Nurturing the Eagle Nest

Working together to beautify the school habitat for our soaring eagles!

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Edible Forest Underway

The Edible Forest, the latest project in our Outdoor Learning Landscape, is very slowly coming together.  What began as a scrubby, grassy area with some ill loquats and a couple of donated banana plants is taking shape into a true, albeit small, forest complete with canopy, shrub and herbaceous levels.  We’ve been talking with the students about the Edible Forest, why we’re doing it and what will be in it, they are excited.  Maybe someday this excitement will translate into a career path for our Soaring Eagles.

Here is the site for the Edible Forest.  There are a few loquats we are trying to bring back to health and two banana plants donated by Gray Mockingbird Community Garden two years ago.  The area must allow space for a vehicle to access the manhole on the west side of the Edible Forest and the electrical equipment behind the fence.  Picture a winding path with herbaceous level plants like herbs and other ground covers, shrub level plants and a canopy providing intermittent shade.  We’d like to add some seating and signage too.  Picture a class walking through the Edible Forest, sitting in the shade for a reading lesson, completing a survey of the species of plants available and researching types of animal and insect visitors  to the area.  The uses of an Edible Forest for learning are endless!


Morning Garden Club students plant an avocado donated by a member of our community

A Freedom Shores family donated lovely sandstone stepping-stones to create the path.  We’re back to our sheet mulching ways under the stones to deter grass and weeds.


Garden Club Members (and volunteer) raid the cardboard dumpster to help sheet mulch the new path.  Notice the new coconuts donated by a Freedom Shores family member!

The same Freedom Shores family visited our friends at Meadow Beauty Nursery to procure native edible plant and tree species.  Once again Carl and Donna were so helpful!   Volunteers also installed a sprinkler system that once the plants are established we won’t have to use but in the interim we want to keep our new Forest growing!

What’s Next?  We’ve made great progress on our Edible Forest but we need help and funding to finish it all off.  We’re hoping a grant comes through so that on Earth Day, April 22nd, we can gather at school for an ‘Earth Day Edible Forest Knockout!’.  We hope to get funding to obtain seating, to help us mulch (we need a lot!) and to buy materials for the Art Club to make signage.  We’d also like to source a few more herbaceous and shrub level plants.  If it all works out we’ll invite our FSE community in to KNOCKOUT the Edible Forest – our last major project of the school year! Stay tuned to the blog for more details.

One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before?  What if I knew I would never see it again?’- – Rachel Carson, conservationist




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Happy New Year – 2017!

Gardens Update

Lots happening in the gardens at Freedom Shores Elementary.  We welcome visitors between 7:30 and 8:00 each morning.  Garden Club members would love to show you around.


Cleaning up the glass river after a hard rain.  Morning ladies!

The 8-bed Wonders of Learning garden is flourishing.  We’ve already harvested turnips, wax beans and purple green beans.  The sunflowers, nasturtium, zinnia, marigold and Echinacea are busy going about their important work of attracting pollinators.  The loofah and birdhouse gourd vines are full of blooms and maturing fruit.  We have a loofah that is already over a foot long!


Beautiful turnip!

All 2nd grade students in their STEM Lab rotation with Mrs. Beesley have planted their seed tapes.  Prior to planting the students hypothesized what type of seeds they were given and drew them in their journals.  Then each class, days 1 -8, planted the west side of each raised bed.  Garden Club members planted the east side of each bed.

The great garden pest hunt is in full swing.  We’re scanning tomato leaves for eggs and munching caterpillars every day.  We’re hopeful the fruit will ripen soon (before the caterpillars munch it all up)!

The Tower Garden is growing especially well this year.  It is planted with cherry tomato, bee balm, two types of mint, eggplant, basil, dill and nasturtium.  Garden Club members are responsible for filling the reservoir and checking and balancing ph.


Checking the Tower Garden ph

The Butterfly Garden is a sight to behold!  We’ve seen dozens of species flying around and many have completed their metamorphosis in the garden.  Even in winter there is always something blooming in the butterfly garden.  Right now the low rattlebox and blackbead are full of blooms.  All of the plants in the butterfly garden are native so they are made to do well in our area.  If you are interested in adding natives to your hard, which take less water and are more resistant to disease, visit our friend Carl at Meadow Beauty nursery.  Carl designed and helped our Soaring Eagles plant the butterfly garden and continues to be a resource for us.  Check out their website at:

Our intrepid grandpa volunteer, Bumpa, continues to be a wonder with cuttings!  The areas in front of the classroom villas adjacent to the 8-bed garden used to be filled with oyster plant and alocasia and weeds.  Bumpa has nurtured cuttings from the butterfly garden and is moving them to these areas.  One small area at a time is turning into more habitat for our insect and animal friends.

The Edible Forest was started in a small way last year with the addition of 2 banana plants to an area of existing loquats.  This year we have a very committed, passionate volunteer who has taken on the project.  Garden Club students have placed lovely stepping-stones and plans are under way to add irrigation which will be used until our new plants have taken hold.  We went back to our friend Carl at Meadow Beauty to find edible native plants and friend and families of Freedom Shores have donated fruit trees and vines.


Creating a path in the Edible Forest

Garden Club members planted a native short-leaf fig tree for Florida Arbor Day this month.  Short-leaf fig’s provide food and cover for a wide range of insects and animals.


Florida Arbor Day

Also this month the Audubon Society of the Everglades provided funds for Project Perch to install a burrowing owl habitat on school grounds.  FSE students signed the burrow, dug the trench and covered the entrance with sand.  We’re hoping for burrowing owls find it and decide to stay at Freedom Shores.



Adding a sandy ‘welcome mat’ to the burrowing owl habitat.

Whew!  Amazing what determined, dedicated students (and teachers and volunteers!) can do in those few minutes before morning class begins.  Want to be part of the fun or just come check it out?  Post a response to this blog and we’ll make it happen!

Wish List:  Melaleuca mulch (no red please).  The Edible Forest has a large area that needs mulch.  If you can help us out, post a response to the blog.

We’ll be posting information soon about FSE’s new initiative, ‘Heart of the Eagle’, a program that connects our Soaring Eagles with the community to provide relief and help to those in need.  In the meantime, FSE families can log on to their Edline and click on ‘Go Green Blog’ on the Freedom Shores Edline homepage to learn more about this wonderful opportunity and all the other Go Green projects at school.

Follow this blog to keep updated or FSE Science Lab’s Twitter at:  @FSE_ScienceLab

Another great Twitter account to follow is Freedom Shores at:@Freedom_Shores

“Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” — Unknown


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Getting ready and MULCH!


We’ve begun our 3rd year with the garden incorporated deeply into the curriculum for the 2nd grade students during STEM Lab.  Every day, for 8 days (8 garden beds!), the 2nd grade STEM Lab students have cleared their respective beds and prepared the soil.  Planting is set to begin in late October after more time exploring seeds in the STEM Lab and preparing seed tapes.

Morning Garden Club is set to begin in 1 week!  We’re continuing with weeding the walkways between the beds and moving mulch back to the glass rock river.

If you’re looking at ways to help we could use mulch!  Especially donated mulch.  Most especially 5 to 6 cubic yards of donated (clean!) pine mulch.  We add the ‘clean’ in there because we want to avoid the dreaded stinkhorn fungi.  The area most desperately in need of mulch is the Butterfly Garden which really struggles after a week or two of no rain and no nice thick layer of mulch to retain moisture.

There’s plenty to do in the gardens, post a message or send an email to if you’d like to help!

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.

— Rudyard Kipling

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Expanding & Weeds & Weeds

Here are some photos from the garden this morning.  The first image shows a new structure adjacent to the 8-bed raised garden that will support a native vine called jacquemontia.  It is the first in this area outside the villas near the garden to begin its transformation to a native habitat.  Before long the bamboo trellis will be covered in purple flowers.  The next photos show the extent of our weed issue.  If you have 15 to 20 minutes in the morning to pull some weeds we would be very appreciative.  The students stop and pull a few before morning classes.  The final shots illustrate how happy the zinnia, echinacea and calendula are in the garden.  These flowers get many visits from butterflies and bees throughout the day.  Lovely!  More posts soon so keep checking back!  dsc07292dsc07293dsc07294dsc07295dsc07296dsc07297

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Year 3 Begins

Welcome back!  Another school year has begun and our award-winning garden begins its 3rd year.  We were honored with the award for Best Vegetable Garden by Mounts Botanical Garden at the Green Schools Recognition Program luncheon in May.  Thank you!!

We’re busy pulling weeds and will soon begin to prepare the beds for planting.  2nd grade STEM students will plant on the west side of each bed – day 1 through 8.  The east side of each bed will be available for individual classes and the Morning Garden Club to use.

Speaking of the Morning Garden Club – applications will be sent home Tuesday, September 6th and are due back on September 16th at the latest (no exceptions).  Students will be advised which day(s) they will attend later in September with Morning Garden Club set to start the first week in October.

We’ll post photos soon of what’s been happening with the gardens and will update you on our plans.  We’re hoping to have some Morning Garden Club members writing a blog post or contributing some artwork this year.

As always, it takes many hands and time for a garden to be successful.  If you would like to help out in the garden (8 bed vegetable garden, butterfly garden, expanding mini-gardens outside the portables, edible forest, compost center and more) please reply with a comment or send an email.

A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.

— Liberty Hyde Bailey


Now that’s a carrot!

2nd grade students have been harvesting every day this week.  The seeds and seed tape they planted in the fall has grown into lovely long and fat (sometimes not) carrots for them to take home.  The ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ and laughter when each student pulls their carrot from the ground would make a passerby think a magic show is underway.  It is – nature in its finest allowing a tiny seed to create a nutrient-dense food for us to enjoy.


We’ve watched eggplants bloom and green peppers growing larger by the day.  Empty spots that were filled with carrots only moments before  have been planted with fennel seeds.  The birdhouse gourd produced a few large specimens but then died.  It has been especially rainy this year, perhaps this caused the early plant death?  That’s the students have hypothesized.  We’ve reseeded and will hope for a better outcome.  The loofah vine looks a mess with various insects chewing it up but its produced 3 or 4 foot-long loofahs that are still growing.

Our collard leaves are huge and waiting for someone to harvest and create a delicious dish for us to taste.  Speaking of taste – members of the Garden Club created a salad of mustard greens, parsley and radish dressed simply with vinegar and oil.  Some club members thought the mustard greens were spicy but liked the fresh radish.  One kindergarten club member really liked the mustard greens and gobbled up his bowl.  There is a special feeling when you eat the food you’ve grown – pride, satisfaction, maybe even love?


The morning Garden Club works hard every day and this snack is well-earned.

The butterfly garden continues to flourish.  Salvia has reseeded and already started blooming, again.  We’ve watched dozens of fat monarch caterpillars munch our milkweed down and then disappear to form their chrysalis.  Some we find and are able to observe the next steps in the butterfly life cycle others are hidden from us.  With 2 large cabbage palms in the garden we’ve worked hard to stay on top of the palm seeds sending up endless shoots.

The edible forest has been quietly growing.  An overzealous lawn mower knocked out the hardy basil and an avocado.  The coconuts we’d placed disappeared.  We’re making signs to go with the ‘CAUTION’ tape to keep the rest of the plants safe.  An FSE volunteer has taken on the edible forest as his mission and we’re so happy about this turn of events!  We’ve also found an FSE volunteer that would like to use, and teach us, about creating plants from cuttings to improve the areas by some of the classrooms.  Volunteers are wonderful people out to do good.  Yay!

Lots on the agenda, lots already in motion.  If you have time in the morning and would like to weed, chat with the students and watch our gardens flourish please join us!  We’re out every morning it isn’t raining working and learning together.

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.  – Winston Churchill

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Hello and Happy New Year!

2016 is off to a blooming start in the gardens.  The new butterfly garden is especially busy creating blooms for the visiting pollinators and students’ enjoyment.

We’ve watched 3 different species of butterfly emerge so far!

The 8-bed learning garden is doing very well.  The gourd and loofah are loaded with produce.  The tomato plants, on the other hand, are a little sad.  It doesn’t help that the moth that pollinates the gourds ALSO places its eggs on the tomato plants.  The students have pulled off 4 and 5 inch fat hornworms but still the winter break has reduced the tomato plants to leafless mounds.  The students are watching them closely in hopes they’ll recover.  Carrots, radish, cabbage, herbs, sunflowers, beans, peas and greens – so much to watch grow!

Check out the current blooms:

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“Where flowers bloom so does hope”- Lady Bird Johnson