Grow a School Garden – Seeds and Spring Planting

Grow a School Garden – Feb/Mar 2018

Monthly blog by Chris Collins on How to Create and Grow a School Garden

Spring is nearly here

It is this time of year that suddenly a day will come when finally after a long winter, everybody will feel the warmth of the sun on their face again. It’s such a welcome feeling and also very exciting time for our outdoor spaces.

This is the time to get busy in the garden, particularly for producing plants. Seed sowing is the one thing that can really get children hooked on growing plants . Watching a seed come to life and grow into a plant is a wonder that never gets tiring.

Tips for seed germination

So here are some ideas for getting your seed going.

Firstly if there is a budget, I really recommend investing in a couple of propagators . These are basically mini greenhouses that can be kept in the classroom and used to start all those tender crops that will need protection from the spring cold.

Tomatoes, Broad Beans, Courgettes, Squash and Pumpkins will all germinate well in a propagator, which can then be grown on indoors until its time to plant out.

Starting these plants like this means that you will be planting out strong healthy plants. It will extend your growing season, hopefully meaning you will get plenty of crops before the summer term ends.

History and science lessons with seeds

Growing seeds in the classroom like this also lends itself to the opportunity to studying how seeds work. They are truly incredible things, a couple of examples of this could be the Giant Redwood, the biggest living plant on Earth that has a seed that is a billionth the size of a fully grown tree . Or why are Poppies associated with Remembrance day. Its because Poppy seeds only germinate when they are exposed to light . The artillery fire unearthed Poppy seeds, some of which may have been underground for over a hundred years and then they proceeded to grow and flower. This example can also be used to teach some of the history of the first world war.

Raking and treading soil

Seeds, however also give us the chance to get outside and get our Carrots and Broad Beans growing. The soil will be all nicely dug from the winter gardening, now we can rake and tread it.

This entails using the rake to create a soil as level as possible . Use it to take out any lumps or dips. Treading means to use the back of your heels to firm down the whole area. It means a funny walk across the soil but it takes out all the air pockets and allows smooth capillary action enabling water movement in the soil.

Sowing carrots

Once you’ve done this, Carrots can be sown in drills. Put down a line of string across your plot, make a small trench along the line (use a piece of bamboo) and sow your seeds (check the packet for spacing tips), cover over, water and label.

Watering tips

A good tip is to use a watering can with a rose head, turn the rose so its facing upward, this will create a fine water spray when poured and thus prevents you washing out and displacing those carefully sown seeds. Using a line (drill) to sow seeds like this means when they grow into seedlings you will know what they are and distinguish them from any weeds growing at the same time in the surrounding soil.

Veg writing project idea

A couple of projects for early spring could be Veg writing. How about sowing some Salad leaves with your name or the school name? Mark out the name with sand and make a small trench in the sand and sow in Rocket or Green salad leaves. Then using drills surrounding the sown Rocket, sow red leaved Salad. When it all starts to grow you will see your school name. Clip with scissors from time to time and use the clipped salad leaves in sandwiches.

Window ledge herb garden

On the topic of edible plants, a small herb garden can be made and sit outside the classroom on a window ledge.

You can get yourself a pot or is there something we can recycle?

You can use many things for a pot just remember that it will need drainage, so make sure you can put holes in the bottom of it. Herbs don’t like wet feet, so mix peat-free compost with some gravel or sand. Maybe put some gravel in the bottom of the pot too.

If you are putting it on a window sill make sure it fits before adding the compost.

Then start to collect and plant your herbs. Small herbs like Parsley and Coriander can be grown from seed. Larger herbs , like Lavender and Rosemary can be bought, quite cheaply from the garden centre and why not see if anyone has Oregano or Lemon Balm as these can easily be divided up – maybe someone’s Grandma has some in her garden somewhere!

Happy Gardening!

Chris Collins
Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic


Grow a School Garden – Gardening in the Winter

Grow a School Garden – Jan/Feb 2018

Monthly blog by Chris Collins on How to Create and Grow a School Garden

Gardening in the winter

It’s tempting to stay in the warmth of the classroom – it’s not looking too cosy outside at the moment. A garden still needs the attention though, even in these dormant months and there are plenty of ways we can still tie the garden to the learning curriculum.

Getting ready for spring

A job that children never tire of is digging over the soil.

In many ways, January and February are great months to get head of the game. Any areas of soil or raised beds can be turned over and any unwanted plants removed. Give it a real thorough dig over, making sure the soil is broken into a nice fine texture and give it a rake to get it even.

This is great physical exercise for the pupils and it’s also an opportunity to teach them about soil – the gardener’s most important asset.

It also ties in nicely with making sure you’re ready to start composting come spring, if you are not already. Composting, of course, is the way we keep our soil healthy.

If you’re without a compost bin, why not get the children to design one? Maybe by applying a theme?

We built a Dalek compost on Blue Peter in one episode and this was a great way to make the subject more interesting. It would also make for a good art lesson.

Personally, my preferred way of composting is to have an open bin. By that I mean having something that is easily accessible.

Dalek composter
Build an open bin compost
  • Get four wooden posts, dig four holes and set the posts in at a depth of 20cm.
  • Add some quick drying concrete at the base of the posts.
  • After the posts set in, attach chicken wire to three sides of the posts leaving the front open.
  • Now it is easy to fill your compost area and you can also turn the contents easily.

You’ll find it can be great for wildlife too! What will the pupils find in it? Maybe a slowworm, or at the very least some earthworms and centipedes.

Tips for raised beds

I will add one more note about soil and it’s something I’ve observed on my travels to many schools over the years and that is raised beds that do not contain enough soil.

Make sure your beds or containers are properly topped up. Soil should be filled right up to at least 5cm from the top of a raised bed. Giving plant roots room to grow will be important to success.

Planning for spring growing

So, what to do on a dank wet February day when it’s the gardening club? Well, in many ways this can be an exciting time!

The spring will soon be here and it’s time to decide what you want to grow. How do you want your garden area to look? It’s an interesting math’s lesson on looking how tall or wide certain plants might get when planning your area and your growing space.

Make sure you get the Heritage Seed Library seed list catalogue from Garden Organic. It’s great fun for everyone to pick the plants that you want to grow.

“Pizza wheel” garden
Project idea: How to make a pizza wheel

To take this a step further, let’s apply this to a project. We can do this by making what I often refer to as a pizza wheel.

You can make one of these from recycled materials like bricks or pebbles.

  • Make a circle, using a pin at the centre of your area and string to mark the circle. The length of the string dictates the size of your pizza wheel is up to you.
  • Once you have your circle you can then divide it into sections or slices. This up to you but it does not need to be big, in fact you could even do it in a pot.
  • Now, as a class or a gardening club, pick a recipe for a meal then grow some of the contents of that recipe in your pizza wheel slices. For example, it could be something as simple as a salad and therefore you could grow a mix of lettuce, rocket, radish, tomatoes or cucumbers.

Well hope you find some ideas in the Grow A School Garden Blog and that you’ll join me next month.

If you have any questions or even ideas that you may want to contribute please do get in touch.

For the meantime, happy gardening!

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic

Train a trainer with Food for Life in Greenwich

Transforming food culture

One of our Food Growing Schools: London partners, Soil Association Food for Life is working with the London Royal Borough of Greenwich to transform food culture in the borough.

Alexander McLeod Primary School in Abbey Wood hosted a few keen people on 5 Dec 2017  who had food growing and healthy cooking on their minds as part of the Food for Life Train the Trainer partnership in Greenwich.

The project is about community-based people training others in areas of food education linked to promoting a healthy lifestyle through food, both in growing healthy food and then also using that healthy food to prepare meals.

Train a trainer

The food growing element of the training was led by Garden Organic’s Associate Liz Davies.  She took participants through the elements of the Food for Life awards criteria, whole school approach to food education linked to the primary curriculum, organic growing in schools and also composting in schools.

Integrating organic growing with the primary curriculum focusing on Food for Life activities including school community engagement brought everything to life by using the school’s glorious growing space as a foundation for learning.

The afternoon finished with participants’ trialing practical activities highlighting health and safety considerations in schools along with curriculum planning and seed saving ideas.

Events like these help to gather bright minds and great ideas, to help build stronger, healthier communities.


If you’d like to find out more about the Soil Association Food For Life programme and related initiatives, please visit their website.

Project Learning Garden seeks schools in Bexley, Merton & Southwark

Project Learning Garden is recruiting schools in Bexley, Merton and Southwark

Project Learning Garden  provides free starter kits to schools with everything they need to start or refresh a food growing garden and use it as an outdoor classroom.

Schools are provided with free hands-on training, curriculum linked resources, raised beds and gardening tools, a cooking kit and ongoing support and guidance.

Project Learning Garden is looking to take 10 new schools on board in Bexley and Southwark. Schools in Merton can also apply.

For more information and to apply please visit the Garden Organic website

What is Project Learning Garden™?
Project Learning Garden is a programme that provides starter kits to schools with everything they need to start or refresh a food growing garden and use it as an outdoor classroom. Project Learning Garden provides schools with hands-on training, curriculum linked resources, raised beds and gardening tools, a fully equipped mobile cooking cart and ongoing support and guidance.
Who started Project Learning Garden™?
The Project Learning Garden programme was first set up by the Captain Planet Foundation in the USA.
Captain Planet Foundation is a grant-making foundation that has funded over 2,600 hands-on environmental education projects with schools and non-profits that serve children in all 50 U.S. states and in 25 countries internationally. More than 1.4 million children have directly participated in and benefited from these educational projects.
Since 2011, over 340 learning gardens have been set up in the USA, across 10 States.  Due to its success, Project Learning Garden™ is now being piloted by Garden Organic in the UK.
Who can get involved?
We are looking to work with primary schools who do not have a school garden or whose garden needs re-invigorating so that it can be used effectively as an outdoor classroom during the school day.
To apply or find out more, please visit the website.

Back to (food growing) school!

Summer holidays are coming to an end but we’re excited to go “back to school” for another year of building on the tremendous success of our Food Growing Schools: London project.

Garden Organic, working with the Food Growing Schools: London project partners, are geared up to deliver support, activities, training and resources to hundreds of participants across the capital as pupils return to the classroom and their school food growing projects.

From growing food in school gardens, to cooking it in school kitchens and selling it at local market events, the Food Growing Schools: London project is giving pupils in our country’s most populous urban centre a chance to live healthier, happier and more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

There is still a way to go to meet the ambitious objective of getting every school in London growing food but there is certainly lots to celebrate from the first three years of the original project.

Evaluation* of the project’s growing impact in the city has highlighted Food Growing Schools: London’s contribution:

  • 87% of schools are now engaged in food growing*
  • 79% of schools report students are more aware of nature, healthy eating and sustainability
  • 54% of schools report improved behaviour or attainment
  • 25% of schools now link food growing to the curriculum
  • 1,000 school staff and volunteers have received food growing training

Some key achievements include:

  • Six Schools Marketplaces at City Hall – and more in local boroughs
  • Two School Food Growing Conferences
  • Heritage Seed Library Seed Guardian Project – with Garden Organic
  • Schools Oca Growing Project – as part of ‘Grow Around the World’ activities
  • Growathon – engaging over 76,000 pupils in food growing
  • Delivered 40 school assemblies across London to help kick start food growing in schools
  • Partnership with the Food Flagship Boroughs of Croydon and Lambeth
  • Partnership with Borough Councils through the Good Food for London report

You can help

If you want to help give pupils in London the chance to grow food at school, here are a few simple actions you can take to get involved.

Wherever you may live in this great country, we appreciate the support in helping to build our online community and to amplify our voice. Many of our resources, tips and tricks are useful and designed to be used in any part of the country.

If you know someone based in London, why not mention the project to them? For completing our survey they will receive a term-time planner, seeds and also have the chance to win prizes like vouchers or other items.*

  • Be a volunteer and leader in your community

Many schools in London are looking for volunteers, items or funding to kick start or develop food growing projects. Offer your time, knowledge, skills or spare gardening tools to a school near you – find out how.

  • Support charities who stand up for what you believe in

The Food Growing Schools: London project is a partnership of charities. While the FGSL project doesn’t accept charitable donations for funding, the partners who deliver worthwhile projects all across the UK could use your support.

Garden Organic is calling for donations to the Fighting Fund to react quickly and directly when the rights of organic growers are threatened and this is especially important during these turbulent political times.

Want to know more about our partners?

Find out here about the incredible work the other Food Growing Schools: London partner charities are doing and how you can support their work.


*All statistics in this article are based on evaluation surveys with lead school teachers in Sept 2013 (n=504) and Jan 2017 (n=313). Evaluation was conducted by Prof Mat Jones, Emma Weikamp (both UWE Bristol) and Hannah Pitt (Cardiff University) Public Health and Wellbeing Research Group, UWE, Frenchay Campus, Bristol, BS16 1QY

*Of the schools that participated in the FGSL survey, the percentage of schools engaged in food growing has risen from 72% to 87% since 2013.

*Free term time planner, seeds, vouchers and prizes are available while stocks last and some items may not be available to everyone.

Food Growing Schools: London is a partnership initiative led by Garden Organic. Garden Organic, the working name of the Henry Doubleday Research Association, is a registered charity in England and Wales (no. 298104) and Scotland (SC046767).

Continue reading “Back to (food growing) school!”

Local School Nature Grants Scheme

Learning through Landscapes Nature GrantsFood Growing Schools: London’s lead partner Garden Organic are delighted to be a supplier in the Local School Nature Grants Scheme, helping schools branch out into nature

What do birdboxes, bee hotels, den making kits and nature experts all have in common? They are all available free to schools as part of Learning through Landscapes’ Local School Nature Grants Programme, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery:

Learning through Landscapes is a UK charity dedicated to enhancing outdoor learning and play for children. The grants provide an assortment of nature equipment and training up to the value of £500. The packages are customisable, enabling schools to choose from a menu of items which best suit their learners and their setting. All schools in England, Scotland and Wales are welcome to apply.

For example the Garden Organic Get Growing Kit includes:

A great pack of resources to actually get you growing:
1 x Starter pack of seeds
(18 packets of organic fruit and vegetable seeds plus edible flowers. (Exact seeds provided will depend on the season))
1 x term time growing planner
1 x pack of 25 vegetable growing cards
1 x composting booklet
1 x soil information pack
(Total 23 items)

The other suppliers are Glasgow Wood Recycling, Outdoor People, RSPB, MindStretchers and Touchwood.

The aim is to make it easy to get young people in touch with nature, and so the application process is quick and straight forward. The programme launches in late January 2017 and will be open to applications for a full year.

The project is funded by Postcode Local Trust, which receives funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

This scheme does not provide cash grants for schools.

To find out more visit: Local School Nature Grants Programme.

To find out about more competitions, offers and funds on the Food Growing Schools: London website visit: Competitions


Food Growing in Schools: Research Round-up

The benefits of food growing reach far beyond improving gardening skills and teaching children where food comes from and the FGSL partnership has gathered lots of evidence to show this.

Research round upTrees for Cities (TFC) have worked with 50 schools to create Edible Playgrounds. These spaces are a fun way to teach children new skills, enrich food education and get food growing into the curriculum.

TFC identify some of the key challenges that food growing helps to tackle:

  1. Children have a disconnect with nature and understanding where food comes from:

33% of pupils in UK primary schools believe cheese comes from plants.

25% believed that fish fingers come from chicken or pigs.*

  1. Mental and physical health problems are widespread:

Latest figures from Public Health England show that a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese.

1 in 10 children have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

So how are pupils benefitting from food growing?

Improved skills, knowledge and behaviour

Over 90% of head teachers said their Edible Playground had increased students’ gardening skills, knowledge of the environment and food origins and uptake of fruit and vegetables.

Lots of schools have been using the playground to run therapy sessions for SEN children or those with anger management issues.

70% of schools surveyed said the playgrounds have supported work with SEN students or those with challenging behavioural issues.

“It has a very calming effect on some pupils with significantly challenging behavioural difficulties”  Rockmount Primary School.

RHS research has also found that gardening can help children to develop ‘a more resilient, confident and responsible approach to life’.

Food growing used as a teaching tool

All of the Head Teachers surveyed use their edible playground for maths and science lessons, as well as for English and art (92%), design and technology (76%), geography (30%), languages (23%), RE and ICT (15%) and history (7%).

1 in 4 schools now link food growing to the curriculum**

These positive findings echo the results of the independent FGSL evaluation 2016, that also shows how food growing in schools increases links between schools and local businesses, organisations and volunteers and brings significant value to schools that are part of the programme.

Read the full FGSL report and more about the TFC research results.

*surveyed by the British Nutrition Foundation in 2013.  **FGSL Figures based on evaluation surveys with lead school teachers in September 2013 (n=504) and July 2016 (n=241).

Four steps to managing your garden pests

Sharing your garden with nature is part of gardening and even in the best managed fruit and veg gardens, natural pests and predators will present themselves, but they needn’t be a problem.

Follow Capital Growth’s four simple steps to manage your pests: Protect, Remove, Repel, Prevent.

pests-and-diseases1. PROTECT your plants using cut plastic bottles around the seedling to prevent pests from reaching the plant.

2. REMOVE the pest by manually taking off those you can see.

By taking off the top of broad beans if they’re covered in aphids (greenfly, blackfly, plant lice) the plant has a chance to grow and produce beans.

Take a look at the RHS advice on Aphids.

Create a ‘slug and snail hunt’ and re-locate the culprits outside your garden- at least a few 100 yards away. Check out Garden Organic’s information on how to prevent and remove slugs, along with fascinating facts. Who knew there are over 100 different species of slugs and snails in the UK!.

Scare away birds by hanging fabric or CDs near your plants – we’ve found some bird control methods here.

Make your own owl sun catcher to scare the birds
Make your own owl sun catcher to scare the birds

3. REPEL using natural methods

Garlic spray is great for all aphids (and safe to use, just watch your eyes) and easy to prepare; put one crushed garlic clove with the skin left on into 1 litre of boiling water. Cool and strain and you have a very effective spray.

Get rid of pests with garlic

Got a problem with the fast-growing fungus that is mildew? Powdery mildews attack a wide range of plants, causing a white, dusty coating on leaves, stems and flowers.

Use milk to prevent powdery mildew

4. PREVENT any more pests from coming in.

Limit pest habitats like planks of wet wood on the ground which harbour slugs and snails and promote pests by offering them habitats. Have a hedgehog house, a bat and a bird box nearby, make solitary bee boxes and leave an untidy patch to attract more beneficial insects.

Avoid pesticides, encourage wildlife

Get more great advice from Green Gardener and our friends at the RHS, who have a helpful A-Z of pests and solutions. And join a Capital Growth training session.

Reap what you sow: Tips from Chris Collins

Chris Top tips resizedWe’re delighted to be able to share some top tips from FGSL resident expert Chris Collins, to help you get the most from your food growing efforts this year.

“This is the busiest point in the garden and time to get cracking if you want a bountiful summer. Sowing seeds is currently the order of the day for me. This year I’m growing many heritage varieties that I got from Garden Organic, but use whatever you can get your hands on!”

For schools, there’s always the challenge of the timing of terms, particularly growing ‘tender’ crops such as tomatoes, runner beans or pumpkins. These are no lovers of any cold weather and need to be protected until mid-May before planting out. This leaves only a small amount of time for harvesting in the school garden before the summer break begins.

To get around this dilemma we need to sow these plants NOW, so here are some handy tips:

  1. Invest in a few propagators (mini Greenhouses) like these.

Whilst they do require initial expenditure, they’ll last many seasons if cared for. If this is not an option, a pot with a perforated sandwich bag held in place by canes and a rubber band over it will suffice. This video might help!

  1. Sow plants using a seed compost

Don’t skimp on compost, it’s important! But you can save money by producing your own compost by collecting leaves, raw food waste, such as fruit and veg peelings, and adding them to a compost heap in your garden.

How to make your own compost

  1. Re-pot plants

In its incubation chamber, our propagator will soon germinate our seeds. Once this happens they should be taken out, potted into bigger pots if necessary and placed on a bright school window ledge, preferably out of long periods of direct sunshine which may bleach the leaves.

  1. Grow, then plant out

These plants can then be grown until the safety of mid-May, at which point they can be planted out as nice sturdy specimens, giving them a great head start on the season.

“This will all be worth the extra effort. Tomatoes, beans and pumpkins are the fastest growing and fastest yielding of the edible crops, making them a real joy for the children to see them grow.”

Also check out this advice on sowing indoors from The RHS and the Old Farmer’s Almanac.

Happy Growing!


London schools get enterprising with School Food Matters

School Food Matters Market Day in Stoke Newington, with with Hoxton Garden Primary.
School Food Matters Market Day in Stoke Newington, with Hoxton Garden Primary.

School Food Matters are one of six fantastic Food Growing Schools: London partners founded in 2007 by parent Stephanie Wood. Over the past 10 years they have made their name as experts in school food enterprise projects, working with thousands of pupils in schools across London.

Enterprising school food projects

In March and April 2017, Know your Onions, School Food Matters’ new secondary school project progresses with 15 gardening sessions delivered by our partners, Garden Organic. These sessions will inspire students to get involved in food growing, think about where their food comes from and learn useful skills.  In April, these schools visit a local market garden where they can see professional food growing at scale, within the boundaries of London. These visits help the students to contextualise their food growing in the wider environment and think about the effects of global food production on the environment. Know your Onions is kindly supported for 3 years by the City of London Corporation’s charity, City Bridge Trust. Read more about the progress of the programme, including students learning to cook their produce, and sell it at their local street market: Know Your Onions.

The Schools to Market programme, led by School Food Matters in partnership with Whole Kids Foundation, is now entering its fifth year and kicks off in March 2017 with an assembly at 20 participating schools. This year five Whole Foods Market stores are taking part: Richmond, Fulham Broadway, High Street Kensington, Cheltenham and Giffnock. The assembly not only launches the programme but also looks at the purpose of it; to take children on a journey from seed to supermarket, to teach them about fresh, healthy food and to improve their nutrition and wellbeing. This way the whole school can benefit from the assembly and not just those children chosen to participate in Schools to Market. Keep up to date with what’s happening when at: Schools to Market.

Other enterprising School Food Matters projects include: Young Marketeers at Borough Market and Fresh Enterprise: School Food Matters Enterprise Projects

For ideas on how to start an enterprise food project in your school visit the Food Growing Schools: London website: Grow Your Own Business