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

Grow a School Garden – Gardening in the Winter

Grow a School Garden – Jan/Feb 2018

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

Gardening in the winter

It’s tempting to stay in the warmth of the classroom – it’s not looking too cosy outside at the moment. A garden still needs the attention though, even in these dormant months and there are plenty of ways we can still tie the garden to the learning curriculum.

Getting ready for spring

A job that children never tire of is digging over the soil.

In many ways, January and February are great months to get head of the game. Any areas of soil or raised beds can be turned over and any unwanted plants removed. Give it a real thorough dig over, making sure the soil is broken into a nice fine texture and give it a rake to get it even.

This is great physical exercise for the pupils and it’s also an opportunity to teach them about soil – the gardener’s most important asset.

It also ties in nicely with making sure you’re ready to start composting come spring, if you are not already. Composting, of course, is the way we keep our soil healthy.

If you’re without a compost bin, why not get the children to design one? Maybe by applying a theme?

We built a Dalek compost on Blue Peter in one episode and this was a great way to make the subject more interesting. It would also make for a good art lesson.

Personally, my preferred way of composting is to have an open bin. By that I mean having something that is easily accessible.

Dalek composter
Build an open bin compost
  • Get four wooden posts, dig four holes and set the posts in at a depth of 20cm.
  • Add some quick drying concrete at the base of the posts.
  • After the posts set in, attach chicken wire to three sides of the posts leaving the front open.
  • Now it is easy to fill your compost area and you can also turn the contents easily.

You’ll find it can be great for wildlife too! What will the pupils find in it? Maybe a slowworm, or at the very least some earthworms and centipedes.

Tips for raised beds

I will add one more note about soil and it’s something I’ve observed on my travels to many schools over the years and that is raised beds that do not contain enough soil.

Make sure your beds or containers are properly topped up. Soil should be filled right up to at least 5cm from the top of a raised bed. Giving plant roots room to grow will be important to success.

Planning for spring growing

So, what to do on a dank wet February day when it’s the gardening club? Well, in many ways this can be an exciting time!

The spring will soon be here and it’s time to decide what you want to grow. How do you want your garden area to look? It’s an interesting math’s lesson on looking how tall or wide certain plants might get when planning your area and your growing space.

Make sure you get the Heritage Seed Library seed list catalogue from Garden Organic. It’s great fun for everyone to pick the plants that you want to grow.

“Pizza wheel” garden
Project idea: How to make a pizza wheel

To take this a step further, let’s apply this to a project. We can do this by making what I often refer to as a pizza wheel.

You can make one of these from recycled materials like bricks or pebbles.

  • Make a circle, using a pin at the centre of your area and string to mark the circle. The length of the string dictates the size of your pizza wheel is up to you.
  • Once you have your circle you can then divide it into sections or slices. This up to you but it does not need to be big, in fact you could even do it in a pot.
  • Now, as a class or a gardening club, pick a recipe for a meal then grow some of the contents of that recipe in your pizza wheel slices. For example, it could be something as simple as a salad and therefore you could grow a mix of lettuce, rocket, radish, tomatoes or cucumbers.

Well hope you find some ideas in the Grow A School Garden Blog and that you’ll join me next month.

If you have any questions or even ideas that you may want to contribute please do get in touch.

For the meantime, happy gardening!

Chris Collins

Head of Organic Horticulture – Garden Organic

ccollins@gardenorganic.org.uk

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