Gardens Thrive at MCWS

3 Sisters (corn, pumpkins, beans) in the production garden which is near the barn and farmhouse.

After a warm and rainy summer, the many gardens at Maine Coast Waldorf School are nearly ready for their fall harvest. In the last few years, the third grade has planted a Three Sisters garden, a Native American companion planting technique that involves planting corn, beans, and squash (or pumpkins) together so that their individual properties can support each other’s growth. The corn acts as a stake on which the beans can trellis. The beans are nitrogen-fixing, meaning that they act as a natural fertilizer for the other plants. The squash spreads out, creating a ground cover whose leaves shade out other plants competing for sunlight and nutrients. 

The Three Sisters garden gives us interesting insights into the growing conditions of the season. Last year, the Hopi blue corn we planted thrived in drought conditions. The year before, the scarlet runner beans were so prolific that they enveloped the young corn plants. This year, with all of the rain, the squash/pumpkin layer is thriving – butternut squash and pumpkin plants have blanketed much of the upper production garden. Many of the pumpkins are ripening early, but we are hoping that there will still be many for students to pick when they return to school!

Cinco pears in the food forest.

This gardening season has brought all sorts of weather challenges, but the harvest is now rolling in, allowing us to support others who need food. Gemma, our community liaison, has been distributing the garlic, carrots, potatoes, beans, swiss chard, onions, broccoli, zucchini, pumpkins and butternut squash that students planted to immigrant community members and families who need some extra food support. Huge thanks to the to the rising fourth grade class and their parent volunteers who helped to build raised beds for the kitchen garden last spring – these are now filled with layers of leaves, seaweed, and school-made compost – and are growing rows of companion planted vegetables and flowers, most of which will be harvested for a “everything but the kitchen sink” soup meal this fall. 

All of these vegetable gardens are surrounded and supported by pollinator plants and the food forest – and it is truly incredible to walk around the campus and see the number of birds, bees, butterflies, and other pollinators that are thriving with all of the vital plantings. When students return in early September, the monarch caterpillars will be moving towards their chrysalis on the milkweed, the asters will be blooming, there will be basket willow to cut, pumpkins to carve, corn to shuck, and potatoes to dig. 

 

Thanks to a generous multi-year grant that supported a collaboration between MCWS and The Resilience Hub, over the past few years Heather Foran has worked with our teachers and students from Early Childhood through High School to create healthy, robust gardens, enhancing the educational experience and creating a beautiful and inspiring setting for all.  Heather is a former teacher/founder of The Field Academy and is currently the Board Chair of The Resilience Hub, a non-profit in Portland that is dedicated to regenerating land, growing healthy food, and building strong, resilient communities. We are so grateful to Heather for sharing her passion and expertise with our community and making it possible for the summer harvest to be shared with an immigrant community in Portland.