Archive for the ‘Infrastructure’ Category

Our garden team has kicked off the planning process for our transition to the Wilson Pacific site. With our exceptional Garden Educator, Rowan Lang, we have identified the requirements for the garden, and have done a preliminary site analysis (as much as we can do without physically being there).  This week, we presented our ideas to the PTA Board and were warmly received. Staff and parents want to make sure our kids have time to dig!

Below, we summarize the powerpoint [[19 MB PDF]] that Grace created to show what we are hoping to accomplish at the new site. She has already begun meeting with school district representatives in order to finalize the design in time with plenty of time for the transition.

We need your help in making sure the garden is installed as quickly as possible at the new site! We are forming our transition committee now and will hold the first meeting in early March. Fill out this doodle poll if you would like to attend, so we can find out a good time to meet! Please email KimberlyChristensen@live.com with any questions.



School Gardens Provide:

Sense of belonging and connection. The garden has familiarity and fosters a sense of attachment and place. It has a variety of enclosed and public spaces for private and open exchanges.

Movement and exercise. The garden supports low-impact activities, including walking, wheeled mobility, gardening, play, formal exercise, and physical rehabilitation. These activities build strength, reduce stress, and elevate mood.

Sensory nourishment. The garden offers heightened interactions with nature through the senses. Natural distractions improve emotional states, diminish troublesome thoughts, and foster positive physiological outcomes.

Sense of control (actual and perceived). The garden allows individuals to make choices. It provides a temporary escape, a sensation of “being away,” an opportunity for the user to gain control of his or her emotions and refocus attention.

Site Project Details:

1330 N 90th St, Seattle, WA 98103 (Historically Wilson-Pacific Elementary)

  • The BEX-IV (Building Excellence) Seattle levy funded $110M to replace aging elementary and middle-schools on a 17-acre site in Northwest Seattle, scheduled to open in the Fall of 2017.
  • Cascadia Elementary, a 780-student elementary school spanning 1st through 5th grades, serving the Highly Capable Cohort (HCC), will occupy the elementary school at this site.
  • The SNAPP-Dragons school garden program founded at Cascadia Elementary will move into a new Garden Maker-Space to integrate classroom requirements with local watershed and community interests.

School Garden indicated on Cascadia Schematic. Note Pillings Pond

Cascadia Garden Requirements

  • Defined Entrances
  • Classroom Seating Area
  • Outdoor Blackboard
  • Tool Care and Storage
  • Separation from Administration
  • Signage for Public Education
  • Accessible
  • Thinking Spaces
  • Creation Spaces
  • Hand-washing and Food Prep
  • Winter Interest
  • Rain and Shade Shelter
  • Propagation and Season Extension
  • Composting and Plant Maintenance
  • Water Management
  • Fitness and Balance
  • Bird Habitat
  • Dragon Theme

Maker Spaces

To do incorporate all of these things without having specific single-use zones, we have decided to create a “Maker Space”.  Maker-Spaces provide a place for a community to share expertise, tools, and materials to create something new with a wider impact than what could be made by someone working alone.

  • Food Literacy, Food ProductionDragon Rock
  • Fruit Guilds
  • Native Cultures
  • Pollinator Garden
  • Water Capture, Flow, and Dispersal Observation
  • Worm and Bug Habitat
  • Bird Observation
  • Drawing and Painting
  • Plant and Seed Sales
  • Soils, Shade, and Sunlight Studies
  • Plant Identification and Field Notes

Our Garden Maker-Space enables us to teach all elements of curriculum from literacy and art, to math and science using observation and manipulation. The Garden provides an opportunity to explore concepts in ways that can not be done indoors.

Site Analysis Details

Grace recently completed a Permaculture Design Course to use as a framework for designing the site to fit into the environment.  Permaculture designers start from the macro scale and work towards the details.  We start with the watershed.  Cascadia is part of the Thornton Creek Watershed.

Rowan and Grace visited Pilling’s Pond  last fall and were delighted to be invited on a tour of the site.  David Kunkle mentioned that he has seen river otters in his duck pond, which clearly have come up the Thornton Creek, through the North Seattle Community College wetlands and then into the Licton Springs drainage.

Below is a map of our site in relationship to the active mineral springs at Licton Springs Park.  We would like to capitalize on the possibility of using Pilling’s Pond as an additional learning opportunity. We are also aware of the impact of the wetlands and seasonal flooding issues [Video], and want to ensure our garden does not impact anything downstream.  During the construction process, a 4-ft culvert has been installed to divert the flooding under the athletic fields; without it, they would be on a riparian zone!


Other existing elements

We sit on a level shelf, that drops precipitously into Pilling’s Pond.  The pond (and the wildlife) are protected by a barrier of bamboo to its Northeast, between the school and the pond.  The bamboo will have no impact on our garden.

The only other issue is a large poplar tree that can potentially shade our site.

Zones of Activity

As always, in any design project, we start with the base map:

Then, we drill down to look at any impacts.  Here, this map shows the solar aspect (orange and yellow), the winter storm (purple) and drainage (blue) directions.  Of most importance is the entrance zones for the school and community (red) and the daycare (pink), and the location of the Administration offices (black).

We will want to encourage the community to walk by the garden without actually coming in, or picking food.  Good signage about what we are growing and how to be respectful will be effective.

The access to the daycare will mainly be through the west building, but we need to keep a wide path clear for annual delivery of woodchips for the playspace.  We want to ensure that the noisiest parts of the garden-usage will not be centered next to the Admin offices or classrooms.  We also have a responsibility to keep the garden looking tidy, as it is the first impression for all visitors to Cascadia.


Defined Spaces

While we’re still working out the details for all of the elements, here are some proposals for some of the spaces.  The Central Classroom space should be covered for wind and rain shelter.  I hope to have it paved, so there is a flat workspace that could be used for a variety of activities.  The paving could be in the form of a labyrinth, perhaps with a dragon’s head at the center.  Walking a labyrinth calms both mind and body, and seeing the whole of it helps children visualize patterns.  By encircling the central space with recycled timber seating, you get the dual purpose of balance and agility, as well as a centralized focal point for leading lessons.  A toolshed can be painted with blackboard paint so you can write up the lesson-of-the-day.  It also keeps gloves and trowels and clipboards organized.  It would be great to encircle the seating with additional shrubbery for a low-maintenance enclosure.  All of it creates a calming and coming-together space that is flexible for many uses.


Possible Layouts

Depending on the total space allocated, there are many ways to organize the desired elements.  We hope to have a fruit-tree hedge to define the space and provide food production.  This would be well signed to tell the community what we are growing, and invite them to participate in the garden.

A central water feature is desired so that children can envision the water cycle from pump to flow to watering-can to plant.  A cistern underneath would capture any spillage and recycle it.  The physical effort of pumping water reinforces the effort native cultures need to use to transport water to their village, and will strengthen the connection to the environment and the preciousness of water.

Raised beds for annual fruit production should be placed for maximum solar exposure.

Perennial food crops can be inter-planted with the boundary hedging.  The use of native trees and shrubs is encouraged so that they will survive without watering during our dry-summer months.

Composting woody material can take place between compost fences designed to separate sections of the garden.  This will also feed the soil.

A drought-tolerant perennial garden can be planted at the entrance to be used for bird, bug, and bee observations.


We are still working with the district and the “Self-Help” requirements so elements are in flux.  We would be delighted to hear your suggestions about other elements to include or different ways of thinking about the space.

Final Questions

  • Can we use the full front area?
  • Can we reduce boring/shading “Landscape” trees in front of growing spaces, and choose dwarf fruit trees instead?
  • Can we dig a hole for the water pump cistern?
  • Are we permitted to install structural posts for rain/shade shelter?
  • What is our maintenance plan to ensure site, fruit trees properly maintained?
  • What is our exit plan to return site to grass if necessary?

Can you help us?

Please!  This design is still in development.  We would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.  We would love to have you help Rowan and her interns in the garden this spring.  We will definitely need help fundraising, obtaining materials, and constructing the new site.

Detailed ideas can be emailed to us, and you can always comment here on this blog!

Grace Hensley: grace at eTilth dot com

Kimberly Christensen: kimberlychristensen at live dot com

Rowan Maya Lang: snappdragonsgarden at gmail dot com

We’re looking forward to working with you.

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Bulb Museum!

We were delighted when the Hardy Plant Society of Washington donated over 500 bulbs to our school garden. We even got a display box of many different kinds of bulbs. Rather than try to plant single bulbs around the garden, we made a Bulb Museum from some scrap wood.

I found this funny box frame:

scrap wood box

scrap wood box

And added some more scraps to complete the box:

completed box

completed box

We filled it with dirt and placed the bulbs:

Placing the bulbs

Placing the bulbs

And now they’re up! Crazy tulip, you’re supposed to wait until after the daffodils!

They're Up!

They’re Up!

Here’s the list:

Row 1 (Closest to the big rock)

Narcissus ‘Surfside’ (6)
N. ‘Quail’
N. ‘February Gold’ (4)
N. ‘Green Eyed Lady’ (2)
N. ‘Stint’
N. ‘Professor Einstein’
N. ‘Sweetness’
N. ‘Snipe’
N. ‘Ice Follies’ (3)
N. ‘Dutch Master’
N. ‘Angel’

Row 2 (Middle)

Tulipa ‘Holland Chic’
T. Zurel
T. clusiana ‘Cynthia'(4)
T. kaufmaniana ‘The First’
T. ‘Elegant Lady’
T. ‘Artist’
T. ‘China Town’
T. linifolia
T. humilis ‘Persian Pear’
T. ‘Heart’s Delight’
Allium ‘Avalanche’

Row 3 (path)

Nectarscordium siculum subsp. bulgaricum (2)
Allium christophii
Leucojum ‘Gravetye Giant’
Allium ‘Purple Sensation’
Crocus ‘Pickwick’ (2)
Muscari armeniacum ‘Saffier’ (2)
Fritillaria meleagris
Crocus ‘Vanguard’
Corydalis solida (2)
Galanthus nivalis (2)
Calochortus superbus
Colchicum ‘The Giant’
Allium ‘Molly Jeanne’
Allium schubertii
N. ‘Yael’
N. ‘Ambergate’

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What a busy back-to-school month we’ve had!  Kimberly and I hosted our first Open House on Friday, September 13th, and 6 groups of enthusiastic kids came and worked on many different tasks to kick-start the gardening season.


  • Of course, each class got to do LOTS of weeding, and we harvested an entire rollie-bin (that’s a 96-gallon cart!) of weeds and trimmings.
  • The older classes constructed 6 new raised beds, and the third graders were enormously enthusiastic trying to out-shovel me.  I unloaded 2 cubic yards of soil into their buckets, and they RAN to dump them into the new beds; I could barely keep up!
  • The kids pounded in short lengths of pipe to anchor the large row-cover supports, and erected trellising for a fall pea-crop.

We were so busy, I didn’t take a single picture!  So here’s one from October, showing students dividing and planting the new beds.

Planting the new raised beds

Planting the new raised beds

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Thanks to the wonderful watering crew of Garden Stewards, our garden is growing throughout the summer.  There have been a few hitches with the gate being locked sometimes, but a few phone calls found Sean, our school district Self Help Projects Coordinator, and all is well.

The 3-Sisters bed already has corn ‘knee-high by the 4th of July’ and the squash is growing nicely.  The beans look a little anemic, though.  While there are bean pods, the vines are pretty stunted.  I added a few more boards to the potato tower and filled it up with more dirt.  And, everything got a good soaking.

corn, beans, squash

corn, beans, squash

Potato Tower

Potato Tower

Of particular interest was the dog-vomit slime mold that has colonized our wood chips.  Fuligo septica can be bright yellow, but ours is a dusky tan.  It’s harmless (except to asthmatics when the spores are released) and fun to poke.

Dog Vomit Slime Mold

Dog Vomit Slime Mold

Here’s a fun video of spore release when it gets watered:

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We are delighted to form our new Garden Steward Program to support our teachers using our new outdoor classroom.  Parents and volunteers who have completed the background check and paperwork (see Kathy in the office) are welcome to join us.  Our goal is to have at least one volunteer from each classroom to help with garden related duties.

clip art of farmer with shovelWe will have a kick-off meeting in the fall as School starts to outline the myriad tasks and responsibilities.  As a Garden Steward, there are both small tasks and big ones.  Please contribute as much as you are comfortable with.

  • You can weed and water.
  • You can work with your teacher to set up, assist with, and clean up after any garden activities.
  • You can blog right here about the activities you participate in.
  • You can discuss outdoor-classroom curriculum ideas with any of the teachers, and work with us (our principal, Rina, and Kimberly, Grace, Amy and Julie) to get these ideas implemented.  We might write a grant, scrounge craigslist, or ask for donations to fund the projects.  We can help you get dirt delivered or organize construction parties.

For now, the most important thing is to come up with a Summer Vacation Watering Schedule for the 14 weeks school is out.  We have created a Signup Genius Calendar with tasks.  Once you have been invited to the calendar, you can sign up for a watering slot.  If you can, volunteer to water three times in one week, and then you’re done!  Of course we can get 14 volunteers!  There are rain barrels (which can be filled from the hose), or you can just use the hose and nozzle.  A key can be obtained from the storeroom, and we’ll make it available outside in the garden (in the worm bin!)

Contact Grace at methylgrace at yahoo dot com to get full access to the calendar, and I’ll meet you at the garden to show you what to do during the summer.  We’re looking forward to seeing this garden grow!

[Update 05/28/13:  Google Calendar doesn’t allow multiple people to add things, so I have created a Yahoo Calendar, and updated all of the links ]

[Update 06/06/13: Ugh, Yahoo Calendar also isn’t ideal since you have to have a yahoo email account.  Moving to Signup Genius for this summer.  I’ll post a whole spreadsheet soon.]

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As every student at our school knows, our winters are wet, followed by periods of damp, and soggy.  This was the climate that Spanish explorers encountered when they spent the winter of 1791 in Neah Bay.

Makah Ozette fingerling potato

Makah Ozette fingerling potato

Spanish captain, Salvador Fidalgo, after exploring the NW coast up to Alaska on earlier voyages, led an expedition from San Blas, Mexico, to establish a Spanish post at Neah Bay, WA.  The explorers built the fort and planted a vegetable garden.  After the severe winter weather, the Spanish abandoned the post, in part due to the treacherous moorage.  The Makah people either traded for, or adopted the thin-skinned potatoes from the abandoned garden and have kept them in continuous cultivation for 200 years.    The seed from these potatoes were identified in the 1980s and named after one of the 5 ancient Makah villages (Waatch, Sooes, Deah, Ozette and Bahaada), as the Ozette Potato.  Phylogenetic studies (analysis of the DNA genome) indicate that these potatoes were directly imported from South America.

Slow Food Biodiversity

Slow Food Biodiversity

Identified as a heritage potato, the Slow Food USA added the Makah Ozette Potato to the Ark of Taste in 2005.  “The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. By promoting and eating Ark products we help ensure they remain in production and on our plates.”  It has carefully propagated and made these rare potatoes available to cultivation and they have been shared among backyard enthusiasts and small farmers who bring them to restaurants and farmers’ markets.  The potato was added to the Slow Food Presidiato improve the infrastructure of artisan food production. The goals of the Presidia are to guarantee a viable future for traditional foods by stabilizing production techniques, establishing stringent production standards, and promoting local consumption.” 

The Oregon foundation, Eat. Think. Grow. developed a lesson plan around the Makah Ozette Potato, which is included here for download [PDF].  A 5 minute video is available [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SyXmVQMST80].

Recycled materials

Recycled materials

On the last day of school before Spring Break, our students planted this heritage potato in potato-towers.  Potatoes are traditionally planted in rows that are hilled up as they grow, so that more tubers will grow along the stem.  Due to lack of space, many home gardeners grow potatoes in towers, to which you attach boards and fill in, as the potatoes grow.  We pre-cut and pre-drilled some recycled lumber, and provided the screws and drills for the kids to put together the towers. It is so empowering to let the kids use the power tools themselves.  As our program grows, I hope we will have more construction projects.  Here, Mr. Bass helps a student align the screws.

Building the Tower

Building the Tower

Once the tower was constructed, the students filled up to the first board with dirt, planted the potatoes, and covered them up with the remaining dirt. We will continue to add dirt after 6″-12″ of the potato leaves are above the surface, and add boards as the potatoes grow. Once the tower is complete, the potatoes will be left to flower and die. In the fall, we’ll unscrew one side of the tower, collecting the dirt and potatoes as the whole thing is emptied. I can’t wait until our fall feast, served with lightly buttered Makah Ozette potatoes. Don’t forget to save some for next year!

Tower in progress

Tower in progress

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Back in cold December, spring seemed far away, yet the SNAPP Dragons Garden Team was planning ahead and ordered many native plant treasures from the King Conservation District 2013 Bareroot Plant Sale.  We ordered some shrubs and groundcovers and quickly came up with a planting plan for our native garden space.

Native Garden Plan

Native Garden Plan

Over the winter, the large Elm was removed due to disease and that it dropped large limbs onto our teachers’ cars!  We decided to feature the stump that was left, and created a secret space so the kids can sit on the stump and be surrounded by a mass of pink flowers.  Although we were faced with a change in the exposure to the site, we kept the Acer circinatum in the plan since it will be a fabulous anchor plant for the site, and it will be protected from the blazing sun by the walkway and the brick wall to the west.

  • Evergreen Huckleberry (Vaccinium ovatum)
  • Red Flowering Currant (Ribes sanguineum)
  • Pacific Ninebark (Physocarpus capitatus)
  • Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
  • Coastal Strawberry (Fragaria chiloensis)
  • Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
  • Salal (Gaultheria shallon)
  • Sword Fern (Polystichum munitum)
  • Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis)

Our team picked up 1.5 yards of a sandy two-way soil from Sky Nursery and the Dirt Exchange to place over the woody berms.  Another team member picked up the bare-root plants and plugs.  Unfortunately, the Vaccinium didn’t arrive, so we used more Ribes and Amelanchier in their place.

And then the kids arrived for the first birthday party for the Native Garden. Our first-graders were great helpers.  They learned where to put their feet (on the walkways and not on the “frosting” of the planting cake) and how to hold and use their tools (like mixing a cake, not flipping pancakes).  They learned how to tickle the roots to spread them out, and how to hold the trees so that they would be planted with the tree up and the roots down.  Then they were watered in, and everyone wanted to plant some more!  I can’t wait to see how this garden develops.

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If you visited our school during the summer, you would have been amazed at the size of the three piles of arborist chips, nearly 50 cubic yards, that were donated over the summer, and spread flat over cardboard by our enthusiastic volunteers. The cardboard effectively suppresses weeds and grasses from growing into the garden. It will slowly decompose so we’ll add more chips on the paths each year, and over time build up a lovely spongy layer like a forest understory.

But why did we leave big piles in the Native Garden section? We’re building a large Hugelkultur. This permaculture method improves soil tilth by hilling up compost and soil over woody material. As the whole pile decomposes slowly, spaces open up between the materials which will hold water like a sponge. This will reduce our requirement for watering the native garden after the first year or two once the large woody shrubs are established. I’m sure you’ve noticed how dry this area is!

One year old hugelkultur diagram

One year old hugelkultur diagram from http://www.richsoil.com/hugelkultur/

Good compost is decaying plant matter with a balanced amount of carbon and nitrogen, approximately C25:N35.  Think of carbon as the fuel and nitrogen as one of the building blocks for microbial growth.  Things with a lot of carbon are typically woody and decay slowly.  Our layer of woody chips from a variety of locally trimmed trees has very high amounts of carbon. We’ll need to add a lot of material that is high in nitrogen, such as goat or chicken manure, and coffee grounds to balance that.

Starbucks Grounds for your Garden

Starbucks Grounds for your Garden – photo by NancyCreative

You can help us by collecting coffee grounds and dumping them on the piles in the Native Garden … no need to ask us permission. Just collect and dump!

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Mother Nature smiled upon us Saturday with a little bit of afternoon sunshine. But that bit of sun was gravy compared with the more than 40 volunteers who turned out to lend muscles, humor, engineering and art skills to our school garden work party. You all blew us away!

A crew of students and their parental supervisors made short work of our enormous wood chip pile. Volunteers dismantled cardboard boxes to lay under the chips (the better to smother grass with, my dear!). Others shoveled, pushed wheelbarrows, raked and swept. It was a well-oiled machine.

The build-crew assembled our new garden beds, filled them with soil and installed one set of top rails (the other was missing pieces…watch for it to appear soon!). The top rails will allow small bums to have a place to sit while working in the garden beds, or while listening to garden educators!

The crafters decorated garden pails, painted lovely stones and created peace flags to beautiful our garden space. They are flying now. Check them out! In fact, check out the whole space the next time you are on campus. It’s at the south entrance by the blue boulder.

Thanks to everyone who turned out! We completed our task list in a much shorter time than we had anticipated. You rock! Thanks especially to Ms. Geoghagan for opening and closing up the parking lot for us (on her day off!), to Lisa Domke for heading up the crafts, to Dave Sielaff and Kevin Boske for leading the build-crew and to Cavalry Fellowship for lending us some muscle! And, of course, thanks to Katherine Selk and Kate Brown for bringing coffee, brownies and donuts!

Additional thanks to Cedar Grove for the fabulous soil donation and to Renaissance Tree Care and TreeCycle for the wood chips. We appreciate your support of our school!

Check out pictures from the day here!

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The dirt is here!

Can you tell I’m getting excited?

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