Tuesday, September 22, 2009

7:30 AM AT METRO ZOO, September 19, 2009

As we approached in the wee morning hours we knew we had to act fast before the massive thunder cells that greeted us unleashed their downpour -- Photo by Maggie; Inspirational Words by Eddie (including 'wee')
As this Saturday morning progresses, Metro Zoo's Compost Guru Randy Pawlak operates a backhoe as we follow him to a remote area of the Zoo...Randy supervises the dung mounds and monitors their temperature changes to determine when they become suitable for use as compost. TROY hereby thanks Metro Zoo's Horticulture Supervisor, Tom Trump, for today's donation. Check out the Miami Herald's recent coverage of the Zoo's composting operation how the herbivores at the Zoo are helping to minimize their carbon footprints http://www.miamiherald.com/news/southflorida/story/1146848.html

Compost mounds at Miami's Metro Zoo

When it comes to compost piles, Metro Zoo is not kidding around...in a remote field on the grounds of the zoo, Randy has several piles of composting elephant dung as well as other piles which contain mixtures of mulch, tree branches, leaves, and dung from various herbivores at Metro Zoo; it's a highly organized operation; according to Randy, during the breakdown phase, the mounds can reach temperatures between 120-160 degrees farenheit; Randy knows a mound is ready for use as compost when it reaches a temperature closer to 90 degrees farenheit
The first load of composted elephant dung contains some of last year's hurricane debris, says Randy, but once we begin to unload it at TROY, we will be able to remove that, to keep the compost free of any non-biodegradeable materials that would harm our plants and garden beds
Randy loads the truck w/ a 2nd type of compost (a mix of high-grade elephant & other dung, bark/mulch, & other biodegradeables)
Randy uses a pitchfork to pack in the elephant dung neatly into the truck bed so that it doesn't spill out...Randy tells us that the county's lab is currently testing the dung to determine its grade...so far, the non-scientific accounts are that the stuff is AMAZING!!!!
The weather today was hot, muggy and wet...the elephant dung was soaked and weighted down; here, founder of TROY, Circuit Court Judge Tom Peterson (left) and volunteer, Albert (right), begin the daunting task of unloading the truck bed full of the nutrient-rich elephant dung :o)
Miami Dade College Architecture students visited TROY this morning to do another site survey and continue their research...for those of you who may not know, MDC's Architecture students in Professor Maria Zabala's class, are participating in a competition to redesign TROY Academy's on-site screenhouse (where we sometimes hold classroom sessions, house seedlings, small plants, and other materials we use at the Greenhouse Project)...welcome to TROY!
Early in the morning, Elizabeth and Thomas know the weather will soon catch up with us...getting this dung onto the property at TROY is serious business
While others work to unload the pick-up truck, Elijah's gathering a pot full of elephant dung...getting ready to re-fertilize

Because there's so much to do at the garden, Elijah works on re-fertilizing the younger trees..having learned how to fertilize on 9-12-09, Elijah's more than familiar with what he has to do: 1) rake back the mulch, 2) add some organic compost (in this case, composted elephant dung), 3) re-mulch and steer clear of the trunk

TROY student, Joseph, new to the Greenhouse Project, helps out by unloading some elephant dung onto our dung mounds
Thomas hauls a wheelbarrel filled with the "good stuff" to our designated elephant dung mounds
A collaborative effort, TROY students, volunteers, and staff work diligently to unload the composted elephant dung from our rented pick-up truck...almost done
Nicholas (brown shirt) and Joseph (white shirt) , new students at the Greenhouse Project, are tilling/mixing the soil with our new nifty tilling tools...the purpose? making sure that the ground is sufficiently tossed with our fertilizer (composted elephant dung)

So much of what TROY students do at the Greenhouse Project is hands-on work with delicate plants...before beginning a specific task or project, the students are given a short tutorial on the basics of planting baby plants: 1) choosing the right-sized plant for this project, 2) handling of the delicate plants prior to and during actual planting, and 3) tomato plant identification and comparison to other varieties (bush goliath vs. bonnie grape tomatoes)
Before beginning the planting of our "bush goliath" tomatoes, Maggie shows Elijah how best to remove some of the biodegradeable material surrounding the tomato plug...though the tomato roots can grow out through the surrounding material, we give the plant a boost by removing the bottom portion of the tomato plug's biodegradeable pot

After careful instruction and oversight, TROY student, Thomas, is ready to plant the new tomato plugs near the fenceline area. Thomas' checklist includes:
1) check the hole in the ground and make sure it has our elephant dung, a/k/a nutrient-rich soil
2) choose a tomato plant at least 6 inches in height (sometimes the elephant dung is so nutrient-rich that a smaller plant may experience fertilizer-burn -- injury such as dehydration of the roots or crown of the plant (plant burn), and a browning of part or all of the foliage, sometimes resulting in the death of the entire plant
3) pack the tomato plant tightly yet gently into the ground, making sure not to cover the bottom foliage with soil
4) tightly pack the ground around the tomato plant so as to avoid airpockets near the root system...airpockets near the roots prevent the roots from making contact with the soil beneath and around it, preventing the plant's ability to grow
Luis and Sophia (Greenhouse Project volunteers) clean off the excess dirt from the tools used for today's project...the tools depicted here are some shovels, a flat-head shovel, and our beloved pitchfork (useful when digging through and transferring mulch)

After tilling the ground, mixing the dirt with our new elephant dung, digging the holes for each tomato plant, watering so that the roots would be hydrated, and carefully placing each plant 2 ft. apart from one another, we mulched the area, sectioned it off with cinder blocks and watered the new tomato section thoroughly; planting the tomatoes close to the fenceline will prevent the need for tomato cages...instead, the plants will be carefully tied to the fenceline until they grab hold and begin to use the fence for support

a hard day of work in muggy conditions...the kids, volunteers, and staff at TROY have a new row of bonnie grape and bush goliath tomatoes planted near our fenceline, to the left of the raised garden bed

Friday, September 18, 2009

Mentorship, Guidance and a Helping Hand 9-12-2009

Because the students at TROY are considered "at-risk" of delinquency, a program such as our Greenhouse Project goes a long way. Not only are we teaching the students valuable life skills such as responsibility, teamwork, respect for nature and its gifts, nutrition and the importance of a well-balanced meal...we are also mentoring them, guiding them in exploring new careers and healthy hobbies, and showing them that volunteership is an amazing gift, both to the volunteers and to the kids in the program
The screenhouse at TROY Gardens is where we grow seedlings and store certain supplies; behind the screenhouse is one of our fruit orchards where we have bananas, papayas, blueberries, an avocado tree and raspberries; we are so blessed to have a sprinkler system back here as it helps ensure these fruit trees and bushes get the water they need in the dry season


Elijah gets creative here after filling up our compost bin to the rim...when he saw that our decomposing collards, weeds, and other compost materials didn't all fit neatly into the compost bin, he figured out a way to make sure these greens could be composted


TROY student, Elijah, fertilizes our papaya tree near the fenceline; to do this right he must:
1) rake the mulch back and away from the trunk
2) place the organic composted cow manure at the base of the tree
3) re-mulch the base of the tree, steering clear of the trunk so that is has some breathing room

Students like Thomas are so enthused because they get hands-on organic gardening training; Thomas' dedication on this particular Saturday marked his first day as an official TROY Gardens Gardener.

Judge Tom Peterson (left), Maggie (middle), and TROY student, Thomas, are fertilizing the passion fruit vine that is quickly growing vertically onto TROY's barbed-wire fencing. Thomas moves the mulch back, we add more organic, composted cow manure, and then remulch around the roots.

Getting TROY gardens ready for the upcoming planting on 8-19-09 takes hard work...here, our volunteer, Albert, weeds the butterfly-attracting garden bed, near the lunch pavilion.