Grow a School Garden – Sunshine and summer holidays

Grow a School Garden – June/July 2018

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

Summer sun and watering advice

Well, the word at the moment is definitely sunshine and it really is beautiful weather. What a great time to be outside and enjoying all that nature offers!

It is though quite a tough time for plants and the dryness causes plants to feel stressed. This is not a problem as long as you’re doing your job as a gardener and seeing to their needs.

Watering of course is the job of such importance at the moment and it’s vital we get this job right.

First thing is – no hosepipes! Not because they are a banned, it’s just it’s not a good way to water in this heat. Water your plants by catering can and water to the base of your plants. Scorching can occur on the leaves if they get wet. Also spraying with a hose tends to just water the air as this heat soon soaks it up. You can use your hose, if you have one to fill your watering cans.

The other vital aspect of watering in this weather is the timing. Make sure the temperature is as cool as possible when watering your plants; early in the morning is the best time for a school.

Composting and weeding

Composting around your plants will also help keep those fine roots near the surface, especially the larger ones.

Remember also, to keep pulling those weeds, they will compete for water in this hot weather and many of then set their seeds much quicker in the hot weather.

Looking ahead – using curriculum activities

As the term comes to an end it’s also maybe a good time to think about what next for your garden area.  You have your raised beds up and running so how about thinking about the design of the area.

A great Maths class is to measure your area and produce a scale drawing.

A great Art class is to sit down and design the garden, you could give a theme or think about connecting it to the school, its history or any stand out projects the school may have done.

This is great fun and a fantastic way to learn.

Harvesting your hard work

Hopefully you will now also be picking some of your crops. All your hard work will now mean you get to enjoy and maybe eat your produce. Remember when picking crops like Runner beans, to twist them first, so they snap cleanly from the plant. This avoids infection and fungus getting into the plant if it is damaged.

Similarly, when digging plants out, like Lettuce, remove the plant as cleanly as possible, don’t leave old leaves and refuse on the beds to encourage slugs and other problems.

How can parents, guardians and volunteers help?

However, the biggest challenge over the summer, is that schools break up.

How do we water the plants that have not been cropped? Hand watering is always best. Can you raise volunteers to help you with this?

Produce a newsletter with all your great work. Send it out to parents and grandparents to see if they would like to help and get involved.

Producing this newsletter would also make a great end of term project for the children and again could be tied in with the curriculum.

Another watering trick

There are some tricks you can use to help you with thirsty plants over the summer. We have already mentioned mulching and composting.

You can also use old plastic water bottles.

Remove the lid and fill the bottle with water. Then cover the mouth of the bottle with seven or eight layers of cling film, which then should be pierced with a sowing needle. Place upside down at the base of your plants and the water will slowly drain over a number of days, thus reducing your watering.

Well, I hope that helps and happy gardening and I wish you a great summer hols!

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture. Garden Organic

Grow Your Own Picnic

Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!
Time to Grow Your Own Picnic!

What better way to show off the school’s new-found gardening skills than to Grow Your Own Picnic to share with pupils, parents and the local community.

The FREE Grow Your Own Picnic Pack from Food Growing Schools: London is jammed full of advice, tips and activities to help you plan and grow crops and then turn them into delicious home-made dips, sandwiches, salads and other delights to create a summer picnic feast.

The pack also includes advice for linking with your local community to generate support for your growing activities and to share the spoils of success at the end of the summer term.

So what are you waiting for? Download the Grow Your Own Picnic pack now and start to harvest the benefits of school food growing.

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!