depending on how warm your October day is. Have you noticed interesting seed pods around your neighborhood or school? Collect them! You can use those seeds for this lesson as well as discussing life cycles and reproduction.

Seed Ya Later                                                                                                       Grades 2-6

In this lesson students explore seeds and learn about how they are adapted for travel. They then search around the garden or other outdoor areas for examples of seeds that travel in different ways.


To understand how seeds’ adaptations aid them in traveling away from their parent plants; and to classify seeds based on their dispersal mechanisms, or the structures that allow them to travel.


  • A variety of seeds that travel in different ways. Examples include:
    • Soaring seeds: Ash, elm, linden, maple, dandelion, milkweed, goldenrod, thistle, columbine
    • “Velcro” seeds: Any burr that gets stuck in your sock in a grassy field. (Note: A great way to collect these is to put a large old sock over your shoe, and take a walk through a meadow.)
    • Edible seeds: Seeds inside of fruits and nuts
    • Floating seeds: Palm, water lilies, coconuts
    • Explosive Seeds: Seeds that spring away from their parent plants, like impatiens, sweet peas, lupines, California poppies, and pansies
  • 1 large sheet of paper for each pair of students
  • 1 bin full of water
  • Magnifying glasses for all students


  1. Collect a variety of seeds, including at least one soaring, one “Velcro,” one edible, one floating, and one explosive variety, so that each pair will have 5-8 varieties. (Note: If a floating seed is difficult to find, a coconut from the grocery store or a photo of one will also work.)
  2. Prepare an envelope with a variety of seeds for each pair of students, including at least one soaring, one “Velcro,” one edible, one floating, and one explosive seed.

Teacher Background

Seeds come in an incredible variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Coconuts can be as heavy as 18 kilograms (40 pounds), and the seeds of snapdragons are almost like dust. Dandelion seeds float through the air, and walnuts may be carried away and buried by squirrels. For all of their differences, seeds have this in common: They all have adaptations that allow them to disperse and reestablish, ensuring the plant’s survival.

During this activity, students will be classifying seeds that have been gathered from the kitchen and from plants in your area. If you collect seeds from natural areas for this lesson, please collect only a small fraction of the available seed from each species so that there are enough for the plant to continue to reproduce.

Class Discussion

Together with a partner, make a list of all of the ways you can think of that humans travel. Make the list as long as you can! What are some of the ways humans travel? Have students share their answers. Ask for them to share means of travel they don’t think any other groups might have thought of, like dog sleds or hot-air balloons.

Now we’re going to talk about how seeds travel. A seed has a baby plant inside it, and for that baby plant to grow, it needs to land in a place where it will receive water and nutrients from the soil, and where it won’t have too much competition from other plants for these basic resources. Since a parent plant can drop thousands of seeds at a time, many seeds will need to end up at some distance from their parent plant to survive. But seeds can’t walk! So how do you suppose they are able to travel away from their parent plant?

Seeds travel in a variety of ways. Some soar on the wind. Has anyone ever blown a dandelion flower and watched the seeds fly away? (demonstrate). Some float on water (float an example on water). Some have little hooks that allow them to stick to the fur of animals that are passing by. These seeds fall off much later in faraway places. Has anyone ever had a seed stuck to their sock? (show an example). Did you know that Velcro was, in fact, invented in 1941 by a Swiss engineer named George de Mestral, who was inspired by the seeds stuck in his dog’s fur after a hunting trip? He looked carefully at the hook-and-loop design of the seeds and fur, and mimicked this natural model to make Velcro!

Still other seeds travel by being stored or eaten by a bird or other animal, and then being deposited somewhere else. Has anyone ever seen a squirrel bury a nut somewhere? Or has anyone seen a bird eat a berry and then deposit it (or poop it out) in another location? Did you realize that that bird might have been planting a berry bush?

Still other plants disperse their seeds by ejecting them forcefully so that they fall well away from their parent plant. When a sweet pea pod dries in the sun, for example, it opens up in a tight spiral, pushing the seeds away. Note: You can show students a very engaging 3-minute video of seeds dispersing at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buZV0h4vfmQ or by searching YouTube for David Attenborough Seeds.

Today each of you will get an envelope full of seeds. With a partner, you’ll look carefully at the seeds and then classify them based on how you think they travel.


  1. Get students into teams of two.
  2. Have each pair of students fold a large piece of paper in half, and then into thirds, creating six sections. Have them write the following words, one in each section: Soaring, Velcro, Edible, Floating, Explosive, and Unknown.
  3. Hand each pair of students an envelope of seeds. Have them look at the seeds carefully and put each one in the box in the section of their paper where they think it belongs. They can throw the seeds in the air to see if they fly; stick them to their socks; try to float them on the water in the bin, and do further investigations. But they should not taste any of the seeds! Remind them that any given seed might travel in more than one way.
  4. Ask pairs to share how they think each seed travels, and what evidence they used. Discuss as a whole class.
  5. Take a walk around the garden and other outdoor environments and collect seeds. Look carefully at each one to guess how it might travel.

Wrap Up

What kinds of structures help seeds travel? Which seeds do you think are able to travel the farthest? Why? How do you think habitat impacts seed adaptations? (In areas with a lot of water, more plants make floating seeds; in areas with high winds, more plants have seeds that can soar on the wind).

Digging Deeper

Have student pairs design their own seeds with various adaptations that would help them travel, and share with the class.

Recycle right, now more than ever

Check out this article we recently published on our Rethink Waste Project website.

By now you’ve probably heard of China’s impacts on US recycling markets through their more stringent recycled material standards. Due to increasing environmental awareness in China, they are cracking down on imports of scrap material by refusing contaminated loads and potentially banning certain materials outright.  This program, called ‘The National Sword’, is a strong message to the United States to clean up the material stream. What does it mean for you? Keep recycling, but recycle right.

Here in Central Oregon, the mixed recyclables collected from your curb are baled up and sent to a Material Recovery Facility, where they are sorted. “MRF’s”, using machinery and people power, sort and separate what they can. Fans blow paper, magnets attract metals, and people pick through everything else along a conveyer belt that moves at a pretty good clip. These MRF’s are slowing down their lines so they can do a better job of removing contamination (like plastic bags). While this process slows down, the recyclables keep coming in at their regular rate. Because of this back log and limited space, some MRFs have applied to Oregon DEQ to permit dumping their recyclables into a landfill for temporary relief. DEQ released a statement regarding this issue, along with a FAQ here. The Oregon Refuse & Recycling Association (ORRA) also issued a release and a fact sheet on what China’s actions mean for recycling, and Portland Metro has written about how the global market shift will change drop-off recycling in Portland.

If those facilities are granted permission by DEQ to landfill recyclables, it is still viewed as a temporary measure.  Our recycling is still being baled locally and sent to the valley to a MRF for recycling, and we should continue to recycle, regardless of whether or not those permits are issued. However, what we should stop doing is putting things in there that don’t belong there.

Now is an opportunity to make sure your household, office, school and anywhere else you regularly go, are educated and up to speed about what can go in the bin.  What is accepted here has not changed in a long time, but whether you are a wishful recycler or a new resident, everyone would benefit from a refresher. Here’s a quick break down:

  • PLASTICS: Like we tell kids in our school presentations, “bottles tubs and jugs” can be recycled here. If it’s not one of those, it doesn’t go in your mixed recycling bin! It doesn’t matter if it has a recycling symbol on it – virtually all plastic products do, it just tells us what kind it is. (Check out more of our Recycling FAQ’s here).
  • PAPER: Paper, paperboard and cardboard are recyclable. If it has to be lined with something to keep liquids in (or out), it can’t be recycled (picture that paper shredded up and continuing to repel water at a paper mill). Examples of unrecyclable paper include coffee cups, milk cartons, frozen food boxes, and most paper plates.
  • METAL: Cans, pie plates, and clean tin foil are recyclable. All other scrap metal can be recycled at the landfill, but please don’t put it in your mixed recycle cart.
  • GLASS: Yes, glass jars and bottles, but absolutely they must be in the separate container that is provided.

While recycling requires a lot of energy, it is still so so so much less then extracting virgin material from the earth to make new stuff. So yes, keep recycling. But recycle right. We have signs to help you. Then, go beyond recycling to waste prevention. It is much more important, from an environmental life cycle point of view, to be thinking not just about where something goes, but rather where it came from and all those associated impacts.

The most direct way we can take control of this is to do our weekly shopping with waste prevention in mind. Reuse bread bags to buy loose lettuce instead of a buying the lettuce mix in  plastic containers. Use a cloth bag for apples so you can forgo the plastic molded 12-pack of apples. Weigh glass jars at the register before filling up on bulk items like grains. Use waxed cloth instead of plastic wrap to wrap leftovers. And keep your office, car, or bike pannier stocked with a coffee mug, a water bottle and a bag. Start with those and your recycling bin, and all the people who have to deal with it along the way, will thank you.

Green Spotlight: Cascade Financial Strategies

Last week, we met with Jack Schniepp and Neal Richards at Cascade Financial Strategies. This duo is located in an office near the Old Mill, and extends financial planning and investment management services to all of Central Oregon. CFS occupies a unique niche in our community – one that not only sets them apart from other financial planners, but also lands them in our Green Spot Directory!

If you’re unfamiliar with Socially Responsible Investing (SRI), here’s a quick breakdown. SRI is an investment strategy that analyzes investments on their social merits in addition to their return and economic merits. CFS is the only firm in Central Oregon that is a member of the US/SIF, The Forum for Sustainable and Responsible Investment. This means they’re able to help clients choose investments that align with their values – whether that’s around company ethics, environmental issues, human rights, or more. During our discussion, Jack emphasized that this type of strategy can generate long-term financial returns AND positive societal impact. In today’s world, you don’t have to sacrifice one for the other; it can be a true win-win.

Over the course of his career, Jack said that he’s seen an increased interest in SRI throughout our community, which is reflective of what’s happening on a national and even international scale. To share what they’ve learned, Jack and Neal maintain a really great resource in the form of a blog at SRIbend.com, which shares educational information on this investment strategy.

The story of Jack’s approach to investment management is a really great one. His children, teenagers at the time, really enjoyed chocolate bars. Eventually the topic of fair trade and non-fair trade practices was brought up, specifically around chocolate brands and where the cocoa came from. Jack found himself under scrutiny from his kids in regards to which companies he engaged with on behalf of his clients. So he began researching SRI to see if this made sense for his clients – and for the world, too. This sparked a new interest and passion, and it didn’t take long for Jack to become an expert on what is now called ‘impact investing.’ In 2013, Jack left Wells Fargo to work independently and start CFS.

I had a lot of fun chatting with Jack and Neal, and it was apparent they both value a sustainable lifestyle and a healthy community. I was excited to learn that Jack commutes to work via bicycle, and Neal gets around (and transports his kids) via a pretty impressive electric scooter. Check this thing out!

If you’re interested in learning more about this local Green Spot, and about SRI, Jack will be holding a seminar here at The Environmental Center on Thursday, November 16th @ 4pm. (RSVP here) During the workshop, Jack will walk attendees through an impact assessment. This tool can tell you how well your current portfolio matches your own personal values, and which companies or investments you own that don’t line up with SRI guidelines. If you’d like to check this out for yourself in advance, you can also sign up for an impact assessment on the CFS website.

Stay tuned for more Green Spot blogs, where we’ll highlight sustainable, local businesses in our community.

Three-bin Composting Tips


At The Environmental Center, we have a variety of composting systems, and they each have pros and cons. The 3-bin system is useful primarily because it offers space to have compost at 3 different stages of decomposition. For example, you could put all your compost in one bin for a period of time — then stop adding to it, and start adding to a second bin while the first one finishes decomposing. After time, you would move on to the third bin (and likely harvest compost from the first bin around the same time). Check out the video above to see our 3-bin system in action!

In our Kansas Ave. Learning Garden, instead of rotating through all 3 bins, we use one of those for leaf storage every fall. This makes adding dry carbon material to a bin very easy, and we try to do this after adding in fresh kitchen compost every time. This helps give the compost a nice balance of “brown” and “green” (carbon and nitrogen) materials, which is required for a healthy compost.

The other thing that’s required for a healthy compost is a healthy environment for decomposers. Be sure to add water to your pile so it doesn’t dry out, especially during the hot summer months. An easy way to do this is to fill the rest of your kitchen compost container with water before you walk it out to add to your compost. This has the added benefit of helping to get the gunk off the bottom of your kitchen pail. Or, rinse out the pail out after you dump it (depending on your water source this may mean two trips out to your compost bin).

The third key to having a healthy environment for decomposers is to make sure they get oxygen. Stirring or turning the bin regularly helps, as does regularly adding a couple larger items like sunflower stalks to help keep some holes open in the compost pile. Just be mindful, as too much woody debris can dry out your pile and potentially separate the top of the pile from the bottom, which prohibits healthy decomposition. In our environment, it also helps to add red wiggler worms to these kinds of bins, and they do a lot of that ‘stirring’ for you. Read more info on worm composting.

Once the compost is ready, spread it on as many garden beds as possible, usually in the spring and fall. Here’s a photo blog to demonstrate how to harvest that finished product. Happy fall!!

VIDEO: Fall Clean-up in the Garden

It’s cooling off in Central Oregon and our growing season is coming to a close. What does that mean for my garden? What tasks should I be thinking about (before the snow comes)? Our Garden Manager Denise addresses this common question! Don’t forget to email us your sustainability-related questions so that we can address them during a future episode of Enviro Answers.

Update: Garden For Every School

Since our Garden For Every School launch back in June, we have made some exciting strides. For starters, we have hired our stellar FoodCorps Service Member, Claire Londagin, who is assisting schools throughout our community. Claire, a native Oregonian, came to us with a background in sustainable agriculture and food systems. She is already digging in – literally and figuratively.

Achieving our vision requires a multi-faceted approach that provides several types of support for teachers, schools and gardens. Here’s an update as we head into fall!

Strategy: Provide Technical Assistance

Claire recently began working with the Three Rivers Wellness Committee to provide technical assistance in their quest for an indoor mobile garden. She’s been researching a range of options, from DIY It to Buy It.

Claire is returning to the Sisters School District (they had a FoodCorps Service Member last year, as well) to provide classroom education, Garden Club support, and fresh food cafeteria tastings. This week she is also leading farm based lessons at Seed to Table Farm during the annual field trip program.

Next week, Claire will begin supporting the Bear Creek Garden Club. During the month of October, she will help out with their new Friday afternoon elective program, and may provide technical assistance to their garden as needed.

Strategy: District Support

Back in the office, Claire has been working on compiling a new working document – Best Practices for A School Garden which is now available on our website. This supports our desire to assist school gardens in being well-designed with an eye towards long-term sustainability. To that end, we have also started to work with the Bend LaPine School District to develop a school garden application process. This would help ensure that if a garden is started within the district, everyone is on the same page to facilitate long-term viability.

Strategy: Garden Grants

We are excited to support local schools in Central Oregon with small grant funding from $500 to $1,500 to build, support or expand indoor or outdoor school gardens. Applicants can now apply online. Deadline for these grants is November 17, 2017.

Strategy: Central Oregon Garden Educator Network

We recently expanded our network at the High Desert Museum’s “Teachers Night Out” event, where several enthusiastic educators signed up for our Garden Educator Network mailing list. Our fall gathering is set for Tuesday, October 10th at Elk Meadow Elementary School garden, 4:30 – 6:30pm.

Here at our own Kansas Avenue Learning Garden, we had over 300 hours of volunteers help throughout the season. In addition, we achieved 140 student contacts through our partnership with OSU Extension Nutrition Education Program, where kids learned to make recipes using fresh food from the garden. We also continued our programming with the Boys & Girls Club. Produce that the club did not eat was donated to either The Family Kitchen or HDFFA’s Grow & Give food donation program. In addition, we hosted 7 classroom field trips (almost 200 students!) and weekly visits from Amity Creek Elementary this fall.

Since school started, we have seen students walk over from Amity Creek Elementary School for garden tasks, to explore sunflowers, and to document observations in science journals. We’ve also been hosting fall field trips with Highland, Elk Meadow (they took public transportation, with the help of Commute Options!) and Buckingham Elementary School.

We’d like to thank all of our funding partners who have helped support not only our own Kansas Ave. Learning Garden, but also our vision of a Garden For Every School. Special thank you to Whole Foods-Bend, “Garden Steward,” for supporting us through the 5% Day and bag donation program last quarter. This support was key to launching our Garden initiative! Thank you to Saginaw Sunset and Next Level Burger, our “Bed Caretakers” who also invested in this program. And special thanks to The Bank of The Cascades Foundation for awarding us a grant. We are very grateful to ALL of the individuals and businesses who supported our garden program this summer. Each and every one of you helped us launch this new vision – we couldn’t have done it without your help!

Green Tour Highlights Positive Solutions to Save Energy in Central Oregon

In Central Oregon, fall means getting cozy and visiting forward-thinking and energy efficient homes on the Green Tour. For the 17th year in a row, innovative homes across our community are opening their doors and welcoming everyone to come and explore how they are saving energy.

There’s a whole world of solutions out there. We just have to find and implement them. That is what the Green Tour is all about: helping all of us find new ways to save energy at home.

This year, you will be able to tour new homes (finished just this month – Site #3) and old homes (built in 1926 – Site #1). No matter where you on your home journey, whether you’re about to design and build a new home or have lived in the same house for the past 30 years, there is something for all of us to learn (visit site #5 to see a 1970s retrofit).

You’ll get a chance to talk to all sorts of experts: designers, builders, solar contractors, and home performance contractors. They’ll help you find the energy-savings potential in your very own home.

Meet the Experts

Experts you’ll be able to talk to on the Green Tour (in addition to the super knowledgeable homeowners):

This year, you’ll see a big focus on indoor air quality and health. One way to improve indoor air quality is to build an airtight shell which will reduce the outside contaminants that enter your home. This is a must when building an efficient home and ensures all the cracks and crevices for outside air, or even pests, to get into your home are sealed up.

Mechanical Ventilation

When a home is tightly sealed, it is important that occupants still have access to fresh air. This is where energy recovery ventilators (ERV) or heat recovery ventilators (HRV) come in. They bring fresh air into the home and reduce the need to heat or cool the incoming air.

HRVs and ERVs move incoming and outgoing air through a heat exchanger and recover the energy from the air leaving the home. When it is cold outside, they exchange the heat from the warm air leaving the house, to the cold incoming air. When it’s hot outside the fresh incoming hot air, exchanges heat to the cold air leaving the home. An ERV also exchanges humidity.

Check out Green Tour sites 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, and 9 to see an ERV or HRV in action.

Existing homes can also get an air quality upgrade. Air sealing the envelope of a house is a common energy retrofit practice that will also help to improve indoor air quality. In some cases, if tests show that the home has been made tight enough, mechanical ventilation will be recommended. During an energy assessment, contractors will also perform radon and carbon monoxide tests and check combustion appliances.

Check out Green Tour site #5 for a home energy retrofit with an ERV.

You can find the full tour details at TheEnergyChallenge.org/tour or pick up a guide and coffee from Strictly Organic at The Environmental Center from 10:00 – 2:00 . The Green Tour runs from 10:00 – 5:00 on Saturday, September 30th.

September in the School Garden

Early fall can be as busy and exciting as spring in the garden. Warm season crops are bursting with fruits, it’s the last chance to complete and clean up summer garden projects, and maintenance tasks like deadheading and removing dying plants demand your attention .

In the school garden, September can be even busier, if not hectic, for educators and school administrators. Without some summer preparation integrating the garden into the classroom early in the school year may be difficult to swing. Despite a full September, making an effort to get students into the garden and outdoor classroom is worth it, as students will have a richer experience seeing the full cycle of plant and earth systems present in the garden throughout the year. Below are some early fall garden activities that you can do with your students, followed by an early fall lesson for a more involved outdoor experience.

September Garden Activities


Don’t let your produce go to waste! Try and use garden veggies in taste tests in the classroom for snack time, or in the garden during or after an activity. Using produce within a classroom group is a good strategy if your school has a small garden, or if your garden had a low yield.

If this isn’t possible or desirable for your classroom, or you have more than a taste tests worth of produce, offer that food to the nutrition services director at your school! Nutrition services chefs are often able to incorporate small amounts of donated produce into a school meal. The Oregon Department of Education has written a fantastic manual for food safety in the school garden. Using the methods in the manual will help get garden produce into the cafeteria.

If you still have more produce in your garden, local food banks, soup kitchens, food pantries/ shelves, and other free food access points in your community will take even small donations. In Bend, the High Desert Food and Farm Alliance takes donations of produce for their Grow and Give program at the Wednesday Farmers Market. Kids are compassionate and growing food to feed others can give them a sense of pride in their gardening. Creating a goal of produce donation early on can give garden activities a real world  purpose and create motivation amongst students.

Dead Heading and Cleaning 

As the month wears on, food production and harvest slows, especially due to our cold high desert nights. Dry and spent plants and flowers make the garden less visually appealing, and leaving clean, well prepared, and organized garden beds can make for a prepared spring. Dead heading flowers opens a great opportunity for seed saving activities. Here is a great how-to on seed saving in the school garden from Life Lab, as well as many educator resources for seed related garden activities!

While cleaning out the garden in the fall has many benefits, taking a messier approach might fit your outdoor classroom better. Leaving heads on flowers and withering plants in the ground, while creating more volunteer sunflowers than you desire, can attract birds and other wildlife and create learning and curriculum opportunities beyond growing food. Observing birds and wildlife can continue throughout the winter with those resources left in the garden. A happy medium can exist as well: Clean out and do seed exploring and saving activities in some garden beds, leave others wild for animals to use!

Planting Garlic 

One of the few crops that produces better if allowed to grow through winter, is garlic. Garlic can be planted either in the spring or the fall, both should be harvested from late July to mid August. Spring garlic will yield smaller heads and cloves. With some luck, fall garlic will grow to the size of grocery store garlic cloves! Aside from a little winter mulching, garlic is a relatively low maintenance crop that will not be pillaged by wildlife.

Unlike most cultivated plants, garlic cannot be propagated by seed. Through millennia of plant breeding humans have unintentionally selected for infertility in garlic seeds. Thus garlic can only be propagated by planting garlic cloves directly in the ground. It is best to order garlic cloves from a seed catalog that will grow well in your region, but you can buy a head from your local supermarket and try that out too! There are lots of good seed companies out there. I recommend High Mowing and FedCo because they supply 100% organic seed. Seed Savers Exchange is a non-profit dedicated to preserving our food crops genetic diversity check them out as well! Additionally, reach out to seed companies in your region, as many seed companies have community and school garden donation programs.


September 30 minute Lesson

Want to facilitate a more involved lesson in the garden? Soil is a great place to start, no matter what your focus will be in the outdoor classroom. This lesson from Life Lab introduces students to the complexities and importance of healthy soil.

Sensory Soil Space Travelers                                                                                Grades 2-5

In this garden based Life Lab lesson,Students work in small groups as space travelers trying to decipher the composition of soil.


To explore the composition of various soils.

Teacher Background

Soil is something all of us take for granted. However, it is one of the necessary life-sustaining ingredients of our planet. And soil is exciting! It varies dramatically within a small area. When students explore the surface soil (topsoil) they will discover many living things, including roots, earthworms, and insects. In addition, the topsoil contains humus (the high nutrient component of the soil that is formed by decayed organic matter) and rock particles. As students dig deeper, the soil composition changes. Soil formation is a very slow process. Each inch (2.5 cm) of topsoil requires more than 100 years to form, by the processes of weathering and decomposition. Weathering, caused by rain, wind, freezing and thawing, glaciers, and plants, breaks down rocks into tiny particles — the inorganic part of the soil. Bacteria, fungi, and other living things slowly decompose nutrients, such as leaves and twigs, recycling them into humus — the organic matter in soil. Soil is alive: More than 100 billion microorganisms live in a pound (0.45 kg) of soil.


❀ Two trowels per team of three

❀ One hand lens per team

❀ Tweezers

❀ Newspaper

❀ Science journals

Class Discussion

Ask students to close their eyes. Read the following in your most alien voice: Imagine that we are scientists from the planet Zog, journeying to planet Earth on the Starship Zogma. We have been chosen to make an important journey. The people of Zog are growing tired of raiding other planets for food, and want to find out how to grow our own food. Our astronomers have detected a faraway planet called Earth, which appears to be covered in green plants. Our computers have analyzed the reason for this and it appears to be a combination of sun, water, air, and a brownish-gray substance called “soil.” On Zog we have plenty of sun, water, and air, but no soil covering the rocky ground. It is difficult for us to believe that all their food comes from this substance. Our mission as scientists is to find this material called “soil,” dissect it, and record each and every ingredient for our computer. This will allow us to learn the secret of this material so we can make soil back on planet Zog. Upon landing we will break into groups of three scientists, with two soil dissectors and a recorder in each team. Each team will use the specially designed tools that our engineers have created just for this purpose. Remember: It is crucial to the success of our mission that each and every substance found in the soil be recorded. Good luck to all of you. Long Live Planet Zog!


  1. Divide students into groups of three and give each team a trowel, some newspaper, and a hand lens. Have them explore soil in different areas of the garden and schoolyard by digging up a trowel full and placing it on the newspaper. Have two students in each group dissect the soil, identifying each substance found. Have the third student in each group record the soil ingredients in his or her journal.
  2. Upon completion of the task, ask teams to compare and contrast the soils they investigated. Ask them to report for the class the ingredients of their soil. Have the groups discuss the ingredients they found: crushed rocks, crumpled leaves, twigs, bugs, sand, and so on. Many groups will list among their ingredients “dirt” or “brown stuff.” Challenge them to figure out what the brown stuff is. The simplest answer: It’s just smaller pieces of all the other ingredients.
  3. Assign some of the listed ingredients to each team and ask them to return with a small quantity of each ingredient.
  4. Upon their return, challenge teams to use the raw ingredients to manufacture soil by scraping rocks together, breaking twigs apart, and so on. When the frustration level of the students is reached, ask them whether or not soil can be made by hand. Why not? Explain that each inch (2.5 cm) of topsoil requires more than 100 years to form, by the processes of weathering and decomposition. Our hands and tools cannot equal the power of weathering and decomposers! Also, soil is alive, with more than 100 billion microorganisms living in a pound (0.45 kg) of soil, in addition to the roots, insects, worms, and other living things we can see in the soil. There is no recipe that could duplicate this substance so full of life and so necessary for life!

Wrap Up

Will the supercomputer on planet Zog be able to manufacture soil? How is soil important to Earthlings’ lives? Could Earthlings make more soil if we lose what we have to erosion or pollution? Is soil alive? How? Do all materials in soil decompose at the same rate? What do earthworms do for the soil?

Energy Saving Tips for Schools and Homes

Check out these energy-saving tips from the energy heroes at Bear Creek!

Lights out

Turning off lights when not in use saves energy and money. A simple note by the switch often does the trick! It’s a common myth that turning off CFL lights (compact fluorescent lights) will result in more energy loss when they have to be turned back on. As long as lights are off for 5 seconds or more, energy is saved, not consumed. Switching out incandescent bulbs on desk lamps can result in huge energy savings. Incandescent bulbs only utilize 10% of their total energy use to give off light, the other 90% produces heat!

Power down

Forget the old adage that leaving your computer on prolongs its life. If you’re planning on walking away from your desk, printer, or copier for more than 20 minutes, it saves to turn it off.


Many computers and appliances still draw a small amount of energy when left plugged in after they are turned off. Often called “vampire loads” or “leaking electricity,” when the amount of appliances in a school are considered, the energy cost adds up quickly. Unplugging is the answer!


Many schools are rethinking some of their biggest energy draws — vending machines, mini fridges, and microwaves. Though they may prove convenient, the amount of energy used to keep them powered 24/7 may override the benefits. Another advantage of no vending machines? Students make healthier food and drink choices.

Become a “Sustainability Captain” at your school

Oregon Green Schools — At schools across Oregon, students, teachers and staff are making a difference in their communities with programs to recycle, reduce waste, save energy and conserve water.

Oregon Green Schools is helping with:
*Hands-on assistance
*Curriculum and funding resources
*Recognition and events

Helpful links for more information: