Outdoor Clay Oven- A Service Learning Project

Cody demonstates cement pointing to Coleman

Cody demonstates cement pointing to Coleman

Spurred on by community members donating books and ideas on the subject and our desire to increase our cooking ability, the students began to design and build a traditional clay oven in October. With classroom pizza projects in full swing the desire to have a pizza oven for community and classroom use came to the forefront. The students were intrigued by the idea of cooking pizzas in record time and cooking breads and other items as the oven cools.

The following is a sequence of events with pictures which lead to the completion of the oven:

1. The project began in late October with the area being prepared by digging down past the organic layer and filling it with gravel.

The Base is Complete

The Base is Complete

2. A 4 foot by 4 foot piece of bluebird was placed on top of the leveled gravel.

3. A perimeter of cinder blocks was dry laid four high and filled with gravel. This base was filled with rocks, old cement , gravel, and sand.

4. The entire top was packed and leveled with granite dust.

5. Four two by two foot pavers were placed on top of the granite dust.

6. Cody and Chapin then built a brick archway which will be the opening for the oven.

Jayson helps Chapin Finish the Arch

Jayson helps Chapin Finish the Arch

7. Fire brick was dry set on the stone dust very tightly so no gaps appeared.

8. A form for the oven was packed out of wet sand and covered with wet newspaper.

9. Using clay donated by Ms. Hartkopf the students mixed up a concoction of 20% sand and 80% clay in wheelbarrows.

Noah Smooths the Mud

Noah Smooths the Mud

10. This mix was used to form wet bricks four inches thick to be placed over the top of the form.

11. After this had partially dried another layer of clay mixed with sawdust was mixed in 5 gallon buckets. This would form the insulation layer.

12. Four inch bricks of the insulation material was laid over the first layer

Second Insulative Layer

Second Insulative Layer

13. The last layer was the same as the first but only two inches thick. This clay was also used to shape the chimney hole which we had been keeping open with PVC pipe and could now remove.

14. The sand was partially removed and a heater was used to began to dry the oven.

Now We Wait

Now We Wait

15. When it was safe we removed the sand and kindled a fire to dry and harden the oven. During this time a few pizzas were cooked as a test. They turned out great!

16. The final layer was an outdoor durabond substance similar to stucco.

Hand crafted Oak Door by Chapin and Family

Hand crafted Oak Door by Chapin and Family

17. Darcy and Walter Lamont fashioned a great oak door for the oven and we were ready to fire up

18. The first real firing was a success and pizzas were cooked anywhere from 3 minutes to 6 minutes. Some had pretty black bottoms! Experimentation is needed to obtain the proper heat. for cooking various items. The thermometer donated by Henry Buochard indicated a 600 degree oven immediately after firing.

Another Satisfied Customer

Another Satisfied Customer

Prepping the Pizza Toppings

Prepping the Pizza Toppings

Preparing the Dough

Preparing the Dough

5 Minute Pizza Cooked by the Garden Girls

5 Minute Pizza Cooked by the Garden Girls

“Junkin’ It Out”

Dragging Out the Tips and Tree

Dragging Out the Tips and Tree

Hard to believe but some of the students can’t wait to get outside to work around the garden after they have finished their classwork . This past week students were inspired by the fresh snow and the approaching holidays to get out in the woods to do some tipping for wreath making,cut some fallen wood with our bow saws to heat up the pizza oven, haul out the Christmas Tree and cook some of our potatoes over the propane cooker in our lodge pot.

GreenThumb meets with Student Council After School

GreenThumb meets with Student Council After School

Of course when you are working in a different environment you need an alternative set of usable words, new vocabulary words for the job at hand. And you’ll find no shortage of those words when you’re out in the trees with a few of our Maine boys.

Starting the Wreath

Starting the Wreath

Today after Grant, Caleb, Tommy and Curtis were felling a cherry tree by notching the base Grant yelled out to his teachers that they were “Junkin it out”.
When asked for a more thorough explanation the boys responded with impatience in their voice,”were pulling the dead…you know the junk wood out so we can buck it up for firewood to burn in the oven”.

Darcie helps Alec start his wreath

Darcie helps Alec start his wreath

Well, who can argue with that. “Off the hinges”, Mr. T. replied. Tommy shot back, “Oh Mr. T. , that is so old school. Hey watch out, that tree looks wambly. ”

Now that’s Groovy!

Hauling out the Dead Wood is Serious Business

Hauling out the Dead Wood is Serious Business

Our new Soup Kitchen Hoop House is Finished !!

Hoop HouseDespite wind, snow and cold the students pulled together to finish the construction of our new four season experimental greenhouse. On a rare warm, calm day we stretched the plastic over the entire structure. Beautiful days followed and the greenhouse warmed enough for the ground to thaw. Yesterday the kids turned over the soil to ready it for planting. It is a great feeling to turn soil in our garden in the middle of the winter!

wormsWe also uncovered our experimental underground worm bin in the middle of the new greenhouse which had been insulated with layers of leaves. The worms were still happy so we added more worms and bedding from the heated greenhouse.


We are fortunate to have the PAWS students in our school managing the lunch waste as they never fail to collect the day’s lunch waste for our worms. Go PAWS !!

Our goal is to plant spinach and other greens by the beginning of February for an early spring harvest. Some of our Green Thumb students are working with us on a thermal solar design for heating the soil in our hoop house to speed plant growth. The plan is to measure the temperature difference (if any) in our hoop house beds with and without our root zone heating system.


Eating Lunch by the Truck

Well the Green Team decided to have their own tailgate get together to celebrate our N.E. Patriots incredible season so we took our lunch time to the parking lot, sitting on the back of our teacher’s truck while boiling up hot dogs and munching chips was quite a change for all of us. We actually really like eating fresh vegetables from the garden and do so whenever the desire strikes so this was a special -a little different and a lot of fun.

Patriot smileFoog Line

It is about 14 degrees F. so were playing touch football and shoveling snow, which we don’t mind doing during school hours.




Well, enough playing around as we have Swiss Chard to deliver to the Belfast Coop right after we clean up this mess. Sorry you didn’t get to join us but hope you’ll get to stop in soon. The School Garden Project is open to the public every day from 8 A.M. to 2 P.M.

And it keeps growing!

lunchlettuce1.jpgNow that the outdoor garden has been put to bed the students are focusing on the heated greenhouse and the four season unheated greenhouse. There are still wonderful living plants in the garden! The garlic is safe under its mulch and the parsnips are awaiting spring to give back the sweet taste of last summer.

The list of plants now growing in the greenhouse are numerous. The greens include spinach, tatsoi, arugula, mustards, mizuna, lettuce, swiss chard and beet greens. Tomato plants are waiting to be planted so fresh cherry tomatoes will be available in the spring. Flowers are carefully being placed in and around the veggies.

Students have planted morning glories, various varieties of marigolds and cosmos. Hanging petunias are being put up from saved seeds from one of our favorite petunia plant. It was a hybrid so we plan on having some interesting plants!

coop.jpgMuch of the produce is being sold at the Belfast Coop. Ali, our produce manager, tracks sales and does quality control for everything that leaves the greenhouse for consumption. Students check with the TAHMS cafeteria on a daily basis, supplying much of the greens for the salad bar and onions for the kitchen. Swiss chard and other goods are brought to the soup kitchen on our nearly weekly runs.

Preparing for Winter

beans.jpgAs we make the late transition from outside to in, the students have been finding that there is great fun to be had in using all the garden has to offer. The beans and popcorn are drying into so many wonderful colors and shapes. Mr. Thurston asks us to be patient so they have time to dry properly….then we’ll be prepared to eat.


Bean hole beans will be in the ground next week which is a tasty way to learn about our Maine heritage. This style of cooking was both a favorite of the Penobscots and the loggers of the North Woods.


After school last week, the Green Thumb club kids finished the work period by cooking up some garden potatoes in our bean lodge pot.

Each student took a turn dicing up the potatoes with our very cool slicer. Check out all of the different colored potatoes. We especially like the purple ones that Mr. Thurston found in our purple garden.

This week Ms. Coleman, our favorite math teacher, set up four types of popcorn so that we could test the yield each variety gave us when cooked with a hot air popper.

We popped 1/4 cup of each variety to compare amounts to Orville Redenbacher’s hybrid popping corn. The consensus was that it would be an accomplishment to come within twenty percent of their corn. There was some preparation needed for this experiment.

Last winter the seeds were chosen and then planted just before school let out for summer. The plants were allowed to get really tall and dry before harvest. After a few months of drying on the ears, we dug right in and rubbed the kernals off of the cob. The kernals should be allowed to dry a few more months but we just couldn’t wait.

Later today…….. the results for the popcorn were excellent:

Orville Redenbacher popcorn 1/4=7 cups

Yellow corn 1/4=6 cups

Black Flint corn 1/4=5 cups

THMS dark corn 1/4=4 cups.

Note- survey results indicated that THMS Dark Corn was the only popcorn that did not require butter.
The popcorn was really tasty. I can’t wait until the bean hole beans!!!   Avary L.

Abbracci Bakery Grills in the Garden

pizza1.jpgChris & Assunta Corpora owners of Abbracci Bakery and Cafe we’re kind enough to spend an afternoon in the school garden teaching us how to make quality pizza dough, pesto, sauce and grilled pizza. The students prepared tomatoes for sauce, picked lots of herbs, garlic, edible flowers and onions while the grills and prep tables were set up in the garden.


Assunta explained how to use the proper pizza equipment like the board and peel she shows here. It was interesting to hear the history and reasons behind many of the ingredients used in different styles of pizza. So now we know why we use so much basil…to cut the acid of the tomato in our sauce.


Chris tosses a pie for made with a quick acting yeast. He cooked pies on the grill for 95 students in about 12 minutes whle Assunta and I cut the pies as fast as possible. The trick is to get the grill really hot and stay right with it.

THMS Harvest Reaps Ribbons (from the Soup)

BELFAST (Oct 1): Produce from the Troy Howard Middle School Garden Project sprouted 24 blue ribbons and 36 red ones Sept 21-23 in the Exhibition Hall at the Common Ground Country Fair in Unity.

THMS students, from left, Austin Tripp, Bridgett Littlefield and Katrina Lapham check out all the ribbons from the CGCF.

Planning for school’s entries at Common Ground began in January, with youth mapping and designing the spring school gardens, taste-testing varieties and ordering or saving seeds.

Each ribbon will be turned in for seed money with the following businesses: FEDCO, Johnny’s and Pine Tree Garden.

The THMS Garden Project was recently honored as the 2007 National School Garden Program. It also has been featured on WLBZ-TV (Channel 2) and New England Cable News for its successful approach to healthy living through an experiential- and place-based learning environment where all students can thrive.