On Wednesday March 22, 2017 the fourth and fifth graders took a trip to the Moose Hill Farm. Moose Hill is a wildlife sanctuary in Sharon Massachusetts. Moose Hill is Mass Audubon’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, which has protected forests, fields, and wetlands. Different hiking trails and a red maple swamp boardwalk provide many opportunities for exploration and fun.
We went to Moose Hill to learn about gardening. We visited a farmer named Matthew Noiseux. Our class learned about many things including animals that eat plants, what plants grow in different seasons, what to do with extra food that we grow, and what kind of scarecrow we could use to keep away destructive animals.
There are different types of animals that affect gardens. Some are good for plants and some are harmful to plants. The helpful ones are bees and butterflies because they pollinate plants. Sharon also has destructive animals such as rabbits, woodchucks, squirrels, and deer. They are destructive because they eat plants.
There are different categories of plants: annual and perennial. Annual plants need to be replanted every year. These are some examples: peas, watermelon, and morning glories. Perennial plants grow each year without replanting. Some examples of perennial plants are: trees and morning glories ( morning glories can be perennial if they drop seeds.) We also talked about scarecrows which are used to keep away destructive animals. There are many kinds of scarecrows like modern day scarecrows which are called balloon owl eye scarecrows. An older kind of scarecrow is stuffed with straw and the straw is covered with clothes. We may use scarecrows to keep away animals.
Matthew had many outdoor experiences including an outdoor job when he was just eight years old. His job before working at Moose Hill was at Adams Park in Quincy MA. Matthew is an expert in gardening and he was able to give us useful information for our garden.
Matthew told us how wide to make the raised beds that we would grow our crops in. He reminded us that when we build a garden, we want to make sure that all the plants get watered and weeded. Therefore we would need to be able to reach more than halfway across on each side of the bed. That is why all the beds will have to be, at MOST, four feet wide.
One other thing we talked about was an electric fence. Matthew showed us a fence that had little metal wires sewed into it. When it is connected to special metal poles, it gives the animals a small shock if they touch it. This is important at a large farm like Moose Hill because it has 15 acres of land.
We started thinking about what we can eat from New England in the different seasons. Summer is the easiest season to eat locally, and that’s when all the vegetables in the garden will be growing and ready to harvest. In fall we harvest vegetables that needed a longer time to grow. In winter we eat grains and foods we can preserve. In spring, as the earth is starting to thaw and wake up, we can look to gain bounty from its systems.
It’s when the days are warm, and the nights are cold that the sap begins to flow. In New England we are blessed with an abundance of Sugar Maple trees. Their leaves are especially vibrant in the fall and their sap is the sweetest. The sap in the sugar maple flows up and down via conductors in it’s outer rings: Xylem and Phloem. The core of the tree is the heartwood, and we don’t want to harm that. During the day, as it warms and gets sunnier, the sap goes from the roots to the leaves. As the temperature drops at night, so does the sap. When we collect sap, we tap this outer layer of the tree, the sapwood. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of maple syrup!
The class headed outside to try some tree tapping. The most convenient tree for our experiment was an Oak tree, which fit in perfect since it was Adar, and also backwards day at school!
Our 4th and 5th grade students are delving into the soil. Since we’ll be growing food in this space, we want to understand where the plants are getting their nutrients from. Following guidelines from the statewide soil testing lab at U. Mass Amherst, (http://ag.umass.edu/soil-plant-tissue-testing-lab/fact-sheets/sampling-instructions-for-routine-soil-analysis) we learned how to take a soil sample. Conveniently, we needed to make multiple samples from throughout the area where we’ll be growing food, and we have lots of students. As we prepared to dig 6-8 inches down, we found… the ground in January is frozen!
Our next step to understand both what is soil and what is our relationship to it started with a look at the words Adam and Adamah. The Hebrew shoresh (root) of the words is the same, and gives us a clue to their relationship. The best way to show that correlation in English would be to say Earth and Earthling.
We watching a video, “What’s the Dirt on ... Dirt?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=if29mjcd5bc and learned the four essential components: minerals, water, air and organic matter. We then thought about what we, as earthlings, have control over, and what we don’t. Breaking down the organic matter, we learned the two main ingredients in compost- carbon and nitrogen.
Going deeper, we watched a video, “Who needs Dirt?” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCSIrlk0GTs and learned a bit about the organs of plants.
Students have continued to work out the garden plan, and our priorities for the space. It is clear they want it to be open, enjoyable, and something special for all. We had their garden designs drawn up in CAD (computer-aided design) so that students could see their designs in proportional size representation. In figuring out the total area that we would be growing in, students put their math skills to the test and compared the various designs. The excitement grows!