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

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

 

Celebrate autumn in the garden with these pumpkin recipe ideas

Has your school grown pumpkins this year?

Pumpkins are lots of fun for pupils to grow and see who can grow the biggest one, to carve for Halloween or to save seeds for next year.

While pumpkins are a popular decoration in the autumn season, they can also provide the basic ingredients for many fun recipes pupils can enjoy cooking the school kitchen!

The flesh of a pumpkin can be baked into a loaf and the abundance of seeds found inside can be roasted with herbs to add flavour.

Download this pdf with recipes for a delicious pumpkin loaf and sweet and savoury roasted pumpkin seeds – many thanks to Garden Organic’s Growth team for trying, testing and adapting these recipes to perfection!

More about pumpkins…