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

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!