Goff Organic Garden

Goff Organic Garden began in 2003. The garden is 1/2 acre in the southwest corner of schoolyard, at the end of the Gilligan Road parking lot. The garden has 11 different growing areas: 9 vegetable areas, each 1000 square feet; 14 raised-bed boxes of cut flowers, and a formal herb garden.

A small red barn with shed roof stores tools, equipment, fertilizers, seeds, and all. The garden also has in-ground water supply and on-ground drip irrigation. Solar PV panels on the barn roof provide electricity for electronic scales, power tools, radio, and accessories.

Funds for the garden came from several sources. The school Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) donated $3000 for the barn. Our Student Council donated $2000 for water lines that run throughout the garden, and for fencing. Money for tools and infrastructure came from Learn and Serve America grants from NYS Education Dept.

The garden is surrounded by a five-foot-high wire fence, firmly anchored to 4x4 wooden posts, with gates and a drive-in entrance. This fence keeps out deer, rabbits, other wild animals that might munch on tender, tasty vegetables—and wandering crowds, small children and roaming athletes from the ballfields.

This fence is augmented with chicken wire buried 12 inches deep in the ground to discourage woodchucks and similar burrowing animals.

We have a 16x16 foot barn, with a second floor for storage. The barn itself is a basic pole barn structure with a packed gravel floor. An overhanging roof provides shelter from rain for our farmer's market.

The first floor is filled with carts, hoses, tools, fertilizers, lawnmower, and all the equipment needed for a neat, orderly garden and farmers market. The barn also stores our signboards with their important about Values.

Two solar PV panels on the roof and a backpack battery provide electricity to power to our digital scale, power tools, sound system, and other equipment.

School staff and community members volunteered quite a lot of time and skill to assist in different phases of barn construction.

In this picture, the corner posts are set and the gravel floor is being smoothed.

After this, the walls were framed and raised. Then, roof trusses were installed, and a floor for the second floor loft was built. Next, doors and were windows framed. And asphalt shingles were nailed on. The very last task was to paint the barn bright red with white trim.

Many parents and school staff donated time to construct this attractive, functional barn, and did much of the labor. The school's technology teachers helped especially with the physical construction of the barn

But it was school board member Tom Chesser who oversaw all phases of barn construction, and put in the most hours. Tom also volunteered many more hours to the task of rototilling the hard-packed schoolyard topsoil.

Thanks especially to Mr. Tom Chesser, and to many others, our garden has an icon image of a working farm—our own little red barn—a safe, weather-proof shelter for our tools, supplies, equipment, signs, and harvested crops.

This experience encourages our belief that food is not just nutrition. Growing and harvesting food are social acitivities that encourage community.

Over $2000.00 of tools are stored in the barn's first floor. In this photo of the west wall, multiple sets of larger hand tools, buckets and water tubs are hung in easy-to-see order. On the opposite, eastside wall are hung multiple sets of trowels, claws and small hand tools.

These tools were bought with a Learn and Serve grant from NYS Education Dept.

To allow large groups of students to work at one time, the garden needs several sets of tools, and a simple system to keep track of them. The barn's orderly storage system makes it easy to spot a missing tool.

Proceeds from each year's farmer's market sales are used to replace tools or buy new ones.

Our soil is mostly glacial till that had supported a wheat and corn farm before it was sold to the school district. Topsoil in the schoolyard was very tight and hard-packed, covered with dense sod. To start the garden, we first cut the sod off each 1000 square foot section of growing area. Next, we removed the sod chunks, along with any stones or debris.

Then community members volunteered time and equipment to rototill the dense soil. Here again, school board member Tom Chesser was the garden angel, doing most of the physical work. Lots of patient effort was needed to loosen hard-packed schoolyard soil—to begin to aerate the soil, so roots can easily penetrate and support healthy plants.

The Town of East Greenbush generously ran water service pipe into the barn, where we split it into six lines to distribute water throughout the garden.

Six faucets conveniently located around the edges of the garden make it easy to water seeds, transplants and crops during dry weather. We use water wands to deliver a soft, generous, rain-like effect.

Water is also needed to wash and pack vegetables at harvest time. Crops such as carrots, beets and spinach, must be triple dipped in water to remove dirt, then packed in moist plastic bags. Two picnic tables and 50-gallon tubs are a movable harvest, clean & bagging operation.

In 2007, we are adding an area behind the barn to wash produce at harvest time.

We could see the schoolyard soil was very poor, with little fertility to grow nutritious vegetables. We had to make our own topsoil right in the garden—a process that takes three years.

Soil samples went to Cornell Cooperative Extension and NOFA-NY for testing. The results came back that the schoolyard soil was deficient in many necessary plant nutrients. Soil tests recommended adding several minerals to the soil. Lime, greensand and compost were spread on to every section.

We buy fertilizers from Fertrell Organic in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania. All fertilizers and sprays are Certified Organic under the USDA National Organic Program.

To start increasing soil organic matter (carbon), we also added compost from Empire Mulch (formerly Saratoga Organics)

This compost is made from manure and bedding from Saratoga Racetrack, plus leaf and yard debris. After composting a few weeks, this mix is digested by microbes into a wonderful, soft mulch and soil conditioner free of colorings and any additives.

Compost delivers not only plant nutrients. Compost is a living community of micro-oganisms that feed on dead plant materials and recycles them into plant nutrients. Spreading compost adds this living culture of bacteria, fungi, algae, protozoa, mycorrhyzae, nematodes, and more to our garden's soil.

All these enrichments were spread on the surface and rototilled in.

Then, raised beds were built in several of the 1000-square-foot growing sections. To make raised beds, shallow, two-foot paths are shoveled every four feet across the growing area.

To retain soil and hold up the sides of each bed, 100% recycled lumber is used—held in place with 18-inch rebar pounded in the soil.

Recycled plastic lumber won't rot or disintegrate, and can be re-used for many years. It also won't give slivers and splinters to kids working in the garden.

These raised beds are easy to pull up and move as the crops are rotated around the nine growing areas.

Raised beds are clean, neat, and assure better plant root growth. They confine foot traffic to specific areas, and thus restrict soil compaction in the growing area. They also make it easier to weed, water and harvest.

Thick, heavy rolls of construction roadway underlayment were cut in long strips, and laid down to cover the paths between raised beds. This keeps weeds down, and avoids students walking in mud after heavy rain.

As seen at right, some weeds still sprout in between construction paper and recycled lumber.

Once beds are made, we plant them with certain vegetables—spinach, lettuce, chard, pea, green bean, carrot, beet, radish, onion, garlic, and potato.

As each beds is planted, we add organic fertilizer blends in the furrows before we plant seeds. This assures when tiny roots emerge from sprouting seeds, they will find abundant sources of nutrients in the earliest days of growth.

Some crops may get a side dressing of more fertilizer later in its growth, such as peppers, eggplant and tomatoes at flowering, or fruit formation.

Raised beds make it easy to weed and harvest the growing plants, whether by hand or with tools. Kids find it convenient to squat on the lumber while they weed, harvest and chitchat. They can easily reach across a bed from any edge.

Raised beds also make it easy to feed growing plants with liquid nutrients in foliar sprays.

The photo at right shows how easy it is to water the raised beds with a watering wand attached to one of the six faucets. This conserves water by keeping water in the growing area close to germinating seeds and growing roots, and not allowing water to run off into paths.

We like to keep soil moist while seeds are germinating and baby plants are emerging to unfold their first leaves.

Drip irrigation delivers steady, measured amounts of water directly to the roots of certain crops, such as squashes and corn.

Here, drip lines installed in a bed of young winter squashes deliver a steady, uniform, conservative water supply directly around the squash roots.

Later, when the squash plants overgrow the bed, wattering by hand is difficult. The drip lines deliver water to vines without disturbing the plants, or someone spraying the crop with a water wand.

After the crop is harvested at the end of the growing seaon, drip lines and distribution pipes are taken up and stored safely in the barn for the winter.

One growing area east of the barn had low yields the first two years. It seemed to be due to standing water that created wet, soggy, suffocated soil that was drowning crop roots and retarding growth. The area was often slippery mud that was difficult and dangerous to work in.

Therefore we dug a trench along the fence just outside the garden to lower the water level in the soil.

The trench was lined with coarse gravel, then 4-inch perforated drainage pipe was laid in, then more gravel to cover the pipe, followed by soil to fill the trench. This successfully drains off excess water in this area, and crops grow there much better.

This photo is the northeast corner in late spring.

In the back corner, garlic & onions stand tall growing well.

The left bed seeded with Indian corn just starting to sprout.

Furtherest left is winter squash, with drip irrigation.

At uppermost right are two of ten boxes of cut flowers.

At right front, raised beds sprout white & red potatoes.

This photo shows the garden's "salad bowl" in northwest corner in late spring.

A variety of leafy greens—lettuce, chard, spinach—and root crops—carrot, radish, beet—growing well in raised beds in the cool, early season.

On the lower left is a raised bed with a post to support a trellis for a summer crop of pole beans. The rest of the beds in this growing area will be planted with summer lettuce, fall carrots and green beans.

In the spring of 2009, we partnered with the First United Methodist Church next door to the school.  Church members planted, maintained and donated produce from two sections of the garden.  Additionally, a third section was grassed over leaving beds for raspberries and a standard apple tree.