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