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From Wheat To…….. Bread?

One of the most fascinating aspects of being a gardener is learning about the history of certain plants that are growing in the garden.   Our DemonstrationGarden has many plants that have long and interesting pasts.  From the Garden’s “vegetable lambs” (a.k.a. cotton) to the fascinating stories behind many of the herbs, the Garden provides a mini-history lesson to the school children who visit. 

     Around 10,000 BC three grass species are thought to have crossed, giving rise to the plant we now call “wheat.”  Archeologists have found evidence of wheat in pits and caves used by humans as far back as 8000 BC.   By 6700 BC Stone Age man was using stone tools to grind the wheat into flour.  In fact, it is postulated that the “domestication” of wheat and other cereal crops might have been responsible for turning ancient nomadic hunter-gatherer communities into agrarian, stationary societies.  By 5000 years ago many civilizations grew wheat as a major crop.  The Egyptians were the first to make loaves of bread rise, possibly as a result of using beer, rather than water, as the liquid while making their bread.  Wheat bread was so important in Egyptian culture that in the tombs their dead were provided with miniature granaries to provide food for the afterlife.  An Egyptian museum even displays a loaf of bread found in one of the tombs.   This gives a whole new meaning to the words “stale bread.”

     For the past three to four years, the Demonstration Garden has grown a crop of wheat.  There are two different types of wheat:  fall wheat and spring wheat.  For years, the Garden’s wheat seeds (the name of the variety is unknown) were planted in a long raised bed in the spring.  However, few wheat stalks made it to maturity.  So, after talking to Fred Burrell, who was the County Extension agent at the time, in 2012 the seeds were broadcasted in the fall about 1”-2” apart and about 1”-2” deep in the raised bed.   Judging from the plants,

Wheat Growing At The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road, Dallas

it looks as if a good crop of mature wheat will be obtained this year.  By late summer the stalks will turn golden and be harvested.

     Until now, the Garden’s wheat crop has been used primarily for educational purposes to show school children an actual wheat plant.  In the past, the few wheat stalks that made it to maturity were cut and used for decoration.  However, at some point, it is hoped that enough wheat can be grown to actually produce a loaf of bread (or maybe a mini-muffin, since it takes about 10 square feet of planted wheat to make one small loaf of bread). 

     If you would like to find out more information on growing your own wheat to make bread, there are several articles on the internet describing the process.  Mother Earth News  has a detailed article on how to go about planting, reaping, threshing, winnowing, and turning the wheat into flour.  Growing your own wheat to make bread isn’t as easy as buying a loaf at the store, but it certainly makes one appreciate what our ancestors and even some people today still do to obtain wheat flour.  So, as you are eating your morning toast, think about the history of wheat as an important food crop.  And, if you have ever grown your own wheat for bread, we would love to hear from you.


Picture by Starla

More About February Garden Chores

Garden chores never really stop just because it’s winter.  Even though the garden “sleeps” during these colder months, there’s always something to do – trimming frost-bitten plants, removing those that have been winter-killed, composting, mulching – the list of chores go on.  For the volunteers at the Demonstration Garden, January and February have us looking forward to the Spring garden – what should we plant, when is the best time to plant, what do we need to do to get ready? 

 ILPS Students Preparing Vegetable Beds For Spring

Independence Life Preparatory School students Myron and Bradley worked in one of the many raised beds to thin out fava beans which they planted a month ago.  Ever the recyclers, rather than composting, they potted up the 12 plants they removed for transplanting.  Myron added a wheelbarrow load of compost, then, he & Bradley prepped the entire 4’x 12′ raised bed for planting bush beans next month.   

Bradley couldn’t think of a better place to take a break than to sit on the edge of the raised bed he’d so carefully tended.  On a beautiful sunny February day, who could ask for more?

Student Helper At The Demonstration Garden on Joe Field Road


Imagine A World…

“Imagine a world, in which all children grow up with a deep understanding of the  life all around them.  Where obesity is reduced through nature play. Where anti-depressants and pharmaceuticals are prescribed less and nature prescribed  more.  Where every school has a  natural play space. Where children learn of the joy of being in nature, before they experience its loss. Where they can lie on the grass on a hillside for hours and watch clouds become the faces of the future. Where every child and every adult has a human right to the connection to the natural world and  shares the responsbility for caring for it.”

Richard Low, author of Last Child in the Woods.

“Nature Deficit Disorder”

Happy New Year from

The Earth-Kind® WaterWise Demonstration Garden

 on Joe Field Road. 

We hope you will take steps in 2013 to cure Nature Deficit Order.

 Book a trip our garden!

Excerpts from the Great American Campout website and American Academy of Pediatrics: 

  • An “indoor childhood” hurts bodies & spirits.
  • Today’s kids are more likely to “tag” a friend on Facebook than outdoors in a game of “freeze tag.”
  • Kids today run from school to activities to sports w/ barely a minute to catch their breath.  Loss of free time can contribute to stress, anxiety, & depression in children. (American Academy of Pediatrics)
  • Studies show being outdoors is the perfect anecdote.  Time in green spaces reduces children’s tension levels & enhances their social interactions, helping them to feel more connected to self and others. 

Learning in the Garden 

Sources cited:

  • Growing Food LiFE Curriculum Series
  •  Botany on Your Plate (Univ. of CA & NGA)
  •  Math in the Garden (Univ. of CA & NGA)

A Grace Academy Student Enjoying Learning and Nature At The Demonstration Garden

Using a garden helps teach the core concepts to diverse learners in an untraditional setting and grow into a relevant teaching tool. 

Simple truths about working w/ students in a garden setting: 

  • Students can better understand their environment by exploring it and hone their knowledge and skills while doing so.
  • An “outdoor learning center/classroom” creates a destination, a reason to outdoors.
  • Enhancing the outdoor learning center creates a schoolyard habitat: “If you build it, they will come.”
  • Students become stewards, stakeholders, creators by having a stake in planning and sustaining a school garden.
  • Gardening fosters teamwork, builds community, encourages sharing and understanding which in turn, creates decision-makers and problem-solvers.
  • Gardens are multi-sensory environments; students can use all of their senses to observe, predict, and understand how the world works.
  • Connections are created w/ the natural world & our region’s uniqueness.
  • Interdisciplinary learning is possible – connects Math, History, Language Arts (journaling, botanical names/Latin roots), Creative Arts, Social Sciences (bio-diversity and interdependence in plant and animal communities as in human communities), Life Sciences (nutrition, healthy choices, life skills). 

A garden setting is ripe for inquiry learning, doing & thinking rather than learning a set of predetermined facts by rote.  Einstein said the most important thing is to never stop asking questions.  Knowing how to find answers to those questions is every bit as important as knowing the answers.  

Since the early 1970s, research on how students learn Science stressed the importance of starting instruction based upon student perceptions & experiences.  In other words, you start w/ what they know or perceive to know and make meaningful connections between new knowledge and existing knowledge.  What teachers need to remember is children build their ideas over many years of explorations.  They tend to hold onto these ideas/beliefs tenaciously.  Time and countless repetitions (in large groups, small groups, or individually) are needed for them to examine new evidence, new explanations and new ideas and draw meaningful connections w/ their preexisting knowledge.  For new concepts to take root, they must make sense and fit into the students’ experiences that have been created outside the classroom. 

Unfortunately, Science is taught by “rote learning.”  No consideration is given to what science ideas students might bring to the classroom.  To cultivate meaningful learning of real world concepts, we need to draw upon their experiences, whether the experiences are misconceptions or incomplete learning, & connect the content currently being taught to their world. 

Science in the Garden can encompass the following concepts:

Humans rely upon a world of complex systems – the Earth, its ecosystems, its food systems.  Human activities impact our natural world for better or worse.  In a garden, students can grow food while maintaining a living lab.  They can investigate & monitor weather changes & the impact on a garden ecosystem.  Or, they might study decomposition, observe life cycles (seed to food, egg to butterfly), or see how matter and energy flow through ecosystems (the process of food production and the release of energy). 

Math in the Garden: allows students to hone their mathematics knowledge and skills to carry out investigations in the garden environment.  This is an untapped source of patterns, comparisons, problem-solving, measurement, number operations, Algebra, Geometry, and data analysis. 

At the base of all of this is Journaling, keeping an account of the natural world around you. Your Journal will be a guide, developed over a period of time, of noticing and noting changes, monthly and seasonally, of life cycle events.


West Dallas Community School Visits Our Garden

School Gardening With Jim, Abbe, Jan, LindaFifth grade students from  West Dallas learn about root crops from Jim and Abbe.  Did you know that the turnip or white turnip is a member of the parsley family, Brassica rapa var. rapa?  It is a root vegetable known for its bulbous tap root which is high in vitamin C and grown as a food crop for both humans and livestock.  Turnips are easy and quick to grow (35-70 days) and can be eaten raw (roots) or cooked (roots and leaves).  Turnips like well-tilled soil and constant water.  Both of these conditions are provided in our raised organic beds via our home-made compost and drip irrigation system.

The Interesting Story Of Cotton As Told By Dallas County Master Gardener, CarolynCarolyn demonstrates the technique of hand-spinning cotton thread to the fifth grade students .  Did you know that cotton is the most important non-food crop in the world?  Cotton has been spun, woven & dyed since prehistoric times.  Today, industrial uses for cotton are just as important as the cloth that originally was woven.  These products vary widely from cloth-based such as diapers, bandages, and paper to cosmetics, soap and oils; dynamite and plastics; and that sidewalk scourge, chewing gum (cellulose).  There are 39 different species of the genus Gossypium, 4 of which were commercially grown since all cotton was domesticated in antiquity.  The variety G. hirsutum became known as “upland cotton” and comprises 90% of the world’s cotton crop.

A Student's Introduction To VermicultureA 5th grade student  from West Dallas Community School gets up close & personal with a “red wiggler” worm.  During our Vermi-composting lesson, he & his classmates learned that this little ‘Eisenia fetida’ is one of approximately 2700 different kinds of worms of a large variety of species.  Did you know that “red wigglers” (aka brown-nose or red worms) work best in container/bin composting.  That’s because they are non-burrowing and move horizontally through the soil.

Annette, pictures by Starla

“Nature Is My Life”

Journaling is an integral component of the educational program offered by the Demonstration Garden.  Our Nature Journals, made from recycled materials are constructed by our student visitors and  personalized to reflect their connections with the garden.   A 5th grader from West Dallas Community School proudly proclaims, “Nature is My Life.”  Her journal became her memory book of observations, descriptions, illustrationsand  connections; a special way of carrying a piece of the garden home with her.

Annette and picture by Starla

Why Keep A Nature Journal?

   West Dallas Community School Student Journaling During A Recent Field Trip

  Marcel Proust once wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes.”  A garden journal can be the “new eyes” for the novice as well as the seasoned gardener. 

     Formal or casual, a journal is a reference tool.  It can be used in myriad ways and function as: a means for planning and reflecting, as a memory book, showcase or diary, an informational text, or even created as a web blog.  In My Texas Garden, a Gardener’s Journal, Dale Groom writes that you can use a journal to track the evolution of the garden as well as the gardener.  Through diligent record-keeping, you can track your garden’s growth and your personal growth as a gardener:  successes and failures, preferences in plants and seasons, the impact of the weather, environmental conditions in your garden.

     In its most basic form, a garden journal tracks daily or weekly observations, the weather that day, what’s been planted and/or transplanted, any other garden notes.  Make notes for planting dates for seeds and plants, planting information (spacing, germination, thinning, blooming and harvest dates), suppliers and sources, and cost information for seeds and plants, fertilizing dates and types, soil conditions and types, light and exposure, pests and diseases/problems and solutions, weather information (rainfall, temperatures, frost dates), wildlife observations. 

     A garden plan drawn on graph paper with ¼ inch grids uses a 1inch=4 feet proportion.  Include photos from different times of day and seasons, sketches and diagrams.  All of these are important for the garden in its present state as well as for future plans.  


Garden Based Education

Benefits of Garden-Based Learning
“Gardening enhances our quality of life in numerous ways: providing fresh food, exercise and health benefits, opportunities for multi-generational and life-long learning, creating pleasing landscapes and improved environment, and bringing people together.

Garden-based learning programs result in increased nutrition and environmental awareness, higher learning achievements, and increased life skills for our students. They are also an effective and engaging way to integrate curriculum and meet learning standards, giving young people the chance to develop a wide range of academic and social skills.

Garden experiences foster ecological literacy and stewardship skills, enhancing an awareness of the link between plants in the landscape and our clothing, food, shelter, and well-being. They also provide children and youth with the time and space to explore the natural world–something that can occur rarely in today’s era of indoor living.” (excerpted from Cornell University, the garden based education blog.)

Last week we had 54 kindergarten students from Providence Christian Academy in our gardens learning about chickens and eggs, veggies and herbs, compost, and observing our gardens full of Monarch butterflies, ladybugs, and bees.

SIlky Hen At The Demonstration Garden Field TripMeet Opal, named for Judy’s Aunt Opal. 

 Opal is a Silkie with black skin and bones and 5 toes instead of the normal 4. She is a wonderful brooder and mother.

Moms And Children FromProvidence Christian School Enjoying Our Visiting Chickens

Eat your veggies! We let the children take home the radishes they picked and they fed the radish tops to the chickens. 

Radish Harvest For A Kindergarten Boy From Providence Christian School

Enthusiastic future vermi-composters!

Red Wriggler Worms and Providence Christian School Students

We are still booking fall field trips.  The Gardens and our Dallas County Master Gardeners are always ready to teach in the garden!

A September Garden Field Trip

Our Garden is certified as a Wildlife Habitat. When  children are interested in  nature; they  learn about protecting habitats and become engaged with their environment.  Being outside in an area that provides food, water, and cover for wildlife, gives them the chance to observe frogs, fish, rabbits, birds, butterflies,  dragonflies, and the occasional visit from our Mr.Cottontail. 

Teaching In The Wildlife Habitat At The Demonstration Garden

We teach the virtues of vermicomposting.  Red wriggler worms easily hold the attention of these students. 

Vermicomposting Taught By Dallas County Master Gardeners For Kids

Kids that visit our gardens like to take home something they can grow.  The Grace Academy kids learned about seeds and planted them in  “Root Viewers”, made out of  recycled rinsed out milk cartons with a plastic window made of tape.

Gardening With Grace Academy Kids

Cotton: From Plant To Fabric

“Cotton is family.  We sweat in cotton.  It breathes with us.  We wrap our newborns in it.  In fact, we pay cotton the highest compliment of all, we don’t go out of our way to be nice to it.  Look in your closet.  The crumpled things on the floor are most probably cotton- soiled shirts and khakis, dirty housework clothes and muddied socks that rise up in dank mounds ready to be baptized with detergent and reborn in the washer, fresh and clean as new snow.  ……Cotton is the fabric wool would be if it were light enough for summer and didn’t shrink to toddler-size in the dryer; it’s what silk would be if it gracefully absorbed sweat; and what linen might aspire to if it didn’t wrinkle on sight.”

                            —–Cotton The Biography of a Revolutionary Fiber  by Stephen Yafa (Penguin Books, 2005)

       Twenty Five children from  Grace Academy  and their parents learned how cotton goes from plant to fabric.  Under the shade of the Gardens’ white and brown cotton plants, they saw cotton growing on an actual plant, removed some seeds from the cotton bolls by hand, and watched a demonstration on how cotton is spun on both a tahkli hand spindle and a book charkha cotton spinning wheel from India.  Each child got to pick and take home their own cotton boll from the Garden’s plants and were reminded that as recently as 105 years ago sharecropper children, no older than themselves, worked in Dallas County’s cotton fields from dawn to dusk, enduring hardships that we can not imagine today.  

Grace Academy Students Learning About Cotton At The Demonstration Garden


Cotton Spinning Demonstration

Cotton Spinning Demonstration For Field Trip

Left to right:

      • Cardboard box that the book charkha spinning wheel came in from India.  It is covered with khadi cloth, a handspun, hand woven cotton cloth, and sewn with handspun cotton thread.  The address label is written on the fabric.
      • Bowl with tahkli hand spindle
      • Cotton carders (red) to comb the cotton to straighten the fibers
      • Book charkha cotton spinning wheel from India.   In 1947 Mahatma Gandhi in his non-violent campaign for India’s independence from England said “Take to spinning to find peace of mind.  The music of the wheel will be as balm to our soul.  I believe that the yarn we spin is capable of mending the broken warp and woof of our life.  The charkha (spinning wheel) is the symbol for non-violence on which all life, if it is to be real life, must be based.”


This was one of four learning stations visited by our Grace Academy visitors on September 11, 2012.  Keep following our blog to see more pictures and descriptions of this field trip to our Demonstration Garden.

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