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All in a day’s slither

Fifth grader Keenan Clark grimaces at the thought of worm food with classmate Jessica Cooper stirring the worm bin in Mel Gallup’s Gordon Elementary class. The class is studying composting methods and practices.  - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Fifth grader Keenan Clark grimaces at the thought of worm food with classmate Jessica Cooper stirring the worm bin in Mel Gallup’s Gordon Elementary class. The class is studying composting methods and practices.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

t Gordon Elementary classroom gets up close and personal with nature.

KINGSTON —?Inside Mel Gallup’s fifth-grade room at Gordon Elementary sits a mysterious black plastic cylinder.

A look inside the container reveals dirt and slowly decomposing natural food waste and coffee grounds. Then one eager student digs into the pile and pulls out a wad that’s brimming with squiggly, wiggly red wiggler earth worms. There’s more than 2,000 wigglers in all.

The students in Gallup’s class are learning how worms make compost and will be using the compost as fertilizer for a three-quarter-acre garden plot. They’re also managing a regular composting bin outside the classroom.

Gallup is spearheading the composting and garden project, aptly named “Plant a Seed,” because he said kids need to get back to nature.

“Right now these kids are basically in an electronic media age and the idea is to go back and get their hands dirty and work with the earth,” he said. “We’re planting a seed in their head for future development. I think kids nowadays need to slow down and learn how long it takes to grow something.”

The idea for the garden came about last summer after a group of Gordon staff members visited the IslandWood garden on Bainbridge Island. The group learned how to develop a garden and ways to implement art, math and science teaching into the garden.

“There’s just so much curriculum you can integrate into a garden project,” said Gordon Principal Claudia Alves. “It’s just fabulous were going to have it. I could just go on and on about the things we could do with it.”

No ground has been broken yet, but Gallup already has a vision.

He sees small trees on the perimeter, a shrub fence, maybe some bird houses, plants that will attract butterflies, birds and bees, a few herbs, vegetables, ornamental plants and a large grass area for outdoor class sessions.

“I want it to be a quite place to go and read or do art projects,” he said. “We’ll grow veggies to provide to the community and maybe donate to the Veterans of Foreign Wars food bank.”

Gallup said a garden planning committee of teachers, parents and students will form to create the master plans for the garden. Construction will probably take place over the summer with the potential for a fall planting. Once the garden is in full swing, it will produce year-round.

But until the dirt’s tilled, Gallup and his students keep busy growing their worms and compost piles.

He said the students are composting as a means to make the garden totally organic and to learn how plants and vegetables use the compost to grow, which is a science in itself. The students are fascinated with the concept and the worms.

“They (worms) eat coffee beans and grounds and it’s kind of gross but its cool to know what your leftover food goes to,” said Mackenzie John. “It’s cool because it (food) goes to worms, then to fertilizer, and then you plant stuff in the fertilizer and then you get to eat whatever you grow.”

Classmate Keenan Clark is also fascinated by the worms and their peculiar diet habits. He said they eat two times their body weight each day and they devour the food like piranhas.

In order to keep the uber-hungery worms satisfied, Gallup’s class has a system they follow each day. He said the lunchroom calls and gives his class all the day’s food wastes, for the worms and compost pile.

“It’s amazing we have to keep restocking the bin every day and it’s just worms,” said composting participant Emily Hammermeister.

The vegetable patch is intended to be the outdoor component to Gordon’s da Vinci room. The da Vinci room is a portable classroom dedicated to the study of science and art and was implemented last year. The garden’s home will cover the large grassy area right next to the da Vinci room, so science and art classes can easily transfer outside.

Each year Gordon hosts a spring auction and one item is always selected as a funded item. Last year it was the da Vinci room and this year it was Plant a Seed.

The auction, which closed April 11, raised approximately $4,800 for the garden project.

Plant a Seed donations are still needed and appreciated. Donations made be made by check to the Richard Gordon Elementary PTA Plant a Seed fund.

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