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.

 

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

Warren Street Primary wins Garden Site voucher prize

This term pupils at Warren Street Primary, winners of our summer Grow Your Own Picnic competition, gratefully accepted a £500 voucher prize donated by Garden Site, to put towards their school food growing efforts.

Warren Street Primary – a food growing school in Bromley

“We grow vegetables in the school garden and when we have a good harvest, we sell the food to the school kitchen as well as to parents after school,” said Tom Bateson, Sustainability Leader at Warren Street Primary.

“This means that we can return the money back into the Eco budget to grow more plants the following year.”

But Mr. Bateson explained,”the door on our current greenhouse has broken and is too dangerous for children to go into now, so we’ll be unable to grow plants over the winter.”

“Now thanks to this prize, we’re looking to get a brand new greenhouse and some other items  from Garden Site to allow the pupils to keep growing food and to support outdoor learning all year round.”

  • See the benefits of food growing and outdoor learning for schools, pupils and the wider community here.
About the prize donated by Garden Site
Members of the Garden Site team who arranged the gift voucher for the competition prize.

GardenSite, one of the UK’s leading online garden retailers teamed up with FGSL during the summer term to offer a generous prize of a £500 voucher, which can be used to purchase gardening items from their range of around 10,000 products.

Whether it be a new greenhouse or shed for the school grounds or even a selection of garden planters perfect for growing a wide variety of fruit and veg, the £500 can be spent on a huge variety of products to help maximise the school’s growing potential.

Growing your own, all year round

If you’re in need of inspiration on what to grow, GardenSite have a handy guide on What to Grow In Your Greenhouse which covers the entire year.

  • See Garden Organic’s month by month guide for what to do in your garden here.

Thanks to all the schools that participated in our competition – we wish you a fantastic year.

Happy gardening!

 

Grow a School Garden – Autumn planting

Grow a School Garden – Oct/Nov 2018

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

During the end of the summer months, though days are shorter, there is still plenty to keep us busy in our gardens.

Summer crops can be removed and dug into the compost bin and soil dug over and made ready for a fresh crop of plants for both winter and next spring.

What to plant now

Broad beans are a great crop to get in now, as the soil is still reasonably warm.

Quicker crops like Spinach, winter mix salad leaves and Chard can all be sown in open ground and can be grazed through the late winter months.

It may be worth investing a small amount of money in a roll of fleece from the local garden centre, this can be pinned down over your newly sown seeds and will protect them on cold nights and give them a strong start.

Any ground or raised beds you don’t plan to use over winter should be sown with a green manure. A mustard crop, sown thickly on empty ground can prevent weeds colonising your ground   and can be dug into the soil, in spring to keep your soil healthy.

The onset of the dark months is no barrier to growing fresh food – don’t miss out on those beautiful autumn days.

Planting bulbs
Colourful bulbs in spring (click image to enlarge).

The autumn is also the time of year to plant bulbs. These are the Jack-in-a-box of the plant world, staying low below the ground they are spring loaded to appear in the spring when the soil warms up.

For food plant some Garlic now but for colour there is an array of beautiful plants for your school to enjoy.

Set aside a piece of ground in a border, raised bed or even large pot. Plant a mix of bulbs to flower next year , Snowdrop (Jan, Feb) Crocus (Feb, March) Daffodil (March / April), Tulip (April / May) Allium (May).

You can get a run of three to four months of colour from bulbs and mixing the types really gives an amazing display.

There is further good news as bulb are pretty cheap to buy.

When it comes to planting and looking after bulbs there are two main rules, plant them the depth of a trowel’s head (up to the handle) and make sure you leave the foliage at least 6 weeks after they have stopped flowering. One final tip is, bulbs like Daffodil and Crocus can be naturalised, meaning they can be planted out permanently in a lawn or around the base of trees, where they will flower year after year.

  • See more advice from Garden Organic about sourcing and planting organic bulbs here.
How to grow a Willow wall
Taking willow cuttings (click image to enlarge).

A great winter project is to produce your own Willow wall. It’s worth finding out if any schools in your area are already growing Willow. If so, see if you can get some cuttings. These cuttings will need to be taken by a teacher.

They are last years growth on the plant, strong shoots (see photo) that have grown and ripened over the summer. Cut them at about 20 cm length with a straight cut below a node, this is a swelling on the wood were leaves will grow.  At the other end of the cutting cut a sloped cut above a node, this way you’ll remember which way up your cutting goes.

Now it’s time to get the children involved. Bundle up the cuttings in groups of 20, bind them together with twine. Dig a trench 15cm deep on a north facing wall and fill it with 5 cm of sand. Bury the bundles in the trench and put back the soil. You should now have 5cm of Willow cuttings sticking out the ground, you can now forget all about these cuttings until next spring when you can dig them up, they will have rooted and you can plant your own Willow wall. I recommend 5 to 10 bundles to get you going. The other advantage of taking these cuttings is there is plenty of curriculum involved – biology and maths for a starter.

Making leaf mould compost
Making leaf mould in autumn (click to enlarge image).

A further project for the autumn is to make some leaf mould. Don’t waste the great bonanza that is falling leaves.

A quick bit of construction involving four wooden stakes and some chicken wire makes a square cage. Get the children to collect any leaves in the school grounds and fill this ‘cage’ with leaves.

In a couple of seasons, you will have the perfect seed sowing compost. This uses a natural gift from Mother Nature, saves money and is great exercise!

  • Find out about making leaf mould and how to use it on the Garden Organic website here.
Helping wildlife

Finally, remember our small friends the birds at this time of year, put out food and water to help them out, they are an important part of the garden.

Happy gardening everyone.

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture. Garden Organic

 

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

Project Learning Garden prepares for first growing season in London

The Project Learning Garden team have been busy recruiting and training schools in Merton, Bexley and Southwark while gearing up for the first growing season of the project in London.

Project Learning Garden provides starter kits to schools with everything they need to start or refresh a food growing garden and use it as an outdoor classroom. Project Learning Garden provides schools with hands-on training, curriculum linked resources, raised beds and gardening tools, a fully equipped mobile cooking cart and ongoing support and guidance.

Despite the snow in March, they held two training sessions to meet with teachers and other school staff to start to work on planning how to link a school garden to their curriculum. The sessions covered curriculum, organic gardening, basic cooking skills and working with groups outside. The team running the workshop were joined by former Blue Peter gardener Chris Collins and Master Gardeners in Southwark.

The schools will soon be receiving their ‘kits’ which include a selection of cooking and gardening items as well as raised beds and lots of activities and resources to deliver the curriculum.

Schools also have access to a range of lesson plans and activities which link to environmental themes and subjects across the curriculum.

Delegates at the training session were enthusiastic and went away feeling positive about the whole day and being involved in the project. One delegate said:

‘I really enjoyed the day and found it useful and very helpful’

‘It was good to be reminded how important the soil is in or garden – easy to forget!’

To find out more about PLG visit the Garden Organic website here.

Garden Organic, the UK’s national charity for organic growing & the Captain Planet Foundation (CPF) a charitable organisation based in Atlanta, USA, are working in partnership to bring their successful Project Learning Garden programme to the UK.

Seeds of Change®, who donate 1% of sales to research and promotion of biodiversity and sustainable organic practices, are generously funding this pilot project, making this new partnership possible.

Grow a School Garden – Seeds and Spring Planting

Grow a School Garden – Feb/Mar 2018

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

Spring is nearly here

It is this time of year that suddenly a day will come when finally after a long winter, everybody will feel the warmth of the sun on their face again. It’s such a welcome feeling and also very exciting time for our outdoor spaces.

This is the time to get busy in the garden, particularly for producing plants. Seed sowing is the one thing that can really get children hooked on growing plants . Watching a seed come to life and grow into a plant is a wonder that never gets tiring.

Tips for seed germination

So here are some ideas for getting your seed going.

Firstly if there is a budget, I really recommend investing in a couple of propagators . These are basically mini greenhouses that can be kept in the classroom and used to start all those tender crops that will need protection from the spring cold.

Tomatoes, Broad Beans, Courgettes, Squash and Pumpkins will all germinate well in a propagator, which can then be grown on indoors until its time to plant out.

Starting these plants like this means that you will be planting out strong healthy plants. It will extend your growing season, hopefully meaning you will get plenty of crops before the summer term ends.

History and science lessons with seeds

Growing seeds in the classroom like this also lends itself to the opportunity to studying how seeds work. They are truly incredible things, a couple of examples of this could be the Giant Redwood, the biggest living plant on Earth that has a seed that is a billionth the size of a fully grown tree . Or why are Poppies associated with Remembrance day. Its because Poppy seeds only germinate when they are exposed to light . The artillery fire unearthed Poppy seeds, some of which may have been underground for over a hundred years and then they proceeded to grow and flower. This example can also be used to teach some of the history of the first world war.

Raking and treading soil

Seeds, however also give us the chance to get outside and get our Carrots and Broad Beans growing. The soil will be all nicely dug from the winter gardening, now we can rake and tread it.

This entails using the rake to create a soil as level as possible . Use it to take out any lumps or dips. Treading means to use the back of your heels to firm down the whole area. It means a funny walk across the soil but it takes out all the air pockets and allows smooth capillary action enabling water movement in the soil.

Sowing carrots

Once you’ve done this, Carrots can be sown in drills. Put down a line of string across your plot, make a small trench along the line (use a piece of bamboo) and sow your seeds (check the packet for spacing tips), cover over, water and label.

Watering tips

A good tip is to use a watering can with a rose head, turn the rose so its facing upward, this will create a fine water spray when poured and thus prevents you washing out and displacing those carefully sown seeds. Using a line (drill) to sow seeds like this means when they grow into seedlings you will know what they are and distinguish them from any weeds growing at the same time in the surrounding soil.

Veg writing project idea

A couple of projects for early spring could be Veg writing. How about sowing some Salad leaves with your name or the school name? Mark out the name with sand and make a small trench in the sand and sow in Rocket or Green salad leaves. Then using drills surrounding the sown Rocket, sow red leaved Salad. When it all starts to grow you will see your school name. Clip with scissors from time to time and use the clipped salad leaves in sandwiches.

Window ledge herb garden

On the topic of edible plants, a small herb garden can be made and sit outside the classroom on a window ledge.

You can get yourself a pot or is there something we can recycle?

You can use many things for a pot just remember that it will need drainage, so make sure you can put holes in the bottom of it. Herbs don’t like wet feet, so mix peat-free compost with some gravel or sand. Maybe put some gravel in the bottom of the pot too.

If you are putting it on a window sill make sure it fits before adding the compost.

Then start to collect and plant your herbs. Small herbs like Parsley and Coriander can be grown from seed. Larger herbs , like Lavender and Rosemary can be bought, quite cheaply from the garden centre and why not see if anyone has Oregano or Lemon Balm as these can easily be divided up – maybe someone’s Grandma has some in her garden somewhere!

Happy Gardening!

Chris Collins
Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic

ccollins@gardenorganic.org.uk