West Union Elementary School in Hillsboro has been installing a permaculture-based garden through a grant from the Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District.
To ensure that every student in the school can be involved with the garden, each grade will be assigned a raised garden bed. As the students advance through the grades, they will rotate their way through a circle of garden beds, experiencing a different microclimate each year. The students will be able to observe how changes in sun exposure affect what they are able to grow in each location. Each class will work together to decide what they will plant. Students will be responsible for all planting and will assign specific jobs, including watering, photography, and recording. These assignments will help students develop a sense of ownership over their work in the garden, deepening their connection and investment, and knowledge of permaculture.
Even before the garden beds had been installed, students were hard at work preparing. In the fall, they propagated herbs and strawberries, which they have now planted. They also did all their own seed sowing and are now in the process of transplanting seedlings into their beds. Parent volunteer Amy Wachsmuth notes that students are involved in the project at every point possible. “With every new task that needs to be done, we try to think, ‘How can I adapt it so a kid can do this?’”
While the central focus of the permaculture garden is a circle of eight annual production beds, the West Union Elementary garden will have a variety of unique features to spark students’ curiosity while also providing habitat for pollinators and wildlife and helping to manage rainwater drainage issues:
- A demonstration permaculture bed located at the center of the garden will provide space for teachers and garden coordinators to create experimental and example plantings.
- A rain-absorbing garden will use strategically placed, deep-rooted plants and a small berm to address an area that experiences regular pooling.
- A small tea garden will feature a variety of fragrant, shade-tolerant herbs.
The Tualatin Watershed Improvement Grant (TWIG) is a program available to residents of Washington County who want to implement conservation projects. Since the grant became available in January 2018, more than ten schools have applied for and received funding to install or improve their school gardens. After being awarded a TWIG grant in early March, the West Union Elementary School garden team wasted no time in getting to work. They quickly lined up three work parties and had all eight raised garden beds constructed and filled with soil just one month later!
“I want this site to inspire other schools to follow suit.”– Amy Wachsmuth
For the garden team at West Union, longevity of the project is key. As the garden beds begin to grow, they will get to work implementing practices that will promote sustainability of the garden, including creating their own compost from on-site materials, using fallen leaves to replenish organic matter in the soil, and saving seeds to propagate new plants from year to year. As the garden takes shape, Wachsmuth hopes that other schools can look to it as an example: “I want this site to inspire other schools to follow suit.”