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  Molded gourds and much more at Troy Howard Middle School garden
By Jean English

(Oct 2): The garden faithful made their annual pilgrimage to Belfast’s Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project again this year, and despite blight, raccoon damage and probably the worst gardening year in a quarter century in Maine, they found plenty to inspire them there.

Jean English
A border of annual flowers and herbs makes for an eye-catching garden. (Photo by Jean English

Teacher Jon Thurston pointed out one way to make a garden look good, no matter what: Turn students loose along the edge of the plot with an abundance of flower seeds. Everyone approaching the garden in mid-September was awed by that border of color glowing from sunflowers, zinnias, morning glories and other annuals.

Not that the veggie plots behind the border were lacking in any way, except, of course, the tomatoes — but whose weren’t this year? Sturdy A-frame trellises supported cucumbers that were started under covered hoops alongside the trellises early in the season. Green beans also grew in a space-saving way — up a cage made from concrete reinforcing wire, usually used to hold a tomato plant, but equally great for beans. A roll of this 6-inch-square wire mesh is useful throughout the garden, for cages, low covered tunnels to protect crops from frost, trellises and more.

Jean English
The Garden Project. (Photo by Jean English)

Fat onions grew in leaf-mold-amended soil. A colorful arrangement of green and red lettuce looked like an impressionist painting. Globe artichokes begged for butter. Even in a bad Maine gardening year, the green thumbs at Troy Howard were able to produce artichokes!

One area was planted to oats, which will crowd out weeds during the growing season, die to the ground after a frost, provide a soil-protecting mulch over winter and a ready-to-plant spot in spring.

This was the year of the gourd at Troy Howard. A hut made from saplings supported numerous gourd vines, with fruits suspended inside the structure.

Elsewhere gourds were growing inside molds, thanks to The Gourd Project developed by University of Maine art professor Susan Camp (umaine.edu/art/faculty.htm#camp). Camp, using a Public Sculpture Grant from the Maine Arts Commission and the Harry Faust Art Fund, created two-piece molds in the shapes of freshwater bio-indicators (frogs and brook trout), which are sensitive to many agricultural pesticides. The students, under the direction of Thurston, set small gourds in the molds, secured the two parts of the molds together with wire, and let the gourds grow into the shapes inside the molds.

They were amazed at the power of this growth. Some gourds even broke the molds as they grew.

Jean EnglishA cage made from concrete reinforcing wire supports beans. (Photo by Jean English)

“The resulting forms are not perfect casts, since the gourds impose their own will as they fill out the molds,” said Camp. Much like nature …

The gourds were still growing in September. They’ll be harvested this fall and dried over the winter, to be displayed in the garden next summer — just one reason for a repeat pilgrimage to Troy Howard next year.

The only thing missing from The Garden Project this year was teacher Steve Tanguay, who resigned in August. Tanguay spent almost 30 years teaching, including the last eight years with the award-winning Troy Howard Garden Project, where he broke many stale teaching molds to foster highly effective hands-on learning among his inspired students. These kids ran with the Garden Project, learned about history through heirloom crops, about math through farming, about business and economics through the project’s amazing entrepreneurial activities, and more.

For more about the Garden Project, including some techniques you might try in your own garden (such as a potato tower), visit schoolgardenproject.com/gstand.html.