a journal of our edible education

Archive for May, 2012


In our vegetable garden we have two poles which suspend several hollowed out gourds.  These gourds hang about ten feet off the ground and starting in January (for the last twenty years) they become home to migratory purple martins.  It is believed that these birds travel all the way from Brazil to nest in our garden.  Their stay coincides with the seasonal increase in central Florida’s flying insect population.  By the time the martin eggs have hatched the weather has warmed and there are plenty of nourishing insects in the air.  These birds are rarely seen on the ground so there are no worms on the menu for these babies.  Their aeronautical acrobatics as they pluck food from the sky provide a daily airshow for our gardeners.  By the beginning of May you can see little beaks crowding the openings in the gourds and hear the constant chattering of attentive parents.  All too soon though, these hanging apartments grow eerily silent.  By the end of May, just like the hallways in our school buildings, the nests will be empty and the newly feathered brood will fly off to new horizons.  Every year there is another kind of brood that leaves the “nest”.  This week our eighth graders will wear the OJA uniform for the last time and then it will be off to new experiences.  These students have been nourished in many ways and are well prepared for the path that lies ahead.  Best of luck and safe travels to our purple martins and to our new alumni and may God bless them in their new adventures.


Houston….. We Have a Pumpkin.

C’est magnifique, n’est pa?

Not that Houston really cares.  Who knows though, maybe Houston loves French pumpkins.  Regardless, our pumpkin patch is looking promising.  We have several baby pumpkins and the one pictured above is the most mature.  Eventually they will turn a terracotta buff color and the inside will become an appetizing brilliant orange.  As beautiful as the “Musque de Provence” pumpkin is, the main reason we are growing them is to eat them. They are delicious. They have also been a great teaching tool for the upper grade science classes.  Pumpkins have large imperfect flowers that are well suited for illustrating the complexities of reproduction through pollination.   The flowers are called “imperfect” because they have either male structures or female structures, never both as “perfect” flowers do.  Pumpkins have both types of flowers on the same plant making them monoecious.  Observation has inspired many questions  and the students have made the connection between form and function by seeing it first hand.  They have also learned that despite our obvious differences it is remarkable how much we have in common with a vine that rambles along the ground.  Hopefully our students will return in August to learn about their gastronomical applications.

So Many Seeds

As this school year comes to a close it seems like next year’s garden has already started.  If we want produce in August then getting seeds in the ground becomes a priority in May.  It looks like the summer rains have gotten an early start and the heat is definitely on, so the time is now.  Our kindergarten classes worked dilegently removing the seeds from the asian long beans we saved from last year, then carefully planted them in trenches under a bamboo trellis.  This is a great job for little, developing fingers.  It’s real work that they enjoy and can do very well.

A few of our sixth graders also helped to get the summer garden going by planting “Moon and Stars” watermelon seeds…






…and cotton seeds (which look like little q-tips). 

The students here are learning that our garden doesn’t take a summer vacation and that the little investments they make in May will make next year’s garden beautifully abundant.

Life Happens

Sprouting Peanut

Plant a viable seed in good soil, in the right season and it happens.

How many times will I see this before I am no longer amazed.


Having just read  this  book and this book about Dr. George Washington Carver, our fourth graders are gaining a bit more insight into his life and work by planting peanuts.  Dr. Carver was a gifted and generous scientist who had an immense impact on the history of southern agriculture and industry.  By studying this great man’s life our students not only see the value of scientific research but also see its connection to moral obligation.  The seeds that this year’s fourth graders plant are actually a gift that next year’s fourth grade will harvest and enjoy in the fall.

Valencia Peanuts

The variety we are growing is known as “Valencia”.

Our Farming Fourth Graders

Fun facts:

Valencia peanuts have naturally red thin skins.

Peanuts are not technically nuts.  They are legumes.

Pumpkins’ Progress



What a difference a month makes.  Our Musque de Provence pumpkins are on a stampede.

Pest Management

In our garden the subject of pesticide is raised most often by adults and rarely if ever by students.  Perhaps adults are more battle weary than their children in the war on bugs and are sooner ready to go for the nuclear option.  Pests are an inevitable fact of life for anyone who tries to grow food.  Let’s face it, you are not the only one eyeing those cabbages out there.  If you grow something delicious you’re going to have competition, but just as in so much of life, management turns out to be more pragmatic than control.  Control is the fantasy.  Management is the daily grind.  Very few problems are truly eradicated and we  often  learn to work “with” rather than work “against”.  (sometimes this takes a long time to learn) When it comes to pests, the food garden has chosen the management route and adopted a no synthetic pesticide policy.  Along with giving up on chemical poisons we have given up the idea of a pest free garden.  Some of our produce will be blemished.  Some of it will disappear, but in the long run we will find more than we lose.  It turns out that nearly every pest that wants to eat our crops has some other critter that wants to eat it.  Watching this drama play out in the garden is pretty fascinating and assembling the cast is our only responsibility.  If you’re going to have aphids (and you will), you’re going to want to invite some lady bugs. If you’re going to have earwigs or beetles you’ll want to have some lizards like this one on hand.

Students finding a baby lizard and its unhatched cousin (yes it’s a lizard egg) will obviously bring planting or any other garden task to a halt.  The discovery of ants, aphids, grubs, worms, beetles, snakes, grasshoppers, baby birds etc. is one reason gardening takes so long.  It’s tempting to see these discoveries of life as distractions but they are not.  They are one more lesson to be learned.  One more thing to be questioned.  If we use poison in the garden how far does it go?  How many poisoned insects can this lizard eat before it will get sick and die?  How many of these sickened lizards can be eaten by a mockingbird before that mokingbird gets sick?  How does what we do impact the world around us? These are not always easy questions with easy answers.  Gardening can get complicated and learning to work “with” can be hard.  Growing a garden that is inviting to predators like this lizard takes knowledge, planning, work and sometimes compromise but the payoff is suprisingly effective.  This baby lizard is hungry and it will spend everyday of its life looking to eat something in our garden… and I don’t think he likes cabbage.

Heritage in the Garden

Orlando Junior Academy is a diverse community that includes students, staff, friends and extended family that have come together to care for and learn from each other.  Each member of this community brings something unique to the table, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  The food garden is a wonderful and appropriate place to celebrate this diversity and see food from a truly global perspective.

Proud dad Emerson Mility

Tuesday in the garden the sixth grade class learned about and planted two food plants with strong cultural traditions.  Their lessons were presented by two gentlemen from very different places. 

 One guest teacher was OJA dad, Emerson Mility.  Mr. Mility comes from the Dominican Republic and has long felt that no garden (including the one at OJA) is complete without sugarcane.  Mr. Mility shared his knowlege about sugarcane and its uses and also advised the students on how to grow a vigorous crop.  He says we should be able to celebrate Christmas with cane juice!

Our other guest teacher was College Park businessman Giovanni Vianello owner of “Let Us Frame It” on Edgewater drive.  Mr. Vianello brought with him stories of his father growing food in the “old country”.  Mr Vianello comes from Venice, Italy where his family has grown grapes for many generations.  The grape plants shown here are actually grown from cuttings taken from the vines at the Vianello homestead and will hopefully provide many generations of OJA students with a taste of Venice.

Grape Enthusiast Giovanni Vianello

Thanks, Gentlemen for giving of your time and sharing your knowledge with us.  You are helping to make our garden and our education truly “world class”.