Work parties are a marvelous thing! They not only help us make serious progress on farm projects, but they also help in the invaluable work of building community.
Throughout the school year, students from all grades help with work on the farm; however, we only have each class for 45 minutes at a time, which includes set up and clean up, leaving us with only a short window of time for actual work.
For some projects this isn't a problem, but for others, we need more time and focused attention. And some jobs, like building a pergola, are simply beyond what we can ask of the students. This is why our wonderful volunteers are so precious to us.
Last weekend we had our first work party of the new year. It was a very windy day (our breakfast almost flew away!), but lots of families joined us to make great things happen.
Ms. Kelley has been leading a huge effort to sheet mulch the entire lower field this winter. The single greatest villain that we battle on the farm is Bermuda grass. It's highly invasive and takes over any space it can, burrowing deep into the soil and sending out countless runners. It's the cockroach of the plant world. Sheet mulching is the most effective way of dealing with this pestilence, though even then we still need to keep up with the insidious invader.
Sheet mulching (also known as lasagna or no-till gardening) is a permaculture technique that involves layering soil, manure, cardboard, and mulch (wood chips). These layers not only create a barrier between the Bermuda grass and the sun, but also help build healthy soil underneath. Eventually the cardboard and mulch will break down and further feed the soil with organic matter and minerals.
Another big project we tackled on Saturday was weeding and mulching the big swales beside the greenhouse.
Two years ago we dug trenches (swales) into the hillside above the lower fields in an effort to capture rainwater before it had a chance to flow into the lower parking lot and sewer system. Along the swales we planted a variety of plants, including fruit trees, herbs, and artichokes (the artichokes love being in the swales!). The plants are doing very well and the project has been hugely successful. This Saturday we worked on mulching the last section of the swales, to beautiful effect.
Volunteers also worked on weeding and mulching around citrus trees in the orchard, a challenging task given how deep the Bermuda grass roots go! But they triumphed and the trees look so happy now.
We also started on the large task of pruning fruit trees in the orchard! The Fifth Grade has been working in the orchard over the last few weeks, but there are more trees than they can manage. Trees benefit from regular pruning, especially fruit trees, so we want to do our part to help them live a long and happy life on the farm. Plus, we love fruit.
Besides all of these wonderful projects being worked on, we might love the community-building aspect of work parties even more. Work parties provide a great opportunity for kids and parents to work together, side-by-side, on a common task for a shared goal. Kids also love the chance to spend time in the garden outside of class time. They can explore at will, run and play with their friends without the structure of a lesson plan. They also get to show their parents what they've been working on during the school day, and often learn that they know more about gardening than their parents do. :)
Thank you so much to all who help us in this great work, we appreciate you and everything that you share with us!