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Value Statement:  "Racial Hatred has no Color"

I've been thinking a lot lately about education and our schools and some of the actions we could take as individuals and as a community to improve the future for our young people.  Perhaps we might begin with teaching a few values or self-evident verifiable truths. Value statements are beliefs which can be guidelines for behavior:  "this is ok but that is not."

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I thought about that this morning when I saw this post on my FaceBook:
 
"St. Lawrence County, NY — Thirteen people were recently arrested for defrauding the Department of Social Services out of more than $104,000, which is considered the largest welfare fraud sweep in the county’s history. All of those arrested were reportedly white and not a single Black person was involved."

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When I read something like this, I always ask myself:  Is there an underlying, the unspoken message here? In this case the underlying message seems to be: "White people commit more crimes than black people. Thus white people are worse than black people."  But is this an accurate conclusion to draw based on the evidence offered in story?  I don't think so.
 
Before taking the obvious bait of indignant self-righteous racial hatred (White people are worse than black people) I remember my value belief that hatred has no color.  A black person is just as capable of hatred as a white person.
 
So I looked at the facts:  1)  all these people were women--perhaps a case could be made that this story illustrates discrimination against women in the USA.  Then I notice that this event took place in St. Lawrence County New York--never heard of it so I googled its demographics (only took a few seconds)
and this is what I found:

The population of St. Lawrence County, NY is 92.1% White Alone, 2.28% Hispanic or Latino, and 2.23% Black or African American.  The poverty rate in St. Lawrence County is 19.4%.  (National poverty rate is at about 12.3%.)
 
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CONCLUSIONS

With only 2.23% of their population being black (compared to 13.4% nation wide), it's no surprise that no blacks showed up in this photo.  Their poverty rate is high in their community and its highly likely these women were desperate (not an excuse) but certainly suggesting extenuating circumstances.
 
 

PERHAPS THIS IS A STORY OF WHAT HAPPENS TO THE POOR WHEN THEY BREAK THE LAW AS OPPOSED TO WHAT HAPPENS TO THE RICH WHO BEND THE LAW IN THEIR FAVOR 

When you average their thefts out, they amount to $8,800 per woman. I look at these faces and I think: How many men on Wall Street are bilking Americans of millions of dollars every year and getting away with it? You can put Amazon at the top of the list--a multibillion dollar corporation that paid $0 in income tax last year.
 
I don't condone crime yet I do believe in compassion for others regardless their color and I do believe in compassion and understanding that encompasses more than "rule of law."  Regardless, the fact that these women were white had nothing to do with their crime and should not be generalized to a statement regarding all white women--any more than it would have if they had been black.  Thus the statement "None of them were Black", even though true steers readers into making an erroneous conclusion based on racial bias.
 
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ADDENDUM:  MOST OF THE PEOPLE IN PRISON IN THE UNITED STATES ARE, LIKE THE WOMEN SHOWN ABOVE, POOR--REGARDLESS THEIR RACE OR ETHNICITY 

Year after year, the United States beats out much larger countries -- India, China -- and more totalitarian ones --Russia and the Philippines -- for the distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world.  According to a 2018 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 2.2 million adults were held in America's prisons and jails at the end of 2016. 

Another way to put America's love of prisons in a global perspective:   While the United States represents about 4.4 percent of the world's population, it houses around 22 percent of the world's prisoners.  The American criminal justice system’s glaring racial disparities are well known: Black people make up nearly 40 percent of America’s incarcerated population and are more than five times as likely as whites to be behind bars. 

The American prison system is bursting at the seams with people who have been shut out of the economy and who had neither a quality educationInvisible Men, Becky Pettit finds that while the overall educational attainment of Americans has grown since 1980, the fraction of the incarcerated with less than a high school diploma grew over this same period. See Becky Pettit, Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2012), p 16.

"> nor access to good jobs.Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park," The Right Investment? Corrections Spending in Baltimore City, February 2015.

"> In 2014 dollars, incarcerated people had a median annual income of $19,185 prior to their incarceration, which is 41% less than non-incarcerated people of similar ages.
 
Our jails and prisons are mostly filled with America’s poor. Since black people are far likelier to be impoverished or low-income, they’re also far likelier to be locked up. The probability that a low-income black man has been jailed is around 52 percent; for an upper-income black man it’s 14 percent. 
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FIRST THE BAD NEWS:  Yes the USA Educational System is failing our kids.

 As I mentioned in a previous article on our USA educational system, it has failed many of our students, in my opinion, due to following a corporate hierarchical model of top down management with decisions being made far from ground zero where the teachers and the students intersect and interact.  Our model for education is quite similar to the model followed for corporate business.  For many reasons this business model is as inappropriate for our educational system as it is for our government.  Government, education and business have very different functions and goals and it is absurd to apply a one-size-fits-all corporate business model to all three.  Each should have an entirely different model with very different goals.  Neither government nor our educational system should be run like a Wall Street Corporation.

HOW DID ALL THIS FOCUS ON MATH AND SCIENCE BEGIN?

All this focus on math and science in our public school system began in 1957 when the Russians launched Sputnik.  Sputnik 1 was the first artificial Earth satellite. The Soviet Union launched it into an elliptical low Earth orbit on October 4,1957. The leaders of the USA were in an uproar because the Russians had beaten the USA into space.  It was considered not only a shame to our American educational system but also a threat to our national security.  

Following this national realization that we were “second”, was a tremendous, even fanatical push to “make American students competitive with the Russians” in the fields of math, science and technology.  If there was a choice between a math or science program and one involving the arts, it was no contest.  The arts programs were cut.  All the attention and focus was on the students who were college bound.  A cookie cutter educational factory was designed to turn out scientists and mathematicians.  This has largely remained the focus of our public school system for the past 70 years—math and science.  Students with other kinds of intelligence were largely ignored.

As a result, not only have many students been ignored and left behind, our American culture has also been left behind.  No doubt, over the past 70 years we have lost many dancers, artists, and entrepreneurs, who could have developed their interests in ways to enrich our culture.  We have probably even lost a few scientists and technology wizards as well because not all students learn in the same way.  Thus a one-size-fits-all, sit up straight and pay attention approach, sometimes turns students off to learning and they drop out.     

Every year, over 1.2 million students drop out of high school in the United States alone. That’s a student every 26 seconds – or 7,000 a day. [Miller, Tony. "Partnering for Education Reform." U.S. Department of Education]

Most students who drop out of school end up costing taxpayers more money than those who complete their educational path.  Consider that 63 percent of all youth crime nationally is committed by kids who have dropped out of school or failed to find a way into higher education. Their incarceration and court costs saddle us with a $76.7 billion annual bill – not including the financial hit to their victims in medical care, lost work time or insurance adjustments.

For welfare and food stamps, the pattern is predictable: Drop out youth receive $9,660 more in lifetime welfare payments than those who graduate from high school, for an aggregate annual burden of $65.1 billion. [Seattle Times accessed June 18, 2019   http://blogs.seattletimes.com/educationlab/2014/01/03/how-much-do-dropouts-cost-us-the-real-numbers-behind-pay-now-or-pay-later/

That is the bad news.  To summarize:  Not keeping our students engaged and in school costs everyone big time.  It would pay us all to work to improve our public school system. 

NOW FOR THE GOOD NEWS—AT LEAST IN MY CITY OF GARLAND TEXAS

Our local educators in the Garland ISD are working overtime to improve learning environments for our kids.  Just this past week we had a Garland GISD-wide community meeting at Curtis Caldwell where citizens came together to listen and learn and provide their input regarding ways to improve our local public schools. 

 

Manny Romero, Director of Community Programs, Richland College, Garland Branch

Today Carol Currie, President of Garland Area Makerspace and I met with Manny Romero, Director of Community Programs at the Garland Branch of Richland College.  Manny and his team at the Garland Branch of Richland College are working overtime to bring those students (between ages of 19 to 29) who have been left behind back into the community fold by offering meaningful and free educational opportunities that lead directly to employment.

One example of these free educational opportunities is a Surveyor Technician Class.  This is a free 8-week course that provides a National Society of Professional Surveyors—Level 1 Certification.  Students in this class will learn about computer-aided mapping; field engineering; introduction to surveying; land surveying; survey calculations and safety and first aid.  For more information call:  214-360-1234.

The purpose of our meeting was to explore ways that the Garland Area Makerspace and Richland Community College in Garland might partner together in a mutually beneficial relationship to strengthen our ability to meet the goals of our organizations and also for each of us to learn a little bit more about the other.  A lot of great ideas came from our meeting that we plan to explore further.

For example, we will feature information regarding the great free classes offered at Richland College in Garland at the upcoming Fashion Show on June 27th at the downtown MillHouse Pizzeria.  In July we hope to have a planning event involving makers and educators in the community for a large event to be held in September in the main area of Richland College.  Details are to be filled in but we hope to have about 20 stations set up in this area.  The event will be on a Sunday 1PM to 5PM.  Attendees will be able to choose four stations.  The presentations/making events at each station will last one hour.  These stations will all be highly interactive.  For example a station featuring an overview of the surveyor class might give visitors the opportunity to handle surveyor equipment.  The maker area might have a section set up with sewing machines where visitors would have the opportunity to make a bag from a feed sack.  Details will follow.

As Manny mentioned, the classes at Richland are not typical as each student is assigned a counselor who works closely with the student.  These counselors have offices situated where the students come in. They care. They know the ones who are late or absent and they have conversations with the students.  A lot of caring and empathy goes into their programs.  Another thing you’ll see for students, not normally seen (except in gyms) is a shower.  Students who are enrolled can use the shower with no questions asked.  Some of these students may even be homeless and/or for other reasons, not have access to a shower.

At the successful completion of a class at Richland, the students will have a job interview.  More often than not, employers are chopping at the bit to hire a student who has completed a training course at Richland.

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Conventional Wisdom says to get back to the basics the three R's. Convention Wisdom is not even a reasonable facsimile for intelligence but it's an excellent stand-in for conformity. As Albert Einstein said: “The only sure way to never make mistakes is to have no new ideas.”  Stay with the tried and true of conventional wisdom and that's what you will get, but of course there will be no progress either.

Anything negative regarding our public education system goes double for the “Charter Schools”—a Wall Street educational system on steroids designed to ultimately be run for profit like any other Wall Street corporation for the investors and special interests such as religion—“mine of course, not yours”. 

Sorry I missed a recent community meeting sponsored by Garland ISD on improving education for our students here in Garland.  However I did watch the two TED talks delivered by Sir Ken Robinson that explored the question “Do Schools Kill Creativity” and  “Bring on the Learning Revolution” and took the online survey. (https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/Garland_English )

Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson challenges the way we're educating our children. He champions a radical rethink of our school systems, to cultivate creativity and acknowledge multiple types of intelligence.  And I believe that he is definitely on the right track.

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What is wrong with our public school system in the USA is basically what’s wrong with the culture of our nation.   First of all we have sold out to the top-down management style of Wall Street—a management style that results in the manufacture of cookie cutter products and services. (How different is a McDonalds in Des Moines from one in Dallas? and that is exactly what you get with the Wall Street model--a system designed for conformity and predictability, a design that will turn out satisfied investors.)

This top down corporate conformity management style for our schools is as mechanistic as any industrial operation designed to produce products that conform—which is fine for mechanical objects, but not for kids.  This unnatural approach to education sacrifices the heart and soul of creativity and innovation to conformity. It is an educational style that caters to the middle of the road and leaves students at either end of that bell-shaped curve (which in many ways defines a student’s ability to conform) out of the picture.

 In one of his TED talks Ken Robinson told the story of Gillian Lynne who grew up in the 1930’s in London.  She couldn’t sit still in school.  Her mother took to her a psychiatrist.  This was in the days before Attention Deficit Disorder was invented; otherwise Gilliam Lynne would have likely been medicated out of a brilliant career. As it turned out the psychiatrist told her mother to put her in a dance school.  The rest is history.  Gillian Lynne became a renowned British ballerina who, after turning to choreography, created the sinuous dances in Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Cats,” which became the longest-running musical in London's West End and on Broadway.

Here is another, closer to home story of “Attention Deficit Disorder”.  I went to school at North Texas University as an art student.  My parents insisted that I graduate with a “useful” degree so they insisted that I get a teaching certificate while I was there.  In my senior year, one semester was devoted to student teaching in the school lab.  As it turned out, the teacher I was to work with got Mono and was out for almost two months.  Another teacher would checkup on me about twice a week.

I had a male student in my class who was so disruptive that it made it impossible for me to teach the class.  On my third day, I asked him to stay for a few minutes to talk with me.  It turned out that I knew his father—a biology professor and terrible tyrant that I had endured for my required science class.  I asked the kid what he thought might help him gain better control over his behavior because things couldn’t go on the way they were as it was keeping the other students from learning.  He thought for a minute and then said:  “Well maybe if I could pound a basketball in the gym next door for a while and then come to class.”

There were no classes in the gym that same period so I allowed him to do it. At first he was in the gym almost the entire class but gradually over a two-week period he returned earlier and earlier to class and became an active participant in the art activities.  Unfortunately, the teacher inspector stopped in one day when he was returning from the gym.  I was reported to the principal who had a chat with me about why my solution was not acceptable.  After that experience, I decided that I didn’t want to be a part of the “system” when I graduated.

All students are individuals with different kinds of intelligence. This is the point that Robinson drives home in his TED talks and he is right. When we only respect and cater to an intelligence that rewards math and science, we all lose out from our one-size-fits all educational system. The innovators and creative thinkers are the ones who bring forth all the new ideas and things that move our civilization forward—not the conformists who do as they are told and are part of group think one-size-fits-all system.

Not only does the current USA educational system pay homage to math and science and test rigorously to ensure that students meet these standards—the only plan they have for the studentS who don’t meet these expectations is to punish the teachers for “not doing a better job" of cramming kids into their cookie cutter idea of education. 

Instead of having our schools controlled like a Wall Street corporation with the top tier being members of a state board of education choosing textbooks of outdated information whose members are often more interested in furthering their political and religious agendas than they are with education of our children, we need to give more decision-making power to our teachers.  And in conclusion, since our teachers have the most important job in our society—the quality of the future of our nation, they should be paid accordingly.  It is absurd that we live in a nation that pays higher salaries to professional ball players than to our teachers.  All this needs to change.  I’m glad that my community is at least looking at these issues.

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THE PATH OF THE FUTURE ARE MAKERSPACE DESIGNS FOR OUR SCHOOLS.

Garland Texas has what is perhaps the most modern educational learning facility in the state, if not the nation.  It is the Gilbreath-Reed Technological Center located across the street from Naaman Forest High School  This $7million dollar facility opened its doors two years ago to Junior and Senior high school students in the GISD.  It is a hands-on makerspace where student make things—from food to mechanical equipment.  It is a place with rules and yet no boundaries for the possible.

If you haven’t toured this facility, you really should.  In addition to all the latest tools and equipment such as 3d printers and lathes, this space itself is designed to encourage student collaboration and sharing of ideas.  Little nooks and crannies all over the building are set up with cushy chairs and tables where students can informally gather to discuss ideas.  This is what schools of the future should look like—not square rooms with desks all lined up in a row and filled with outdated textbooks that have been scrubbed by those with political and religious agendas.

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If the the group of people in the photo below have their way, Garland could soon earn the title of "Garden City."

Representatives from Dallas County Master Gardeners, Garland ISD, Loving Garland Green, Garland Park Board, Texas AgriLife, Native Prairie Restoration, Neighborhood Vitality, Garland Environmental Waste Services, Keep Garland Beautiful, GISD Garden to Cafeteria Program (Student Nutrition Services).

 

Meeting of the Garden Minds

We all came together this morning, at the District 1 Road and Bridge Building (714 Rowlett Rd, Garland 75043) thanks to the vision of Linsey Gilbert, school nurse at Parkcrest Elementary School here in Garland. 

Last fall, Jane Stroud, President of Loving Garland Green, and I met with Linsey over lunch at Main Street Café to listen to her vision of creating a school garden for the Parkcrest students. Linsey is a lovely, very quiet, soft-spoken woman.  At the time I would not have given a plug nickel for success of such a project.

Since Jane and I were already committed to other projects, I suggested Linsey contact a few of my friends—Reba Collins of Keep Garland Beautiful who has installed numerous beautiful pollinator gardens in Garland and also David Parrish and Nancy Tunell.  David, retired from the EPA, is a member of our park board and he also works closely with our local Boy Scouts. Nancy is our official Community Garden coordinator here in Garland from the Neighborhood Vitality Department.

My time freed up in the spring and I was able to help with some of the physical work on the Parkcrest Elementary School Garden. We had an entire day devoted to working with the students, teachers and parents to install the garden, which is laid out in four parts; a pollinator garden (with installation led by Reba); a vegetable garden (with installation led by Nancy Tunell and I); a native Blackland Prairie Area (led by David Parrish); and a compost area (led by John Pierce)

People from other schools began to contact Linsey asking for advice.  It was from these requests that Linsey reached out to all the folks you see in the photo.  We have now come together to build something for our community that is greater than any one of us alone could do—school gardens for all the schools in GISD.  Once again, people have proved to be among our greatest assets.

School gardens mean so much to our children.  Among other things, they can be a place to heal.  For example, Linsey told the story of a student who had some very heavy sad issues to deal with.  After listening to him, Linsey suggested they go walk in the school garden.  During the walk they noticed a Texas Rock Rose shrub that appeared to have been uprooted from another’s vigorous hoeing.  The student was concerned about the plant so Linsey suggested he put it back more firmly in the ground.  The boy returned to the plant daily to care for it.  Over time, his other issues are not so bad any more.  It’s amazing but true that sometimes taking care of any living thing, even a plant, can heal us and provide the hope we need to continue.

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Jeff Raska, urban horticulturist, talking to us in the garden

GARLAND HAS A FABULOUS URBAN AGRICULTURAL CENTER THAT FEW KNOW ABOUT

We met today at the Road and Bridge Office: 715 Rowlett Rd, Garland, Texas 75043

Thanks in large part to the leadership of Jeff Raska, our Dallas County Urban Horticulturist, and the Dallas County Master Gardeners, we have a great Texas AgriLife demonstration garden that includes a vegetable garden, an orchard with 30 trees and a vineyard.

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PEOPLE TO CONTACT FOR MORE INFORMATION

For more information on Garland’s own Urban Agricultural Center: contact Jeff Raska at jwraska@ag.tamu.edu 

For more information on the Garden to Cafeteria programs, Contact Holly Frias at hbfrias@garlandisd.net

For more information on how you can become part of this great vision to bring school gardens to GISD students, please contact Linsey Gilbert, school nurse at Parkcrest Elementary LRGilbert@garlandisd.net

For more information on how you can start a neighborhood community garden, contact Nancy Tunell at ntunell@garlandtx.gov

 

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FOR GARDENING PRACTICE, YOU ARE INVITED TO THE GARLAND COMMUNITY GARDEN located at West Brand and Naaman School Rd – 9 pm Saturday, June 8th.  We are having a much-needed workday and could use some assistance.

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GARLAND AREA MAKERSPACE NEEDS YOU!

These wings are looking for a temporary home.They may magically attract visitors to your business.

AND THEY ARE FREE! If you would like to have more people stop by your business, and if you have an eight-foot by eight-foot wall space area to hang these wings, let’s talk today.  Call us at 972-571-4497 for more details if you are a Garland merchant who is interested..  Don’t wait.  We only have one pair of maker wings. Garland Area Makerspace is a 501C(3) nonprofit organization. You may find more information about the Garland Area Makerspace at Garlandmakers.org

 

 

 

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More Gardeners for Garland

I’m happy to report that yet another Garland family has decided to steward a plot at the Garland Community Garden.  Meet Ashley and Anthony DeLabano and their two darling children were assigned a garden plot Sunday afternoon, May 19.  They are the fifth family to join us this spring.  Garden awareness is on the rise in Garland!  Community Gardens are popping up all over the place. We now have the Saturn Hills Community Garden, Fresh Connections, and Good Samaritans are putting in a garden at their place. 

Our schools are putting in gardens too.  I know there is one slated for the fall near Centerville.  Parkcrest elementary has a great new garden that was just installed last fall.  Linsey Gilbert, School Nurse at Parkcrest was the mover and shaker who brought this garden to life and inspired a team of adults from the community to help her.  In addition to parents of the students at Parkcrest, we also had two naturalists—Reba Collins and David Parrish who helped to plan the garden.  Reba directed the design and installation of a lovely pollinator bed that borders the main vegetable garden on the street side.  David directed the installation of a Blackland Prairie section that borders the garden on the other side and along the top.  Nancy Tunell, from our Neighborhood Vitality Department, and I from Loving Garland Green assisted with the vegetable garden.  Of course the students planted the vegetables.  Over the summer, parents, neighbors and adults on the team will keep the garden watered.  It takes a village to make a school garden.

 

OTHER SIGHTS AT THE GARLAND COMMUNITY GARDEN

Our tomato plants are all growing like crazy!  I didn’t count but many of them already have large well-developed green tomatoes.  Another phenomenon:  we have really healthy watermelon vines—a first for our garden.  Also we have yellow squash.

(I know I shouldn’t brag but . . .)  This is also the first year for squash for all of us except the Drakes who last year got a few before the squash bugs moved in.  It seems that every year is different in terms of what grows well.

Tiger lilies are blooming.  Native common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is over 4 feet tall and the cacti in the medicine wheel are blooming.  Our seedlings of Native Antelope Horn milkweed and also called "green milkweed" (Asclepias viridis) that we planted last week is holding its own in spite of all the heavy downpours we've had.

Tiger lilies are blooming.  We don't know where they came from.  None of our members recall planting them.

Cacti in the Medicine Wheel is blooming.  It's hard to believe all this began just three years ago with three cactus leaves.

Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridis) seedlings.  At maturity these plants will only be about two feet tall.

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First Generation 2019 Monarch Caterpillar

GARLAND COMMUNITY GARDEN UPDATE

The garden needs some tender loving care.  I'm going back down there this afternoon to replace some of the straw that has washed away by our latest deluge of rain. Yesterday we discovered three monarch caterpillars in one of our three common milkweed patches.  I rescued one of them shown in the photo above.


The Story of Milkweed and Monarchs

It's a well known fact that Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) will only deposit their eggs on a milkweed (Asclepias) plant and that Monarch caterpillars will only feed on milkweed leaves.  But guess what?  There are over 100 species of milkweed plants in North America and over 30 of them are native to Texas. 

Native Plant Enthusiasts recommend against tropical milkweed 

According to some, not all milkweed is created equal.  Many native plant enthusiasts are against tropical milkweed, a native to Mexico.  One of their main objections is that the tropical milkweed lasts until the first freeze and in some zones will last through the winter.  This entices monarchs to overwinter in Texas and Florida when they should be going on to the highlands of Mexico for the winter. 

However native milkweed at the Garland Community Garden was all dried up by the first of August last year--about two weeks prior to their first arrivals around mid August.  It takes five generations of monarchs to complete the cycle to get them to migrate to Mexico in the fall.  The fifth generation is the one that is genetically programmed to fly to Mexico and semi- hibernate for about six months and then start the new first generation the following spring.  The first four generations are genetically programmed to die 2 to 6 weeks after they eclose.  In Texas and Oklahoma we need to especially make sure there is milkweed--in the spring for the Monarchs to deposit the eggs of the  first generation and then again in the fall for them to deposit the eggs for the last generation of the year.

Thus many of the monarchs arriving in North Texas  beginning in mid August through September are the fourth generation who are looking for milkweed to deposit their eggs for the fifth generation. If it were not for the tropical milkweed we also had at the garden, there would have been no milkweed for the monarchs. Thus I still intend to plant tropical milkweed in the garden this year. Of course I will cut it down at the end of the first week in October.  I don't want any fifth generation Monarchs hanging around.

I don't know why, but our native milkweed was all gone just before the Monarchs began returning in mid August last year. Perhaps it is the species.

It might be because our stand of common milkweed was only two years old.  I'll watch it closely this year.  If the native milkweed lasts until the end of September, then I'll recommend to the club that we stop planting tropical milkweed.  If not we will plant tropical milkweed again next spring as we will not leave the monarchs to fend for themselves.  Our mission is to support monarchs.  This fall we will also plant seeds of other species of native milkweed.  Native is of course always preferable; however, some food is better than no food.


We Might Remember that Our Native Plants Are Evolving Too

Like people and critters plants also evolve/adapt to survive the onslaughts of urbanization with its herbicides and pesticides.  Who's to say what's happened to our native milkweed and its survival strategies?  Honestly, I don't think people know but perhaps there are some studies on that somewhere.

From my own personal field observations, all our native milkweed was gone by August 1 and the fourth generation Monarchs visiting the Garland Community Garden in late August through September of last year would have been SOL if it were not for tropical milkweed.

Asclepias syriaca often called common milkweed, is another species that grow well all over Texas.  This is the variety that we have growing at the Garland Community Garden.  Currently we have 250 Asclepias Syriaca in three different plots.  This is their third year.


Milkweed in the Medicine Wheel at the Garland Community Garden.  Native Americans  used this plant for various medicinal purposes.

Asclepias syriaca flower buds - Garland Community Garden

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42 Sweet Corn G90 transplants - a hybrid variety planted April 11, 2019 at the Garland Community Garden


Many Ways to Classify Seeds and Plants

In addition to all the varieties and classifications for edibles we grow in our gardens plant may also be classified according to their seed source as Heirloom, Certified Organic, Non GMO, or Hybrid.

Although most of the plants growing in the Garland Community Garden are grown from heirloom seeds or heirloom transplants, we do have many plants that are also hybrid varieties.  For example, we recently planted 42 Sweet Corn G90 transplants which are hybrids and our tomato population includes many varieties of Heirloom and Hybrids. As far as I know, we have no GMO plants growing in the Garden.

Heirloom

Heirloom seeds are seeds that have been saved and shared by generations of home gardeners. (Heirloom seeds and plants are also most often certified organic--although not always as you can see by the definition below for "certified organic.")  When we state that a variety is an heirloom, we usually mean that it is an open pollinated variety developed before 1940. 

[Generally speaking, "open pollination" refers to plants pollinated naturally by birds, insects, wind, or human hands.]

Benefits of Open Pollinated Seeds

  • You have the option to produce your own seed supply. Some crops, including beans, peas, tomatoes, and lettuce, are self-pollinating, and thus do not even require much isolation for seed saving. Furthermore, by selecting the best plants from which to save seed, anyone can adapt specific variety strains to their region or microclimate.
  • Open pollinated seeds are less costly than hybrids.
  • Few can ignore the superior flavor of many open-pollinated varieties. Many breeders who specialize in creating hybrid varieties for large-scale commercial growers tend to focus on qualities other than flavor, such as storage ability, uniformity, and characteristics more pertinent to processing. Suffice it to say that since the onset of modern hybrid plant breeding, flavor has not been a priority. 

Certified Organic

Certified organic seeds and plants are grown in organic soil and are only exposed to inputs (like fertilizer and pest controls) permitted by the USDA’s National Organic Program during its growing, processing, and packaging periods.

Non GMO

To qualify as "Non-GMO", the seeds must not have undergone “the mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms” as stated in the Safe Seed Pledge.

Why Non-GMO?
The Institute for Responsible Technology offers these 10 good reasons for non-GMO.

  • The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) urges doctors to prescribe non-GMO diets for all patients. They cite animal studies showing organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging, and infertility. Human studies show how genetically modified (GM) food can leave material behind inside us, possibly causing long-term problems. 
  • GMO's contaminate forever.  GMOs cross pollinate and their seeds can travel. It is impossible to fully clean up our contaminated gene pool. Self-propagating GMO pollution will outlast the effects of global warming and nuclear waste. The potential impact is huge, threatening the health of future generations.
  • GMOs increase herbicide use.
    Most GM crops are engineered to be “herbicide tolerant”?they deadly weed killer. Monsanto, for example, sells Roundup Ready crops, designed to survive applications of their Roundup herbicide.
  • Government oversight is lax. Most of the health and environmental risks of GMOs are ignored by governments’ superficial regulations and safety assessments. The reason for this tragedy is largely political. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, doesn’t require a single safety study, does not mandate labeling of GMOs, and allows companies to put their GM foods onto the market without even notifying the agency.
  • The biotech industry uses “tobacco science” to claim product safety.
    Biotech companies like Monsanto told us that Agent Orange, PCBs, and DDT were safe. They are now using the same type of superficial, rigged research to try and convince us that GMOs are safe. 
  • Independent research and reporting is attacked and suppressed. 
    Scientists who discover problems with GMOs have been attacked, gagged, fired, threatened, and denied funding. 
  • GMOs harm the environment.
    GM crops and their associated herbicides can harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems, and soil organisms. They reduce bio-diversity, pollute water resources, and are unsustainable.
  • GMOs do not increase yields, and work against feeding a hungry world.
    Whereas sustainable non-GMO agricultural methods used in developing countries have conclusively resulted in yield increases of 79% and higher, GMOs do not, on average, increase yields at all. This was evident in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2009 report Failure to Yield?the definitive study to date on GM crops and yield.
  • By avoiding GMOs, you contribute to the coming tipping point of consumer rejection, forcing them out of our food supply.
    Because GMOs give no consumer benefits, if even a small percentage of us start rejecting brands that contain them, GM ingredients will become a marketing liability.

Hybrid

Hybrid seeds are created by crossing two selected varieties, sometimes resulting in vigorous plants that yield more than heirlooms. Hybrids. This is not the same as GMO which involves transfer of genetic material which modifies the plant's genetic structure.

Benefits of Hybrids

  • They offer superior disease resistance.
  • Hybrid seeds produce uniform plants and uniform fruits. This can make cultivation more efficient as well as provide reliability in marketing the end product.  This is especially important for the commercial grower.
  • In general hybrids will be more vigorous and produce higher yields.  But as mentioned previously, taste takes a back seat to other qualities selected when crossing varieties.  Qualities such as tougher skins to survive shipping and uniformity of shape.

Disadvantage of Hybrids

The primary disadvantage of hybrids is the seeds cannot be saved from year to year.Seeds saved from hybrid plants usually will not produce the same plant the following year because most varieties are not self-sustaining. 

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Drawing by Beatrix Potter from “Peter Rabbit.”  Perhaps if Mr. McGregor had known how great rabbit manure was for his garden, he would have made friends with Peter and perhaps orchestrated a mutually beneficial arrangement.  Rabbit manure is packed with nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and many minerals, lots of micro-nutrients, plus many other beneficial trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, boron, zinc, manganese, sulfur, copper, and cobalt just to name a few.  And it won’t burn your plants.

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Chemical Fertilizers Alone Eventually Fail

Fertilizers fall into two general categories: organic, or natural, and inorganic, or chemical. Most plants benefit from fertilizing. Natural fertilizers are those formed through decomposition of organic matter, while chemical fertilizers are manmade. Natural fertilizers improve the texture of the soil and increase the amount of beneficial microorganisms.  Inorganic chemical fertilizers feed the roots of the plants and do little to improve the soil.

Your plants are not going to know the difference between organic or inorganic nitrogen but the microorganisms in your soil will. Your plants will grow with the continued use of chemical fertilizers. However, continued use of inorganic fertilizers increases the gardener’s dependence on purchasing them again year after year because each year, the quality and texture of the soil will become worse as chemical fertilizers do not feed the microorganisms in the soil and they die off.

Chemical Fertilizers Only Nourish the Chemical Content of soil.

All soils consist of a chemical, physical and biological content.  The chemical part refers to the nutrient content (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). This is the only part of the soil that is fed by chemical fertilizers.  The physical part refers to the structure and texture of the soil (sand, silt, clay and organic material).  The biological component includes the fungi, bacteria, protozoa, arthropods and other micro-organisms.

Organic Fertilizers nourish all components of the soil as they feed and encourage micro-biological activity.

The Micro-organisms are the biological content of soil.  Mycorrhizal fungi attach themselves to plant roots and increase the absorptive ability of roots by 10 to 1,000 times, resulting in an increased drought tolerance. Mycorrhizae also release antibiotics into the soil that immobilize and kill disease organisms. They also are capable of releasing powerful chemicals into the soil that dissolve hard-to-capture nutrients, like phosphorus and iron.

They can also help improve soil structure by supplying organic “glues” that bind soil particles into aggregates, thus, improving porosity. Soils with poor porosity tend to become waterlogged and disease-prone. As you can imagine, these little guys do a tremendous job of keeping our plants healthy and thriving.

All soils contain both bacteria and fungi, and both can be either beneficial or pathogenic. It is our job as gardeners to encourage the good guys. We do this through gardening practices like annual applications of compost, crop rotation, minimal applications of pesticides, no-till gardening techniques and good water management.

Commercial Organic Fertilizers – Biofertilizers

Biofertilizers contain different types of fungi, root bacteria or other microorganisms. They form a mutually beneficial or symbiotic relationship with host plants as they grow in the soil. Biofertilizers are a cheap, easy-to-use alternative to manufactured petrochemical products. Biofertilizers restore normal fertility to the soil and make it biologically alive. They boost the amount of organic matter and improve soil texture and structure. The enhanced soil holds water better than before. Biofertilizers add valuable nutrients to the soil, especially nitrogen, proteins and vitamins. They take nitrogen from the atmosphere and phosphates from the soil and turn them into forms that plants can use. Some species also produce natural pesticides.

Biofertilizers increase yield by up to 30 percent because of the nitrogen and phosphorus they add to the soil. The improvement in soil texture and quality helps plants grow better during periods of drought. Biofertilizers help plants develop stronger root systems and grow better. Biofertilizers also reduce the effects of harmful organisms in the soil, such as fungi and nematodes. Plants resist stress better and live longer.

The soil must contain adequate nutrients for biofertilizer organisms to thrive and work. Biofertilizers complement other fertilizers, but they cannot totally replace them. Biofertilizers lose their effectiveness if the soil is too hot or dry. Excessively acidic or alkaline soils also hamper successful growth of the beneficial microorganisms.

NOTE:  I’ve never used a biofertilizer before but I just ordered a gallon bag for the Garland Community Garden.  This comes with no recommendation on my part:  Wakefield Biochar Soil Conditioner one gallon bag from Amazon for $17.99.  I’ll apply to Charlie’s tomatoes at the garden and then to one of the tomato plots he has at his house.  I’ll let you know how they grow.

Non-commercial Organic Fertilizers

Compost

Use about two-thirds brown matter –pruned branches from shrubs, dry leaves, animal droppings and so on – and one-third green-matter, such as food scraps, green leaf litter and grass. Water your compost well and make sure it is aerated.  Soon bacteria and microorganisms will colonize your compost pile and turn it into useable material for adding to your soil.

Organic Mulch

Organic mulches such as straw, grass clippings, newspaper and woolen clothing break down more slowly than other forms of organic matter, but they offer other benefits that make them incredibly useful. As they slowly break down, releasing nutrients back into the soil, they provide insulation from extremes of temperature, cooling the soil in the summer and keeping it warm in the winter. They also help retain moisture in the. And, they act as a weed barrier or to cover existing weeds and break them down into organic matter.

Legumes

Legumes are the family of plants that have the best nitrogen-fixing ability. Certain bacteria that live in their roots convert nitrogen into a soluble form of the element that plant roots can take up and use to grow.  At the garden we grow Austrian Winter peas as our cover crop.

Cover Crops

Cover crops serve a lot of functions. They help to minimize water evaporation from the soil, they provide shade and, importantly, they add organic matter. This is because cover crops, such as potatoes and pumpkin, have deep roots that open up the soil, allowing water and nutrients to penetrate into it and stimulating microorganism activity. These roots also help maintain the integrity of the soil, and the leaves of cover crops rot in place and return their nutrients to the topsoil. 

Green Manure

Green manure crops are similar to cover crops, but rather than remaining in the soil and naturally decaying in winter and revitalizing in spring, they are deliberately cut and then left on the surface or forked into the soil to add organic matter.

Animal Manure

My own personal preference for animal manure is that it is fully composted and broken down from several months in the compost pile prior to use in the garden.  At the Garland Community Garden we currently use only horse manure.  Certain manures such as horse, rabbit and alpaca can be applied directly to the garden soil without danger of burning the plants.  This is not true of other manures such as that from a cow, pig or chicken.

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EASY GARDENING CONTINUED. . .

Photo taken at the Garland Community Garden - W. Brand and Naaman School Road 

Wire Container Gardens

With wire container gardens you can garden until you die if you want.  With this garden design people in their 80’s and 90’s can still garden.  If you can walk or get about in a wheelchair you can garden following this method.  If you are a busy person with little time to garden, you still will have enough time to garden using the wire container method because there is little to no weed pulling and very little time spent watering.

Purchase or Build a Wire Container

1. Purchase a Wire Container

(The really EASY way is to purchase wire mesh compost container such as the one show in the photo.)

2. Make a 3.5 x 3.5 foot wire container.
            Material

  • 14 feet of wire mesh three feet wide
  • 5 zip ties
  • 5 six-inch pieces of wire
  • 4 rebar 4 feet long

            Tools

  • Small sledge hammer
  • Wire cutters
  • Measuring tape

Build the wire container

Choose a sunny spot in your yard.  For markers, find four rocks, or tiles or bricks.

1. Place markers at the approximate four corners of a square with 3.5 feet sides. 
2. Use the tape measure for indicating the exact distance of 3.5 feet and move your markers accordingly.

3. Pound each of the four rebars 12 inches into the ground at each of the four corners.

4. Wrap the wire mesh around the outside of the four rebars.

5. Secure two ends with tie wraps and wire.

Variation:
Use five-foot rebars.  Drive them a foot into the ground.  This will leave a foot of rebar over the top of the wire mesh.  In January you can duck tape cardboard over each of the four rebars (so the rebar won’t cut plastic sheet) and lay a heave gauge clear plastic over the entire bin, securing at the bottom with duct tape and you have a greenhouse to start plants for the spring.

 

Fill the wire container with growing medium.

Materials for growing medium:

  • Four leaf bags of brown leaves each bin
  • One five-gallon bucket with lid filled with spoiled raw produce
  • Enough hay to cover the top surface of the bed. (It’s a good idea to get a small bale of hay and keep it nearby.)
  • Rotten logs (not totally necessary but good addition).
  • Water
  • Composted soil (about 10 gallons) – Purchase a medium bag of garden soil or mooch some compost from a friend’s pile.

    INSTRUCTIONS
  1. Put the logs/wood in the bottom first if you have them.  Logs are good especially if they are rotten as they will hold and release moisture.
  2. Put a layer of mulched leaves on top of the logs.  Hay is also good.  Some say it contains a lot of seeds but Ruth Stout wouldn’t agree.
  3. Water thoroughly
  4. Put a layer of green manure (green leaves spoiled fresh produce (no meat or cooked veggies) on top of the brown.  You can also add rabbit or horse manure. 


One of the best things about rabbit manure is it doesn't need to be composted. Rabbit manure is organic matter and improves poor soil structure, drainage and moisture retention. ... Rabbit manure is higher in nitrogen than sheep, goat, chicken, cow or horse manure. Plants need nitrogen to produce strong green growth.

  1. Continue layering and watering each layer until near the top of your container.
  2. Top off your container with about 6 inches of garden soil or composted soil.

Install transplants and plant seeds

Now for the fun part: You don’ t need a shovel or a hoe.  You don’t need to make your back sore bending over.  All you need is about a six by six inch square of garden soil for each plant.  Scoop out a hole in the top of your garden plot.  Imagine it as a pot for your transplant.  Put some of the soil in the hole. Insert the plant.  Put a little more soil around it to secure it.  Water.  Repeat for all transplants.  The process is similar for seeds as well.  When finished. Use hay, straw or wood chips to mulch around the top and give one final water application.


Maintain Wire Container Garden

Like all gardens you should check it daily—if for no other reason than to make yourself feel good and accomplished.  During the first three weeks after planting, stick your finger into the soil up to about the knuckle of your middle finger. It should be moist.

After the plants have a good start and your seeds have grown their first set of true leaves, you may only need to water once every two weeks.  Here is another test:  When it is really hot, towards the end of the day you can expect your plants to droop.  However, in the early morning if they are still droopy, they need to be watered.

Moving Plants Around

Another great feature of these beds is that if you want to move a plant over to make room for another one, you can do this in a matter of seconds without harming the plant.  Make a hole in the bed with your hand where you want to move the plant.  Then using both hands scoop gently underneath the plant down to about the area where you think the roots will be extended and lift up and transfer to its new spot.  Fill in the hole you left with some soil and put your new plant in there. 

Replenishing the Soil

As time goes on you will find the level of your garden sinking.  Use your hands to dig in places between the plants and insert a mixture of brown organic matter and spoiled produce.  Make sure to cover well with brown organic matter such as leaves or hay.