Wednesday, April 13, 2016


Ok, so phytophilia isn't a real word. But the two words "phyto" and "philia" loosely mean "plant" "love" and that describes my affection for plants. I love plants. Every time I have the opportunity to order plants or receive plants as gifts, I get excited. When the school's order of apple trees and other plants came in from New Farm Supply, I was excited.

We received three types of trees and one herb. Antonovka apple. Select seedling apples. Black locust. Asparagus.

Quick Lesson in Apple Genetics

Apples are like humans. The offspring aren't exactly like the parents but they do have traits of both parents. Because many apple orchards use crab apples trees (yuck!) to pollinate the tasty varieties, the seeds that are in the apples have genes from both a tasty variety and a not-so-tasty variety. Normally, you might have 1-in-1,000 chance or 1-in-10,000 chance of having a delicious apple from seeds because of the randomness of genetics. In those situations, growing from seed may not be worth it. The apples we bought were from seed but they are special.

Antonovka Apples

These apples are native to an area in Russia. They have been so inbred that these seeds defy the Laws of Apple Genetics (I just made that up). The trees in that area grow true from seed. That means that you can eat an apple, take the seeds from that apple, plant the seeds, let the apple trees grow, and pick apples from the trees that are very similar to the original apple. This seems simple but, like we learned in our Quick Lesson, it isn't how trees normally work. Antonovka apples are an exception to the rule. 

Antonovka Apple fron New Farm Supply

Select Seedling Apples

These apples are grown from seeds from an area that doesn't use crab apples to pollinate. These better genetic pools means that the chances of a tasty phenotype is higher than normal. These trees are not going to be known cultivars (Granny Smith, Golden Dorset, etc) and the probability of them being a delicious apple for eating off the tree is low. But there is a chance. The worst case scenario is that we have a tree on which we can graft or let the wildlife enjoy. This is sort of like growing your own lottery ticket. You could end up with a 'spitter' apple or you could own the next biggest thing as far as apples go. Perhaps apple orchards will line up to pay money for cuttings from these trees.

Black Locust

The black locust is possibly my favorite tree. It doesn't produce food for humans but it does plenty of other useful things and seems to be unknown to most people. The black locust tree:
  • 'fixes' nitrogen - this means that it puts a type of fertilizer into the ground for other plants to use 
  • is an insectary plant - bees and other insects love this plant. It has flower clusters similar to crepe myrtles and is said to 'buzz' when the flowers are in bloom due to all the busy little bees
  • produces livestock feed - some farm animals can eat the pods of the tree
  • can be used for tools and fence posts - I've seen reports that it will last for 5-6 decades as posts
  • is used as fuel - the trees can be coppiced every 7-10 years and the tree will continue to produce more and more wood
  • propagate from cuttings - the trees are easily reproduced from root cuttings
  • is used for tool handles - the branches are perfect for tool handles and are very tough
Black Locust
Coppiced Black Locust (Photo from


The last plant we planted from this order was asparagus. I am not sure if it is considered an herb or a bush but I do know that it can live for 20-30 years and should be harvested after the plant is 2-3 years to make sure that the roots are old enough to support growth the following year.  Since they are long-lasting perennials, they need to be planted in a place that will support them for a long time. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Food Webs and Careers

Pine Grove had a visitor today that came and spoke wisdom to the kids and helped them make real-life connections to what we've been learning in class.

Our classes have started a unit on Ecology and this goes along well with what Mr. Grant spoke about. He shared about his experiences and his wisdom that he's gained from living in this area all of his life. 
Coyote Attacking Doe and Fawn

Because his family depended on wildlife and gardening for food, he is very familiar with fishing, hunting, foraging and working. He grew up with his grandparents nearby so he was able to learn from them as well as his own experiences. 

The deer population in our area has had few predators since humans displaced them. We've been the predator for a while but now coyotes are starting to move in more heavily. Mr. Cliff said that species like coyotes and armadillos were no where to be seen when he was growing up but that they've 1.) moved into this area over time and/or 2.) been introduced as a new animal to be hunted.

Controlled fires limit damage of forest fires
Okefenokee fire causing damage
Another connection to our curriculum that Mr. Cliff spoke about was abiotic factors that affect animals in this area. He specifically spoke about fires and what he's learned fighting and observing forest fires. Depending on certain factors, wild fires can be a force for good that rejuvenates an area or a destroyer that destroys both natural and man-made assets. Mr. Cliff explained that they do controlled burning so that, when a wildfire sparks, it will not have very far to go until it runs out of fuel like fallen limbs and leaves. 

Thanks to Mr. Cliff and the Langdale Company, our kids were able to see even more clearly outside our school into a place where learning has a benefit. If students can't understand why they need to learn something, then it is difficult to spend the time to learn it. This is true whether you are 6 or 60. Mr. Cliff made Ecology a little bit better to understand and also share some non-curricular wisdom alongside it. 
2nd Academic Science Students
1st Academic Science Students

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

When it rains...

     It has been pouring. In the past 2 days, we've received 4 inches of rain. Yesterday the soil got saturated and the swales in the Food Forest filled up. Well, to be honest, only one filled up and that was the problem. The solution was to...well, I'll let you see that for yourself. 

     The end result was going from a 1 inch flood across a rather large area to no visible puddles at all. Hopefully the trees appreciate the water. 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Lasagna Layers - Sheet Mulch Work Day

Lasagna Layers

     Today we worked outside in the food forest. We took the existing footprint of the forest garden and expanded it by lasagna layering. This technique is called lasagna layering because we add several layers to the area and it is sometimes repeated a couple times.

The Process...

     We took cardboard and placed it on the grass. We did this to try to keep the grass from growing up into the layers that we were about to add. Then we added compost followed by wood mulch. This added about 5-7 inches to the existing ground. On the areas where there are paths, we added pine straw to contrast the non-walking areas.

Take a look at the video playlist and pictures below to see the transformation and some students describing what we were working on. Enjoy!

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Back to Eden" - Using Woodchips like Nature

All by Herself

     In permaculture, we realize that the best way to design is by observing how nature is designed and how she functions. In the woods, there is constantly rotting, decomposing "stuff" on the ground. Leaves. Straw. Branches. It's all decomposing with the help of decomposers. It may take a decade for a fallen tree to completely decompose but, eventually, you won't be able to see it anymore.

With Our Help

     We can mimic that same process and try to do it even better. If we shred or chip the wood into small pieces, that will make them decompose faster. Adding these wood chips to our forest garden does three important things:
  1. Lessens water evaporation
  2. Increases nutrients slowly
  3. Creates a better environment for helpful organisms

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Hogs? Are we growing hogs?

Repurposing Hog Panels and T-posts

Community Interaction

     One of our goals at PGM is to increase our community impact, interaction and engagement. When this happens, students gain even more opportunities to learn. There have been many partners that have helped us in our food forest creation like the admin of PGM, local entrepreneurs, parents of students, and our students themselves. Another type of interaction is with larger, locally operated businesses. Lowe's is one example of a large business that has helped us.

reDesigning for Food

     We wanted to grow some muscadines and kiwi fruit but we couldn't figure out how to build the structure for them. After researching different materials for trellis and vertical lattice-type structures, the cost was higher than we wanted (posts, wire, tools to tighten the wire, small harware, etc). We also wanted the structure to be visually appealing while offering more than just a place to support the vines. After some brainstorming with people who have already built things like this, we made our decision: hog panels with t-posts made for an efficient use of resources. Now we had to acquire them.

     Lowe's has done a great job of this. We purchased several things from Lowe's like our electric fence, hand tools and some plants. When PGM contacted them about donating material to our school, they were easy to talk to and offered their help. I picked up the t-posts and 16' hog panels with ease and transported them back to the school with some finagling.
T-post intended use

hog panels intended use
Hog panels intended use

Building the Trellis

     Hog panels and t-posts aren't meant to be used to grow food.  Well, at least not plants (Mrs. Smith probably wouldn't like a wallowing hog too close to the school least not yet:) However, they work pretty well growing plants if we use them just right. We drove the t-posts into the ground. Each pair of t-posts were placed 6' apart from the other pair and about 4' apart from each other. This formed a 4'x6' rectangle. We bent the hog panel into an arbor until the short ends of the panel were about 6' apart. We repeated this 4 more times so that they didn't make a tunnel but made sort of border for the food forest.

     Thanks to support from outside the school, we are able to do things like this and I believe it makes PGM a better place to go to school and an easier place to learn.
This is how we use hog panels and t-posts. They end up being ~6' tall and 6' wide. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Fungi are Really Fun Guys


Fungi also known as Mycelium are eukaryotic organisms. Fungi can be single or multi-cellular organisms. Don't get all grossed out, but most of the things you eat have some sort of fungi in it like bread, wine, and solvents. Believe it or not fungi are not plants. Living things are classified into kingdoms.