Get your free Exotic Crop Pack!

Over the last 40 years, the range of foods that we consume has broadened massively to encompass a whole range of cultures.

There is already a wealth of non-traditional crops grown on allotments in the UK, but they’re in danger of disappearing as the skills to grow them are not being passed onto younger generations.

That’s why Garden Organic was delighted to receive funds from the Big Lottery Local Food Fund* to run a fantastic project called Sowing New Seeds – enabling gardeners, allotment holders, schools and community groups in the Midlands to grow exotic crops, not traditionally grown in the UK.

We have collected seeds and knowledge from many countries including Jamaica, India, Bangladesh, Guyana, China, Pakistan, Japan, Zimababwe, Ethiopa and many more.

How to get your free pack

We have a limited number of Exotic Crop Packs to share with schools, available on a first come, first served basis this Autumn!

Simply email us with your name, the name of your school and address and we’ll pop a pack in the post to you: schools@gardenorganic.org.uk

All we ask in return is that you make a small donation to Garden Organic, if you are able to, to cover the postage cost. This will help us continue delivering projects like this and giving a few pounds could not be simpler using this online donation form.

Sowing New Seeds: Project Achievements

  • We have made seeds for unusual crops available through Garden Organic’s Heritage Seed Library
  • We have gathered knowledge and made it available to people through a range of free resources, including growing factsheets, simple growing cards, cooking videos and some great games for schools and children
  • We have supported groups within the Midlands and beyond to grow exotic crops

*We’re also hugely gratefully to the Brooke Trust, Cadbury Trust, Grimmet Trust, Sheldon Trust, Oram Foundation and the Open Gate Foundation who has gave financial support.

Make the most of your school garden this Autumn!

Get outside this Autumn!

Don’t be fooled by the change in the season, there is still plenty to do outside at this time of year! Your raised beds or open garden spaces can still produce food and there are lots of different crops that can be sown over the Autumn term.

Autumn Crops

Why not give Perpetual Spinach, winter salads, winter Lettuce, Asian Greens or Chard a go, whilst the soil is still warm in October? This will give you some great tasting, fresh food this term.

Winter Crops

There are also crops that can be grown over the winter months that will be ready for eating in the Spring, such as onions, broccoli, kale and broad beans, so get prepared by getting those ready now.

Your Autum Term task list

Not sure where to start? Here’s a list of things you can do with your pupils to get back into the school garden this Autumn:

  • Form a team: get a gardening club of pupils, teachers and parents together to help you.
  • Survey your site: how is it looking now that summer is a distant memory? Do some of your old crops need pulling out? Have some weeds moved in? Have a good tidy up and give the soil a fork over and rake.
  • Seed Saving: If you grew runner beans or tomatoes over the summer, why not try some seed saving? Beans or Peas can be cut at the base, taken into the school and hung in a dry place, like a cupboard and dried. In a couple of weeks, the pods can be split, and the beans can be collected. Place them in a sealed plastic sandwich bag and put it in a cool place. These will keep until the following spring, when you can sow them around May.
  • Seed saving tip: remember to label and date your beans as this is good gardening practise. If you have some tomatoes coming to an end, scrape out the seeds, wash them in water and rinse the out through a sieve. Dry them on some kitchen towel and once you are happy they are dry, put them in a small jar, label and store them in a cupboard ready for next year.
  • Compost: if you have a compost heap or bin, it’s a good idea to gently give it a turn with a garden fork – being careful to not to harm any wildlife that may be in there. This compost will be invaluable to your soil in the spring.

 Starting a compost bin: If you haven’t got a compost bin up and running yet, collect some of the falling leaves now and put them in black bin liners. Put some holes in the liners and let the leaves rot down gradually. This ‘leaf mould’ as it’s known is great for soil structure and could be the start of your compost bin.

  • Grow green manure: If you don’t plan to use all your garden space over the winter, you could use your spare space to grow some green manure. This is a crop you can sow thickly onto the soil; it will grow and help protect the soil from erosion and from weeds. Dig it in the spring and it will have real benefit for soil health, providing nutrients and improving the structure of the soil, helping drainage and making life easier for plant roots.

Top tips for growing green manure:

A great crop for this is Field Beans, they are part of a plant family known as Legumes and they have a special relationship with bacteria called Rhizobium that lives on their roots. These Bacteria fix Nitrogen from the air in return for sugars from the plant, which helps keep the soil healthy. Soil health and legumes would make a great subject to study in science and can be done alongside your work in the garden. One important piece of advice when planting green manures is to make sure you dig them in before they flower, therefore retaining maximum goodness for the soil.

  •  Re-organise your space: The autumn and winter are also a great time for moving any plants that you feel are in the wrong place. A bit of re-organisation might help you free up some valuable space, to sow new perennial plants such as shrubs, fruit or trees. Whether moving or planting new plants, make sure you are as gentle as possible with the roots, this will make sure they get a strong, healthy start the following spring.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Don’t forget the wildlife!  Keep those birds fed and watered throughout the cold months, they are important to the garden and they need a bit of help from us too. You can encourage more wildlife into your school grounds by building a bog garden. A shallow hole or pit lined with a rubber pond liner that is punctured in a few places will make a great little bog garden. Do some homework to find out what kind of plants will like to grow in a bog garden and place in some rocks to give some cover to hibernating frogs and toads. These great creatures will help keep your slugs and snails in order next year.

 Happy gardening!

Chris Collins, Head of Horticulture, Garden Organic

Five Steps to summer-proof your school garden

School’s out for Summer!

The countdown to the summer holidays is nearly over!

Follow these five simple steps before you head off for the break and you’ll have a healthy garden waiting for you when you return in September. 

  1. Take stock of where you’re at

Have a quick look at your growing areas to see:

  • What plants need looking after over the summer?
  • Which ones can be cropped?
  • Have you got time to squeeze in any last seed-to-plate plants like rocket or salad leaves?
  • What wildlife has been visiting your school over the spring and summer?

 

If you have a lot of runner beans and tomatoes that have grown to a good size, but are yet to produce any fruit, you’ll want to keep them going over the summer. If you’re lucky enough to have a gardener or site manager to keep an eye on things, then that’s great, but if not, it’s good to have a few tricks up your sleeve to help stop your plants drying out. 

  1. Plan for water conservation
  • Firstly apply a good, thick organic mulch to any plants that will continue to grow during the summer holidays. If you have some home-made compost that’s great, if not some fine bark or green waste compost from the garden centre would be a good investment. Spread it on the top of your soil at about 5cm depth. This will help keep the roots moist and reduce the need to water.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Another good trick is to collect a few plastic water bottles, remove the lid and fill with water, then cover the lid area with about five or six layers of cling film and secure with an elastic band. Then take a pin and make some holes, gently through the cling film. Turn the bottle upside down and bury the neck in the veg bed. The water will seep out slowly, keeping the plants watered. This technique can last up to a week, reducing the need for someone to come and water the plants. There are also products available in the garden centre and online that do the same job; they are basically small adjustable taps that fit to the tops of recycled water bottles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • A final tip on water conservation is to make sure your planting or raised beds are filled out with plants. A full planting area reduces the need for watering and will stop weeds growing too. Why not underplant with some herbs or even some ‘green manure’?

Green manure is made of live plants, sown as seed and are very good for improving soils. A good example is mustard seed or you could try an easy quick crop like radish. Sow these seeds thickly but leave a space around the base of your existing plants, try around 10cm.

  1. Feed your plants

Now is the time to give your plants a good feed. Watering with a liquid feed diluted into your watering can will give your plants a boost. Tomato feed is a cheap easy option, or the ultimate fertiliser is organic comfrey pellets. However a small investment in a Comfrey plant (One called Bocking 14 is recommended) planted and grown in the school grounds will provide a steady supply of nutrient-rich liquid feed.

Simply harvest its leaves from time to time, soak in a bucket of water, then three weeks or so later, drain off the liquid and use as a feed. It’s known as Comfrey tea and it should be pointed out, is rather smelly! No doubt this will cause great amusement among any young members of the gardening club.

  1. Support your plants

It’s also a good time to check if your plants are well supported, as plants like tomatoes become much heavier as they bear fruit. Use canes to support them, tie in any heavy stems using soft twine, tied in a figure of eight. This method prevents rubbing and damage to the soft stems of many crops.

  1. Do a bit of forward planning

Of course, as the summer holidays loom it’s also a great time to think about what you will do with the space after the summer. Autumn and winter planning will be on all gardeners’ minds, as we like to plan ahead.

What do you want to grow over the autumn and winter? Broad beans? Chard or even spring cabbage? Why not look at a few seed catalogues and make a little plan for your garden space. You could even mix in some curriculum by undertaking a small design.

On that theme and to protect your crops, why not have a competition to design a Scarecrow? Desiging and building one from recycled materials is a great way to finish off the summer term.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy gardening and I wish you a very happy summer holidays!

Christopher M Collins

Head of Horticulture, Garden Organic

 

Summer Term: Growing Tips from Chris Collins

As our spirits are lifted by the longer days and some welcome sunshine (or glimpses, at least!), this is one of the most exciting times of the year for school gardening.

It’s the perfect time for growing with your pupils and all the elbow work that you put into your garden will pay off later this term.

What shall we grow?

Quick crops

Try quick crops like rocket, radish, Cut & Come Again salad leaves and even something exotic like Asian leaves are great to get going this time of year.

How long until we can crop?

You’ll be able to crop them in six to eight weeks. Cut and Come Again Salad leaves are great because they can be cropped all year.

How to grow quick crops:

  • Sow these seeds in straight lines in shallow trenches called drills;
  • Cover and firm the soil;
  • Put a string line down before sowing, to make sure you have them in a straight line. This way you’ll be able to tell your crops from the weeds;
  • Take care when you water, make sure you have a watering can that has a rose attachment at its spout. Turn this upside down and tilt the can away from the sown seeds before moving over them. This way you will not wash out your seeds.

Make it fun!

You can have a bit of fun with drill sowing. Why not make a pizza shaped bed or crops in different circles? As long as you have ordered lines you will be able to tell your new seedlings from any weeds that emerge.

Top Tips for Schools from Chris

  • Keen growers? Got a School Gardening Club? Grow as much as your space will allow! Get a watering rota together to make sure everyone’s involved;
  • Assign some ‘Compost Monitors’ and task them with recycling the bits of left over pack lunches into the compost bin;
  • Request a free Garden Organic School Planner to get advice on what to grow throughout the school year; simply email us with your name and school address and we’ll send planners on a first come, first serve basis (whilst stock lasts!);
  • Plant some wildflowers to help out our friends, the bees and the butterflies – they are hugely important pollinators. (With a little research, you should be able to find some Wildlife organisations that give seeds away for free);
  • Planting fennel for example, can help with your runner beans, as it attracts the Hoverfly – a small wasp-like insect that gobbles up Aphids that like runner beans!

Finally, remember that gardening is above all, great fun. So how about making some flowering clothes?! Use an old pair of jeans (or better still, several old pairs) and tie the bottom of the legs into knots. Next, put two bamboo canes down each leg to keep the jeans legs straight. Fill them right up to the top with compost and plant summer flowers like Petunias and Geraniums into the waist of the jeans and water. Very simple but great fun throughout the summer!

If you have any questions for me, or the team at Garden Organic, please get in touch.

Happy gardening everyone! Chris Collins, Head of Organic Horticulture. Garden Organic.

 

Things to do this Summer Term

As well as being a fantastic time of year to bring your school garden to life, the summer term is the perfect opportunity to celebrate getting outdoors and being healthy. Here are just four of the many great national initiatives that help you do just that.

23 May 2019 – Outdoor Classroom Day

Outdoor Classroom Day is a global campaign to celebrate and inspire outdoor learning and play. On the day, thousands of schools around the world take lessons outdoors and prioritise playtime. In 2018, over 3.5 million children worldwide took part and more than half a million of those were in the UK and Ireland.

Outdoor learning improves children’s health, engages them with learning and leads to a greater connection with nature. Play not only teaches critical life skills such as resilience, teamwork and creativity, but is central to children’s enjoyment of childhood.

Taking part is easy – simply sign your school up on the Outdoor Classroom Day website and take a look at all the free lessons plans, inspiring stories and resources available on the site.

Get involved

1-2 June 2019 – The Big Lunch

The Big Lunch is about millions of people getting together to share food, have fun and get to know each other better. This June, people around the UK will stop what they’re doing and get together in a nationwide act of community and friendship.

Schools, at the centre of community life, are perfectly positioned to host a Big Lunch; which can be anything from a small gathering of students and parents within the school grounds, to a full-blown community party with food, music and decoration. It’s the perfect time to show off your school garden and school-grown produce too!

The official dates for this year’s Big Lunch are the 1-2 June 2019, but you can hold one any time that works for your school.

Big Lunch tips and resources for schools

3rd – 14 June 2019 – Farming Fortnight

The aim of Farming Fortnight is for primary and secondary schools across the UK to have a fortnight’s focus on British Farming and Food Production. With young people often being disconnected from the origins of their food and the people behind the story of their food, the fortnight has been developed for students and their teachers to engage with and understand farming and food production.

The initiative has been developed by LEAF in partnership with Brockhill Park Performing Arts College and is supported by Countryside Classroom. There are several themes that schools are invited to look at over the fortnight, covering all aspects of farming and food production.

Download Farming Fortnight resources and videos

10-14 June 2019 – Healthy Eating Week

The British Nutrition Foundation’s (BNF) Healthy Eating Week is a dedicated week in the year to encourage organisations, universities and schools across the UK to focus on healthy eating and drinking, physical activity and celebrate healthy living.

At the heart of BNF Healthy Eating Week are five health challenges:

  1. Have breakfast
  2. Have 5 A DAY
  3. Drink plenty
  4. Get active
  5. Sleep well – NEW for 2019

Schools participating in BNF Healthy Eating Week usually focus on one of the challenges each day, but it’s up to you to decide what your organisation will do and when. Some organisations focus on just one challenge throughout the week whereas others take on all five!

Find out more

 

Helping the mental health of school children

Mike from Trees for Cities delves into the research showing the difference that food growing can make to the mental health of children and young people.

Garden Organic at Wimbledon Chase Primary School

Mental health and well being are topics that have gained increased attention over the past few years, particularly in relation to children. Perhaps it’s due to the rise in mental health problems among young people.

According to researchers, the proportion of children and young people reporting mental health issues has grown six times in England in just two decades.

The Mental Health Foundation recommend a number of ways to help keep our schoolchildren healthy. Suggestions include ‘eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise’, ‘having time and freedom to play, indoors and outdoors’, and ‘going to a school that looks after the well being of all its pupils’.

All of these factors of course resonate with what we at Edible Playgrounds and, the Food Growing Schools: London partnership, aim to achieve: using food growing to help develop healthy habits in children and get them excited about fruit and vegetables.

And there’s a large body of evidence to suggest the simple act of gardening will do wonders for a person’s health, both mental and physical. Research shows that gardeners on the whole have higher self-esteem and fewer depressive feelings and fatigue that their non-gardening counterparts. Reductions in anxiety, stress and blood pressure have all been linked to regularly working in the garden.

Gardening gives us a sense of responsibility and purpose and as such, encourages feelings of self-worth. It is also fantastic exercise, releasing dopamine, serotonin and endorphins that make us feel good. And the mindful nature of it allows us to focus on the task at hand, living in the present moment rather than being distracted by potentially anxious or uncomfortable thoughts.

There are even microbes found in soil that act as natural antidepressants. Mycobacterium vaccae occurs naturally in the soil around us and has been shown to increase levels of serotonin and decrease anxiety. How incredible is that!

Gardening doesn’t have to be an extracurricular activity at school. It can be a really useful teaching resource to help provide lessons across numerous different subjects – Maths, Science, English, Art; the possibilities are as great as teachers’ imaginations. And the feedback we’ve heard from teachers is often that an outdoor teaching resource helps them input an extra level of creativity and spark into their lesson plans.

If you don’t have the space or know-how, you can start small: a few pots on a sunny windowsill, some seeds, soil and water can be all you need to begin your gardening journey. And your ambitions and knowledge can grow as your seedlings start to sprout.

If you are keen to discuss possibilities of creating an Edible Playground at a school, contact the author of this article: mike@treesforcities.org.

Three easy ways to grow a school garden this winter

Check out these ideas for winter growing from Chris Collins, FGSL resident food growing expert and Head of Organic Horticulture at Garden Organic

With the impact of the winter, the prospect of the festive season and the annual school Play, gardening might not be on everybody’s mind. However, we can still have fun with it, whether that’s now or when we come back in the New Year.

Here are three activity ideas that are great for a rainy day and getting kids thinking about gardening over the winter months.

  1. Homemade festive decorations

Investigate: What berries are on the plants at this time of year? What different types of foliage do they have? What twig shapes can you find?

Make a winter collage – Collect interesting natural objects from the garden and in true Blue Peter style, get the tape and sticky back plastic out and arrange your collection and see what festive picture you can come up with!

 

 

 

 

Make your own wreath – arrange what you find into an attractive arrangement like this.

  1. Make a Terrarium

If being outside, getting cold and wet is not your thing, then bring your gardening inside. There are not many places warmer than a rain forest, so why not bring one to your classroom by making a Terrarium? These really look amazing and are small worlds all of their own.

You will need:

An old fish tank : Are there any parents who keep tropical fish,that have an old tank that they can donate? Could you ask at a local pet shop or pick one up in a charity shop?

 

Gravel: Once you have the tank, put in a few centimetres of gravel, this will act as a water table.

Soil: Then add some soil, undulate it so as to create a small landscape.

Moss: Cover the soil in some moss.

Optional: Stones and small rocks – to really get that tropical garden effect.

Plants: Now, you’re ready to plant. Begonias, Pipers and Orchids will all look great. If you’re not sure what they are, do some research about rainforest plants to find out more, in fact creating a tropical terrarium gives you a great opportunity to learn about rainforests, where they grow and how we protect them.

Top tip: Many houseplants can grow roots in water, so ask the class if they have any growing at home as you may be able to take cuttings.

  1. Crazy Containers

If you’re looking for a simpler project, try making some Crazy Containers. This is just a twist on a pot plant, only we’re going to incorporate some art and imagination too!

You will need:

A discarded bottle or plastic container: You can use any old discarded things for a pot. An old watering can, washing up bottle, plastic milk carton or water bottle will do the trick. Make sure it has drainage holes in its base as the soil needs to drain.

 

Paints / craft materials: Now for the fun bit; get decorating, paint faces or use old materials to stick on to create ears, eyes, nose and hair!

Soil and seeds: Finally, plant your plant. It could be as simple as sowing some grass seed or planting something edible like a herb. These might make great Christmas gifts for a little brother or sister.

Teaching tip: grab some seed catalogues for the class to have a look through. Talk about all the different vegetables that we can grow and eat – and incorporate some geography by thinking about the different countries they come from: https://www.organiccatalogue.com/

Soil is the most important thing in the garden, so make sure you keep it healthy over the winter. If you’re not using your beds at the moment, sow some green manures into the soil. A big packet of mustard seed is perfect, as sown thickly it will protect your soil over the winter and come spring time you can dig the plants in, giving a great feed and helping its structure.

Wishing everyone a happy festive break and happy gardening in 2019!

Chris Collins, Head of Organic Horticulture, Garden Organic

Help us bring ‘The Lost Words’ to London school kids

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris got together to create this book, ‘The Lost Words: a spell-book’, published in 2017, in response to lots of nature words being dropped from the latest edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The words included acorn, adder, bluebell, buttercup, dandelion, fern, heron, kingfisherlark, newt, otter, wren and willow. The words taking their places in the new edition included attachment, block-graph, blog, broadband, bullet-point, celebrity, chatroom, committee, cut-and-paste, MP3 player and voice-mail. To many, this signalled the widening gap between children and the natural world. 

The aim is to get a copy of this book to all London schools in order to try to close this gap. In the words of the Guardian, it is ‘a cultural phenomenon’, and what Chris Packham has called ‘a revolution’. Communities and individuals have raised over £60,000 to achieve this, starting with a campaign for the whole of Scotland (more than 2500 primary schools). Now, copies of the book are being delivered by bicycle (one man cycling 400 miles back and forth across Dorset), by sea kayak to outlying island schools, or in the company of barn and tawny owls (brought into schools by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust). 

Tress for Cities have set up a crowdfunder page which has already helped deliver ‘The Lost Words’ to schools in Haringey, Lambeth and Wandsworth. Now, we want to bring the magical book to the rest of London’s maintained primary and special schools. If you want to support this, please visit the link below:

www.crowdfunder.co.uk/the-lost-words-london

Supporting the Science Curriculum with Food Growing

Food Growing Schools: London encourages schools to use the school garden and food growing activities to deliver the curriculum because of the many benefits, including increased attainment for pupils engaging in  learning in this way (discover the benefits of school food growing here).

Why focus on the science curriculum?
Click the image to read our case study.

In particular, science is an aspect of the curriculum that links well on a number of levels to food growing activities.

See our case study Incorporating food growing into the science curriculum for insight and advice from teachers and our team.

FGSL Engagement Officer, Nick Ives, has worked with teachers and school staff across London, helping host teachers’ forums and twilight sessions to share ideas and practical steps for best practice.

He writes:

“Increasingly, I’ve found that schools respond very positively to using food growing activities to deliver Science. Food growing lends itself well to many of the processes and concepts involved in Science.

This is also backed up by research carried out by the RHS Campaign for school gardening revealing that 70% of the participating schools surveyed used food growing to deliver Science.

I always kick off a training session with teachers or pupils by asking: what are the five key things we need to get anything to grow?

Even the most unconfident growers will get the first four – Seeds, Soil, Water, Sun! Each of these four ideas make excellent jumping off places to deliver Science. The fifth being YOU ie the gardeners to pull all these together!

A quick brainstorm of possible links to the first four will include, plant growth, seed germination, rocks weathering to different soil types, decomposition of organic matter vs plastics, insect pollination, habitats eg compost heap invertebrates, predators and prey, movement of planets ie Earth’s seasons, water cycle – to name a few! Of course growing organically increases one’s chances of exploring associated biodiversity – little compares to witnessing the joy of watching ladybird larvae munching aphids or seeing ants fight off ladybirds because they want to protect their honeydew producing aphid farms!

All great stuff to observe and discuss.

If you fancy linking the science of growing to supermarkets and eating habits, a simple investigation is to buy a range of lentils, peas and beans and try a germination test on them – you’ll surprise yourself!”

For more of our case studies about food growing in schools, visit this page.

Watch this RHS Campaign for school gardening video below celebrating 10 years and mentioning the top subjects that are taught in the school garden.

Food Growing Schools: City strategies for food system sustainability

Can every city be a food growing city?

How can lessons learned from Food Growing Schools: London’s project successes be applied to supporting the development of more sustainable food systems?

Food Growing Schools: London project elevators from the University of the West of England and University of Cardiff have assessed our work since the project was launched and have used their findings to examine how cities can support innovative strategies to respond to new challenges in food systems.

This article in the journal Sustainability discusses and explores some key points in the winder context, as the abstract outlines:

“Cities have emerged as leaders in food system innovation and transformation, but their potential can be limited by the absence of supportive governance arrangements.

This study examined the value of Food Growing Schools London (FGSL) as a programme seeking city-wide change through focusing on one dimension of the food system. Mixed methods case study research sought to identify high-level success factors and challenges.

Findings demonstrate FGSL’s success in promoting food growing by connecting and amplifying formerly isolated activities. Schools valued the programme’s expertise and networking opportunities, whilst strategic engagement facilitated new partnerships linking food growing to other policy priorities.

Challenges included food growing’s marginality amongst priorities that direct school and borough activity. Progress depended on support from
individual local actors so varied across the city. London-wide progress was limited by the absence of policy levers at the city level.

Experience from FGSL highlights how city food strategies remain
constrained by national policy contexts, but suggests they may gain traction through focusing on well-delineated, straightforward activities that hold public appeal.

Sustainability outcomes might then be extended through a staged approach using this as a platform from which to address other
food issues.”

Continue reading the full article here.

Author information

Hannah Pitt, Sustainable Places Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3BA,Wales, UK

Mat Jones, Bristol Centre for Public Health and Wellbeing, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK; matthew.jones@uwe.ac.uk

Emma Weitkamp, Science Communication Unit, University of the West of England, Bristol BS16 1QY, UK; emma.weitkamp@uwe.ac.uk