Entries Categorized as 'Farm School'

The Farm School Blog

March 10, 2014

The interest in our efforts to establish a Farm School program has been tremendous. Parents have enthusiastically chipped in time and resources to get things started, and we’ve been able to recruit Dr. Sansone to manage the practical side of things on the farm. Indeed, things are going so well that I’ve started a new TFS Farm blog to help us keep track of what we’re doing and to help us coordinate our efforts.

Dr. Sansone’s degree is in veterinary medicine and he has helped out a lot in my previous endeavors (see chickens and rabbits) to incorporate farming as practical life while studying anatomy.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. The Farm School Blog, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Extracting Lavender Oil

February 21, 2014

Lavender leaves are placed into a flask.

Lavender leaves are placed into a flask.

While steam distillation is the recommended method for extracting oils from herbs, we’re trying a quick an dirty method of simply heating up the lavender leaves in water (up to 40 ºC) and seeing if any of the oils float to the top. If this does not work, we’ll still have produced some lavender scented water for our soapmaking.

The lavender leaves came from the large bushes out by the preschool that the outddoor group trimmed for Ms. Dicker.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Extracting Lavender Oil, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Blueberries in the Snow

February 19, 2014

Dr. Sansone and a parent volunteer, transplant blueberry bushes into the partly frozen ground.

Dr. Sansone and a parent volunteer, transplant blueberry bushes into the partly frozen ground.

Last weekend was not the optimum time for transplanting berry bushes. The top five centimeters of the soil was still frozen, and the air temperature was below zero Celsius with a cold breeze on top of it. However, we needed to get fourteen blueberry bushes moved, and, with a lot of help from some parents and a couple students, we were able to get the bushes and enough soil laid out to give them a good chance of success when the soil warms up.

Raspberry mounds protected by straw await warmer weather.

Raspberry mounds protected by straw await warmer weather.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Blueberries in the Snow, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Using Soil pH as a Proxy for Ammonia Concentration

January 28, 2014

pH measurements from soil, bird manure, composted horse manure, and kitchen compost.

pH measurements from soil, bird manure, composted horse manure, and kitchen compost.

We’ve acquired a selection of manures and composts for revitalizing our orchard, but don’t quite know if they’re safe to add to the soil. Too much nitrogen in the manure will “burn” plants. Therefore, we tried a simple pH test as a quick-and-dirty proxy for estimating the nitrogen/ammonia concentration of the samples.

Since we’ve been working on the orchard, Dr. Sansone has contributed a pile of composted horse manure, a pile of composted kitchen scraps, and a pile of mixed compost and pigeon manure. You’re supposed to let bird manure compost for quite a while (months to years) before using it because of the high ammonia content that is produced by all the uric acid produced by birds.

The “burning” of the plants happens, primarily, when there’s too much ammonia in the manure. Ammonia becomes basic (alkaline) when dissolved in water (thanks to Dillon for looking that up for us). The ammonia (NH3) snags a hydrogen from a water molecule (H2O) making ammonium (NH4+) and hydroxide ions (OH).

NH3 + H2O <==> NH4+ + OH

The loose hydroxides make the water basic.

When excess amino acids are broken down the amine group becomes ammonia.

When excess amino acids are broken down the amine group becomes ammonia.

The ammonia, in this case, comes primarily from the breakdown of urea and uric acid in the manure. Animals produce urea (in the liver) from ammonia in the body. The ammonia in the body comes from the breakdown of excess amino acids in food. We get the amino acids from digestion of proteins (proteins are long chains of amino acids. The urea is excreted in urine, or in the case of birds as uric acid mixed in with their feces.

Experimental Procedure

  1. Weigh 100 g of soil/compost/manure.
  2. Add enough water to fill the beaker to the 300 ml level. Some of the samples absorbed significant amounts of water necessitating more water to get to the 300 ml level.
  3. Stir to thoroughly mix (and melt any ice in the soil) then let sit for 5 minutes.
  4. Pour mixture through filter (we used coffee filters).
  5. Test the pH of the filtrate (the liquid that’s passed through the filter) using pH test strips.

Important Note: We did the experiment under the hood, because the pigeon manure was quite pungent.

In addition to testing the manure and compost, we tried a soil sample from the creek bank, and a sample of fresh pigeon manure to serve as controls.

Results

The results were close to what we expected (see Table 1), with the bird manure having the highest pH.

Table 1: pH of soil, manure, and compost samples.

Sample pH
Topsoil from Creek Bank 6
Fresh Pigeon Manure 8-9
Kitchen Compost 5-6
6 Month Old Pigeon Manure/Compost Mix 6-7

Discussion/Conclusion

While the high pH of the fresh pigeon manure suggests that it probably too “hot” to directly apply, it was good to see that the composted manure had a pH much closer to neutral.

This is a simple way to test the soil, so it may be useful for students to do this as we get new types of fertilizer.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2014. Using Soil pH as a Proxy for Ammonia Concentration, Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

Resurrecting the Orchard

December 8, 2013

Students ferry the new apple tree up to the orchard.

Students ferry the new apple tree up to the orchard.

The last few years have, unfortunately, been ones of neglect for the orchard. The trees were planted about five years ago, but because of changes in the faculty I ended up in charge of it. Unfortunately, with projects like the invasive species remediation and the working out how to use the surveying equipment I have not had the opportunity to turn my full attention to the needs of the fruit trees.

Enter Dr. Sansone. He’s been my key resource for a few of my earlier farm-school type projects (see chickens and rabbits). But, apart from livestock he also has a keen interest in organic agriculture including fruit and berry trees. He’s been helping clearing the brush from the orchard, spraying the trees for to get rid of and prevent disease, and he managed to get the donation of a new apple tree from the Frisella Nursery, just across the Missouri River from us in St. Charles.

The new tree is particularly valuable because it’s a good pollinator.

Citing this post: Urbano, L., 2013. Resurrecting the Orchard , Retrieved February 23rd, 2018, from Montessori Muddle: http://MontessoriMuddle.org/ .
Attribution (Curator's Code ): Via: Montessori Muddle; Hat tip: Montessori Muddle.

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