Jed McMillan and Hailey Dammann lay straw onto a compost pile they helped build at Classroom in Bloom last week. Assisting in the effort are Cheyenne Fonda, left, Stephanie Miranda, Christy Yieth, Maya Schrager and Chloe Blum. Photo by Laurelle Walsh

Jed McMillan and Hailey Dammann lay straw onto a compost pile they helped build at Classroom in Bloom last week. Assisting in the effort are Cheyenne Fonda, left, Stephanie Miranda, Christy Yieth, Maya Schrager and Chloe Blum. See gallery below for more photos. Photo by Laurelle Walsh

By Laurelle Walsh

Some of the Methow Valley’s youngest gardeners are outside this week, turning over cover crops, preparing beds for planting, putting seeds in the ground, pruning perennials and making compost.

Methow Valley School District students — 320 of them, from kindergarteners to high school seniors — make gardening a part of the school day at Classroom in Bloom, a half-acre food garden located just steps away from both campuses.

Students and their teachers, AmeriCorps members, Outward Bound and community volunteers, and three staff members all pitch in throughout the growing season to create a space for hands-on science, food production and outdoor education.

Last Wednesday (April 23), sixth graders, under the supervision of Classroom in Bloom Executive Director Anaka Mines, taught visitors how to build a compost pile. The students laid a loose layer of “dry brown stuff” — leaves, last year’s garden waste and straw — on the ground and shoveled a thin layer of “moist green stuff” — food waste from the cafeteria and horse manure — on top, watering it as they went along.

They repeated these layers until they achieved a mound about 6 feet across at the base and about 3 feet high.

They will leave the pile to “cook” for several weeks, turning and watering it periodically to aerate the pile and rotate the outer material into the middle, according to Mines. The decomposition process will produce temperatures up to 160 degrees within two weeks, Mines said.

A nearby pile that had been started the previous Saturday had already achieved an internal temperature of 110 degrees on Wednesday, according to sixth grader Hannah Bakke, who tested it with a long-stemmed thermometer.

Finished compost is added to Classroom in Bloom’s growing beds, enriching the soil so that it can produce the next vegetable crop.

Headed for cafeteria

Peas, spinach, lettuce, mixed greens and radishes are planted in early spring. Those crops grow fast, so that they can be harvested and served at the school cafeteria before school ends in June, according to Mines.

Other crops are planted a little later than in a typical home garden, so that harvest is “in synch” with students returning to school in the fall, according to garden manager Emily Post.

All in all, the Classroom in Bloom garden produces impressive quantities of produce, all of which is used in lunches at Methow Valley Elementary and Liberty Bell Junior/Senior High School.

For example, the 2013 harvest brought in over 100 pounds of lettuce, 57 pounds each of green beans and bell peppers, 319 pounds of potatoes and a whopping 600 pounds of carrots, according to Classroom in Bloom’s records.

“The garden is a great place for kids to learn about life cycles, hone their coordination, learn discernment and tenderness and nurture their health,” said Post. “It is never too early to get a child involved in the garden.”

As Mines sees it, eating produce that they have grown themselves is a huge motivator for children in the garden.

“The smallest kids respond to everything: anything they can eat, smell or touch. As they get older, they still really want to eat things,” Mines said.

Sorrel is an easy-to-grow, sour-tasting leaf that kids love to taste, said Mines. They also love to eat carrots, strawberries, raspberries and peas in the pod.

During summer break, the public is invited to help out at the Classroom in Bloom garden every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information call 996-2368 or go to www.classroominbloom.org.

GALLERY