I just realized I haven't shown you any pictures of our school garden this year.
Bet you thought I killed it.
I did not! It is alive and well!
Volunteers built three new raised beds over the summer, and a few artistic students painted some signs and stakes for labeling things. There's a pizza garden with cherry tomatoes and herbs, a lush bed full of leafy greens like lettuce and chard and kale, and another bed full of pole beans, the radishes along the perimeter having long been harvested. The rabbit population in the area has exploded, so fencing is a new requirement. They really seem to love gnawing the strawberry and cucumber plants down to the ground, as well as the beautiful sweet potato vines I planted myself from slips. Curse those adorable cotton-tailed creatures!
There's a brand new butterfly garden this year with bee balm, milkweed, and butterfly bushes to encourage pollinators, as well as some gorgeous sunflowers planted by little hands.
I was watering the garden today when I came across this guy climbing up the building's foundation?
A giant praying mantis. He was about as long as my hand, wrist to fingertip. I didn't have my good camera with me, but the sun was so bright that it etched out some of the details in shadow. You don't see this kind of visitor every day, so I got him onto a stick and brought him over to the cafeteria window, which overlooks the garden. It was just about noon, so I knew the place would be packed with kids. I nudged the mantis onto the window screen and let it climb around for a little while in plain view of the children sitting on the other side of the glass. This caused a minor riot in the lunchroom as dozens of kids came running over to see. A scant 30 seconds of smiling observation passed before one of the lunch monitors attempted to draw the curtains and, when that didn't work, put her hand over the window in front of the insect to block anyone's view except mine. I already know what a praying mantis looks like, Lady! A part of my soul died a little, but then I tried reaching back into my substitute teaching days, which weren't so long ago, to remember what it's like to wrangle a room full of kids when you're totally outnumbered. Distractions—even educational ones—are not always appreciated. I took that as my cue to remove the regal insect and return him to his comfort zone in the weeds growing wild by the leaky hose. This put me on better terms with the mantis as well!
Next up for the garden: I'd like to see some cross-pollinating apple trees back there. Maybe even some pear trees. Also, we need more cherry tomato plants. More! I gave a garden tour to my son's second grade class last week, and all of the tomatoes were stripped in two minutes flat. One little girl had never tried one before. She loved it. Nature's candy!