3rd Grade to the Garden tomorrow, HELP needed

Dear Friends, 

The 3rd grade team really jumped into planting seeds for the garden earlier this year. We ended up growing hundreds of plants. Some went home with the kids, and some are being transplanted to the garden tomorrow. Keeping 80 kids engaged and usefully occupied during their garden visit is a challenge. Adult supervision is very valuable. This is the note sent out by Ms. Katsoulos:

Dear Families,

This Friday we will be participating in several garden activities with Mr.Leki.  Mr. Leki has prepped a big plot for planting tomatoes and other beds for some of the other plants. 

Students will have the opportunity to participate in three stations:

Station 1:  Learning about organic farming and planting various plants.

Station 2:  Students will harvest some lettuce, wash it, spin it dry, squeeze a line of ranch dressing in the middle, fold and eat their lettuce taco. 

Station 3: Hauling compost.

For these garden activities we are in need of several volunteers to help run a station.  Our scheduled time is from 12:45pm-1:15pm.  Please let me know if you are available to join us.  Please note, all volunteers need to have completed the CPS volunteer application process. Thank you!

Ms. Katsoulos

The other classes will visit at:

1:30-2:15  Room 215
2:15-3:00  Room 217 

If you can help, please come early. I will probably run the planting activity, and I have a kind of script and plan for the organic farming / lettuce taco station. Are you game to try it??

Let me know, 

Mr. Leki

It’s raining….It must be Wednesday

Dear Garden Friends,
It looks like rain again tonight. I want to switch our stewardship gatherings (garden work) to Saturday, 9-12. I would like to continue this for the month of June and see how its works. People are still welcome to gather and work on Wednesday evenings, and I will try to provide a list of priorities, but Wednesdays are a loooong day for me. If Saturdays work we can continue through the Summer. 
I want to also reach out to Waters Waterers to claim a day to commit to watering as the inevitable heat and dryness approach.  Let me know if you can help.
Note! We have a new donation of fine compost  from Waste Not Composting on the parkway by the Sunnyside entrance to the garden. I have some priorities for this compost listed below.
The gardens look fabulous. For the school gardens we have already planted:
2 beds of garlic,
3 beds of potatoes,
2 beds of peppers and eggplant,
3 beds of tomatoes, basil and cucumbers,
a bed of Romaine,
a bed of kale, and a bed of dill and baby squash.

We still have much to do.
*The KinderGarden, west of the sports field, needs to be re-vamped:
the wire trellises temporarily removed, most plants removed, composted or transplanted, the soil tilled, and a whopping foot of compost added. It will be planted in tomatoes by our students, mulched and the protective trellises will be re-built.
*All the fruiting shrubs in the parkways need to be weeded, and given a boost of compost.
*The little triangular garden south of the water fountain needs to be weeded of bedstraw.
The Nature PlaySpace needs to have the ash saplings cut out.
More tasks on the way. 
We have also received a kind offer of seedlings:

Chris Vaughn <chrisv1013@gmail.com>

Hi Pete:

Wanted to reach out about the extra plants we have that could be used at Waters Elementary. I still have a lot of the plants listed below, including 3 squash plants I didn’t have the heart to cull in my garden (Zappalo de Tronco) so I potted them up.

I’m flexible on delivery/pickup at this point - if there is a date/time/location that works for you please let me know. You are always welcome to drop by here to pick them up, or I could meet you somewhere.



If there is anyone who knows a gardener looking for extra plants, we have extras with no room to plant them. All are free to a good home. Please let know if you are interested and we can arrange an adoption!
Feel free to pass list around if you know of anyone who might be interested.

Plant List

  • Eggplant, Black Beauty – 3
  • Poblano/Ancho Pepper – 2
  • Tabasco Pepper – 2
  • Neapolitan Pepper – 2
  • Melrose Pepper, Heirloom -2
  • Melrose Pepper, Hybrid – 1
  • Italian Flat Leaf Parsley – 2
  • Tomato, “Saucy” – 1
  • Tomato, “Heinz VF” – 1


Waters’ Songs at EcoFest 47, River studies, and Garden Glory

Dear Waters Friends, 
I have been invited to sing a few songs at the 47th Ward Eco-Fest at Welles Park on June 18, 10-2:00. I would like to invite any students (and parents) that would like to join me. I don’t even think we would need a rehearsal (that’s what we do every day at school).  Please let me know if you think you and your kids could attend. https://www.aldermanmartin.com/ecofest

River studies all week!
On Tuesday, May 24, 2nd Grade Room 204 will visit Riverbank Neighbors Natural Area to observe and draw the spring flowers, trees and animals, including the benthic macroinvertebrates that live on the river bottom.We step out with a song at 8:30 and return at 10:30. Join us after drop off!

On Wednesday 5/25 (Room 311), Thursday 5/26 (Room 304), and Friday  5/27(Room 310), 6th Grade will do water quality testing at the river in Sauganash. Students will wade in the water to capture aquatic creatures, and perform an array of chemical tests to assess river health. We will board the bus at 9:30 and return at 1:15. Join us by the fish tank at 9:15.

These trips will complete the Spring field ecology schedule, and we will shift to garden trips, work and planting. The food, the flowers, the trees, the birds and butterflies: what exquisite beauty!

Mr. Leki

Ecology in the Garden and On the Road

Monday, May16, final weeks of tree studies with the first grade 11:30 – 2:00. At 9:30 Kinder room 207 visits the garden to plant potatoes, explore compost, and do garden art.  HELP IS APPRECIATED. At 2:15 2nd grade Room 202 will be prepped for their river trip pn….

Tuesday, May 17, at 8:30 2nd Grade Room 202, will travel to the Riverbank Neighbors Natural Area at Berteau and the River to look for the creatures that live in the river bottom and check out the riverbank flowers and birds. This is a walking trip and help is appreciated. At 11:30 I will prep 5th Grade Mighty Acorns Room 318 for their Mighty Acorns Field Trip on Thursday. At 1:30, Kindergarten Room 209 will do the potato, art, and compost thing. Help is appreciated.

Wednesday,  May 18, 3rd Grade, Room 216 travel to Sauganash to witness the spring ephemeral display, explore and pull invasive weeds. Bus leaves at 9:30 and returns at 1:15. Join us at 9:15 by the fish tank for briefing.  Wednesday evening, 5:00 until dark is garden night. Join us!

Thursday, May 19, 5th Grade Mighty Acorns Room 318 visits Sauganash for the last time to explore and do stewardship. The fate of this and other natural areas will soon be in their hands. Join us. Bus leaves at 9:30 and returns at 12:15.

On Friday, May 20, 7th Grade, Room 305 travels to Montrose Point to explore food webs in Lake Michigan and fish for invasive gobies! Bus leaves at  9:30 and returns at 1:15. Join us!

Mr. Leki

First Week in May in Ecology

The Chicago River Student Congress, at Clark Park, last Saturday was well attended by a young and enthusiastic crowd. During the opening awards ceremony, one of our former students, Amer Dzankovic, was honored with his Von Steuben track team, for work cleaning up litter from the River Park track and field.  Amer is a senior and is headed to College at… University of Chicago on a full ride. Amer said he was drawn to UC because of its… environmental programs. Congratulations Amer!

Monday, May 2, First Grade Tree study, and Mighty Acorns prep

Tues. May 3,  7th grade garden day. Volunteer help needed.

Wednesday, May 4, Garden Stewardship 5-dark.

Thurs. 4th Grade Mighty Acorns Room 308  to Sauganash. Students will explore and take a closer anatomical look at the spring wildflowers, and two invasive species. Bus leaves at 9:30 and returns at 1:15. Meet at the fish tank at 9:15 for a briefing. Bring food for a picnic lunch.

On return, we will be planting Mother’s Day spiderplants with the Kindergardens.

On Friday, Room 302, 7th Grade is off to the Lake at Montrose Point. We will be learning about food webs, fish and fishing. Join us at the fish tank at 9:15 at the fish take. Bus leaves at 9:30 and returns at 1:30. Bring a picnic lunch.

Mr. Leki

Post Earth Day, the struggle continues

Dear Friends, 

Lovely day outside today. Three 1st Grade and three 2nd Grade classes visited the garden to get to know its flora and fauna. Second graders did two activities. One, searching the compost for the macro fauna who work at converting vegetable waste to humus: earthworms, sowbugs, milli and centi-pedes, beetles, spiders, and ants. They were all there and our students discovered, sketched and described them.

The other activity was to seek out the native flora in bloom. They found yellow violets, Bluebells, Trout Lilies, Dutchman’s Britches, Toothwort, Bloodroot, Bellwort, and Pen Sedge. Within a week or two, these flowers will be succeeded by a new wave of color. Very beautiful. https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1IOVJHR8Cjta1HgM8wrbf8D-3oS9pwFQsfxrQsnVHe48/edit?usp=sharing

First grade visited the trees, each tree awakening to one extent of the other. The Silver Maples have already developed their twin seeds, while the catalpas are still asleep. The first grade were taking notes to ready themselves for the Tree Olympics in June.

Tuesday 3rd grade will be transplanting their batch of seedlings: tomatoes, basil, lettuce, kale, marigolds, nasturtiums, peppers and eggplant. These will be grown a bit bigger and used by 3rd and other classes to plant in the gardens and for students to take home.

On Wednesday, April 27, 3rd Grade Room 217  will be our first Spring Mighty Acorns trip to Sauganash. They will be introduced both to our native spring ephemerals, and our lovely, yellow carpet of lesser celandine (an invasive species). The transformation from winter is startling. They will explore, sketch and journal. The bus will leave at 9:30 and return at 1:15. Join us by the fish tank at 9:15 for a briefing.

On Thursday,  April 28, 5th grade Room 319, will visit Sauganash for their last time as Mighty Acorns. They have been learning about how the fate of biodiversity, the unique plants and animals that have evolved here, depends on decisions that we make and actions we take. A future of rats, roaches and canada thistle, or a future of thousands of interdependent species forming unique local communities. Up to us. Join us at 9:15 by the fishtank. We will return by 12:15 for lunch.

On Friday April 29, both 5th grades will be taught about creating homes that are ecologically sustainable, and they will walk the school grounds to familiarize themselves with the innovations that make our school more “green”: green roof, 1,000 gallon cisterns, solar hot water heaters, bioswales, permeable pavers, giant gardens, PV panels, etc. We have a long way to go, but by giving our students this information, the direction of a livable future becomes more clear. 

On Saturday April 30, 6th thru 8th grade students and families are invited to attend the Chicago River Student Congress at Clark Park. There will be presentations and stewardship opportunities all aimed at making the Chicago River system more healthy and diverse. See attached info.

Earth Day

I usually let Earth Day pass without super special emphasis, because I don’t want to limit our care and concern to one day. I am still amazed, everytime I venture out onto the streets, at how many cars there are! In every direction! On every street. I know it’s hard but we have to stop driving (so much). Here’s the story I tell each year at this time:

I woke up on Earth Day and looked at the sky and it looked like rain. 
Maybe I should drive to work.
But, then I thought, "What the heck".
I climbed on my bike and pedaled to work through a light drizzle of rain. 
I didn't take the car.
It needed gas, and I didn't want to buy it , or pay for it. 
So I didn't.
My friend at the gas station noticed that I didn't stop for gas. 
Business was down.
He called his supplier and cancelled his order for refueling:
"Sales down", he explained. 
The gas company guy got the same message from 86 out of 120 gas stations in his region. 
He called the company HQ and said to cancel the shipment of gasoline from the Gulf Coast, "demand has dropped".
This message and others like it from around the country created a panic at HQ. 
"Cancel the drilling of new wells'', the CEO ordered. 
"Cut back on refining"
Wall Street noticed the dip in sales and production and drilling, and oil stocks dropped in price. leading to a sell off of oil stock. Much of the capital went to renewable energy. 
The oil companies felt the pinch and dialed back their support of oil friendly politicians. 
Without oil money many of these politicians lost their next election.
New people, young and old, who supported a carbon neutral future were elected. 
They passed laws that phased out oil and natural gas and oil,
and supported wind, solar and hydro power.
And that is how planet earth was saved: one decision to not drive multiplied by millions.

Mr. Leki

Planning with teachers, Vote LSC, and hope for our Oaks

Planning for garden visits

I spent the day meeting with grade level teams of teachers planning for their ecology trips and garden visits. This was a welcome invitation from Principal Rutkowski to increase student engagement with our beautiful garden. Students will do everything from raising seedlings, planting, weeding, studying the endless species of native plants, checking out the compost, artwork and music. We will be needing lots of help from parents and community volunteers to make these visits fruitful and enjoyable. I will be putting out the call for help in these Ecology Notes. These schedule is posted athttps://calendar.google.com/calendar/u/0/r/month/2022/5/1?tab=mc

Vote Wednesday (April 20th) for LSC

Please come out and vote for the LSC tomorrow. Let the Council know that you care about the school and community. You will need an ID with your address to vote.

Good News on Ancient Oaks

There was some concern that the cavity in the bottom of the bur oak by the cedar shed. The tree appears to be the same as it was when I first saw it in 1991. Base cavities are common in mature oaks. In the early 2000s we had a leading State arborist check out the tree and his assessment was that the tree was sound, with more than 275 healthy annual rings around the central cavity. He estimated the age of the tree as 350+ years, far surpassing the age of Chicago. It was a mature tree when the gently flowing, natural Chicago River flowed through what would someday be our school grounds. So this is a venerable and ancient tree, incredibly valuable and loved. Yesterday a group from CPS visited to assess the trees health and unanimously agreed that the tree is healthy and its value outweighed any risks.  Another hundred years!!

Mr. Leki

Garden Night, LSC elections and Compost!

Join us Wednesday (tomorrow) for Garden Stewardship
We are excited to get back to gardening and getting together. Garden stewardship starts at 5:00 to 6:00, I would like to gather up to talk about some goals, and rules, and to share ideas for the garden.

One of our own running for Waters LSC
Tomorrow is the Local School Council election and one of our own regular gardeners, Nathan Hunter has put his name  forward to help lead the school forward in a progressive direction. Nathan and family have been regular garden day volunteers. He has advocated strongly for the ecology and arts program as being essential parts of Waters’ uniqueness. Nathan is also a generous musician and chef, filling our garden night with the strains of his accordian, and the fragrance of grilled food.  Please vote tomorrow, in the school, and join us in the garden at 5:00. You must bring an ID with your address. 

Compost is here!
Our order for compost has arrived. Four cubic yards of mushroom compost, and two cubic yards of soil mix. We will use this compost to top up the raised beds, and improve the soil in the community gardens and common areas. Grab a shovel and a wheel barrow and help get the compost into the ground. 

Lots to do!
See you then,

Pete Leki

Garden note

We are watching the weather, the wind and the plants in the garden, hoping to get a burn done in the next week or so.  I saw that lots of Virginia Blue bells were up. That means we would have to avoid burning in those areas. It is a lucky window that opens and allows a burn in these times. It might be that this year we do a very restrained and restricted burn, if any. FYI.

Waters Garden Phenology Slide Show
Watch for these plants to emerge and flower from now until Fall.

First Garden Gathering???
I would like to schedule a limited orientation kind of garden meeting on Saturday, April 9, at noon, to talk over the coming year, the needs, tasks and guidelines. That way people can come in and get started whenever they are free and eager.

Tasks (quick list)
General Clean up
Clean up pile of bricks by rhubarb
Pick up litter everywhere
Dump Goji berry soils into compost
Pick up bricks wherever they are
Pick up broken fencing (branches and lumber)

Fix or Install Fencing
Check and repair all fencing
Install twig fencing by J&R hill
Fix temp fencing by S&T
Install fence around Felix's hazelnuts
Install fence around the Blue Beech
Install temporary fencing in NPlaySpace
Clean up garden patch north of cold frames
       *break old stems, fix or replace fencing,tie raspberries

General tasks
Prep S&T for Opening
Cut and herbicide unwanted woody stems (Throughout)
Re-do kiosks
Re-tie net south of sports field
Seed grass by log circle and Kindergarten
Rake parkway leaves (use as mulch)
     *pick up litter, repair fences
Prep grounds for burn
Repair any damaged raised beds
Fix table by fire pit
Remove winter protection from roses
Prune fruiting shrubs as needed and possible

Longer term individual, or group projects
Strolling the grounds after school to remind children not to destroy Nature.
Choosing a common garden plot to take care of as a project
 (J&R, Parkway plantings, rhubarb, S&T, raspberries west of Annex, berry patch by parking lot entrance)
Water barrel safety
Waters waterers
Maintain tidyness of tomato cage cage

Spider plants and big trees

Dear Friends
This week, before Spring Break,
we are looking for baby spider plants for our Kinder kids.
Do you have any to contribute? We need 40 or 50 more.
Please bring your babies to me asap.

They cut down two large trees on my block this week. One was a dead ash tree, the other was a mature Norway maple that was leaning off center. They were two of the larger trees on the block. The trees that are left are now the largest trees. I think about this, and how we lost the 107 year old catalpa on Hutchinson, and the last giant elm, and the giant willow by the river, and the beloved American elm at the end of Cullom by the river. When a big tree goes down, the remaining smaller trees become the “big ” trees. 

The elms, ash, the catalpas and willow are all fast growing trees, that were planted when this part of town was developed around 1910, when the North Shore Channel was dug.  The trees that were originally here, that were part of the old ecology: the oaks, walnuts, and hickories, they were mostly cut down.  A few miraculously remain. Four of them are at Waters school. Three others are on the parkways around the school. A few others are scattered around the neighborhood.  These trees ARE OLD. They grow slower and live longer than the planted parkway trees.  A willow and a bur oak with the same circumference will have vastly different ages. The giant willows at the river are at most, 110 years old. The oaks at Waters are 350+ years old. My neighbor applauded the cutting down of the maple and ash, and looks forward to the removal of a large backyard silver maple because it is “rotten”. We fear large trees close to our homes, and the fear of falling trees and limbs seems reasonable. But, as the fear grows the stature of our trees diminishes. The grandeur of our oaks, and the vase shaped reach of elms that once lined block creating a cathedral effect, are being replaced by lines of saplings, pruned to look like lollipops. Most will never reach maturity. 

The weird thing is that, over time, we lose our sense of what a “tree” is. Unless we go to the Forest Preserve or National Park, our idea of what a “tree” is, moves toward the weird trees shown on architectural drawings: potted plants. I think that we need to revere our older trees and use our best forestry practices to keep them healthy, alive and large. Imagine a world without the redwoods. What a loss. What diminishment. Would you like to help save the heritage trees of our neighborhood: oak and elm, willow and hickory, cottonwood and walnut. They are our local treasure. 

Mr. Leki