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Permaculture for my students - How can I best teach them?

 
Zach Hurley
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Location: South Georgia Zone 8b
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My background: I have learned so much in the past several weeks since learning about permaculture. I've planted 2 apple and 2 pear trees and than had a fig tree and a blueberry bush given to me. Now I'm working on building a native guide along with those trees.

My dilemma: Since my yard is being transformed, I've found that my middle school biology class gets to regularly hear my rantings on how permaculture has changed how I think about things.

My request: I would love some good suggestions on how to get my students' hands dirty (figuratively and literally). We are pursuing becoming a STEM program school and I will be creating an aquaponics system with my classes. I hope to have funding to build two IBC tote AP systems and grow plants (?) and tilapia in those systems.

Can anyone help me figure out a way to involve my kids in permaculture at a middle school level? I want it to be much more than simply being informational head knowledge. I want them to see the beauty in it.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Welcome to permies Zach !

A while back, in another thread ,another member, Theresa McCuaig posted this ...

"How about adapting the Outdoor Classrooms curriculum by Carolyn Nuttall and Janet Millington, starting with a pizza garden? See www.outdoorclassrooms.com.au
PDF ISBN 9781856231145 (about $25 at various resellers)"

Maybe that will help?

You might also get a mushroom growing kit from fungi perfecti.

The hard part , I would think , would be having gardens during the school year that would bare veggies before the kids went on summer break.
 
John Elliott
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It's springtime! Show the kids how plants can root from cuttings. Willow, grapes, figs, these are all trees that can root quickly from cuttings once the weather warms up. And it's almost as easy to take 30 cuttings as it is 3 cuttings. So each kid in the class can take a rooted cutting home to plant. And care for. And get interested in. Figs can even bear small fruits the same year as the cutting was taken.

Tomatoes are also easy to root from a cutting. And two weeks later they can flower. And in another two weeks they can have small fruits. And ripe ones can be ready almost within the attention span of middle school students.
 
Zach Hurley
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Thanks for the reply!
Miles Flansburg wrote: A while back, in another thread ,another member, Theresa McCuaig posted this ...

Could you give me a link to that post? I looked for something like that before I posted last night but I couldn't find anything.

Miles Flansburg wrote:"How about adapting the Outdoor Classrooms curriculum by Carolyn Nuttall and Janet Millington, starting with a pizza garden? See www.outdoorclassrooms.com.au
PDF ISBN 9781856231145 (about $25 at various resellers)"

I'm interested in the book. I looked at their site but several of the images aren't working and I can't view any of the previews. Because of what's going on in my life right now, I'm looking for something that I can kinda double dip with; I want it to have multiple functions. I was looking for something that would be somewhat small-scale that I could add to every year. One idea that I had was to plant a fruit tree and then add to it with every new class that I get and show them how to build a guild.

Miles Flansburg wrote: You might also get a mushroom growing kit from fungi perfecti.

Good idea. The school bought a tabletop/classroom sized aquaponics from backtotheroots and I think they also have mushroom kits too. I'll look in to that.
 
Zach Hurley
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Location: South Georgia Zone 8b
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John Elliott wrote:It's springtime! Show the kids how plants can root from cuttings. Willow, grapes, figs, these are all trees that can root quickly from cuttings once the weather warms up. And it's almost as easy to take 30 cuttings as it is 3 cuttings. So each kid in the class can take a rooted cutting home to plant. And care for. And get interested in. Figs can even bear small fruits the same year as the cutting was taken.

I have 120 kids that I teach. That is both a bad thing (things can get expensive) and a good thing (more people to impact). How would you go about doing things from cuttings? Do you know of any free resources that I could learn from? I'm a noob at planting stuff and tend to over-think a lot of it. So a one-stop resource that explains it to me like I'm five would be great!
 
Miles Flansburg
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Here is another thread Zach..

http://www.permies.com/t/30788/permaculture/Teaching-Children-Permaculture

The other quote I used is from a secret inner circle forum for folks who donated to a recent kickstarter that Paul did.

Speaking of kickstarters. If you needed funding for some of this, a kickstarter might help?
 
John Elliott
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Zach Hurley wrote:
I have 120 kids that I teach. That is both a bad thing (things can get expensive) and a good thing (more people to impact). How would you go about doing things from cuttings? Do you know of any free resources that I could learn from? I'm a noob at planting stuff and tend to over-think a lot of it. So a one-stop resource that explains it to me like I'm five would be great!


Where in South Georgia? I might be inclined to come down and help out. This week all my willow cuttings are leafing out, with a few precocious ones already forming catkins. My plum cuttings are just starting to awaken. It will probably be another month or so for the figs and grapes to leaf out. All my tomatoes from last year got killed in the January freeze; the greenhouse unfortunately was not up to that brutal blast. But I have new seedlings started and in another month I will be ready to do some serious tomato propagating.

That's something that the kids can learn. Take a tomato cutting home and care for it over the summer. Either in the ground in a garden, or if they don't have space, in a pot on the doorstep. Plus they will learn that tomatoes actually have flavor, something that is missing in most supermarket and fast food tomatoes.
 
Bill McGee
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I agree- decentralize. Are the families at home doing any gardening, growing, composting, natural building, solar, etc. Survey the parents and see if simple observational studies can be done, and get their permission and support.

Any of Paul Wheatons 50 building blocks, any of the forum subdivisions, Mollisons, Hemingways, etc books can provide ideas. This would give the student/family autonomy and responsibility. If the family is already doing it costs will be kept down.

Maybe some work teams of neighboring students if parents approve...


 
Paul Cereghino
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Hey Zach. My best ideas about integration in schools around gardens and design are written down here...

http://www.stewardshipinstitute.info/wiki/index.php?title=Curricula

I have settled on woody plant propagation as a business, and as a tool to transform patches of ground as the gateway experience for a variety of reasons.

Systems analysis, particularly of soil-plant systems as the foundation of life on earth, and as a gateway to physics and chemistry is already a core of our curriculum in that age group.

I'd suggest to take a big breath, and start thinking about the 14-15 school year, and how the annual school cycle synchronizes with the cycle of the year. Schools are actually in a powerful position to transform landscapes because your school year is strongly aligned with perennial plant propagation and installation.

Permaculture is just the logical extension of ecological theory to human behavior. You don't need to teach permaculture--you just need to teach ecology as if it really matters how we sustain ourselves and the life of the earth.
 
Paul Cereghino
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And absolutely start building community... I don't say decentralize, but rather start designing human communities that are capable of transforming landscapes. Stay on the good side of the people in your institution that can get you land. Parents can provide skilled labor (and even heavy equipment) depending on you community. Universities, nearby public lands, garden clubs, local nurseries, they are all part of the design. You need to place and position the different people and resources around you in a relationship so that they successfully capture energy and create beneficial infrastructure and relationships. Its just permaculture with people--if you find that you are doing all the work and burning out, slow down and observe the system.
 
Zach Hurley
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Location: South Georgia Zone 8b
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John Elliott wrote:Where in South Georgia? I might be inclined to come down and help out. This week all my willow cuttings are leafing out, with a few precocious ones already forming catkins. My plum cuttings are just starting to awaken. It will probably be another month or so for the figs and grapes to leaf out. All my tomatoes from last year got killed in the January freeze; the greenhouse unfortunately was not up to that brutal blast. But I have new seedlings started and in another month I will be ready to do some serious tomato propagating.

That's something that the kids can learn. Take a tomato cutting home and care for it over the summer. Either in the ground in a garden, or if they don't have space, in a pot on the doorstep. Plus they will learn that tomatoes actually have flavor, something that is missing in most supermarket and fast food tomatoes.


I am in Valdosta. I know that's kinda a long drive. Since you mentioned this, I have looked at my parents house (who have a HUGE, overgrown fig tree and I thought about maybe trying to do something with that. I never thought about trimming plants and using them to grow new plants. Thanks for that help.

What would be the best way to go about getting the kids some tomato plants to grow?
 
Zach Hurley
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Bill McGee wrote:I agree- decentralize. Are the families at home doing any gardening, growing, composting, natural building, solar, etc. Survey the parents and see if simple observational studies can be done, and get their permission and support.

I would love to get parent support. Unfortunately, I think that because of a large aquaponics system we are currently working on, I will have to wait to start another large project. I think something like sending plants home or starting a small guild would be one thing but inviting parents in makes everything much more...taxing on preparation. In 2-3 years though...

Paul Cereghino wrote:Hey Zach. My best ideas about integration in schools around gardens and design are written down here...

http://www.stewardshipinstitute.info/wiki/index.php?title=Curricula ...

...I'd suggest to take a big breath, and start thinking about the 14-15 school year, and how the annual school cycle synchronizes with the cycle of the year. Schools are actually in a powerful position to transform landscapes because your school year is strongly aligned with perennial plant propagation and installation.

Permaculture is just the logical extension of ecological theory to human behavior. You don't need to teach permaculture--you just need to teach ecology as if it really matters how we sustain ourselves and the life of the earth.

Can you explain what you mean by the two syncing together? I am not sure what you mean. Again, I am new to planting stuff in general and especially permaculture.

I think I see your point about teaching ecology and I think you're right. But at the same time I want them to be sensitive to the word 'permaculture' so that, when they hear it elsewhere, it'll make a connection.

Paul Cereghino wrote:And absolutely start building community... ... Parents can provide skilled labor (and even heavy equipment) depending on you community. Universities, nearby public lands, garden clubs, local nurseries, they are all part of the design. You need to place and position the different people and resources around you in a relationship so that they successfully capture energy and create beneficial infrastructure and relationships. Its just permaculture with people--if you find that you are doing all the work and burning out, slow down and observe the system.

I get excited about thinking about the future of the kids in elementary school and how connections with people in our community can change the way they see their environment/world.




 
John Elliott
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Zach Hurley wrote:
I am in Valdosta. I know that's kinda a long drive.

That IS a long way. But not completely out of the question.


What would be the best way to go about getting the kids some tomato plants to grow?


The garden stores usually have some bushy tomato plants on sale this time of year. Get one and take a LOT of cuttings from it. All you need is a piece 4-6" long and stick it in a glass of water. By the end of the week you will have new roots forming, and by 2-3 weeks you will have enough roots to plant the cutting out. If you have a sunny windowsill in the classroom, you can just leave the cuttings there and the kids can see more root growth each day. From one plant at the garden center, you can probably get at least a couple dozen cuttings -- a much better value than buying those 6-paks with the spindly seedlings.

I've never stuck fig cuttings in water to see them root out; I've just done it in soil. But that works like 90+ percent of the time, so have at that overgrown fig tree.

Another fun thing to try is propagating onions from a bulb from the grocery store. Here is a lesson I wrote up that might be useful for you:

Onions and garlic are members of the Allium family and are grown from the tropics to the sub-arctic. They are used in cuisine all over the world to add flavor, in both raw and cooked forms.

While onion plants flower and set seed, there is another way to propagate onions that will make sure you never run out. If you cut up an onion in just the right way, you can replant a piece of it and it will regenerate so that a few months later, you have another onion.

In order to do this, we need to understand how the onion grows. If you look at the bottom of an onion, you will see some wispy dried-out roots and a rough area about the size of a small coin. This is the basal plate, which is the place where growth takes place. If you are careful about cutting your onion so that you save the basal plate along with the developing buds and leaves directly above it, it can live to grow another day!

The first thing to do is to take a clean and sharp knife and cut the sides off the onion (That is the part you will be eating today).
You should be left with a rectangular block of onion, with a basal plate at one end and if you are lucky, a bit of green stalk at the other. If there is no green part to the developing flower bud, don't worry, it will just take a little longer to sprout above the ground.

Here's where the real trick comes. We are not going to grow one onion from this growth plate, but four. Carefully cut the rectangular block lengthwise, trying to slice through the middle of the developing flower bud. Then, once again cut it lengthwise, being careful to observe if the developing flower bud leans to one side or the other.

Now you have four sections of basal plate, each with some leaf material (the layers of the onion) attached. These are ready for planting.

If it is a big onion, maybe you can divide them further and end up with 8 pieces, but the smaller you cut, the longer it will take to grow a full size onion.

You can now plant your onion starter piece in the ground, with the basal plate down. If the starter piece has a bit of green stalk emerging, leave that above ground, but everything else should be covered with dirt.

Water them in good and in a few days you will notice green scallion type shoots emerging from the ground. To feed your onions so that they grow fast and big, a layer of mulch is a good idea. Cover your bed of onions with 2-4 cm of shredded leaves, grass clippings, wood chips, or whatever composting material you have available.

Onions are good companion plants for other garden vegetables like tomatoes and lettuce. Onions planted with strawberries help the berries fight disease. But if you are going to grow peas, they are an exception -- keep the onions away from the peas.


I have scads of topsets forming on my Egyptian onions, which is yet another way of propagation that the kids can learn. In a little while, I will be able to send you a bunch of little bulbils and that would be another thing they could take home and watch grow. Send me PM with your address and I can send stuff your way.

 
Zach Hurley
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John Elliott wrote:The garden stores usually have some bushy tomato plants on sale this time of year. Get one and take a LOT of cuttings from it. All you need is a piece 4-6" long and stick it in a glass of water. By the end of the week you will have new roots forming, and by 2-3 weeks you will have enough roots to plant the cutting out. If you have a sunny windowsill in the classroom, you can just leave the cuttings there and the kids can see more root growth each day. From one plant at the garden center, you can probably get at least a couple dozen cuttings -- a much better value than buying those 6-paks with the spindly seedlings.

Is there a specific variety that I'd need to get to do this? I would normally describe tomatoes as "viney" and not "bushy" so I feel like I may be missing something. Is there something I should look for?
 
John Elliott
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Zach Hurley wrote:
Is there a specific variety that I'd need to get to do this? I would normally describe tomatoes as "viney" and not "bushy" so I feel like I may be missing something. Is there something I should look for?


I've had success taking cuttings from all varieties I have tried. Normally I stick with heirloom non-determinate varieties, so that may explain my success. If you ran across a determinate, hybrid plant, it might just want to set one flush of fruit and then croak, but you never know. If you take a cutting and stick it in water, within a week you will know if it has the will to propagate.

There are so many tomato varieties available that keeping up with them all is a full time occupation. If you don't have success with one variety, there are plenty of others to have a crack at.
 
Paul Cereghino
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The perennial propagation year cycle better fits the fall to summer schedule than annual vege gardens.

In late summer you are collecting seeds and marking cuttings and divisions when you can ID by leaf. You learn and plan. In fall you can take cuttings, start cold stratifying, collect leaves. In winter you move stuff, take hardwood cuttings, order bare root, take divisions, pot up. In spring you finish moving, potting up, seeding, etc... early summer you end with a plant sale (crazy but traditional in the nursery business which peaks on mother's day), makes some money, and a summer watering schedule to insure survival... do it again next year. The vegetable garden thing is much harder because the heavy season is opposite the school year.
 
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