Tally Elementary School teachers Luh Januwati and Traci Hale are using the garden on the playground at Tally Elementary School to teach a variety of lessons to their fifth-grade students.
Januwati is new to the Kerrville ISD staff this school year and teaches fifth-grade math.
She is originally from Bali, Indonesia; and following high school and college there, got a scholarship from the British Consul to attend graduate school at the University of Manchester in England.
She came to Kerrville via jobs in the oil industry abroad, where she met her husband, and came with him to Texas when he was relocated.
To her students and the Tally staff, she’s “Ms. J.”
“I was excited to see there was a school garden at Tally, when I was assigned here. But nobody had been taking care of it the last couple years,” she said.
“I decided to re-start it, and tie it into lessons for the students, as I did when I taught in East Texas. When I was in East Texas, you could poke a stick in the ground, and it would grow. I’m learning it’s really different here in the Hill Country,” she said.
The Tally garden was built with four 4x8-foot raised beds, with narrow walkways around them; surrounded by a high chain-link fence to keep out the deer, and a single gate for access.
Januwati and Hale’s students have now planted vegetable and flower seedlings in two of the four beds.
“When I started talking to my students about it, they were excited about it. And we talked about planting kale and kohlrabi and baby broccoli and herbs,” she said.
But some of the students were more interested in planting flowers, so she and the other teacher settled on a voting system. The students each got one vote, to choose either vegetables or flowers, and wrote their choice on a slip of paper and put it in a box.
Flowers won in the ballot count by a small margin, so Januwati worked with the Plant Haus downtown on selections of plants from both categories. And a fund at Tally School paid for most of her needed supplies and seedlings.
She worked on new “diggable” soil in the raised beds, and found a surviving dianthus and some chives. And last Thursday the two classes of students, about 44 total, took their veggie and flowering plants out to the garden. Ms. J used her trowel to dig holes for each seedling and supervised each student’s placement of their plant.
They mixed vegetables and flowers in each of two of the beds.
The “veggie group” planted tomatoes, eggplant, two kinds of peppers, kale, and watermelon.
“One student really wanted to plant watermelon, even though we discussed how much room it really needed; and our garden is too small for that,” she said. “But he really wanted to do it, so I got one plant, to let him do it. He’ll see as it grows that it really needs more space.”
And another requested onions, but that also needs more room to grow.
She said they had the same discussion about where berries come from - on vines and bushes that can be very large, thorny and thick – and decided the space and fence around their garden wouldn’t be suitable for that either.
She said there is now a thorn-less blackberry plant available, but at Tally they aren’t trying that one yet.
“But they will learn where food comes from, and how to plant those things. They will know that broccoli is the flower of that plant,” she said. “In my previous school, we grew one giant cabbage; and then I cooked it for them so they would learn how it tastes, too. In my experience, the kids are more inclined to try eating it if they grew it themselves.
“They also learn about foods being ‘seasonal’ – that the ‘fun’ part of pumpkins doesn’t happen until the fall; and carrots are sweeter in the fall, and cabbages. The plants also get less diseases and heat damage.”
She said Texas is blessed with a long growing season, but one drawback for students is, the end of the school year is really too early for them to harvest some vegetables.
“It would probably be better to start the plants in pots in class earlier in the school year; and transplant them outdoors later.”
The student group that wanted to plant flowers were given small containers of marigolds and dianthus in varied colors.
Through the spring semester, students in the two classes will water the garden, and check the planting beds for weeds, usually during recess twice a week. Januwati and Hale have a schedule made for that.
“Surprisingly a lot of the students here have some experience gardening at home. When I tried to give them detailed instructions, they said, ‘I know what I’m doing’,” Januwati said.
She said in East Texas, she had a bigger garden space, and she and her students also grew strawberries and sugar cane.
“Kids really love gardening. And they especially like gardening if it’s a choice between math and gardening,” she said. “For me, gardening is my exercise outside of school.”
Januwati said in her years living in Bali, they had year-around growing seasons. But there also was a small amount of land and what was available was very expensive.
This is Januwati’s 11th year of teaching, and she’s supervised school gardens for more than half those school years. She has always taught math, and sometimes chemistry and science.