FIRST PERSON: A TINY SILVER SPOON

A school garden inspires as well as informs

BY MARGOT GRYCH

tiny-silver-spoon

Margot Grych with a student in the garden

A tiny silver spoon surfaced one day in the garden at Tularcitos Elementary School in Carmel Valley. It appeared as if by magic, right there in the path where hundreds of little feet pound back and forth. Sterling, with the initials MAF, it lay face down in the packed earth. What secrets lie hidden in the slender metal utensil belonging to some mysterious person from long ago? This spring, I will ask students to create a story about the spoon.

For the past eight years, I have been fortunate to be Tularcitos’ “Mrs. Garden” three days a week. We grow kale and chard, perennial broccoli, pomegranates, apples and Roger’s Red California grapes. Flowers such as calendula, nigella, achillea and papaver bloom with abandon. And, yes, we like to say: “Welcome to where the wild things grow.”

Why do veggies, herbs and flowers grow and bloom out of bounds? We like to experiment “outside the box.” Plants are allowed to set seed and replant themselves in paths and adjacent beds. We are researching which plants can survive and thrive in other locations. Which plants do gophers prefer, and which ones do they leave alone? Will volunteer kale do well without regular water?

We also plant for a purpose: fava beans and crimson clover for winter cover crops, red cabbage interplanted with culinary sage to deter cabbage white butterflies. We celebrate the seasons, strive for diversity and welcome wildlife. Hummingbirds zip in and out of the Salvia spathacea, bees buzz about the borage and ladybugs feast on copious aphids.

Students watch for alligator-shaped ladybug larvae and learn to wash any clinging aphids from the broccolini before nibbling. Eating from the garden remains a favorite pastime. It only rivals digging and making mud creatures. This spring, fourth graders, studying California history, will mine for the gold beets and golden potatoes they planted last fall. Golden poppies will remain for the bees to plunder.

Whether we find a sliver of silver in a little spoon or an edible nugget of gold, the richness of the Tularcitos garden continues to reveal itself with time.

An organic gardener since the age of 14, Margot Grych heads the Monterey Peninsula College Horticulture Department and leads a hands-on, garden-based educational program at Tularcitos Elementary in Carmel Valley. Through growing and harvesting their own food, the Tularcitos students learn about nutrition and a healthy lifestyle, ecoliteracy and plant science.

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