Life Scout Adds Permaculture to Pleasant Hill Middle School Garden
By Nikolo Vo
When I was a student at the Conserve School in Wisconsin last year, I first learned about permaculture from a presentation made by Bill Wilson, a founder of the Midwest Permaculture Association. The ideas he detailed really caught my imagination, as it showed a way that we could use nature’s natural processes to sustain human goals. I had originally wanted to do a project with these systems in my own backyard, but with the clay soil and the lack of sunlight due to too many big trees, the planting conditions were less than optimal. When the opportunity came to incorporate permaculture into my Eagle Project, I jumped at the chance.
I am a junior at Campolindo High School in Moraga and a Life Scout in Troop 224 in Lafayette. For my Eagle Scout project, I worked with Pleasant Hill Middle School to restore and improve their campus. One garden bed stayed a conventional, flat-bed garden. We dug it out, amended the soil and then returned the dirt to the bed and topped with straw for weed control and moisture retention.
The other garden bed was a much bigger project. We converted it into a hugelkultur mound. A “hugelkultur” mound uses principles of permaculture to make agriculture more sustainable by allowing the grower to reap maximum yield with minimum effort and minimal use of irrigation. First, we dug out the existing bed through matted roots and compressed clay soil to about 12 to 15 inches below grade. Then we added a 2 x 10 piece of wood all around it to increase its height. The fun part came next. We filled the empty bed with about 10 cubic yards of organic material, ranging from dead wood, horse manure, branches, fresh lawn clippings and mulch. The hugelkultur mound we built stands 3 feet off the ground. It will require minimum watering and provide a constant/long-term source of nutrients to various garden organisms. My Eagle project beautified the front of the school, and retrofitted the garden.
The project turned out extremely well thanks to the exceptional volunteers that came out to help. The sanding, priming, and painting of the benches was completed Friday afternoon by a crew of younger scouts. The rest of the manual labor was completed on Saturday morning/afternoon with a team of younger and older scouts as well as adult leaders and parents. In all, 26 volunteers participated in my Eagle Project contributing 155 hours in total.
The biggest part of the whole project was the digging. And boy, was there a lot of it. With the hugelkultur mound alone, there an estimated 8 cubic yards of dirt that needed to be removed before the stacking and layering could even begin. The mound, in the end, turned out quite well. The materials brought fit perfectly into the space and size restrictions that be had designed.There were no problems with the construction or design.
This project will impact many of the students, faculty, and staff that use the Pleasant Hill Middle School campus. I’m looking forward to hearing back from science teacher Laura Wilson who will be performing various experiments on the differences between the two different beds with her students.
The garden modifications will provide a new testing ground for the school’s science program to experiment with, as well as providing a boost to their study of sustainability and agriculture.