By Jeffrey Mu’
A key aspect of student life is the campus Bellarmine students have around them. From Sobrato to Carney to the cafeteria, the place we have around us helps us to learn and pursue our passions. An often overlooked aspect of campus is the Bellarmine Garden, which sits just behind the overpass across Hedding Street Featuring an outdoor classroom, a chicken and goat coop, and plenty of beehives to sustain its plants, it has been greatly expanded to not only recycle ingredients from our kitchen, but produces some fresh fruits and vegetable that they use. This week, I talked to members of the Bellarmine Gardening Club about their experiences there, and to Mr. Adams, who oversees the operation of the club.
Benjamin Sinn 24’ – Member of the Gardening Club
Q. When do you guys usually meet?
A. Around 1:50 to 2:50, depending on the day of the week.
Q. What work do you guys do?
A. Each day is usually different, some days we do planting, some days we harvesting, others we go to Our City Forest to help out there. Recently we was planted different plants in unique troughs around the area. The tasks we do every meeting are different and exciting!
Q. Do you use any of the plants here for the kitchen?
A. We don’t use a lot of our produce for the kitchen, but in the past we’ve grabbed a bunch of lettuce, broccoli and an assortment of other plants to make salads right here in this garden.
Q. How is your experience as part of the gardening club?
A. I’d say it’s pretty great, it’s more of a community kind of thing, even though there are service hours associated with it. I think a lot of people here enjoy the gardening aspect of the club though.
Q. What’s your favorite part of the club?
A. Definitely the animals, it’s always fun getting to see them around the garden and such.
Below: The Gardening Club and Mr. Adams
Next, we talked to Fernie, Alex, and Patrick, who are Leaders of the Gardening Club and assist alongside Mr. Adams. They do a lot of management of the club, as well as contributing to the garden themselves.
Fernie Rodriguez 22’, Alex Tran 22’, Patrick Tran 22’ – Leaders of the Gardening Club
Q. Could you please introduce yourselves?
PT: My name is Patrick Tran, I’m a senior here. It’s been a while for me since I’ve been playing lacrosse, and our seasons practice usually intercedes with the meetings that we have.
FR: My name is Fernie Rodriguez, I’m a senior, and I got invited to this club by Patrick and Alex in my sophomore year. I run things while Patrick is away.
AT: My name is Alex Tran, I’m also a senior. I joined when Patrick revived gardening club in our sophomore year, and ever since then I’ve helped to lead some of the meetings along Fernie and Patrick.
Q. Nice to meet you guys, could you tell me a little more about the history of the gardening club?
PT: The gardening club was created 10 years ago with Mr. Adams and his botany class. Before my year, this place was just a patch of land and the only thing that was there was the pear tree at the back, its over 80 years old and it was a donation from the previous owners of the property. So over my freshman year, we started renovating the garden and that’s when they added bunch of new things, and coming into my sophomore year right before the pandemic we had a small group of people. The club really took off after the pandemic, and beginning this year that’s when we had an influx of new people.
Q. What are some of your favorite experiences or memories of the club?
AT: I think one of my favorite experiences in gardening club is the fact that although most of the time we’re doing the manual labor and putting the plants in the ground, at the end of all of it we have a great harvest and have a lot of plants to eat and cook with.
FR: I think my favorite part of the gardening club is seeing it grow, because like Patrick said we used to be a small club, and now we almost have too many people, it’s pretty great.
PT: I would like to go off what Alex said, the produce that we are able to harvest at the end of the year is the best feeling. One of my favorite experiences was making fried rice in the garden; I brought my pan and we had an outdoor stove where we collected the vegetables, and even eggs from the chickens to use in it!
Q. How does the produce here go towards the bell kitchen?
PT: The stuff we plant here not only goes to the kitchen, but it also goes to second harvest and the community. We don’t donate as much food to them because we don’t have enough, since there’s too many mouths to feed. The extra produce and scraps that the cafeteria uses to cook with though we add to our compost pile, which is huge.
Q. Great! If you guys wouldn’t mind, could you give me a brief tour of the garden?
PT: Sure, yeah! So here at the front we have our passionfruit arch; it represents the passion of Christ because when the passionfruit flowers bloom it looks extremely beautiful.
FR: It also connects to the cross at the center hence the passion of the “cross.” Ironically though, the garden is supposed to be more of a calming space than any passion, as seen from the fountain in the center of the cross.
Above: Passionfruit Arch Below: Fountain at the center of the cross
AT: Over to the left of the passionfruit arch we have our raised beds. Most of the time when we’re working on the plants inside of these, it’s for botany class or for our friends and family (people from botany can invite their friends and family to come over and help out in the garden). We wanted to plant plants here that thrive in warmer conditions, so we get plants from the nursery and work together with the entire botany class to plant them down.
Above: Raised Beds
AT: So over to the far left side of the garden we have a massive compost pile that we mentioned earlier. We basically pile on scraps, organic compost, wet newspapers, mulch, and we make a kind of lasagna, so if you were to make a bisection of the pile you would see the different layers: a layer of cellulose and a layer of other compost. So usually what we do for the mulch is we have mushroom compost that we bring over from underneath the bypass that the school purchases from the mushroom farm. Then, we bring over organic produce from the cafeteria and then we add water to it, piling it into the compost. This makes great fertilizer!
FR: There’s also a thermometer inside the compost and it shows how the inside is as warm as the outside. It also shows how there’s live bacteria inside breaking down everything.
PR: Sometimes, you can even see that the pile is so rich in nutrients that the stuff we toss in there, like watermelons or cantaloupes can thrive on their own.
Above: Compost Pile
PT: So, across the compost pile we grow crops to feed our goats and our animals, and also to add nutrients into the soil. This not only enables us to have plenty of goat food but also releases nitrogen into the soil, enabling us to grow other plants the nutrient rich soil.
FR: At the back to the left of the garden is our goat, chicken, and rabbit coups. For our rabbits, they are named Snowball and Cinnamon.
PT: Right now, our club is busy picking up the hay in the goat pen, so once in a while we clean the pen up. Usually what we do is grab the hay in the goat pen (the cellulose), and we add it to our compost pile or donate it to other places. How we differentiate between our goats is that one of them has a bell, and that’s conveniently Bella, and the one without the bell is Clara. Also, our chickens are roaming around right now having some time of freedom.
Left to Right: Rabbit Coup, Chicken Coup, Aiden Albanese 22′
PT: Next to the goat pen we have our vineyard. We grow 8 types of grapes here, among them are Concord grapes, Thompson grapes, and other pretty iconic grape vines. We plan to make communion wine with our grapes.
FR: So over to the right of the vineyard is our pear tree. It’s a really nice relaxing spot with a lot of benches and nice shade, as mentioned before by Ben it’s been here for 80 years already.
AT: And next to it in the back is our lavenders, because if you follow all the lavender plants and look to the corner this is where we have our bee habitat. Our bees are the main pollinators here, arguably the most important part of the garden. The bees almost add a beauty of their own because of how hard they work to keep this garden how it is.
Below: Beehives and Apiary
PT: And a while back, under my supervision with the Eagle Project I created an apiary for the beehives to sit on. I designed the 8×8 fence post and the gravel pads Alex and the gardening club, so this is a recent innovation as part of our garden. And to handle the bees you need to be a licensed beekeeper, and luckily Mr. Adams is one. He also has apprentices – Bell alumni who come over and manage the bees to make sure they’re healthy and well.
PT: And in front of that we have our flower garden, native plants to entice bees who help the ecosystem.
Above: Persimmon Tree
FR: Around the persimmon in front of the beehives are our artichokes. I like this area the most because there’s a lot of shade around the tree. Sadly, the persimmons aren’t very good for eating but instead are good for cooking.
FR: In the back of the persimmon tree, we have our greenhouse. It’s a recent addition this year like the beehives. Inside, it’s really warm and it basically contains all the new tropical things we want to grow; I think Alex has planted some from his botany class. Inside, we have windows that were made especially to let more light in, and up at the top is a really ingenious gas solution, so the hotter it gets the more the gas expands and pushes up the openings so that more air can get let in. Once it gets cold the gas condenses and it closes, maintaining a stable temperature inside the greenhouse.
Image: The Bell Greenhouse
FR: Also we recycled old statues as part of our sustainability program. Apparently, we had these for 30 years from old town, which is a place that doesn’t even exist anymore. We brought them back out and put them in the garden.
PT: And in front of this St. Ignatius statue are our cultural troughs. Our goal with these was to make them from different places in the world, so in the back there we have our Latin American trough – native flowers and crops, at the front are the Asian troughs, and to the left of the Latin American troughs is our Italian trough.
Below: Cultural Troughs
FR: In the very front to the right of the main entrance is Mr. Adam’s classroom, he prefers to teach outdoors and it’s a lot more calming out here. I take Marine Biology with him, and Alex takes Biology, so most of the time we stay out here. There are some problems, like the Wi-Fi being iffy and some difficulty in hearing the prayer bell, but for the most part it’s a great experience you won’t get anywhere else in Bellarmine.
AT: So one last thing I wanted to mention is the fact that back behind his classroom, we have our rainwater basin. When you feel a half inch of rain it doesn’t feel that bad, but the roof collects all the water that falls on it during that time – about hundreds and hundreds of gallons of rainwater. This water is then stored up and used in our garden.
Below: The Outdoor Classroom and Water Basin
FR: Also I wanted to mention that over to the left of the cultural troughs, we have a hidden door to our neighbors. They are in good relations with Bellarmine so they can come in from their houses whatever time they want. As for their contribution for the garden, Mr. Adams will tell you more.
Finally, we talked to Mr. Adams, who is the supervisor of the garden and the Green Initiatives coordinator for Bellarmine.
Mr. Adams – Bellarmine Gardening Club Leader, Green Initiatives Coordinator
Q. How long have you been working here in the garden?
A. We started the garden project about 10 years ago, back then it was just a vacant lot full of rocks and weeds and trash, so this was a project that involved lots of students and teachers. We were all curious as to what we could do with the land.
Q. And you’re the supervisor of the garden and the club right?
A. Right, and I’m also the Green Initiative Coordinator for Bellarmine. I teach marine biology and botany. Botany classes all meet here and for the last 2 years, before covid, all my marine biology classes have been out here too.
Q. So you why do you like to host classes here in the garden?
A. Outdoors, fresh air and sunshine plants everywhere, this is the best place to be.
Q. Cool! So as Patrick mentioned to me, can you tell me more about the beehives?
A. So I started keeping bees back in 2000 and learned from master beekeepers and eventually became one myself. I always love to support the bees because they’re important pollinators of the garden and they give us delicious honey and wax. It’s a great opportunity for students to see that honeybees are something that students should respect, but not be afraid of.
Q. What are some important projects that you undertook?
A. There’s a lot of those. I would say that last year, we constructed the greenhouse which was a huge gift from M. Lokey and it gave us a chance to start new plants. Another big project is taking care of all the fruit bearing trees and raising bees, collecting the fruit and then donating it to Second Harvest soup kitchens, or the Sacred Heart Community Center. And then there is the animals, which is another important project. The goats, chickens, bunny rabbits, the bees; they’re very important to the students because they can come and visit the animals to spend time with them, which is wonderful way for students to get to know more about animals and be responsible.
Q. Do you use any of that produce for the kitchen?
A. What we grow here at the garden is sometimes used in the kitchen and the Jesuit household, but most of it goes towards agencies that are then giving it to people who can’t afford to buy organic produce.
Q. Is this season the busiest for you guys?
A. This is the busy planting and beekeeping season because this is when the bees are swarming and getting new hives.
Q. And when do you do most of the harvesting?
A. Mostly in fall, before Thanksgiving is the big harvest time because we’ll have maybe 8-10 lugs of fruits off this pear tree, and when we’re busy harvesting things everyone is out here helping.
Q. Any favorite experiences here in the garden?
A. There’ve been so many, Patrick talked to you about the apiary that he helped build with his Eagle Scout projects out here. Other than that, I enjoy taking care of the bee boxes and quail habitats along benches. We had a really fun project pre-covid where we grew a bunch of vegetables and herbs here, we harvested them and went over to the local soup kitchen where we cleaned and chopped them, and cooked them to make a huge vegetable soup to serve it the clients. All the clients said it was tasty and fresh, and it was a cool project where students got to see the benefits of their actions.
Q. I know Patrick mentioned that everything in the garden is recycled, so could you tell me more about that?
A. Everything is recycled here; plants are harvested, the parts we don’t eat we feed to our goats, chickens, and rabbits, we make fertilizer out of, it’s a chance for us to bring things full circle. We get the scraps from the kitchen and from other areas and we turn that into compost and then the compost goes into the garden, it’s a great way to keep carbon in the soil. We are constantly taking from the garden, but if we put it back in, then we get more out of it.
Q. So what’s the best plant to plant this season?
A. Depends what you wanted to plant for. If you wanted to plant for bees, which we do every year, then you could plant sunflowers, which bees and migrating birds enjoy. Each year, they grow up to house height with the flower being as big as a dinner plate.
Q. Were there any challenges you had to overcome to making this garden as pretty as it is now?
A. Finding the money, finding the tools, finding people who were interested, you just have to keep working on it and stay positive and the more you put into it, the more you get out of it. You can come out here anytime; students come out here to eat lunch, study, pray, or have time to just be quiet and enjoy this part of campus.
Q. Do the neighbors around the garden contribute to the garden?
A. They don’t, but for them it’s an extension of their own backyard. It’s a nice community around where they feel like this is their garden as well. One of our school librarians lives right over there and he and his family sometimes come over to check out the garden.
Q. Anything you would like to add?
A. Just that this place is everybody’s garden, it’s not just mine. I help to keep it running and everybody is welcome. I mean where else in Bellarmine can you see butterflies, birds, and bees? We want people to feel welcome and be part of something that gives back to the community.
So there we have it folks. The Bellarmine garden is always open to visitors, and it’s a great place to hang out on campus.