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

June teachers forums in Camden, Islington and Bexley

We’re hosting a few events this month and with the growing season off to a sunny start,  our engagement officers, are ready to support your school food growing by providing information and resources at teachers forums!

Timings for both events are 4 – 5.30pm. Locations to be announced soon.

Islington and Camden are hosting the first of two twilight forums on 20 June, with a focus on the Early Years setting.  Come along to find out how to incorporate growing in a setting that suits your learning environment.  Whether it’s starting seeds off indoors and then moving them outside once they’re stronger; or discovering ways of dealing with pests such as slugs, the session will no doubt offer resources to get you started or help you along your already established journey of food growing.

To register your interest in attending, please contact Marjon Willersmarjon.willers@nhs.net 

Bexley hosts the second twilight forum on 26 June, with a focus on infusing food growing into the Primary Curriculum from Year 1 up to and including Year 6.  This session will empower you to start growing using whatever space you have by giving you the confidence to teach any area of the curriculum through the use of your outdoor space.  Initiatives along with resources will be shared including how to grow your own picnic and how to use food growing in an enterprising way.

To register your interest in attending please contact Louise TseLouise.Tse@bexley.gov.uk

We look forward to seeing you at one of the above forums!

For more training and events coming up, please click here.

How to raise funds to support food growing at school

Food Growing Schools: London have been collecting feedback from schools using an online survey since the project began in 2013. One area of challenge identified is schools are looking for ways to raise funds in order to start or revive a school garden.

Nick Ives, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools: London (FGSL) shares some ideas and tips:

“There is little doubt that if you ask a school head teacher what their number one concern in running a school in this age of austerity – they will tell you finance to support activity at school. This short guide is intended to consolidate some ideas on how this might be achieved to support food growing activities at school.

What follows are some simple practical steps that will enable a school to respond expediently when an opportunity arises.

Determining needs

Create an extensive list of absolutely anything that you could possibly need.
If possible get as many people in the school to contribute: teachers, governors, parents and other staff to contribute. Eg one 20 meter hose with with spray attachment; 20 metres of timber to make x many raised beds; 200 litres organic soil for raised beds; 2 digging forks, 15 hand trowels, 15 hand digging forks, 2 rain water harvesting buts with attachments to downpipes, 2 watering cans, one 2 metre metal frame to cover a raised bed or plastic 15 square meters of netting for cabbage patch etc.
Not only will you have a ready-made list of items to wheel out at short notice, you might also get an idea of where the expertise and enthusiasm for this resides within your school community.

Evidence of pupil engagement

Whoever might fund your growing activity at school, they will always want to see that the pupils are involved in some way. Just like OFSTED they would like to seek evidence of how pupils will be impacted in a beneficial ways. Perhaps children did some curriculum linked work on the ideal kitchen garden and produced some appealing images and designs? Perhaps the pupil school council discussions revealed that many children live in flats with no outside space to grow anything? Perhaps pupils germinated broadbeans in science and expressed interest in growing these on? Build up evidence of pupil engagement, again it can then be wheeled out swiftly when required.

Consider every conversation as an opportunity

Certainly school leaders have learned to make the best of opportunities, having the opportunist mindset and an integrated request set up will facilitate this more. Now that a list of needs exists and how these items might benefit pupils – share them as much as possible! Consider everyone one talks to as a possible stakeholder! Do they work for a company that supports charitable giving? The School Funding Network is an excellent way to go about this. Parents who work for large corporations may unwittingly be allowed to apply for help from an associated charitable arm. Ask them to find out and empower them to help the school. Most schools have a Parent Teacher/Staff Association, if not why not?!

When the school is entering in to any new contract for services with an organization, might this organization be prepared to help in other areas? This is especially true for school catering contracts.

Applying for grants and funds

No matter who or what they are, they will always want to see a clear statement of need. The list is the first place to start. Then they will require some evidence of how the pupils will benefit. They will all have some sets of criteria that their fund will help with. Always identify the key words they use, public access? Community engagement? Impact upon pupils? Underline these and use them in the language that one uses to request their funds. An application that shows an integrated approach always looks more credible, so are as many stakeholders in the school community mentioned? They are looking for a good fit. Think of it as an exam and make it easy for them to say yes!

There are a number of grants and funds that have associated deadlines, others not. If you miss this deadline chances are there’s one next year, put it in the diary. Some funds have a specific geographical reach eg Veolia and Biifa and The Heathrow Community Fund so are often open. On more local scales there are often funds linked to local parishes that disburse funds in quiet ways. Ask locally – council members, church or community leaders may know.

Some applications require evidence of match funding, so this will require a careful consideration of all possible and potential stakeholders. Do not be afraid of approaching an organization which hasn’t advertised it has funds to give.”

For a list of competitions and funding opportunities, please click here.

Open Farm School Days coming up in June

What are Open Farm School Days?

Open Farm School Days is a nationwide initiative to get children out onto farms and learning about where their food comes from.

Throughout June, farms will be opening their gates and hosting educational visits for children to learn about how their food is grown, where it comes from and meeting the farmers who grow it.

Open Farm School Days run alongside the annual Open Farm Sunday and a number of farmers do both.

Open Farm Sunday 2018 is on 11 June.

Schools can register their interest here: https://farmsunday.org/schools

Open Farm School Days are supported by FACE and LEAF.

Find out about Skype A Farmer/#FarmingFriday here.

New mural celebrates food growing at Fleet Primary

Fleet Primary School in Camden won our autumn mural competition and we worked with Alessandra Tortone  to bring the pupils sketches to life as a backdrop for Fleet’s new growing space this spring!

The two days of painting were quite chilly (we even had to reschedule because of snow) but the pupils had a great time pitching in, mixing paints and bringing colour to their school ground.

Big thanks to Alessandra and to Garden Organic for making this possible.

Take a look at this photo gallery below:

Discover more Food Growing Schools competitions here.

See more of Alessandra Tortone’s work here.

New RHS ‘I Can Grow’ project empowers pupils

RHS Campaign for School Gardening launches I Can Grow!

This project is a chance for young people to discover and explore the benefits of gardening, not only to them, but also to their local community and the wider world.

I Can Grow is designed to empower young people, allowing them to create a campaign, using plants, to shout about the environmental and social issues they believe in.

How it works…

First, sign up for a free inspiration pack (register on the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website) which will contain a project guide and great resources to get your class or group thinking about and eventually sharing their campaign.

This project is designed to be led by your young people as much as possible so, using the resources, encourage them to think how they could use plants to solve a problem or support a cause that means something to them.

They will be asked to try and link their cause to one or more of these themes…

Please visit the RHS Campaign for School Gardening website to join in and find out more about this exciting new project!

Turn your ‘Sugar Tax’ funding into an Edible Playground

The Department for Education have published details on the allocation of the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund – money raised from the ‘Sugar Tax’ – and some schools will be eligible for funding that can go towards projects that increase the health and wellbeing of the school.

For schools that receive funding and are looking at ways to develop learning outside the classroom, it will be an excellent time to get in touch with Trees for Cities to find out about the Edible Playground programme.

The HPCF is intended to improve children’s and young people’s physical and mental health by improving and increasing availability to facilities for physical activity, healthy eating, mental health and wellbeing and medical conditions.

With ‘Garden spaces for growing produce’ specifically mentioned within the HPCF guidelines, schools can use their allocation towards paying for the project.

With matchfunds from Trees for Cities’ corporate sponsors covering the majority of the programme price, funding such as the Healthy Pupils Capital Fund will go a long way to plugging the gap.

If you are interested in hearing more about the Edible Playgrounds programme, contact Trees for Cities.

Enfield schools food growing workshop

Learn how to infuse food growing into your everyday teaching by attending a workshop on May 22nd from 4.00 – 5.30pm at Alma Primary School, Enfield EN3 4UQ

Lisa Grant, Engagement Officer for Food Growing Schools: London, will be there to help host the session with seeds, growing tips and practical ideas about how you can use food growing activities to support the curriculum.

Please register your interest in advance  with Sharon Davies, Learning Consultant PSHE / SRE & External Projects, Enfield Council  – Sharon.Davies@enfield.gov.uk

Grow a School Garden – Spring, Soil and Design

Grow a School Garden – Mar/April 2018

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

Late frosts

Despite the fact that it feels like a late spring, especially in a school gardening calendar when time is everything, let me reassure you that this is most definitely an illusion. It is quite normal to have frosts and cold snaps as late as April.

Winter has a late kick but the important thing to know is plants will always catch up. The only down side is spring will be quicker this year. Nature will get a wriggle on and you need to be on your toes to make sure you enjoy it in all its glory.

Sturdier seedlings

Your more tender crops that have been grown inside will be growing away, either on a classroom window shelf or a glasshouse. Remember it’s still too early to plant them out. Grow them on, making sure you turn them away from the light every day. This stops them stretching and becoming too tall and skinny (elongating is the fancy expression).

I also like to stroke or lightly tickle any young seedlings that are growing in a protected environment. I know that sounds strange, but this mimics the outdoor elements and encourages your young plant to become more stocky and resilient and will make for a better plant in the long run. It’s also a great way for the pupils growing the plants to bond with their new plants .

If you have already sown some crops outside, please don’t worry; plants will bide their time and soon appear when conditions are more favourable. Don’t be afraid to re-sow another line if you feel that’s better. Now that the weather is changing, everything will shift quickly.

Sowing tips

Remember the rule of sowing in a straight line. Weeds will be on the march, they have waited for their moment and you need to be able to tell what is a Carrot, Lettuce, Rocket seedling, etc. and what is a weed. Sowing your crops in a straight line, in your raised or open bed will let you tell your plants and weeds apart.

Remember also to always label your rows/plants. Good record keeping is a great curriculum activity and makes your crop growing easier.

Planting in wet soil

Just a quick word if you’re growing in open beds, in borders for instance (rather than raised beds). There is a good chance that the soil is very wet, don’t worry, you can still sow seeds, just get an old scaffold or wooden plank and stand on that instead of the soil. This will stop the soil becoming to compact and then not draining properly.

Explore your soil

So, as I’ve mentioned, standing on soil when its wet will make your gardening more difficult but what type of soil do you have?

Get pupils to get their hands in the soil. Does it stick together, even form a ball? Then it’s a clay soil. Find out what that means – in science clay behaves different to a sand soil.

A sandy soil will be fine and run through your fingers and will drain quicker. It’s also much better for Carrots. Understanding your soil will make you a better gardener. It will also make you wiser about the soil you have in any raised beds your school may have. Remember all soils will improve by adding good compost.

Having fun in the garden with designs

It’s still time to think of fun ways to garden. What are your classroom or gardening club’s ideas? How can we make our growing and outdoor spaces more fun?

The outdoors should always be a place of discovery, of mystery and should be a place for hands on teaching.

My project for this blog is to make, using recycled materials, something completely unusual for your school grounds. Have an art competition, have a collection point for materials and grow some plants to bring it to life. The imagination is the most important tool.

Are your pupils designers? A project like this will soon see. To get you started have a look at my Ogre’s face we designed and built. I look forward to seeing your gardening pupils’ creations.

Happy Gardening everybody. Spring is here!

Chris Collins
Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic

ccollins@gardenorganic.org.uk