Thursday, January 29, 2009

aloe roots take hold

Sure tree roots can crack foundations, however, I would rather have this happen in my classroom so that the students can have a demonstration of how searching roots can penetrate even styrofoam.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Hanging baskets... a basket with a view

Can't say I have produced the most amazing baskets at the school, but I have some hopes yet again for this year. Then, I saw what an amateur I am, when I searched through the LIFE magazine photos now at Google images. I know I searched two keywords, one being 1963, the other, I think, garden. But a new record was set today as we cranked out five batches of bread resulting in 8 loaves and 48 rolls. Today... a mixture of rosemary, sage, and thyme.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

weaknesses--- memory and record keeping

You would think that someone who has a poor memory, would keep good records, well I don't. That is have a good memory or keep good records, but reading garden blogs helps me to improve in many areas.

So, if you are the person (I found it) who blogged about Folia, thanks. Folia is to gardeners as Ravelry is to knitters, so says my wife who belongs to the latter and recently looked over my shoulder when I was at Folia.

Over at the school on Friday I decided to do some veggie planting. Spurred on by a blogger obsessed with tomatoes, I directed a student to put the tomato seed stash into order by DAYS and then we planted just a few seeds of three varieties. To see my varieties check out my Folia garden. I think this may be the way to go to finally keep records. Yes, I know that this is a cloud that could blow away in the future, but I will take that chance. I am jotting down the tasks we get done each day and will use it to track our plantings.

I was recently asked by a student and his teacher if I needed any help during my prep period. When he came over on Friday, I had him planting some spinach seeds. I need to get the greenhouse active. That's another post.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

spending time with the aloes and their descendents

The last two weeks we have been potting up our aloe plants (equal parts of sand, vermiculite and compost). The aloes came as most plants arrive in my classroom ... donations or we borrow a piece when someone asks us to repot one of their plants, or we grow it from seed. The latter has not been the case of the aloes. So, when I decided to sell some aloes this week to folk around the school, I was curious to see how much a person who buys plants would pay (please don't hate me for my roomful of plants which came by way of seed or donation). A very non-exhaustive search found that I was in the wrong line of business. Artificial aloes get a much better price. I was amazed at how cheap the real plants were, but then thought about how they self propagate.

The aloe above is looking rather healthy. To keep all my aloes this green I need to rotate them away from the light stands to the sun, which I accomplish by placing them into our one south facing window (and they stay green as long as they are not touching the window on cold winter nights). As this page of info indicates, they do not like to be in subfreezing temps. The aloes below were my introduction to their diversity, a wonderful discovery.

My main concern for the aloes is over watering and plants in two of the pots showed some sign that we had over watered. Some rotted roots, some black areas on leaves, and that stress may be why they were the only aloes in the room that had scale insects. We scraped off the pests, then cut off the sad looking parts when we potted. We also did a test spraying to see if the insecticidal soap would damage the aloe. For now they are isolated from the rest of the healthy plants. As far as the healing powers of Aloe ... I am convinced and use the inner juices to touch up any time I burn myself in an unmindful moment.

I wish I would have a sunny place for one in my house, so I can buy one of my own plants

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

a different type of day

In twenty plus years of teaching, I have never had the TV on as much as I had today. Options were given to do plant type things, but until the big event was over, we all sat and watched. One rule was rigorously enforced... no bashing the other side.

I don't think I have ever watched an inauguration before.

May those who are feeling hope, cling to it for the rest of their lives.

It is a great thing.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

perseverance--- can't do without it... some randomly connected thoughts

I once read a gardening essay (don't ask, I have memory issues) in which the author spoke of how it is so important to persevere. The point being that even if the good folk over at Longwood Gardens took a break, in no time at all even my gardens would look better. It takes energy, and a constant flow of it, to keep things from falling into chaos. Entropy wins and nature takes over from the order us gardeners think we have established.

Students tested my patience at times this week. Making the same mistake two days in a row, being sent to do a job and not following through on how I wanted it done, not learning a new task as quickly as I would like.... It takes energy and awareness to react in a way that will be helpful. It is easier to flow into chaos, though harder to escape from it. One must persevere no matter which route is taken. The student's reaction when I am leading the event towards chaos can be a wake-up call. "Do I really want a power struggle?" Add energy and try to flow back to some sort of order.

I grew up having a backyard that ended in a farmer's field and also had a dairy farm and store in the family (where we celebrated Thanksgiving and where I learned to highly favor black raspberry ice cream). It didn't take my attempts at growing food crops to marvel at the perseverance of farmers, but it didn't lesson my respect for those who feed us.

My students have to persevere through my presence in the classroom and the jazz that often flows through the air because of it. Before the conversion to jazz, I listened to folk music. I randomly picked a cassette this morning and heard this song by Nanci Griifith which she wrote in the mid-80's but could have been written at many times about the life of a farm family.

The high point of the week goes to the perseverance of this amaryllis. A photo I took, just in case. You see a student was given this bulb as a gift and brought it to my class to plant. She was late in getting back to the school, but when she arrived back this week, I remembered quickly (the memory problem is not yet pervasive) and we walked to the window sill to see the lingering blooms. It is not always us that persevere.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

feeding birds, feeding students

I walk into the student kitchen classroom, pickup a microwave and walk towards the door. A remark about me being a thief is made but I keep moving telling them to keep quiet. You see there is surplus of microwaves and there are birds to be fed.

We have spent a chunk of the last two days mixing peanut butter with cornmeal and bird seed; and it sure goes easier when the peanut butter is warm.

So I say, "I'll be back in a moment," to The Mighty Assistant and return with a microwave.

Now there is bird feed in a few spots about campus and I will report on what we see along the way.

Later in the day I chatted with a co-worker who helps to feed our students lunch. Our conversation turned to her desire to use our produce in the lunches. I've had this thought, but always thought we don't have enough. Then the middle path flows into my brain... just because you don't grow enough to be the main supplier does that mean you can't supply anything... and we talk some more. Next summer maybe one week the peppers can be donated and herbs can be quite bountiful, and now I think about onions and garlic. This is good. This is moving onward. Students in my classes have tasted our veggies and herbs, but this would give that opportunity to all.

Later in the day an occupational therapist tells me about a possible project, again I fight off reasons to say no and see possibilities. I will report on this project after I talk to the contact I was given.

No brownies this week, however, we made plenty of bread with our dried rosemary. At home I had some toasted on the side of an egg scramble which included potatoes and onions.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mutiny attempt makes me laugh

It started when the Mighty Assistant had an idea and I said "why not." Neither of us knew what a little suggestion box would cause to happen. Mutiny in the ranks.

I see the Human Suggestion Box, who tags along with one of my students, several times a week. As the weather turned colder and we spent more time inside the suggestions began to flow and flow and flow. The students also got caught up in the frenzy.

Long before I knew this man, I had converted the majority of my students into fans of lavender brownies (we have also put lavender into fudge, ice cream, syrup for soda, and a rice pilaf). The Human suggestion Box wanted nothing to do with lavender inside of his food and made many a suggestion to stop the practice, but they were all promptly trashed. So he decided to make a petition to ban the use of lavender brownies. What a foolish friend I have. I have most of the students on my side; plus enough staff that we never fail in selling and eating the brownies. So I laughed and made the brownies again. I don't tend to make them that frequently, however, one must exert one's power.

The suggestion box was a great idea and many have used it for viable and foolish suggestions. Every now and then we sit down and have a few laughs. With a New Year's resolution to follow through on at least ten suggestions, I had a young man, who happens to think gray hair means a teacher is very old, type up the list of the more viable ones, a few of which have been done in years past and some have floated though my brain ...


Watercress (in the buckets once the rice project is over???)


Peas (tried once, deer devoured, but...)

Nut trees (actually it was asked if we could grow a mixed nut tree)

Rice (X)



Apples (more)

Cobra yellow pitcher plants







Cotton (The Mighty Assistant wants this, I offered a one way bus ticket south)


Flower pouches


Sand garden

Paper making

Holly cuttings

Memorial to Dr. Ed

Herbed popcorn

Ant Farm

Worm Farm

Student assigned their own

garden bed or plant

Plant raffle

Chia pets (make our own and sell them)


Pussy willows

Roof garden (could be some liability issues but the roof over my classroom is flat)

Beautify Garden area around front sign of Pathway

Bird feeders

Humming bird feeders

Valentine Day flowers

Old shoes as planters

Rain barrels

Wind chimes

Fish tanks

In the kitchen....

Chocolate covered pretzels

Hot chocolate with LAVENDER

Pepper (hot) bread


Parmesan rosemary bread

Hot sauce

Strudel (I was trained by my grandmother)

Field trips...


Longwood garden

Citizens bank Park (where the Philadelphia Phillies play)

Friday, January 9, 2009

paddies, spines, dragons, under water sprouts, and an amazing seedling

On Wednesday I told the students, "Keep busy I need to get this seed order done already." So the Mighty Assistant herded them into cleaning and straightening up tasks and I threw out a few words every now and then.

Then we got bopping the last two days:

The Human Suggestion Box (more on this character in the next post) wanted to grow rice. I explained some logistical problems but he persevered and found a website describing how one can grow rice in buckets. He once suggested that we talk New Year's resolutions. I said, "I will do ten of the suggestions." One down and it is only the second week of January (seed suggestions don't count or I would be done already.) Most of the brown rice sank, some floated and looks more like white rice now.

The first day back after winter break a student brought me a cactus in a small pot, so we repotted the thing. I was doing OK being a poor role model (not using gloves) till it began to topple and my reflexes out performed the logical thought processes in my brain. Apparently I got all the spines out except the one in my right index finger. OH well.

Dragon number 1.... Madagascar Dragon Tree. Many of the house plants in my classroom have come by way of gift or donation. This Dracaena marginata came way of a gift basket, which my wife received several years ago. It now stands 3'-3" tall and it is hard to imagine it being with 5 other plants in a relatively small container (including a Ficus elastic which also lives at the school but I do bring them home for our porch in the summer). We decided to repot this dragon and then today we moved some furniture about to give it some more space and light. Not that it needs much of the latter... here is some info on them from one of my favored places to go for basic no frills house plant advice.

In the midst of the furniture moving we had to move the large glass bottle containing Philodendron cuttings rooting in water. The next class took them out of the water and noticed something not seen before. That does not mean it hasn't happened here at Pathway, but it does mean we were more aware this time around. What we saw was that next to some of the roots were budding leaves. So I said, "Lets try something." The students were directed to cut all the leaves off and then plant what was left in such a way that the roots got buried but the leaves were emerging. We put several in a pot and we will see what happens.

Dragon number 2.... I was counting this guy on being compost weeks ago. A snap dragon seedling with a major crook in the stem. I warned the student who planted the seeds that chances looked slim, but we didn't give up on it. Now I am quite optimistic for its survival. Hope is what we live on in the garden.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Mighty Assistant fights entropy

In my geology class, I write ENTROPY on the board. We speak about great forces causing the not to be expected consolidation of elements. Gravity taking iron and nickel to the core. Intense heat leading to fractional melting and thus creating silicon rich granite. Life's energy taking it's high share of phosphorous. Volcanism releasing carbon into the system so it can be consolidated in limestone.

But first we talk order vs chaos. My classroom leans toward the land of disorder. I start talking about the amount of energy it takes for it to be as neat as it is, but pause. Then give credit where credit is due. Sitting in the background keeping data on my students is The Mighty Assistant (blogs need characters), who battles entropy and the chaos that I have a hard time slowing down.

She came in having to fill some mighty big shoes left by my previous assistant, and said something like, "I know nothing about growing plants. I kill them all."

I say, "We do a lot in the kitchen too."

She says, "I don't know much about that either."

I don't think I was impressed by her resume. But her honesty was in fine shape.

She saw I needed help fighting entropy and has become a force in consolidating materials in my classroom just as gravity, heat, life and volcanism do it for the planet. She has gotten her hands dirty (in soil and bread dough) and leaped into working with the plants and students.

And let it be known that the Phillies ended the drought of championships we had experienced in Philadelphia by her idea of making "Lucky Phillies" bouquets on the day they won the world series. On that day all else stopped and we sent students out to cut zinnias, mums, cosmos, dahlias, snapdragons..... And then the students delivered arrangements to loyal fans around campus. No training in horticulture could have led to such a wonderful idea, fun day, and world championship. This summer she took on the project of collecting strawflowers and thought of a cool idea then in her compassionate ways, she made one for me to take home to my wife.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

on decisions--- seed catalogs

In my classroom are students who have differing abilities to focus. They range from those with OCD, who can get stuck in search of certainty; and those who have ADD who are quite certain that they may be a bit impulsive. I am more like the latter so while trying to choose a variety of tomato out of the multitude can be difficult, I don't get stuck for long. But does my attention stay there long enough to get the order completed? It is not done yet.

Then today I am sitting in a library examining who got published in the best Short Stories of 1967. Raymond Carver, who my plant ecology professor would introduce me to in 1985 (24 years later I am still hooked on short stories and plant ecology, can we say MENTOR). Joyce Carol Oates, who was in the 1963 anthology (the year I was born), is back again. But I get distracted by a book on my wife's pile. Melons for The Passionate Grower by Amy Goldman. My wife was attracted by the amazing photos. I read the growing tips then page through the amazing photos of heirloom melons while waiting for my wife.

I do not despise melons, but I would not say I am passionate about them. What happened during 2007 still makes me wonder. I left a thriving melon bed to go on an August vacation. I came back to the school to be saddened by the sad state of the bed.

I sit in a library reading and wondering... we could try again. First, I have to stop and focus on the seed order.

It is a call to be in the present moment. Not being obsessed and not being distracted. A place many find hard to find, but a place full of life when we arrive.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

cleistogamy--- flowers that need not open to the world

Student (after reading chapter 1) ... this book is going to make my head explode...

Me... cool

Student.... But it is like Alice in Wonderland crossed with a botany text...

Me... Cool (thinking... what a great comparison!)

Student... Not it's not

Me... Do you want me to see if she (Sharman Apt Russell) has written other books for us to read? (she has but I have not read any others to this date)

Student... shakes head and walks away, laughing.

Yesterday I read chapter 5 and I am still thinking... cool. I chose Anatomy of A Rose because I wanted my biology students to read something a bit more interesting than a text book. I sat at the coffee shop reading about pollination and fertilization. The information is true, the writing is beautiful. She speaks of many pathways to reproduce and violets came up. Many flowers in the genus, Viola, go the way of being cleistogamous. Kleistos is Greek for "closed," and is a perfect prefix to describe the back up plan of many members of the genus. If the open flowers don't get pollinated the plants can reproduce by way of a flower that never opens. There is no need. Without opening it will self-pollinate and produce seeds.

As to whether the pansy we grew last year is an example, I do not know and have tired of trying to find out if these pansies behave this way. No matter, it is a favored photo from 2008 and so I share it with you. It points out a reason to be grateful. Most flowering plants go out of their way to not self-pollinate. Success requires them to open up for the world to see. And though we are not the intended audience, we get to see the amazing beauty.

as a final note... Legumes are well known for reproducing the same way.