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

 

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

Spring garden tips infographic from Asgard

Would your school garden benefit from a new storage shed?

Asgard Secure Storage have kindly donated this shed for our spring Prize Draw – any London school participating in a Food Growing Schools partner activity can sign up for a chance to win here.

For helpful tips on creating a stable base or assembling your garden shed, see this article.

In the meantime, below are a few tips for what to do to prepare your garden for the growing season ahead in this handy infographic:

For more like this, please visit Asgard’s website here.

Soil is the answer

Good soil, best compost

Article by Dan Welburn, Ridan Composting

Growing food to eat yourself gets us as close to nature as it is possible to be. Consuming something we have planted and nurtured, the rewards are amazing and the taste unbeatable, all you need for this is good soil, that’s where it all starts.

Good soil is full of nutrients and life, it feeds not only plants but insects, microbes, worms and small animals too. The way to make good soil is by adding compost, this enriches the soil making it nutritious and nourishing.

The best compost is home-made and free, school food waste, all of it, not just vegetables and fruit, but also cooked food, meat, bread, pasta, eggs and cheese can all be converted into great compost at school by using a simple machine, the ‘Ridan’.

In as little as 12 weeks all of that food waste can be turned into compost, then spread on the garden where it will feed your next crop of delicious vegetables and fruit. Turning all of the food waste into compost to grow more food closes the loop, it’s perfectly sustainable and it’s all down to soil.

Ridan food waste composting systems are designed to stand outside, they don’t use any power and they are a simple interactive way to recycle all school food waste on site. Already used by hundreds of schools they are a highly visible, educational demonstration of sustainability and recycling.

For full details please visit the Ridan website or call 01598 751043.

Ridan are currently offering a 10% discount to all schools involved with Food Growing Schools: London.


Spring is the perfect time to start a school garden

Join Food Growing Schools: London for Spring into Growing, and learn the secrets to planning and constructing your school garden, and developing a productive growing space – including  how composting can have huge benefits to helping you grow food. Free resources, tips and ideas here: Spring into Growing – Plan it. Build it. Grow it!

Discover more: FGSL competitions and offers

Value your school grown produce

Once you’ve got your food growing underway, why not celebrate your efforts by finding out the value of all that you’ve grown?

How much does your garden grow? Use the Harvest-ometer to find out!
How much does your garden grow? Use the Harvest-ometer to find out!

Food Growing Schools: London partner Capital Growth have developed a simple tool to track what your school grows in kilograms and pounds. It also produces graphs, perfect for motivating volunteers and pupils, and showcasing your work to the school and parents!

During the first two seasons of the Harvest-ometer over 189 growing spaces grew enough food to contribute to a whopping 502,000 meals, weighing over 40 tonnes and valued at £288k.  Capital Growth also found an estimated £2.4m of food is being grown each year across their network, which includes community growing spaces, as well as schools.

Harvest-ometer facts

Salads, squash, courgettes and potatoes are the most popular crops being grown in London.

The average yield per Square metre is just less than £3.50 per square meter.

How can schools and growing spaces get involved?

To use the Harvest-ometer sign in or sign up to the Capital Growth member’s area and click on ‘The Harvest-ometer Challenge.’

If you have any questions, big or small, just get in touch with maddie@sustainweb.org

Need help to get growing? Join a Capital Growth training session and check out the FGSL Resources.

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.

Access Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project exclusively through Food for Life

We’re delighted to let you know that Food for Life has formally teamed up with Jamie Oliver’s Kitchen Garden Project to give all Food for Life schools and nurseries EXCLUSIVE ACCESS to their beautiful food education and growing resources.

Get involved: Jamie Oliver and Food For Life's Kitchen Garden Project
Get involved: Jamie Oliver and Food For Life’s Kitchen Garden Project

The partnership means that the Kitchen Garden Project digital resources will be available to all schools who sign up to the Food for Life Membership or Awards Packages.

The resources include delicious Jamie Oliver recipes for children, lesson plans, helpful teaching notes, growing units, curriculum-linked activities and nutrition information, all tailored to primary school-level cooking lessons and activities for garden-based learning.

A single subscription to both food education programmes means that you will have even more flexibility and support around practical cooking, growing and food-based learning.  Schools who have already been working with Food for Life and the Kitchen Garden Project have told us how well the resources complement each other.  We hope you think so too!

Find out more and see a sample of the resources

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!

 

Competitions and funding galore!

RHS Campaign for School Gardening
RHS Campaign for School Gardening

Spring is on it’s way, and with it brings a fantastic array of competitions and funding for school and community growing and outdoor learning projects. Here is a list of some of our favourites in March and April 2017, from friends and partners of Food Growing Schools: London. Apply while you can!

First up, RHS Campaign for School Gardening have three exciting competitions for schools:

RHS Schools’ Scarecrow Competition
Take a walk on the wild side and design your best wildlife-themed scarecrow to go proudly on display at this year’s Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. All pre-schools and primary schools in the South East and London are eligible to enter. Applications close on Friday 10 March 2017.

RHS Budding Gardeners 2017
All schools and groups are invited to design their best mini show garden based around the theme, Famous Five Go on a Garden Adventure, to be displayed at RHS Garden Wisley! Applications close on Monday 20 March 2017.

RHS School Gardeners of the Year 2017
Do you have students, staff or volunteers who are dedicated and passionate gardeners? Nominate your gardening stars for one of three RHS awards:

  • RHS Young School Gardener of the Year 2017 (a young person aged 5-16)
  • RHS School Gardening Champion of the Year 2017 (an adult within your school)
  • RHS School Gardening Team of the Year 2017 (a team of young people)

Prizes include a Gabriel Ash Classic Eight greenhouse worth £3,425, or a fantastic cold frame worth up to £699! In addition there are vouchers, gloves, tools and more to win. Nominations close on Friday 28 April 2017.

Next up, Soil Association Food For Life have a fantastic competition for member schools:

Grandparent Gardening Week Competition
27 to 31 March 2017, Nationwide
Food for Life’s (FFL) Grandparent Gardening is a great way to involve your community in school life and kick start your garden into action after the winter. Plus, FFL member schools can win a polytunnel, roll out sensory garden or Veg Trug! Just share your Grandparent Gardening Week photos on Twitter using the hashtag #FFLGGWeek. Competition deadline Friday 28 April 2017.

Garden Organic are pleased to announce that they are suppliers in Learing through Landscape’s new grants scheme:

Local School Nature Grants Programme
What do birdboxes, bee hotels, and den making kits all have in common? They are among the assortment of nature equipment and training available free to schools who enter Learning through Landscapes’ new grant scheme, supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery. Garden Organic is a supplier in this exciting new programme which is open for applications throughout 2017.


To discover more competitions, offers and funds with deadlines in March and April 2017, visit: Competitions