Steele Lane Elementary School’s Thriving Garden Program

With the fabulous support from our community, Vicki’s Garden at Steele Lane Elementary School has been able to upgrade the infrastructure and teaching program this past year. While our program has improved student contact time and curriculum, we are also very excited about the help we have received from Sunrise Rotary. While we have had support from many organizations, our support form Sunrise has been pivotal. We wish to thank them for our new seven planting beds, four new picnic tables, new shade structure and a replaced shed. These projects could not have happened without them. In addition, all of these community organizations helped make these projects (and more) happen:

Sunrise Rotary

School Garden Network of Sonoma County

Slow Food Russian River

Whole Kids Foundation

Freidman’s Home Improvement Center

Home Depot

Benjamin Moore Paints

California Association of Family Farmers

The National Heirloom Exposition

Steele Lane Enrichment Foundation

and the Steele Lane Elementary School staff and administration!

 Steele Lane Garden Before


 Steele Lane Garden After


Free Downloadable Nature Journaling Curriculum

Free Downloadable Nature Journaling Curriculum by John Muir Laws

The second edition of the acclaimed curriculum, Opening the World Through Nature Journaling, is now available as a free download. The curriculum now includes more great kid tested sketching activities, poetry writing, and more detailed tips on drawing in nature (you will love the material on drawing plants). This is a great resource for teachers, outdoor leaders, and home school parents.

BlueBarrel Offers Discounts to Schools for Rainwater Catchment Systems

Based right here in Sonoma County, BlueBarrel provides the tools, materials and educational resources for installing the BlueBarrel Rainwater Catchment System.  They can provide varying levels of support from materials and instructions for Do-It-Yourself projects, to integrated programs led by BlueBarrel’s founder, Jesse Froehlich, that include a classroom component and a full-day hands-on installation workshop.  Jesse can design custom programs for students of any age, working with teachers to emphasize aspects that reinforce core curriculum.  Between materials recycling, smart use of water resources and a hands-on education that ties together many subjects, the BlueBarrel System is a win-win for students and the environment!  Visit their website for more information. You can also view a sample program outline and the discounted pricing structure for schools by clicking on BlueBarrel School Program.

$1,000″Look at Agriculture…Organically” Grant due June13!

Look at Agriculture… Organically! educator grants are designed to creatively enhance the understanding of organic agriculture for kindergarten through eighth grade students. Grants of up to $1,000 will be provided to California educators to support the integration of organic agriculture into regular classroom instruction.



I. Eligibility

  • Look at Agriculture… Organically! educator grants are available to certified California K-8 teachers.

II. Project Requirements

  • A project proposal with an itemized budget.
  • A progress report by November 17, 2014.
  • A list of expenses with associated receipts.
  • A short, final report in the form of a video, poster, slideshow or other form approved by CFAITC.
  • Project must be completed within the 2014-2015 school year.
  • Project will follow organic production and handling standards from the National Organic Program.

III. Grant Guidelines

  • Grant applications must be postmarked or submitted online by June 13, 2014.
  • Applications must be completed by June 13, 2014. No late applications will be accepted.
  • Grant recipients will be announced online on July 1, 2014.
  • Selected educators will receive funding in August 2014.

IV. Funding

  • Look at Agriculture… Organically! grants up to $1,000 each to 10 educators. A significant percentage of grant funding will go to teachers in school districts with 50 percent or more students enrolled in the free and reduced lunch program.


  • Have students set up and operate a compost system for the class. Have students learn how composting is a natural way to add nutrients that make healthy soil.
  • Grow an organic pizza garden. Have students plant and harvest vegetables to make an organic pizza.
  • Create a worm bin and raise worms with the students. Lessons around soil care and healthy soil biology.
  • Compare the look, taste, and smell of organic and conventionally grown fruits and vegetables. Have students research both farming practices and record their observations in a chart or diagram.
  • Build a chicken coop and study the process of raising organic livestock as it relates to biology and ecology.
  • Seed saving. Bring in different types of plants (or use some from your school garden) and have students save, preserve, and later plant those same seeds.
  • Choose an organic fruit or vegetable that can be picked in season and preserved for later enjoyment. Research the preservation process, and create a lesson around food preservation. Visit a local processor to see how food is preserved.
  • Have students select a commodity, state the nutritional benefits, and then research the by-products that are made from that commodity. Bring the commodities in for classroom presentations. Then set up a field trip to visit a farm that grows that commodity.


Three Sisters Garden

Three Sisters Garden is an ancient method of gardening using an intercropping system which grows corn, beans, and squash crops simultaneously in the same growing area that is typically a rounded mound of soil, often called a hill.

It is a wonderful model of cooperation and mutual support to share with your students.

Corn is the oldest sister. She stands tall in the center.

Squash is the next sister. She grows over the mound, protecting her sisters from weeds and shades the soil from the sun with her leaves, keeping it cool and moist.

Beans are the third sister. She climbs through squash and then up corn to bind all together as she reaches for the sun. Beans help keep the soil fertile by coverting the sun’s energy into nitrogen filled nodules that grow on its roots. As beans grow they use the stored nitrogen as food.

How do I grow a Three Sisters Garden?

In mid-Spring clear a sunny garden area of grasses, weeds, and large stones. The area should be roundish in shape and at least eight feet across. Cover the area with a few inches of compost

In late-Spring, once soils have warmed plant the corn in the several rings in the center of the patch with about 10inch spacing. Water the growing mound well. The corn will sprout and begin to grow in about two weeks.

After the corn has grown to about ten inches high, using a hoe or hand trowel, pull up some soil from the growing mound around the base of the corn stalks. The corn should not be buried entirely, it’s upper half should be above the soil that has been mounded around it’s stems. The corn will send roots into the mounded soil to hold it steady and upright in the wind.

After mounding soil around the base of the corn stalks sow about a  pole beans or 1/2 runner bean seeds in a ring pattern six inches outside the corn stalks . Push the bean seeds about an inch under the soil and firm the ground above them by patting it down with your hand. Water the growing mound well. The beans will usually begin to sprout in about 7-14 days.

About a week after the beans sprout, sow six or seven squash seeds in a ring about 12-15″ outside the beans.You can grow any winter squash or pumkin. plant on 3 foot spacing Push the squash seeds about an inch under the soil and firm the ground above them by patting it down with your hand. The squash seeds will sprout in about a week.

As the corn grows the beans will begin to climb, you can help them early on by wrapping the bean vines around the corn stalks. The squash will begin to grow it’s vines and the large squash leaves will soon cover the growing mound and shade its soil. On occasion help the squash continue to cover the mound by turning the ends of it’s vines towards the center of the mound. Water the mound well during weeks where there has been little or no rain.

What varieties to grow?

Traditionally a flour corn is grown not a sweet eating corn. The West County Seed Exchange has two varieties of flour acorn -Blue Zapatista corn grown originally in this county at SunRidge School Garden, an Oaxacan Dent corn which was traditionally grown in 3 Sister Gardens  The West County Seed Exchange also has lots of  shelling beans that would work great. Scarlet Runner beans are wonderful as the hummingbirds love their nectar. I have heard some folks have more success with 1/2 runners. Some of my favorite 1/2 runners are Rio de Zappe and Tiger Eye both available free at Seed Exchange which is open the last Saturday of the month in the morning.

When can we harvest our Three Sister’s Garden?

Corn may be harvested while in it’s green corn stage, but tradtionally it is left to ripen and is harvested in Autumn.

Beans may be eaten fresh or allowed to mature and dry on the vine. Fresh beans can be harvested when the pods are firm and crisp, but before the seeds within the pods have begun to swell. P

Squash should be picked only after its skin has hardened thoroughly.


Great Sunflower Project!



Welcome to the Great Sunflower Project!


It’s 2014 and we are looking forward to spring. Please join us! You can register here. If you are concerned about using neonictinoid pesticides in your gardens, here is a link to a list of the products that you can buy in many garden shops that contain neonictinoid pesticides.

  1. Join our Safe Gardens for Pollinators program . Help identify the effects of pesticides on pollinators.
  2. Join our Pollinator Friendly Plants program. Help identify the critical plants that support pollinators and regions where they thrive. Contribute a pollinator count from the plants in your yard or favorite green spaces.
  3. Take the Great Pollinator Habitat Challenge starting in April. Learn to evaluate and improve habitat for pollinators.

As always, thanks for participating!


Harmony Farm Supply donates Free Vegetables to School Gardens!

Thanks Harmony Farm Supply for a timely donation of 10 flats of organic spring  vegetable starts for school gardens!

Schools can pick up vegetable starts at Piner High School garden which is located behind the high school.
Please limit each school to 6 – 6 paks at this time. SGN is seeking partnerships with other nurseries and potentially high schools next year to help augment school garden supplies.

Thanks to SGN board member Elizabeth Westerfield for shuttling plants for us!!


SGN member schools eligible for Teen Mentor Program

The School Garden Teen Mentor Program will provide SGN member schools with trained high school students who will work with garden coordinators during the summer months.  These dedicated high school teens have completed a Garden Mentorship Training at Santa Rosa Junior College’s award winning Shone Farms. They have been trained by Robert Landry, SRJC Sustainable Ag instructor and Len Greenwood, Montgomery High School Green Pathway Director.

In addition to the in depth training,the School Garden Teen Mentor Program  provides ongoing mentorship, assists with teen coordination and pays an hourly wage to participating teens!!

If interested in working with a teen in your garden this summer please complete SGN’s  Membership Form and contact Len Greenwood  at <>.


Leave No Child Inside Assembly Bill 1603

The great outdoors — including those wetlands, ocean waters, forests and meadows that surround us — are the original classroom. The science, math and literacy that youth learn from textbooks inside classrooms is enhanced by outdoor learning. Author Richard Louv discussed this concept in his best-selling book “Last Child Left In The Woods,” a part of his effort to combat what he calls a “nature deficit” among today’s youth. When applied to education, the concept is simple: leave no child inside.

Assemblyman Mark Stone has introduced legislation that would help get more youth outdoors to learn. Assembly Bill 1603 would establish a California Outdoor Environmental Education Program under which grants would be awarded to programs operated by public entities or nonprofits. Additional consideration would be given to projects that serve at-risk youth and those that align with Common Core educational standards and integrate instruction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“In many underserved communities, participation in outdoor environmental education and recreation programs are the only exposure kids have to nature and the environment,” Stone said when the bill was introduced. “Outdoor environmental education provides students with memorable real-world experiences with the environment, which increases interest in science and environmental stewardship.”

Few institutional funding sources now exist for outdoor environmental education even though it has been shown to enhance academic achievement, critical thinking and lifetime environmental stewardship. The grant program established under AB 1603 would supplement other funds that outdoor environmental education programs currently raise from generous individuals, foundations, and businesses.

Studies have documented outdoor environmental education’s positive impact. In 2012, San Jose State master’s candidate Lauren Hanneman studied the long-term effect of O’Neill Sea Odyssey’s free oceangoing science program on students. Her analysis found that 75 percent of youth who participated in the program five to seven years previously had retained knowledge pertaining to nonpoint source pollution which they had been taught.

A study required by the approval of Assembly Bill 1330 authored by then-Assemblyman Joe Simitian in 2003 was commissioned by the State Department of Education in 2005. Entitled “Effects of Outdoor Education Programs for Children in California,” its results showed that low-income students who attended an outdoor education program raised their science scores by 27 percent and increased their concern for conservation. It also found an increase in attitudes toward science as well as an increase in self-esteem, leadership, relationships with teachers, cooperation, and conflict resolution.

You can also find proof of outdoor education’s impact in the stories of students who have experienced it. The next time you see a young person who has had an outdoor learning experience, ask them about it. Their answer will make you a believer, if you weren’t already. AB 1603 will enable more youth to tell such stories about nature’s original classroom.

Kris Beall is a board member of Watsonville Wetlands Watch ( ) while Dan Haifley is executive director of O’Neill Sea Odyssey.


First Lady Michelle Obama adds a Pollinator Garden to White House Garden

A first for the South Lawn fruit and vegetable plot, it is designed to benefit bees and Monarch butterflies…
Washington, DC - On Wednesday as she replanted her Kitchen Garden during the sixth annual Spring plantingFirst Lady Michelle Obama added a pollinator garden to her showcase vegucation plot, the inspiration for her Let’s Move! campaign.

Designed to attract bees and Monarch butterflies, the pollinator garden is a first, Mrs. Obama said, and filled with 34 varieties of non-edible plants–including milkweed, butterfly weed,  phlox, lobelia, asters, and foxglove.

Clad in black jeans, a grey t-shirt, a billowy steel-grey anorak and black leather tennis shoes, Mrs. Obama instantly became America’s most high-profile conservation activist as she described the critical need for pollinator gardens after decades of unexplained bee deaths and butterfly declines.

Digging the pollinator plants into the bed

“A pollinator garden helps to encourage the production of bees and Monarch butterflies,” Mrs. Obama said.

“They pollinate the plants, they help the plants grow.  They’re dying because of disease–we don’t even know why some beehives are just totally disappearing.”

The loss of the insects “could be a problem for the planet because if you don’t have insects and great pollinators to pollinate the plants, it could affect our food source, it could affect our ability to continue to grow things,” Mrs. Obama explained.

“It could affect our ability to continue to grow things.  And that would be a problem. So this garden is going to help to contribute to improving that problem.”

Mrs. Obama’s world famous plot has formerly been devoted to exclusively to edibles.  And the First Lady didn’t mention it, but Monarch butterflies are now part of President Barack Obama’sagenda.  In February as he attended the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico, Mr. Obama joined his counterparts from Mexico and Canada to announce a task force to create a plan for saving the continent’s endangered migration of Monarch butterflies.

“We have agreed to conserve the Monarch butterfly as an emblematic species of North America which unites our three countries,” said Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto.

Many helpers joined Mrs. Obama for the transplanting

The new pollinator garden is located in a long bed on the northernmost side of the 1,500 square-foot plot, which is managed with organic practices.  Mrs. Obama had gloves on as she hoisted a shovel to plant goldenrod,  Shenandoah switchgrass, little bluestem, and spicebush (the full list is below).

The First Lady was joined by Let’s Move! Executive Director Sam Kass, 25 local elementary school students, the White House chefs, National Park Service gardeners, and members of FoodCorps as sheworked under a sunny sky with just enough cloud to prevent squinting, a relief after the District’s long winter that included record snowfalls.

Lobelia for the pollinator garden

The First Lady and her helpers transplanted young plants into the pollinator garden, rather than starting from seed, pulling the new crops from buckets and plastic pots.  The bed also sits across from the White House beehive, the first to be on the 18-acre campus, installed at Mrs. Obama’s behest when she began the Kitchen Garden in 2009.  It’s produced hundreds of pounds of honey in the last five years.

Still, while bees and butterflies may be thrilled with the pollinator garden, First Daughters Malia, 15, and Sasha, 12, will not be, Mrs. Obama admitted.

The project “is not going to make the Obama girls happy because they don’t really like bees,” Mrs. Obama said, a subject she’s discussed previously.

“But bees are good.  Bees are a good thing,” she said.  “So you guys are going to help do that, and that’s the first time we’ve done a pollinator garden.  Pretty cool, huh?”

Harvest Fest 2014