Thanks to everyone who showed up for our fall workday! It was a small, but hardworking crew. We had about a dozen volunteers, including a few staff members and Crestwood families. We cleaned out the garden plots, spread mulch, and began building raised beds in the back garden:
We're facing a challenging year at our school, with several new staff members and some changes to curriculum and student schedules. Having outdoor education as a constant is a good thing for our students, even as we tweak the program from year to year. The school garden has been here for well over 20 years, and there is something very reassuring about the longevity of it. Students and teachers and education fads may come and go, but not a whole lot has changed about how you plant a tulip bulb or grow a patch of lettuce.
SUNDAY, OCT. 29
CRESTWOOD WOODS AND GARDENS
Join outdoor education volunteers for a Fall Workday this Sunday, October 29 from 9-12 at Crestwood. We'll be spreading mulch on the woods trails and cleaning out the garden plots to put to rest for the winter. As always, families are welcome! There will be tasks for people of all ages and abilities.
Call for donations and volunteers
At Crestwood, we have a long tradition of making Stone Soup with our fall garden harvest and contributions from families, and then sharing it with the school community. This year, we will be cleaning and chopping root vegetables on Monday, October 16 and preparing soup at the school on the morning of Tuesday, October 17. Every student will have the opportunity to taste the soup Tuesday afternoon.
Making Stone Soup is a true community effort. We need DONATIONS OF CUT UP VEGETABLES* AND SEASONINGS** to make the soup as delicious as possible! Send your donation with your child to school MONDAY or TUESDAY MORNING OCTOBER 16/17 so it can be included in the soup.
We could also use volunteers Monday afternoon from 12-2pm to help 5th grade classes with vegetable prep, and Tuesday afternoon to help serve the soup. We are currently pretty well covered for Monday morning.
*We have a bumper crop of carrots, potatoes, garlic and kale from the Crestwood gardens this fall, so please avoid sending more of these items.
**In order to be sensitive to dietary restrictions, please send vegetarian items only (no chicken or beef bullion, no canned beans with pork, etc.)
Contact the Gardener-in-Residence at
susan [at] communitygroundworks [dot] org if you want to help or have any questions.
The Welcome Walk is a document introducing the outdoor learning spaces at Crestwood Elementary with some history of the program and questions for investigation. The Welcome Walk is a self-guided tour open to anyone - individuals, families, volunteers, but especially teachers who want a simple, straightforward way to start exploring our gardens and woods with their students. We've included the Welcome Walk here with photos so you can enjoy a virtual tour from wherever you are, whether it's the comfort of your own home or on a mobile device while you wait for the bus. Enjoy!
CRESTWOOD WELCOME WALK FALL 2017
There are many outdoor learning places to visit on the Crestwood school grounds, including several garden sites, wooded trails, and the apple orchard. Other nearby nature areas include Owen Park, a city conservation park with a restored prairie and maple and oak forests located on Old Sauk Road, and Kettle Pond, another city conservation area located on Old Middleton Road.
Below is some information on each outdoor learning space on our grounds and some things to investigate as you visit these places with your students. It may be helpful for them to have paper, pencil, and rulers to record their observations. The questions in bold are only suggestions for observation. You and your students will certainly come up with your own unique and interesting questions and observations!
Before you start, here is some background information on the Aldo Leopold benches, the mosaic signs, and the kiosks, all located on the school grounds in various outdoor spaces.
The Aldo Leopold Benches
There are many small simple benches throughout the Crestwood school grounds. This bench design was created by Aldo Leopold, author of “A Sand County Almanac”, a book that records the passage of seasons that Leopold observed in rural southern Wisconsin. “Considered by many as the father of wildlife management and of the United States’ wilderness system, Aldo Leopold was a conservationist, forester, philosopher, educator, writer, and outdoor enthusiast” (from www.aldoleopold.org). Leopold lived right here in Madison and was a professor at the University of Wisconsin!
The Leopold Benches at Crestwood were built by Travis Wood (former Crestwood student) as Eagle Scout project, Al Wessel (former SEA), and Don Worel (former 4,5teacher).
In 2010, 7 more of these benches were built and dedicated to staff who were retiring as well as volunteers who have done OE with Crestwood students for many years.
How many Leopold Benches can you find as you explore the Crestwood school grounds? 8 in the back
What color are the benches? (some plain, some blue/green, one red, one signed by 5th grade students)
The Mosaic Signs
For several years, students at Crestwood collaborated on mosaic signs to mark the garden and forest plots around the school. Kindergartens and 1st graders made clay tiles, 2nd and 3rd graders glazed them in a variety of colors, and 4th and 5th graders designed and assembled the final mosaics. The initial round of mosaics was completed in the spring of 2012 and marked five of the school's gardens. The second round, finished in the spring of 2013, were designed to designate the various plots in the forest behind the school. (As you’ll read below, every grade level has been assigned a different section of the woods to take care of during their years at Crestwood.) The 2014 mosaics mark the remaining plots in the forest and the Apple Orchard that has been planted near the parking lot along the east side of the school property.
Unfortunately, several of our mosaic signs took heavy damage during storms in the summer and early fall of 2016. Until they are repaired or replaced, they can’t be placed outside.
Do you recognize any of the birds on the mosaic signs in the woods? Which birds have yellow coloring? (goldfinch, chickadee, nuthatch) Which birds have red coloring? (robin, cardinal, woodpecker)
How many mosaic signs do you see in front of the school? What shapes or pictures do you see on them? (rainbow shape by the prairie garden, circle shape by the circle garden, apple shape by the apple orchard, butterfly shape by the butterfly garden)
There are 10 kiosks on posts around the Crestwood grounds. They were purchased using funds from the Joyce Soukup Memorial fund and installed in May 2014 by volunteers from Blackhawk Church during Love Madison workday. The posts are permanent, but the content on display can be changed. Currently, the kiosks contain original artwork and writing by Crestwood students.
How many kiosks can you find in the woods?
How many in front of the school?
What words or pictures would you like to put on a sign for one of these kiosks?
The Woods and trail system is located south of the building. This area has been part of Crestwood’s history since 1901 (when called Highlands/Mendota Beach School). Early PTO records mention ski jumping. In the 1980s, the main trail (between the school building and South Highlands Rd) and theater ring was installed by Sue Bohlman’s (retired 3rd grade teacher) son as his Eagle Scout project. Parent volunteers created seasonal teaching trail signs and led small groups through the woods and led restoration efforts including spring ephemeral planting and garlic mustard removal. Due to tree safety concerns, the woods area was not often used by students for several years in the mid-2000s.
In 2009 there was a revival of restoration efforts by the Outdoor Education Committee comprised of both Crestwood staff and volunteers. Parent and Arborist Joe House has helped with safety concerns by spearheading tree and shrub removal and community woods work days. From 2009 to present, new trails have been created including an “upper loop” in 2009 off the main trail, a “lower loop” in 2010 located behind the classroom circle and a new trail connecting the lower loop with the main trail near the Highlands Road in 2011. In spring 2014, smaller trails were added through the plots for more student access; though currently some of those trails are somewhat overgrown, they are accessible in the spring.
Each grade level of students that enters Crestwood as kindergartners is assigned a certain plot in the woods. Students help to plant native trees and shrubs and spring ephemerals in their plot, remove invasive species, and spend time exploring, studying and visiting their special area during the different seasons each year. Each grade level plot is named after a woodland bird. Some of the many classroom activities in the woods include native tree and shrub planting and data collection; “my spot” observation area through the seasons; removal of non-natives—garlic mustard, buckthorn; planting spring ephemerals, native trees and shrubs; scavenger hunts, art projects, walks, photo ops, and phenology (study of seasonal changes).
Those maintaining the woods at Crestwood face a variety of challenges, including trail erosion during downpours, invasive weeds, dead tree hazards, damage from storms, and damage from large equipment coming through to do other maintenance on the property. Still, we are committed to keeping the woods a vibrant learning space for Crestwood students, many of which know and treasure it as their own.
At the entrance to the woods you’ll see a wooden sign with the word robin on it. This marks the “Robin plot” that belongs to students who are 4th graders this year. There are six other wooden signs in the woods. See if you can find them all. What do they say? (Goldfinch, Cardinal, Blue Jay, Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Chickadee)
(Note: One way to tell what plot you’re in, other than the signs, is to look at the colored tape on the tubes protecting young trees that have been planted by the students. The colors are noted after the question below.)
What grade are you in and what is the name of your plot?
Nuthatch = KG and 4K (purple tape) Cardinal = 3rd (red tape)
Robin = 1st (“egg blue” tape) Goldfinch = 4th (yellow tape)
Blue Jay = 2nd (blue tape) Chickadee = 5th (orange tape)
Some trees have blue tags around their trunks (upper loop). Find one tree with a tag to discover the name of that tree. Can you find any leaves or seeds/nuts you think belong to this tree?
Locate an oak tree in your plot to observe through the seasons.
Many plants in the woods have gone to seed. How are plants spreading their seeds? What evidence do you see? (notice all the plants that have berries in the Goldfinch, Cardinal and Blue Jay plots like Solomon’s Seal, Pokeweed, Jack-in-the-pulpit and others – PLEASE NOTE THAT THESE ARE NOT EDIBLE PLANTS AND ARE IN MOST CASES QUITE TOXIC, ESPECIALLY THE BERRIES; check your clothes for burrs from burdock and enchanted nightshade; find exploding seed pods on the jewelweed that has taken over most of the woods)
Living Stage and Oak Savannah
If you walk down through the woods, past the classroom circle, and out into the soccer field, you’ll see some new and exciting developments since last year. Thanks to a grant from Community Groundworks, volunteers planned and installed an outdoor Living Stage against the backstop fence. The stage has hosted several performances already, including many renditions of Mr. Szudy’s garlic mustard play, and live poetry readings during Poetry Night in May 2015. Along the edge of the soccer field, among the jewel weed and burdock, you’ll see some young swamp oak trees. This area is an oak savannah restoration project still under development.
Would you like to perform on the stage?
What kind of performance can you imagine happening on the stage?
Can you find three different prairie plants by one of the oak trees in the oak savannah?
Prairie Sampler Garden
The Prairie sampler garden is located in the front of the school in front of the dumpster fences. (It is sometimes fondly referred to as the “dumpster garden.”) This garden offers students an opportunity to see various prairie plants up close. Seeing these plants before or after a trip to Owen Park may help with learning plant names and identification. Project ideas include: identifying and creating labels for plants, taking photos or drawing in different seasons, phenology.
What is the tallest plant you see? (Compass plant)
Is it a grass or flower? (Perennial plant that flowers. There are several prairie grasses nearby)
How deep do you think its roots go? (we don’t know precisely, but pretty deep!)
What would you call this plant if you were to create a name for it? Be creative!
(Example: Tall nodding sunshine flower?)
How many different colors or flowers do you find?
The Circle Garden
The Circle Garden located in the front lawn changes seasonally.
Planting of Red Emperor tulips occurs every other year with 2nd grade students (including this school year) in the fall. This then offers an opportunity to participate in the Journey North migration program (http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tulip/index.html) the following Spring. Students track the emergence of spring bulbs from the southern United States to the north and add their own data on Crestwood’s tulip bulbs.
Once the tulips have bloomed (and bulbs have been removed) the garden is planted with summer blooming flowers/crops.
This year the circle garden is a blooming forest of sunflowers and other beautiful blooms! First graders planted several varieties of sunflowers, zinnias and marigolds last spring, and they are clearly thriving. Look carefully and you’ll see volunteer dillweed and tomato plants growing amongst the flowers as well.
How many different colors of marigolds can you find?
How many different kinds of sunflowers do you see? What makes them different from each other? (height, color, size of flower, shape of leaves) What animals do you think like to eat sunflower seeds?
Why do you think the plants are called sunflowers? (they turn toward the sun)
Who is taller? You or the sunflowers? Your teacher or the sunflowers?
What is the circumference of this garden? Diameter?
The Butterfly Garden
The Butterfly Garden is a large rectangular space in the front yard with a stepping stone walkway through it. The garden contains many plants butterflies need throughout their life cycle – from larva to adult. Many plants are labeled. Monarchs raised in classrooms have been released here. This garden was created by parent volunteer and master gardener student Kim Bunke with the help of Karen Lenoch’s 2/3 class a few years ago
There are a lot of yellow flowers in this garden – are they all the same?
If not, what do you notice that is different?
What other kinds of plants do you see in the Butterfly Garden?
Vegetable Gardens in the front of the building have been in existence and continuous use since the early 1990’s when Harlan Seibricht was principal. This garden space was started by parent volunteers and has grown over the years with the help of students, staff, volunteers, and the support of the CAPT. The gardens start near the picnic tables to the east of the front door and stretch the length and around the side of the building all the way to the red wall (elevator).
Garden opportunities historically were offered through a lunch recess garden club, run by parent volunteers. More recently, entire classrooms have been involved in planting and harvesting various parts of the gardens. Starting in spring 2016, Crestwood has had a Gardener-in-Residence to organize programming and help maintain garden plots. The Gardener-in-Residence is a program run through the organization Community Groundworks, who hires the GiR and provides training and support.
These gardens are planted with students in the spring with crops to harvest in the fall and over the years have included potatoes, beans for drying, gourds, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, onions and garlic, rutabagas, corn, pumpkins and other late squashes. Every fall, 4th and 5th graders harvest vegetables to make Stone Soup; in the past, Stone Soup has been served to families at back-to-school night, and last fall, the soup was served as an option at lunchtime during the school day.
In spring 2017, second graders started cucumber seeds in mini-greenhouses made out of milk jugs and planted them all around the front garden plots, the idea being that they can harvest them for pickles in the fall as third graders. Other vegetables growing in the front this year include kale and broccoli planted by last year’s 4th graders, scarlet runner beans, purple beans, and a few peas.
Do you know what type of vegetable a pickle is before it is pickled? See if you can find the plant in the garden (cucumbers- these plants are vines – they like to grow up onto things).
Do you see tall plants with feathery leaves and a dome of tiny yellow flowers? Can you identify them? (dill – self-seeds prolifically and grows well with cucumbers)
There are some tall plants with huge dark green leaves. Can you identify them? (kale and broccoli) How many kinds of kale do you see?
Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors. How big is the biggest tomato you can find? How small is the smallest?
The front gardens were expanded in the spring of 2017 to include a narrow strip in front of the 5th grade windows. Mr. Moyer’s KG class planted asparagus in trenches along the wall, and later Ms. Ari’s 3rd graders added tomatoes and basil as well. (Tomatoes and basil are good companion plants to asparagus).
The red wall area is used for overflow, an area to plant seeds and seedlings that don’t fit in the other garden spaces. Now the overflow is host to kale, tomatoes, peas, a few beans, and a watermelon vine growing over the sunflower wall!
The Sunflower Wall
The Sunflower Wall, along the east driveway, was painted by then art teacher Roger Johnson. This last spring, many sunflower seeds were planted along the wall, and volunteers added extra tomato plants and nasturtiums at the end of the school year.
The Apple Orchard
The Apple Orchard site is east of east driveway. This area will eventually have 20+ trees of 5 apple varieties planted along low trellises. The initial funding for this project was received through a grant from Lowe’s (Spring 2012). In spring of 2015, two aronia bushes were planted outside the orchard fence, along with some new apple trees to replace the ones that didn’t survive the winter. Recent plantings also include two plum trees, as well as a peach tree (red star variety) that was heavily laden with fruit this July!
The ground area in and around the orchard tends to get overgrown with creeping Charlie, which we’ve tried to combat by planting clover and other ground cover to attract beneficial insects and pollinators. Ms. Allen’s 2nd grade classes have researched and planted types of flowers that attract pollinators. Also, last year Mr. Basseuner (art teacher) and students built a pollinator house using milk cartons leftover from the cafeteria and hollow sticks and stems collected from the school grounds. Developing a well-balanced eco-system in the orchard is a work in progress and provides many valuable project-based learning opportunities.
There is a fruit tree already growing in this area. What is it? (Apple)
There is soap hanging near the apple trees! How many bags of soap do you see? Why do you think they are there? (deterrent for deer)
Do you know how many varieties of apples are growing in our orchard? What are they? (3-Crimson crisp, enterprise, liberty)
Do you see any apples growing in the orchard? Are they red all over or different colors?
The Back Garden
The Kinder/1st grade garden is located behind the west parking lot. This garden space was expanded over two years with the help of Blackhawk Church members on their annual “Love Madison” community service Sunday. The back garden gives easy access to K/1 classes to plant spring crops (lettuce, spinach, kale, radishes) for salad snacks in May and June. Often, KG classes plant a “Three Sisters Garden” (pumpkins, corn, and beans) for fall harvest. This year, half of the back garden is a large potato patch, and the other half is host to a variety of flowers and vegetables, some of which have fallen prey to hungry rabbits that live in the area. We’re still hoping for a decent harvest of carrots and chard, however, along with tomatoes from a few volunteer plants that popped up this year.
There are also four raised beds tended by the 4K class. Last spring they planted salad greens, and the kale bed continues to thrive this fall.
The Shed behind the Kinder/1st garden was built in 2010. It was designed by Linda Gourley (retired art teacher), built by Don Worel (retired 4/5 teacher), and funded by a grant from the WI Retired Educators Association.
The garden plots are as clear of weeds as they're going to get. We've opened the woods trails. The sunflowers are blooming. Teachers are setting up their classrooms and setting up Ready, Set, Goal conferences. The nights are a little cooler, and the days are a little shorter.
In other words, school is starting soon. Are you ready?
We've got our last summer workday this Wednesday (tomorrow!), August 23, from 5:30-7:30pm. It looks like the weather is going to be lovely and cool, so join Crestwood volunteers and families for the final push to get our gardens and outdoor spaces ready for the start of school in a couple weeks. (I know. Where did the summer go?!)
Bring a picnic dinner, bug spray, and work gloves if you have them (we have plenty extra if you don't). Families are welcome! There are tasks for people of all ages and abilities.
Our main jobs, in order of priority, are:
Our final summer garden workday is next Wednesday, August 23 from 5:30-7:30pm. It's our opportunity to get the garden plots all cleaned up and ready for students to return in a few weeks. We should have an abundance of tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, radishes, kale, beans and other delicious vegetables for kids to harvest and enjoy the first few weeks of the school year. Bring a picnic dinner, work gloves and insect repellent.
Meanwhile, look what I found while pruning tomatoes this afternoon:
Two little watermelons growing by the sunflower wall! These plants were late to germinate, so I've been a little concerned that the vines would produce anything, but if all goes well, some lucky class will have a watermelon snack sometime next month.
One of the challenges of a school garden is planning for summer. Currently, there is no summer garden camp or student program at Crestwood, and even though we do our best to plant for spring and fall harvest, inevitably there are vegetables that have to be picked in the middle of July.
Take cucumbers, for instance. Second graders start cucumber seedlings in miniature greenhouses we make from milk jugs and plant them in the ground before school is out. Then in September when school starts back up, those same students, now in third grade, can pick the cucumbers to make pickles.
That's the idea, anyway. In reality, most cucumber varieties (especially the small kinds used for pickles) only take about 60-70 days from germination to harvest, so starting them early means they are ready to pick halfway through summer break and will have finished producing when school starts.
This year is a boom year for cucumbers at Crestwood. We planted a lot of them, and they peaked sometime last week. We always say one of the perks of helping in the summer is harvesting vegetables to take home. We've got more cucumbers was more than one family can possibly eat, however, and not many volunteers have showed up to take them home.
Call me the Cucumber Fairy. I've taken to giving cucumbers with neighbors of the school, leaving small piles of them on front porches with a few sprigs of dill. Overgrown cucumbers get cut in half and left in the chicken coop at the bottom of the hill. (Judging by the coos and clucks when those fat, juicy, slightly yellow cukes hit the ground, those are some happy chickens.)
I wish I had thought of neighborhood produce distribution when all the turnips had to be pulled a month ago. But then, "Turnip Fairy" just doesn't quite have the same ring to it.
Making mini-greenhouses out of milk jugs and seeing those seeds sprout and grow is such a good lesson for students that it would be a shame to give that up solely for the reason that they ripen too early. Still, perhaps next year we should also have the kids plant seeds in the ground the last week of school so that there will be a second wave of cucumbers ready to harvest later in the summer as well.
Did you know we have a peach tree growing in the orchard at Crestwood?
Well, we do! And this year, for the first time, it is loaded with peaches. They are ripe and ready for picking.
Come and get a bucketful before all the bugs find them.
Seriously, we need the peaches picked. If they fall to the ground, they'll rot and attract pests, so it's best to get them off the tree while they're good. Don't be shy!
Slurping fresh peaches with the juice dribbling down your chin is, in my humble opinion, the best way to eat them. But if you're blessed with an abundance and need some ideas for using a lot of peaches? Below are a few ideas and recipe links:
Peach freezer jam
Vanilla roasted peaches with raspberries
Our next summer garden workday is fast approaching! Join the Gardener-in-Residence, Crestwood families and volunteers this Thursday, July 27, from 5:30-7:30pm to harvest midsummer crops, pull weeds, and plant a few things for fall harvest.
What to bring:
Overall, the vegetable plots are growing pretty well. With all the rain we've had, everything is growing and nothing appears to be too waterlogged. Of course, the weeds are growing, too, prolifically in some spots. In the front garden, we have cucumbers, beans, dill, kale, broccoli and flowers.
The back garden has had more pest pressure this season. Our beets were completely mowed down (rabbits? turkeys?), but many carrots have survived among the weeds, and our potato patch actually looks pretty good! If enough people show up on Thursday, we will try and get a fence up around the half of the back garden with carrots, beans and other enticing greens.
The 4K garden beds sorely need attention. The kale is growing well but needs thinning, and we need to plant salad and radishes for fall harvest.
Not pictured (as of 7/24) are the circle garden, the butterfly garden, and the overflow garden by the sunflower wall. Those are in need of attention as well, but not as urgently as the rest of our spaces.
So, we certainly have our work cut out for us this Thursday! Everyone who comes will surely have something to bring home as a reward for their hard work: a few cucumbers, a handful of beans, a bunch or several of kale, and perhaps a turnip or two.
Even if you don't make it to the workday, remember to check here for garden updates and announcements. As we get closer to school starting (I know, I know, no one wants that reminder just yet!) we'll be doubling down on weeding and other preparations for when the students and staff return.
Crestwood's OE committee is dedicated to outdoor learning for all students.