Today we had a great group of kids come out to our sanctuary and plant some winter veggies for our gibbons.

University School of the Lowcountry

The volunteer team from the University School of the Lowcountry–kids, parents, and teachers–helped us make a couple of raised-bed veggie gardens for their main 2013 Day of Caring project.

Their project was part of the annual Trident United Way volunteer bonanza known as the Day of Caring. The kids are from the University School of the Lowcountry, and their school has sent us volunteers in the past to help us out with special tasks.

Our garden to be

Our garden-to-be, near Tong and Gibby’s enclosure.


This year, they planted a winter vegetable garden for our gibbons. The land that the main part of the IPPL sanctuary is located on was once mostly a sod farm. Apparently, that former owner took his sod—and a lot of the topsoil, too—when he left, decades ago. What soil that remains is either sandy or (in the low-lying spots) full of clay. This means—as we have discovered—that trees, shrubs, and vines can do OK with a little extra attention, but growing crops straight out of the ground is a challenge. We tried planting a vegetable garden of tomatoes and peppers a few years ago and watermelons last year, but they all failed to thrive in spite of plenty of sun and water.

Clearing sod

Clearing sod is harder than it sounds!


So this time we are going to try some raised beds that have been filled with bags of topsoil that we bought for this purpose. Samantha supervised a team of four kids, two teachers, and two parents as they stripped the current layer of grass off of a couple of rectangular patches in the middle of the main gibbon yard. (The dads were really helpful with this part of the project, which is harder than it sounds!)

Removing sod

We transplanted the removed sod to a bare spot under a nearby tree.


Our staff had built up a couple of bedding frames, and our volunteer team got the frames into place and filled them with the topsoil mix.

Filling topsoil

Samantha (left) showed the volunteer team how to fill the frames with topsoil and plant the seeds.

The kids then planted rows of collards, beets, lettuce, kale, cabbage, onions, radishes, and microgreens.

Planting collards

The dads were helpful with clearing the sod and planting the collard seedlings.


Except for the collards, we are starting all our veggies from seed. Fingers crossed, these will all turn into veggies that will make an appearance in future gibbon breakfasts.


Row markers show where the radishes, onions, and greens are planted.


One of the girls said that, now that she has experience planting a garden here, she feels she can try this at home, too.

Rows of veggies

Future gibbon breakfasts!


She also thought she might be able to write a book about gibbons—so it sounds like Sam did a great job of passing along lots of information about gibbons in addition to gardening tips.


After finishing with the garden, the kids made some treats for the gibbons. Here, Courtney accepts some Cheerios threaded on a vine (while diffident Whoop-Whoop, as usual, looks on from below).


During lunch, the kids shared with me some of the fun facts they had learned—how gibbons come in a variety of colors; how they’re territorial; how they can travel as fast as 35 mph through the trees; how males and females have different calls. They also got to learn about individual differences—they thought Helen was a very intelligent looking gibbon and were impressed with Elsa’s ability to catch treats that were tossed to her.

Elsa catching treats

The kids were impressed at how well Elsa caught the treats (little crackers, peanuts, dried fruit) they tossed in her direction; not all our gibbons are as gifted….


That’s the kind of thing you have to go outside a classroom to learn!



  1. Alice Callahan on September 15, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I had a wonderful day with the Gibbons, the staff and our students. Great experience thanks for all you do!

    • Sharon on September 17, 2013 at 10:12 am

      Y’all were great, Alice! I checked this morning, and the radishes and microgreens are already sprouting!