Worm Hunting, Soil Science, and The Coronavirus Lesson

I finished the elective by talking about our reliance on worms and soil bacteria. Without these visible and invisible heroes, our lives could not exist.

On Friday 13th of March we enjoyed one of our best ever days. Worms, sunshine, and breaking ground at Drumchapel High School. We were building new worlds–one potato at a time. But little did we know, days later the world began to shut down, and the progress we’d engineered for months was arrested by the global pandemic.

It’s pretty heartbreaking. We had real momentum on our side. We were 4 weeks into the eco-garden elective at Boclair Academy, and we were developing fantastic relationships with the 15 students we’d got to know. But more importantly, March is a key month for planting crops: from potatoes to the peas we’d started indoors. On top of this, we’d finally got permission to start building the school garden at Drumchapel High School, following the blueprint I’d spent a long time working on. Getting started at Drumchapel, along with Steven, remains a key priority of mine.

We asked students to break into teams to hunt worms and other underground creatures. Soil is an incredibly complex and densely packed ecosystem.

Friday’s entire lesson was planned around understanding the soil as a living, breathing, ecosystem – one populated by wriggling worms, squiggling nematodes, complex fungal networks, and billions of bacteria. Many of these symbiotic relationships are incredibly fragile and beautiful. The plant, I invited the students to consider, is not an independent organism. It is a worldly relationship.

A video showing the worm hunt!
Measuring out the space for a herb garden at Drumchapel.
Worm hunting!
The garden will still be there – ready for regrowth and rebirth.

But I suppose these “strange times” offer important lessons.

The coronavirus brings into stark relief our reliance on food networks. Society runs on its supermarkets. And that engenders a precarity we’ve all seen first-hand. Our school garden project is, and remains, a vital corrective to this overt dependence on big agriculture and commercial food. If we are to become more resilient, autonomous, and climatically sensitive communities, we have to learn how to grow in our backyards. How to grow new worlds.

Empowering students to feel confident with their earthly skills is crucial to our future. Caring for the land is caring for ourselves. And it is this lesson, amongst so much tragedy and ennui, that we must carry forward.

We will grow. And like the bean plant and its underground bacteria, we must grow together.

– Ian

I don’t know how to annotate this photo πŸ™‚

Breaking ground at Drumchapel – literally!

Today, Cheryl and are broke ground at Drumchapel High School. We are creating two interrelated spaces – a herb garden and a food garden. The site is fantastically positioned with an amazing view behind. We are turning over the turf and getting ready to put bark down.

We also got our cool new IGA badges. I was really pleased with how the design came out.

New elective, new Green Tech meeting, and new t-shirts!!

Today was a busy day for Cheryl and I. We ran–along with Victoria–a brand new elective at Boclair Academy. I was inspired by the idea of approaching the garden as a multi-sensory space. So we had the pupils collect objects in the garden that stimulated each of their senses. It was fun–and the sun showed up for us!

We then headed to the University of Glasgow, where we ran our second Green Tech Meeting. The purpose of this meeting with Geographical and Earth Sciences students was to prepare them for working with enthusiastic–and sometimes difficult to manage–school pupils. I then gave an exciting (well I thought so) presentation on soil. The purpose was to understand the science behind soil as a teeming ecosystem – populated by worms, nemotodes, fungi, and bacteria. All of these organisms directly contribute to the health of a plant, such as the symbiotic relationships made by mycorrhiza and Rhizobium. Nature, we learn, is not made of discrete objects but a rich tapestry of relationships. And preserving these relationships is vital to the health of our planet.

After these two mini lectures, Cheryl ran a workshop on creating birdfeeders from plastic bottles, and I had my students get their hands dirty with soil and planting peas!

This caterpillar crashed the party. One slang term for this critter was apparently: Hairy Granny.

Finally, you’ll notice I was wearing our brand new t-shirt design!

28 Feb, 2020: An Elective on Peas!

Today we led a wonderful class on the mighty pea! We talked about its nutritional value, how to grow this taken-for-granted bean, and even had a workshop on designing our own plant pots! Lots of fun, and lets see how each of the students’ peas grow! We planted sugar snaps – my fave! Miss Duncan made an amazing plant pot!

The Eco-Garden elective students begin designing their own plant pot for their own peas.
I try and convince the Boclair pupils that peas are amazing! Had to dig around for some gardening jokes.
Miss Duncan is proud of her effort! But will it grow?