Wheat Harvest a First for Northwest Gardeners

July 13, 2017 ~ The wheat harvest at Olathe Northwest High School looked good this year, but students are still waiting for the kernels to dry enough to be removed from the shocks. This crop was just the latest experiment by students in Tim Oberhelman's Horticulture class.

A 16-foot-by-18-foot garden plot on the west side of the school is neatly arranged and brimming with vegetables that will be shared with area families in need. A dozen raised garden beds hold everything from peas to tomatoes to various greens. The harvested wheat kernels will be given to the culinary arts program so it can be ground into flour for baking. The small orchard will someday bear cherries, pears, apples and plums.

Students' next project is to plant a bramble patch with grapes, raspberries and blueberries in a newly cultivated area. Cucumbers will be planted so their vines grow on wire arches, making a cucumber tunnel between the raised beds. Squash will grow this fall in the 800-square-foot wheat field.

"My students work hard on this," Oberhelman said. "They have done a great job with the continued growth of our mini-farm."

And it's not just Horticulture students who get their hands dirty in the garden. This project included students in the Interpersonal Skills class who planted onions in the spring. Algebra teacher Jess Lauridsen, who spent some time helping in the garden this summer, hopes to incorporate the garden into her students' curriculum. There are so many ways math students can use data from the plants and their produce, she said.

Jennifer O'Gorman's engineering students lent a hand with the watering system for Northwest's garden. Working with Horticulture students, the young engineers found a way to capture rainwater off the greenhouse roof in a buried 1,200-gallon tank, and then pump it back onto the garden using two marine batteries powered by a solar panel.

"My ultimate goal is urban sustainability and a zero-carbon footprint," Oberhelman said.

A Fund-a-Need grant from the Olathe Public Schools Foundation helped with the costs of the watering system and lumber to build some of the raised garden beds. An Eagle Scout enlisted the help of a few other students to construct six beds last school year.

"Any chance we have to provide hands-on, relevant learning opportunities for our students is worth pursuing," Principal Chris Zuck said. "Our teachers are consistently raising the level of expectation of critical thinking and problem solving that moves across curricular areas. This is one example of our math, science, and engineering teachers working together in a manner that provides meaning and practical experience for our students."

harvesting the wheat at Northwest The wheat harvest went quickly thanks to several helpers pulling the stalks out of muddy ground, and one girl using a scythe (background). The wheat shocks were gathered indoors to dry before having the wheat kernels removed.
teacher points out various vegetables Science teacher Tim Oberhelman (right) pointed out various types of vegetables and greens to some of his former students who helped with the wheat harvest on a hot June afternoon.
teacher and students taste fresh peas Math teacher Jess Lauridsen (left) and some 2017 graduates tasted fresh peas from the garden after working hard to harvest the wheat crop.
girl picks onion Sometimes the only way to know if vegetables are ready for harvest is to pick a sample. Helpers immediately had several ideas for ways to use this freshly picked onion.
chives and pea pods

Chives add some color to a mainly green garden bed and pea-pods are bursting with peas in the garden at Olathe Northwest High School.

Photos by Marlene Colgan