Which cuisine do you think of when you think about peas? French, with petits pois aux laitues? Italian, which offers piselli con prosciutto? Indian, and its mutter paneer? British, with buttered peas with mint?
And when you reach for peas, are they frozen or fresh?
Worldwide, most peas are consumed straight from the deep freeze. Many would argue that frozen peas are the better choice, for quality. They certainly can’t be beat in terms of convenience, and they do taste good. I am not immune to their charms when pea season is still a ways off.
Here at Rock ‘n Renew, we love engaging students in gardening and an edible education. Our students get to spend lessons outside in the fresh air getting their hands dirty. They are able to get in touch with the environment and our agricultural roots in cities where it is hard to find much green space, let alone vegetable gardens.
School gardening projects are sweeping across the nation. Those of us who spend time with children in the garden have seen firsthand anecdotal evidence of how much gardening positively influences the lives of our students. It provides them with hands on education in science, environment, and local food systems. Students need direct contact with nature and our planet to appreciate and value its conservation. Unfortunately, urban spaces tend to be riddled with litter, graffiti, pollution, and tend to lack green spaces and fresh produce. Gardening helps our students reconnect to the earth and become inspired to think about their daily choices and how it affects the environment and their health.
Plant-based activities, gardening, and environmental studies provide great opportunities for implementing National and State Science Education Standards. Such opportunities go far beyond the basic study of plants themselves to include life cycles, ecosystems, soil, weather, organisms, and many science process skills such as measuring, charting, collecting data, and reporting.
One of the key premises of contemporary school gardening advocates is that garden-based lessons…
Help students meet performance standards across disciplines
Appeal to different learning styles
Apply concepts through the contexts of real-world experiences
Provide rich activities and experiences for students of all learning abilities
We just finished composing a Rock ‘n Renew School Garden Guide. It is a comprehensive detailed guide on how you can start a school garden! We have several versions based on the scope and scale of your vision. We also have a special Garden Guide that was created by our students, for other students. Email us to receive a free copy.
Anyone who has tried a tomato fresh from the garden knows it tastes nothing like the generic grocery store tomato. There are so many varieties including beefsteak, plum, cherry, grape, campari, roma, brandywine, black krim, and green zebra. They come in many shapes and sizes and each has unique qualities and taste. Different varieties can be easier or harder to grow and care for, but if you follow these tips, you should have some perfect tomatoes growing in your garden.
Tomato Growing Tips
1. Make sure to leave enough room for each tomato plant. They need room to allow for air circulation.
2. When transplanting into the garden, bury the stem up until the first true leaves. New roots will quickly sprout under ground from the stems, and more roots mean more fruits!
3. Tomatoes like a strong support system. Stake or trellis them so the branches don’t break from the weight of the fruit.
4. Tomatoes have many friends in the garden. Be sure to companion plant basil and marigolds to keep those pests away.
5. When watering your plant: water deeply, but not too often. Make sure to directly water the soil and not onto the leaves.
6. Pruning your tomato plant is very important. When you prune off the non fruiting branches, more plant energy is diverted into growing bigger and better fruit on the other branches.
7. Once your tomatoes are coming in, be sure to add compost around the stem of the plant to encourage new growth and continued fruit.
6. Don’t forget to pick your tomatoes once they are ripe: full sized and full color. Don’t let them over-ripen on the vine.
Squash comes in many varieties. There are zucchinnis, pumpkins, yellow squash, acorn, butternut, spaghetti. They come in different shapes and sizes and growing seasons, but they generally have similar planting and care guidelines. They grow on a vine and can spread out quite far. Make sure to have plenty of space for them. Each plant also produces a prolific amount of squash. Don’t be surprised if you end up with too much and end up having to give most of it away. They have both male and female flowers. The female flowers are easy to identify by looking for a tiny squash below the blossoms. Male flowers are borne atop a bare stem.
Why Don’t I Have any Squash Growing?
Do you have many flowers growing on your plant, but not squash seem to be forming? Don’t be alarmed if your plants aren’t growing any squash. This is a very easy problem to fix. As stated, squash have both male and female flowers on the plant. The female flowers need to be pollinated by the male flowers in order to form the squash. If no squash is forming, this means that the female flower was not pollinated by a bee or insect. Luckily, it is very easy to hand pollinate. There are several ways that you can go about doing this. One way is to remove the male flower and rub it on the female flowers. You can also take a q tip and get the pollen off of the male flower and into the female flower. You can also just give the plant several good shakes and get the pollen moving that way.
Bokashi is a ramped up, high speed composting method that was first developed on Japan. Conventional composting relies on oxygen-fed organisms to break down organic material. Bokashi is a method that uses a mix of microorganisms to cover food waste to decrease smell. It derives from the practice of Japanese farmers centuries ago of covering food waste with rich, local soil that contained the microorganisms that would ferment the waste. After a few weeks, they would bury the waste and it would become a rich soil. It’s basic fermentation, the same process that gives us wine and pickles.
Advantages of Bokashi
Most composting methods require months of waiting for the food scraps to break down into compost. However, bokashi composting works very fast, taking only a few days rather than months. Many people complain of their home composting methods having a strong order. Bokashi, on the other hand, is virtually odorless. It has the potential to be speedier, more space-efficient way to recycle large volumes of kitchen waste into valuable compost.
How to Make Bokashi
You will need containers or buckets with tight fitting lids to keep air out, kitchen scraps, and bokashi mix.
1. Begin by put a layer of bokashi at the bottom of the bucket
2. Add food scarps on top of the layer
3. Each time a layer of scraps is added, add 1-2 tablespoons of the microorganisms
4. Make sure to close the lid securely
5. Once the bucket is full allow it to sit for 10 days for fermentation
6. You will be left with juices and fermented food scraps
7. The juices make a great compost tea for crops, and the fermented scraps can be buried in the ground to enrich the soil.
Honey bees are extremely valuable to our agricultural industry, doing almost 80% of all crop pollination. The annual monetary value of these insects as commercial pollinators in the US is approximately $15 billion! Without bees, both farmers and consumers would be at a great loss. They are the “unsung heroes” behind most of the world’s food supply, and are an integral part in sustaining 1/3 of the world’s crop production.
Most of our crop species (about 75%) require pollinators such as bees. Care for a fun fact? One out of every three mouthfuls of food and drink we consume depends upon pollinators. After hearing that, can you even imagine your world without pollinators? Almonds are almost completely dependent upon pollinators (especially honey bees), so without these species, almonds will be gone. Fruits and vegetables such as mangoes, apples, avocados, carrots, citrus fruits, broccoli, kale, onions, and more would either be extremely expensive to grow without thriving bee colonies, or would simply be gone.
So why are the bees declining? This phenomenon is due to Colony Collapse Disorder, in which worker bees abruptly disappear. Little is known about CCD, but scientists believe it is due to a combination of unfortunate factors such as pathogens, malnutrition, and pesticides. According to Dr. Albert Einstein: “If the bee disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination…no more men”. Bees’ eradication affects us more than we may think.
Compost is decayed organic material that can be used as a plant fertilizer. By composting leftover food, yard waste, and a variety of other ingredients, you create a nutrient-rich fertilizer and minimize the waste that is sent to landfills. Your garden plants and landscape will grow healthier and stronger. The ideal “recipe” includes: air, water, “brown stuff” (dead and dried plant parts, such as pine needles and leaves), and “green stuff” (grass clippings, kitchen vegetable scraps, and other plants). The benefits of adding compost to your garden are extensive, and include such things as:
Enriching soil with nutrients for plant growth
Improving soil structure
In clay soil, it promotes drainage and aeration
And in sandy soil, it enhances moisture and nutrient retention
You can reduce the need for water, fertilizers, and pesticides, which offers many economic benefits. It is also a low cost alternative to standard landfill cover and artificial soil amendments. Composting diverts organic materials from landfills, helping to both extend landfill life and keep materials out of these dumping zones.
If you’ve ever wondered how today’s crops came to be, you have the the process of seed saving to thank. Humans have selected certain seeds for various traits over the generations, and have traded them across the world. This selection of seeds led to a genetic diversity of crops that’s been adapted to many growing conditions and climates, creating a large base for the world’s food supply. Saving seeds has been an essential part of our survival for thousands of years.
Seed saving is an important and vital part of food security worldwide. With saving seeds, we are able to preserve the varietal characteristics we want. The agricultural industry relies on food that meets consumer standards and withstands long distance shipping. The industry continually wants the best varieties, so it is important to save the seeds from the plants that meet these qualifications. Another reason for seed saving is to develop and preserve the strains that are adapted to your own growing conditions. If you want varieties and strains best adapted to your specific climate conditions, saving your own seeds is one of the only ways to ensure this. Over generations seeds have the ability to develop very specific adaptability to the climate conditions at your site.
Over time, genetic crop diversity has severely dwindled, meaning that our food supply is based on a very small selection of crops. This makes these crops more vulnerable to pests, diseases, and changes in climate. Saving, as well as sharing, rare, heirloom, and even native seeds will continue to be an important part of our worldwide food security in the years to come.
Over at our Bayonne Ecology Center we recently collected the seeds from a few of our kale plants. To make sure the seeds are viable, you need to make sure that the pods are left on the plant until they have dried up and become a tan color (such as the above picture). Once this happened, we picked the pods off of the plant and carefully broke the pods open, revealing the little gray/brown round seeds. The amount of seeds we collected might not look like a lot because they’re so tiny, but they can definitely grow a very large number of new kale plants
As Rock n’ Renew supporters know, Jonny’s band became concerned with their fuel consumption while they were on the road touring, causing them to power their vehicles with the sustainable energy from french fry grease from fast food restaurants. This initiative is one that more people should be taking, especially when you consider the fact that we have used about one trillion barrels of oil and have one trillion barrels left.
This means that we have already used half of our oil resource, and energy demand is expected to increase in the coming years. We need to start thinking about sustainable energy resources such as wind, hydro, and solar energy. This won’t be an immediate change, seeing as some of the technologies needed for these renewable resources still need to be invented, with a considerable amount of time, money, and effort going into these projects. It is becoming increasingly evident that we must make this transition, and soon. Biofuel is one resource that has the potential to help us during this transition time, however it is not the end solution due to the fact that biofuel is not sustainable. A combination of wind, hydro, and solar energy will ultimately be needed, but it has been argued that out of the three, solar energy is our best and most feasible option at this point. A frequent gripe about converting to solar energy is the cost, but solar panel companies are making it easier for people to afford such renewable energy by lowering the cost of solar power by 10-20%. Solar energy is cleaner than fossil fuels, it is more cost-effective in the end, and it has the capabilities of supporting and sustaining upcoming generations
“The Common Cents Penny Harvest grew from one child’s desire to feed the homeless, and since 1991, children between the ages of four and 14 have been converting their natural compassion for others into action by collecting pennies and turning those pennies into grants for community organizations – $8.1 million in grants donated by children since 1991!
The Penny Harvest shows young people that they have the ability to make the world a better place by introducing them to the power of philanthropy and service during their formative years. As children help others, they develop their generosity and moral character, and through practice they learn through practice the skills and responsibilities of democratic participation.”
Several New York City schools have graciously harvested pennies and chosen Rock ‘n Renew as their non profit recipient of a Penny Harvest Grant. One such school is the Mamie Fay School, located in Queens, NY. We traveled to this school, where the students put on an assembly for us in which they honored Rock n’ Renew as the recipient of a $250 grant. They spoke about choosing Rock n’ Renew because, in their school-wide poll, the majority of the students voted that saving the environment was one of their top priorities in assessing what organizations received grants. The Colonel David Marcus School was the other institution to award us with a grant, and we want to thank both this school and the Mamie Fay School for their generosity.