Watching their garden grow: Montessori School one of 10 finalists in state competition

COVINGTON -- Students at the Montessori School of Covington hope gardeners and homeowners will start a compost pile soon, if they haven't already created one for their gardens. They now have evidence that compost is the best fertilizer for gardens.

Students have noticed that their garden plot, which is fertilized through compost materials from community compost piles and from the school's kitchen, was growing faster and taller than other garden plots at the community garden in the Clark's Grove neighborhood, in which their school is located.

"MSC middle school students have practiced organic gardening techniques in their plot since they began gardening in 2004," said Sara Vinson, a teacher at the school. "Each year, students conduct a soil test and add organic amendments accordingly."

This year, they decided to expand their garden tests -- and it's earned them statewide recognition.

Since December, seventh-grade students at the school have been comparing soil materials from various garden plots in the community garden near their school.

They collected samples from five types of plots -- the school's compost plot, one under a tree, one in a weedy section, one that has synthetic chemicals used on it and one that had never been gardened.

Students collected soil samples from each, drained liquid from it and counted the amount of microorganisms called nematodes that live in the soil. Recently, former MSC instructor Mac Gay, who now teaches at Georgia Perimeter College, spoke to the students about nematodes, which live in higher numbers in organic matter like a compost pile and feed off bacteria, producing a better quality of the soil for a garden.

After running tests in their school lab, students discovered that their compost pile had the most nematodes -- by hundreds -- compared to the other piles.

Recently, the school discovered that the Georgia Conservancy selected the school's project as one of 10 finalists in the state for its 2010 Youth Environmental Symposium.

"We are excited to share what we've learned with other people, so they know how to use organic material," said student Taylor Bechtler.

At the symposium, which will be held Feb. 26 at Zoo Atlanta, students will present an audio-visual display and also present to attendees a flyer about their findings.

Before the event, students will practice their presentation by showing their project to elementary students in the Montessori School; at 2 p.m. Feb. 25, the students will present their project to parents and the general public at the school.