Category: Growing Children- series on school gardening


First Lady and 3 sisters - Michelle Obama showing American children how to plant

First Lady and ‘3 sisters’ – Michelle Obama showing American children how to plant

The final post in the series ‘Growing Children’ sets out a few tips on techniques for planting and nurturing your School Garden and making the most of harvesting and cooking what you’ve produced.

Planting and nurturing

  • Grow easy crops such as Broccoli, Chard, lettuce, Carrots, potatoes, Garlic, leeks, peas, beans, cucumber, tomato and herbs. Aim to grow a good amount of each crop to take account of children’s inexperience and if you have lots of plants these can be sold or grown on and the produce sold or given away.
  • Aim to grow different types of crop in different areas and ‘rotate’ these each year to avoid building up pests and diseases and to ensure the soil doesn’t get drained of its nutrients.
  • Save time and hassle by growing some plants from bought/donated seedlings rather than directly sowing in the garden. You could grow your own seedlings if you have a greenhouse or indoor space to develop these from newly germinated seeds. However, it might be worth buying in some seedlings from the local nursery and planting these out, once conditions are right. Plants such as Broccoli, Chard, Leeks, onions and tomatoes might be best grown from seedlings.
  • For both seed sowing or planting divide your class into smaller groups and one group can sow seed while the other does something else, and then swap over. This makes it easier to explain and demonstrate the sowing process.seed-packets-2009
  • When sowing directly into the ground pay attention to the seed packet directions as to time of year and temperature of the soil etc. Larger seeds such as peas, beans and squash can be sown directly by the children. Smaller seeds are more fiddly and need constant moisture to germinate (so avoid dry spells or be prepared to water). Broadcasting seeds (randomly spreading across the ground) is useful for tiny seeds though you could add some fine sand into the seed mix and use this to sow more easily in rows. Get the children to help prepare the seed bed, rule out the area for sowing/ mark a row and evenly distribute the seed. You’ll probably need to thin out the growth from broadcast seeds – children’s small hands and fingers are great for this! Look at the seed packet for guidance on final spacing of the thinned crop.
  • When planting seedlings show children how to remove the plant from its pot (by gently tapping the bottom and squeezing the sides, not by pulling the stem!). Look at the roots – untangle them gently if they are bound together and place the plant gently in a prepared hole that’s larger than the plant’s roots. Gently pull soil over the roots and up to the stem, firming the soil gently around it. Check all the children’s planting to make sure they are all firmed in and water them in.
  • Potatoes should be grown from disease free tubers purchased from the local nursery, and possibly ‘chitted’ on a light windowsill if they are early varieties. They can be planted in trenches (ideally dug and filled with organic matter a few weeks ahead of planting –  this is usually around Easter time in the UK). Once placed in the trenches the soil is pulled over the top into a long mound (if planted in rows) – look at the information on planting depths and distances etc. that usually comes with the tubers.

Here’s a link to a video report compiled by students of Reepham High School and College, Norfolk which includes a piece about the School Garden at Cawston Primary School, focussing on their ‘plastic bottle greenhouse’- a great idea to promote recycling as well as a relatively cheap greenhouse! I’ve been supporting both Schools in their School gardening activities.

Sowing seed - especially the smallest kinds - can seem a bit fiddly even for little fingers!

Sowing seed – especially the smallest kinds – can seem a bit fiddly even for little fingers!

Harvesting and cooking

  • Harvesting crops needs careful planning. You will need to explain the different methods required for each crop (cut, dig or pick) and also talk about the importance of hygiene, as the crops are now turning into food for the plate. Think about weighing and recording the yields of different crops and so provide some records which can be used for comparison in the future.
  • Some crops can be left for the children to harvest at will and possibly also eat on the spot – tomatoes, broad beans and young peas being good examples.

    Harvesting what they've grown is a great thrill for children

    Harvesting what they’ve grown is a great thrill for children

  • When cutting greens give each child a set number of leaves to cut – that way you avoid over cutting which si wasteful if you only want enough for meal and you will also avoid cutting too much and damaging the plants capacity to produce new growth.
  • For root crops and potatoes the digging up is great fun – like finding buried treasure! Potatoes can be dug once the flowers  or leaves have faded – a hand fork could be useful to aid the process. Demonstrate the way to carefully search for the tubers and have a bowl nearby ready for them. They (and carrots etc.) should be scrubbed clean in a bucket of water before taking away for cooking.

    Weighing in- check on crop yields and record these for the future

    Weighing in- check on crop yields and record these for the future

  • Eating straight from the garden is a powerful and memorable activity and you should if at all possible build this into your schedule.
  • Always have a bowl of warm soapy water ready for the children to wash their hands, and have a couple of other buckets of clean water on hand for washing the vegetables, one for an inital scrub, the next for rinsing off. A few scrubbing brushes will be needed. and don’t forget to properly wash plates, cutlery etc. afer use.
  • Educate the children on where their food left overs should be put – ideally into your compost bin along with any paper plates and cups, shredded for good measure.child eating carrot
  • Think about simple cooking for what you harvest; either eat raw; use for salad or saute/stir fry a mixture of vegetables. Potatoes can be put into the school microwave or oven to enjoy in their jackets. use simple recipes that the children can cook themselves. perhaps after washing thinly cut some raw vegetables and have them with some home-made add ons like light oil and vinegar dressing or yoghurt-based dressing for dipping. think about creating a fire pit around which you can gather to cook and eat.
  • Encourage the children to serve each other and have sufficient seating available for everyone.
  • Enjoy the experience and listen to what the children say – and note it down for use later!

Here’s a video of a high profile harvesting and planting event– the White House Kitchen Garden and Michelle Obama planting the ‘Three Sisters’ with native American children

I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this series on School Gardening and that it’s been of some use. I’d be very interested to hear of your experiences, ideas and tips, so please use the comment box or email me directly (see ‘About me’ for details).

I’ll regularly report on my own School Gardening activity in this blog, so keep an eye out for special posts or my regular ‘Dear Walter’ letters which capture my gardening year at different times.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 6: Top tips for managing and maintaining your School Garden

Growing Children 5: Top tips for School Garden activities

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays - if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You can grow things that can be harvested before the summer holidays – if you start early enough and with the right varieties

You’ve got a functioning School Garden and it’s going well. How do you keep it that way? Today’s post looks at top tips for managing and maintaining your School Garden.

Managing the children

  • Model behaviour in the garden – children need to be encouraged to be calm, watchful, focused, attentive and interested. Encourage reflective learning as children undertake informal activities in the garden – eg picking flowers for the school reception.
  • Mentoring – encourage children to act as mentors to younger, less experienced colleagues and perhaps have others with key responsibilities in the garden, e.g. for tool issue, checking and gathering. This will encourage learning – and reduce the work required of the Garden Coordinator!
  • Divide whole classes into smaller groups to allow for more in depth learning on more complex tasks and to avoid children tripping over each other in particular parts of the garden
Jobs like building 'bug hotels' and laying paths are best left to 'Garden Gang' days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Jobs like building ‘bug hotels’ and laying paths are best left to ‘Garden Gang’ days when you can get a good level of adult support for a few hours

Managing the garden

  • Be prepared – set aside time for planning gardening sessions. Use a robust book in which to plan and record lessons and reflect on what happened.
  • Make sure children take notes and regularly write up what they have been doing and learning in the garden, and encourage them to take ownership of it by contributing to its planning and management
  • ‘Garden gangs’ – schedule longer sessions of a few hours when parents and other volunteers as well as children can come in and do more substantial tasks in the garden – path or pergola building, greenhouse construction etc.
  • Look out for bargains or second hand tools and equipment – a local ‘freecycle” website or similar could be worth a look.
Taking notes

Taking notes and helping to plan for next year…

Maintenance

  • Make ‘rainmakers’ out of yoghurt or juice bottles – cut off the necks and make holes in the bottom. These can be filled from larger buckets of water around the garden and then used to mimic the gentle effect of rain. This avoids the dangers of over watering the plants (and the children!)  if watering cans or hoses are used. As plants mature you can use other, larger plastic bottles (with the bottoms removed and the necks plunged into the ground alongside the plant) – these can be filled with water (from watering cans) to get water to the plant’s roots.
  • Keep clean – have a suitable boot scraper/brush and mat outside the school, to avoid bringing mud into the building and havea suitable place to store boots (maybe on a trolley).
  • Plan for summer –  either grow things that can be harvested before the holidays (and replace these with a mulch or grow a ‘green manure’ to both cover and feed the soil); arrange special summer holiday activities which can also enable basic garden maintenance to be done, or arrange a schedule of parents and others who can come in over the holidays and water, weed etc. Perhaps get people committed to this at an end of term event or meeting. And you could use a combination of all three approaches!
  • Maintain a record of parent/ community skills and assets (diggers, power equipment, trailers etc.) which can contribute to the garden at different times.
Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Have somewhere children can wipe their feet off and store boots

Generating support

  • Give presentations at parent events and especially those for reception children, whose parents might be new to the school.
  • Ask for donations – unused tools or materials, or funding for specific items like a wheelbarrow.
  • Celebrate – have a spring garden party or other events during the year to celebrate your achievements and generate further support.

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

    Ask for unused tools and equipment for the School

The final post in this series will look at ways of involving children in planting and nurturing the School Garden and what to do at harvest time, including cooking in the garden.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 5: Top tips for School Garden activities

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

teaching gardeningMy previous posts in this series have covered the process of getting a School gardening project going, designing and constructing your plot and developing it into a valuable part of the school and wider community. The final three posts provides a few tips as the ‘icing on the cake’, the sort of things you can consider once your project has well and truly established itself as a key local resource. Today some tips on activities, an area that is likely to grow in importance if, as is proposed, gardening is to be added to the UK National Curriculum for schools in 2014.

Organising school gardening activities

  • Carve out a place in the School where you can keep all the folders, binders, books and other supporting information you need to plan and run your garden. This could be in a classroom, the library, the office or ideally in the Garden shed where they will be easily accessible.
  • Develop and keep up to date a weekly schedule of how the garden will be used. Once time slots are set for particular classes or groups, encourage parents to come in to help with their child’s session. Keep parents up to date with the schedule so that they know when their children will need to bring in appropriate clothing and footwear.
  • Invest in a Garden Organiser book –  a notebook for lesson planning, reflecting on the way a particular session went,notes etc. You can start to sketch out lesson plans after discussions with teachers and begin thinking about the organisation of the sessions in the garden, what resources and people you’ll need etc. Ideally get a robust, week by week format to help you plan ahead.

    How to sow seeds is a basic gardening skill that all children need to learn

    How to sow seeds is a basic gardening skill that all children need to learn

  • Make sure all the children are trained in basic gardening skills – digging, sowing, planting, weeding, watering, harvesting and, if you’re extending activities into using the food you produce, cooking! These basic skills can be programmed over the different terms of the year/phases of the growing season. So, digging over the soil and preparing it can be done in the Autumn/ Winter/ Spring, sowing seed in Spring, planting out late Spring/early Summer, weeding in the Spring and Summer, harvesting in the Summer/Autumn etc. Make sure you include a session on tools – what is used for what task, how to use and carry them safely and keeping them clean and well maintained.
  • Recording children’s comments –  listen to what they say to each other and you/ teachers and record these as insights into their understanding and learning. They can also be useful in fund-raising campaigns, evaluation reports – and they are often hilarious!

    Create a 'digging pit' for filling gaps and honing skills

    Training children in basic tasks – like soil preparation – can be hard work, if the boy on the right’s expression is anything to go by! So try to introduce an element of fun through competitions.

  • Make garden maintenance tasks into competitions and they can be both a lesson and fun for the children. For example, ‘Who can collect the most slugs and nails?’, ‘Who can collect the longest weed?’
  • Create an outdoor kitchen and cooking kit – if you’re looking to cook your produce on site you can collect together a supply of plates, cutlery, cooking utensils, gas burner etc. in a waterproof storage bin in the garden for when you need them at harvest time.
  • Be a model for recycling – the garden is a great place to teach the importance of reuse and recycling and to avoid sending more waste to landfill. For example, avoid using plastic pots and trays if possible, but if you, look after them so that they have the maximum useful lifetime. Collect old newspaper to add to your compost or worm bin. Re use old plastic lunch containers for collecting bugs/ pests. Use broken ceramic cups and plates to create a mosaic on a wall or as a cemented path surfacing. If you have to buy in compost, make sure that it’s peat free.
Cooking in the garden can be as simple as shredding/cutting food to eat raw or with a tasty dressing

Cooking in the garden can be as simple as shredding/cutting food to eat raw or with a tasty dressing

Ideas for activities

(details can be found in How to grow a School Garden‘ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books)

Autumn

  • Seed saving – using tomatoes, sunflowers or other plants to harvest seed and save it for next year
  • Look lively–  helping children to observe how animals and plants interact and understand what humans, pants and animals need for survival and record their ideas
  • Stem, root, leaf or fruit?– identify and classify the different parts of different plants that we eat
Saving sunflower seeds is easy

Saving sunflower seeds is easy

Winter

  • Post code seeds – children select a variety of seeds to order based on the climate, food crop and taste preferences
  • Habitat riddles – developing an understanding of how physical conditions affect plant and animal life within a habitat
  • Introduction to worm composting – learning about worm anatomy, the abilities of worms to aerate soil and assist decomposition, and how to care for worms.

Spring

  • Land scarcity – illustrating the scarcity of land to grow food and clothing by using an apple to represent the earth and cutting away portions that can’t be used for different reasons.
  • Graphing plant growth – creating a graph that records bean growth throughout the season
  • Interviewing local farmers –  gaining a sense of local farming activity, where food comes from and the sort of work that farmers do.

The whole year

  • Garden scavenger hunt – observing and exploring the garden by asking children to find different things, eg an aquatic habitat
  • Pollution soup – understanding how human activities cause runoff pollution from roads and other hard surfaces, affect river water quality – by using a large jar of clean water and adding different types of pollutant to it.

    'Pollution Soup' - kits are available

    ‘Pollution Soup’ – kits are available

There are plenty of other ideas for activities available on some of the websites mentioned below. Here’s a link for activities for younger children. In my penultimate post I’ll be looking at top tips for managing and maintaining the School Garden.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 4: AAA rated School Garden in Seven Steps

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Devon Country Gardener magazine articles on School Gardening

September activity planning in a Canadian School

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

Nature Study helps to extend the use of your garden and encourages children to explore habitats beyond the School

Nature Study helps to extend the use of your garden and encourages children to explore habitats beyond the School

Previous posts on school gardening have looked at laying the foundations of a School Garden project, designing your garden and getting the project off the ground. This post looks at how to develop your garden so that it becomes a key resource for the School and wider community.

1. Get into the curriculum

Don’t relegate your garden to just an ‘extra curricular’ activity or club – though these are useful as ways of enhancing the core purpose of your garden: to support children’s learning as part of the school’s curriculum (see 3 below). It might be wise to focus initial garden activity on one or two year groups/classes, so you get the most interested teachers involved (and maybe on your steering group). You can experiment and understand what is working and what isn’t. Once they’ve seen the garden in operation others, including less enthusiastic teachers, will want to get in on the action! Some countries (especially the USA, where School Gardening seems to be well established) have comprehensive curriculum guides for school gardening which link into the wider curriculum of the School.

The recently released draft National Curriculum for UK Schools features children growing plants in the primary years, so this may well give a boost to school gardening and curriculum plans and ideas may follow.There are also some useful guides which enable some basic skills and knowledge to be covered in your gardening activities from some of the national campaigns, especially the Royal Horticultural Society’s ‘Campaign for School Gardening’  and Garden Organic’s work for the ‘Food for Life’ Partnership.

The school could focus on a theme or topic for a number of weeks (say a half term) and weave the School Garden into this work, which could build on work started off in the classroom. As an example my own local school is focusing on ‘Fairy tales’ this half term and so children are getting involved in sowing turnips and beans with links to specific stories. This approach can also work well for specific science topics like ‘insects and animals’, ‘seeds and germination’ or ‘planting and the seasons’.

Don’t forget the importance of basic gardening skills too – I ‘ve been delivering some sessions on tool safety, use and cleanliness linked into preparing the soil and sowing etc.

It’s also a good idea to keep a lesson plan book to record what has been taught and the results in terms of what did and didn’t work, to aid future planning – it’s important to keep making adjustments and small changes to sessions to keep them interesting, new and relevant.

Basic gardening skills, like how to carry tools safely, are an essential part of the curriculum

Basic gardening skills, like how to carry tools safely, are an essential part of the curriculum

2. Leadership

As the use of the Garden grows, so will the need for a dedicated person to coordinate and manage it – the ‘Garden Coordinator’ or equivalent. This role is a bit like the School Librarian in that they link with all classes as they come into and out of the garden, helping them to make the most of this important resource (and also making some tasty withdrawals at harvest time!). The role is also important in contributing to discussions about the curriculum and ways in which the garden can be used as a key resource for the school’s programme of learning. The Garden Coordinator may well start off as a volunteer, but in due course it may be necessary to make this a paid position. As suggested in a previous post, the ongoing funding required to support this could come from the School Budget, but more likely it will be found (at least in part) from the Parents’/Friends’ Association and possibly supplemented through regular fundraising activities. Another important job for the Garden Coordinator is to facilitate annual evaluations of the garden. Devise a simple but systematic evaluation questionnaire for staff,volunteers and others to complete so that you can reflect and use the information to plan ahead.

3. Go beyond the formal curriculum

The garden should first and foremost be used as part of the school curriculum, but don’t ignore opportunities to deepen its contribution to learning. For example it can be a great place to begin to understand about the local ecosystem and specific habitats – ‘Nature Study’. It’s important to use unexpected opportunities to deepen and enrich the learning going on – e.g. the arrival of a particular insect or animal in the garden or children pulling flowers apart looking for developing seeds. A good way of getting children to strengthen their writing and observational skills is for them to fill out a ‘Garden Diary’ after each visit ro record what they’ve done and seen and any wider lessons learned. These records (probably best to invest in some robust folders that can withstand outside use) can provide a wonderful presentation of achievement over the year and serve to underline the important role the garden plays in school life.

4. Manage your Garden

The Garden Coordinator is the focus for how the garden functions, guiding the different classes in the tasks needed at different times of the year to keep the garden looking good and working well. With their Steering Group/ Committee, they can also organise a few days when more intensive effort is needed and the wider community (especially parents and staff) can get involved. These ‘Garden Gang’ days or their equivalent are the opportunity to get big jobs done – e.g laying paths, constructing glasshouses and sheds, digging over beds, clearing ponds and so on. The Garden Coordinator will also need to produce a weekly schedule of which classes are using the garden and what they will be doing, plus the staff and other support that will be available. Initially children’s excitement at being in the garden will make for a bit of a roller coaster as they are easily distracted by any novel or unusual thing they see, or touch, or smell (I recently had some ‘interesting’ if not unexpected reactions to handling manure for example!). Whilst it is important to try and use these opportunities creatively, the Garden Coordinator and supporting staff should strive towards getting classes into a quiet, focused way of working so that they eventually arrive in the garden, prepare and get on with what they need to do in increasingly ‘self-directed’ mode (especially older children). Some ideas for helping to bring this about include:

  • Dividing the class into manageable groups (say of 6 or 7 for primary years) – this will enable two or more different activities to be rotated around the groups either within a session or from week to week.

  • ‘Digging pit’ – it might be an idea to have a separate space/bed where nothing is grown but where ‘idle hands’ can be directed to dig over the ground –  good for digging practice if nothing else!

  • Recruit parent volunteers  – as well as teachers and learning support assistants it could be useful to get some additional help from willing parents. Make the most of their skills and expertise (as they will probably be interested and knowledgeable gardeners) and if warranted organise a rota so that they come in and work regularly with particular classes or groups. The Garden Coordinator can reach out to parents of reception class children who may be new to the school and are keen to make a positive contribution to their child’s learning. This additional help will make it easier to conduct garden sessions and make for a richer experience for the children (and adults too!).

Children love to dig- set aside an area for digging, to use those idle moments and hone skills!

Children love to dig- set aside an area for digging, to use those idle moments and hone skills!

5. Promote your Garden

So you’ve got the garden underway and you might be feeling pleased with what you’ve achieved. But don’t ‘rest on your laurels’ as the garden will need continuous promotion if you are to retain and increase interest and involvement by the school and wider community. The children are your best advocates – if they’ve enjoyed a session in the garden they’ll mention it at home and so inform and possibly engage parents. Other ideas to try:

  • write a monthly newsletter/ blog or/and contribute to regular School newsletters

  • publish recipes using garden vegetables growing in the garden

  • send home notes abotu what’s been happening in the School Garden and possibly advice for home gardening in a weekly folder

  • arrange an interview with a local newspaper, radio or TV station

  • take over (after asking of course!) a centrally located notice board and pin up student work and photos

  • have a garden party!

Hold a Garden Party to celebrate and promote your plot

Hold a Garden Party to celebrate and promote your plot

6. Broaden the base

Once the basic programmes are in place you can think about how the garden can contribute to the school more generally and also the wider community:

  • A School Gardening Club in which parents are encouraged to join in?

  • Linking with other schools and having visits to/from your garden with activities to encourage students getting to know each other?

  • Several schools sharing an allotment so helping to spread out the workload and resulting in a wider range of food being grown?

  • Use the garden to inspire and present art projects?

  • Poetry competitions based on the garden?

  • A garden reading session where children take out library books and read these in the garden?

  • A science fair focused on the garden?

And think about ways to get students and teachers to broaden their horizons – perhaps explore the ecosystem in the wider area and different types of habitat like riverside, woodland, coastal marshes etc. Teachers can also be encouraged to take part in environmental education training programmes  and so on, including those provided by Garden Organic.

Get your own composting project going

Get your own composting project going

7. Healthy practices

Finally it’s important to develop a set of healthy practices in the garden which will not only benefit it but also lead to important lessons that students and others can take into the future. For example:

  • Wildlife – welcome insects and other ‘critters’ into the garden and use organic or physical means to control them if they get out hand. Good methods include home-made anti-fungal sprays (using garlic and mineral oil), insecticidal soap made from liquid soap (not detergent) and water in a spray bottle,  ‘beer traps’ and ‘wildlife friendly’ pellets or other controls to reduce slugs and snails. And be prepared to tolerate some untidiness and ‘less than perfect’ veg!

  • Soil – use organic principles to develop a healthy soil; never dig it if it’s wet or frosted; find a good source of organic matter to add to the soil a couple of times a year (make your own compost, get donations of horse or farmyard manure); nurture the organisms in the soil by ensuring that it is never too dry – a mulch will help; once a good soil has been built up try not to dig it or turn it over (unless it’s very heavy of course)- just layering compost/manure and adding mulch (‘no till’ or ‘lasagna gardening’) is less work and is kinder to the insects and other animals working your soil; use cover crops to keep the soil protected over winter and possibly add fertiliser (‘green manure’); set up and actively manage a compost project in the garden ( in the UK possibly seek help from a ‘Master Composter to get you going) – or alternatively set up a worm (or vermi) composting project which is less intensive than traditional compost – making.

  • Plants – use organic plant foods such as ‘Fish, blood and bone’ or make your own ‘compost tea’ in bag of used compost mixed with water or using plants such as Comfrey or nettles steeped in water for a few weeks.

What's your favourite tipple? Beer traps are effective at controlling slugs and snails

What’s your favourite tipple? Beer traps are effective at controlling slugs and snails

Hopefully, these tips will help to set your School Garden on a fun, effective and healthy course.  In my final post I’ll try to point up some good ideas to enrich and expand your School Gardening programme further – a sort of ‘Master Class’ for school gardening.

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 3: Seven tips for creating your dream School Garden

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Source & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Garden Organic support for schools

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

 

School gardening - old style!

School gardening – old style!

Previous posts in this series about School Gardening have set out some ideas for starting up and designing your school garden project. Having got some foundations in place and a design that’s ready to go, how do you put it into practice? Here are seven tips for creating your dream School Garden.

1. Phasing – so you have ambitious ideas for the design and use of your garden, but perhaps you might be trying to bite off a little too much at once? Think about the levels of volunteer help, promises of materials and cash to hand and tailor your plans accordingly. Sure, strive for your dream, but maybe tackle it in manageable chunks. You can think about parts of the garden that need creating first – say the paths and basic border/bed layout. Add on’s like an orchard or pond could come later? It might be useful to spread these elements  over a few years, perhaps identifying a major project for each year which can focus fundraising and community effort and help to keep the energy and momentum up when enthusiasm wanes.

Children digging in

Children digging in

2. Digging in – the first practical day of activity – or ‘groundbreaking’ – is an important event. Make sure it’s both productive and fun. You want to encourage children and the wider community to become committed and involved in the long term. It’s probably best to get any heavy work that involves earth moving or bigger construction done before the official launch day to avoid too many people, machinery and activities on it at once. This will also help to ensure that your main community effort can leave the launch event feeling that they’ve really contributed something worthwhile. Planning for the launch day is important too – think about and order the tools and materials you’ll need and where these should be placed to ensure safe and efficient working.

Local businesses can be involved in creating the garden

Local businesses can be involved in creating the garden

3. Community input communicate your plans, both short and longer term, to the school and wider community so that you get boots on the ground for your  ‘Groundbreaking’ event. Plan and organise the various tasks that need doing on the day and have people who can lead groups of volunteers on each activity. Put someone in charge of allocating volunteers to the different tasks as they turn up – a sort of triage. Having a range of tasks available is useful to cope with children and adults with different types and levels of skill (and strength) – tree planting, raised bed construction, soil shifting, path making etc.  Maybe you can get extra help from local companies or organisations to add importance as well as ‘muscle’ to the day – how about your local fire station (even better if they can bring along a fire engine) or give a local firm a chance to promote themselves and give something to the community?

For the day itself perhaps have a novel twist that will grab local media interest – could you include a competition for children to see who can create the best signs or pictures of the new garden, and perhaps something fun for adults – the best dressed gardener?! Plan ahead for further workdays or ‘Garden Gang’ events – identify the key tasks that need doing and as with your launch event make sure you organ ise your volunteers effectively on the day, with all the materials and tools needed to hand. Possibly cultivate local business input so that specific skills you need can be brought in – e.g,. a local nursery helping with pruning fruit trees, landscapers/builders willing to help install fencing, etc. In some parts of the UK the ‘Mastergardener’ and ‘Mastercomposter’ programmes are able to offer voluntary support to schools and the community to grow their own food.

Tools will need to be repaired or replaced

Tools will need to be repaired or replaced

4. Money managing – you may have enough cash and other resources for your launch day, but it’s also wise to think longer term and consider the ongoing costs and expenses that will need to be funded once the garden is up and running. A key issue is the ‘Garden Coordinator’ or lead person. Is she/he a willing volunteer or do you need to find some means of payment, either as member of staff or a small ‘honorarium’ to recognise the regular commitment that will be needed? You’ll also need funds to repair and replace tools (some will inevitably get lost). So have a small fund dedicated to this, though it may be in the first year or two this can be quite small.

Odd items of infrastructure will also need to be replaced, repaired or acquired as the use of the garden develops; e.g. shelving for the greenhouse, tables for potting, and the ongoing supply of compost, grit or whatever else your particular garden needs to keep it operating. All of these ongoing costs need to be budgeted for and ideally a source of funding identified so that major fundraising efforts can be focused on more significant projects. The School Budget may be a source of this funding, but it’s likely that you’ll need to call on the Parents’/Friends’ Association, local charities, company sponsorship etc. to meet at least some of the ongoing expenses.

5. Fundraising – if you’ve decided to phase your project then you’ll need to plan ahead for the funding and other ‘in kind’ support you’ll need to achieve the later elements of the garden. So some sort of fundraising effort is likely to be required on an ongoing basis and it might be sensible to put someone in charge of this, ideally someone with the skills to put together applications for funding to public/ charitable sources as well as ongoing campaigns that can focus on raising cash via the school and local community – local lottery games and fundraising events (quizzes, fireworks, cake sales) for example. Could you also ask parents to make an annual donation to the garden?

Steering Group meetings are essential

Steering Group meetings are essential

6. Steering the project – by now the real movers and shakers behind your project should have identified themselves and these people need to be nurtured into your active committee/steering group for the Garden. Regular, focused meetings to discuss progress and plans will be needed, but avoid these becoming too formal and bureaucratic. You need to ensure that those giving their time to the project feel that they are contributing and are valued, so make your meetings pleasant social events as well as efficient at tackling the business – side of things. It’s also important to keep the garden relevant to the curriculum, so regularly review how it’s being or could be used to enhance the learning at the school and possibly encourage teachers and others to develop their skills through training or attending specific workshops on school gardening.

Plant and produce sales can raise cash for the garden and celebrate its achievements

Plant and produce sales can raise cash for the garden and celebrate its achievements

7. Celebrate – not only should your launch or groundbreaking event be a celebration of what’s been achieved and what’s planned, but it’s important to regularly celebrate the garden as key milestones are reached. Providing food and drink on events is one way of oiling the wheels and making events an enjoyable community gathering (especially if parents and the community don’t have many other opportunities to get together locally). Keeping local media interested in your project is also important as reporting in local newspapers, radio, tv and increasingly the internet all affirm the value of the project. As they say ‘nothing succeeds like success’!

The School website or blog could have regular posts about activity in the garden (maybe you’ll need someone to take responsibility for this aspect of things) and regular email updates to publicise events and fundraising are a must. ‘Sending a note home’ with a child is perhaps notoriously unreliable as a way of communicating with parents, so maybe think of more novel ways of getting the message across – a stall to sell plants and produce from the Garden and present infotrmation about it’s achievements at the School summer fair, or displays  of children’s work in the School which can be seen at parent’s evenings and other events, for example.

So by now the garden should be well into ‘start up’ mode and will be the talk of the School and local area! In the next post in this series I’ll be offering some advice on good practices for developing your School Garden into an effective learning and community resource.

Let's get gardening!

Let’s get gardening!

Other posts in the series:

Growing Children 2: Seven Design tips for your School Garden

Growing Children 1: School Garden start up in Seven Steps

School Gardening – reconnecting children and Nature

Sources & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

School garden fundraising

Old School Gardener

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school gdn headerIn part one of this series of posts I outlined a few tips on getting your School Garden project up and running. If you’ve got the key people on board, identified what the overall aims and objectives of the project are and hopefully secured some start-up funding and promises of help, it’s time to get serious about the design of your Garden. Here are seven ideas to help you…

1. Who will be using your space and what are their needs? It’s important to think about the range of users and why they’ll want to use your garden. Yes, children, but what numbers and ages? During the school day or afterwards? Will parents or the wider community want to get involved? And just what sorts of activities will your garden need to support: growing food, outdoor play, studying nature, formal lessons (in some sort of shelter?) etc.? It’s important to list these and start to see what they suggest in terms of the overall layout of different areas, spaces, structures etc

2. Survey and appraise your site– you may have your area already defined by walls, fences, hedges etc. or perhaps you’re confined to an area of the playgrround. In any event it’s important to accurately measure out the plot. From these measurements you can create a scale drawing (say 1cm = 1 metre) and any key features that are likely to remain – e.g water taps; significant slopes; trees; hedges; types of soil (you can see if it needs improving and what the pH is by using a simple test kit); the way the site lies (in relation to sun, wind, prevailing rainfall etc.) and how the site is accessed. It’s also worth checking on the current maintenance regime and who’s responsible for this (e.g. if you’re thinking of taking over an area of sports field that is regularly mown).

A gathering place like this shelter is probably important

A gathering place like this shelter is probably important

3. Think about basic needs:

  • Sunlight- ideally you’ll have a space which is open to sun at most times of the day, but use your survey information to identify the sunniest and shadiest spots and start to think about what to place in these
  • Shelter – from strong, cold winds and midday sun – look at boundaries and think about growing hedges , using fences (ideally with gaps to allow slowed wind to pass through) or putting in wind breaks of mesh material. Do you need some trees or an awning to provide a sun shade?
  • Water – either from a tap or through adequate outdoor harvesting of rainwater from sheds, glasshouses, or possibly school buildings
  • Pathways –  to get around the various areas. These need to be wide enough and of a surface and gradient that a wheelchair – user can negotiate without too much effort
  • Good soil – if you’re removing asphalt, the soil underneath is likely to need radical improvement or possibly overlain with imported topsoil. In most situations you’ll need to get organic matter – compost, manure, leafmould– to improve it over time
  • Fencing or another suitable boundary – to keep younger children in and intruders out . You could grow a hedge and whilst this gets established, on one side try a chain link or similar fence which in due course can be removed leaving you the wonderful sight and wildlife value of the hedge
  • Plants– what are you intending to grow? Each type will have different needs – are you envisaging growing under glass/polythene, if so space for a glasshouse/polytunnel will be needed. Do you envisage some sort of wildlife pond, if so this will need a suitable range of plants and may need a secure boundary
  • A gathering area – where groups/classes can be instructed or shown a task. This can be outside and informal (e.g. getting an annual supply of straw bales is a good cheap way of providing seating)  or enclosed within a shelter
  • Storage– a good tool shed, which if large enough can possibly double up for seed sowing/potting up, or alternatively a separate shelter/structure for this if that’s something you envisage doing in your garden
  • Tools and equipment – these will vary according to what you are growing and the size of your plot (and your children), but here’s a guide. Tools:  gloves– enough for everyone who’s gardening at any one time; trowels and hand forks or hand cultivators (enough for half a full class – say 15) ; a mix of adult and child – sized spades, digging/border forks, rakes, hoes (3 or 4 of each); wheelbarrows (probably at least 3); Secateurs, loppers, pruning saws, brooms (1 or 2 of each); watering cans – a couple should do, you can make home made ‘plant showers’ out of plastic tubs with holes in the bottom. Equipment: clipboards (one each for a full class); stationery supplies – paper, pencils, crayons, markers, glue, string, tape, scissors and a First Aid Kit! Also, if you plan to sow and grow your own plants you’ll need a range of other equipment like seed trays etc.
Get some child -sized tools

Get some child -sized tools

4. Get the children involved (and your wider support group) – you will by now have a good idea about what could be in the garden and you need to share these ideas and discuss others with the children who’ll be using the space and those key adults (teachers, parents etc.) who will also want to feel the project is theirs. You can devise some fun ways of engaging these people, perhaps involving n a loose outline drawing of the plot and your first ideas in pictorial form (e.g photos cut out from magazines), from where children can be asked to draw/write/otherwise think about and convey their ideas and wants for their garden (I can guarantee someone will want a swimming pool!). This will generate interest and ownership of the project.

Raised beds, narrow enough to allow access to the centre without walking on the soil

Raised beds, narrow enough to allow access to the centre without walking on the soil

 

 

5. Options for planting –  depending on what you want to grow and the space you have available I guess you’ll either be planting in containers (pots, planters and all sorts of quirky planters too), open beds (which have their edges cut into the surrounding ground, often grass) or raised beds– these are edged with boards or other timber and so help to define the growing areas (especially for food crops). If the sides are about 20cms high they can be used to contain additions of manure/compost from year to year as you build up the soil’s goodness and structure. Raised beds can be to varying heights to cater for different ages of children, but ideally they need to be narrow enough to be tilled from the surrounding pathways so that feet don’t trample and compress the growing areas.  Rectangular beds are probably the most efficient shape. These beds can be constructed using pressure – treated timber or alternatively there are several places where ‘ready to assemble’ kits can be purchased. If you want to avoid too much digging of the soil (this can be detrimental to its structure) you can just lay a covering of organic material over the beds each year (taking note of the requirements of different groups of plant if growing food) and lightly fork this top-dressing in as you begin the growing season.

How about a plastic bottle greenhouse?

How about a plastic bottle greenhouse?

6. Go beyond basic needs– it’s important to focus on basic needs in developing your designs, but if we just stick to the functional requirements, we will miss an important opportunity to make the School Garden exciting, fun and an experience for all the senses!  So, think about growing herbs and other plants which have differing fragrances, leaf textures, colours and are in other ways interesting – tall grasses that catch the sunlight and bend in the wind for example, or Stachys (‘Lambs’ Ears’), which has wonderful velvety leaves, Lavender for that midsummer heady smell! Likewise Sunflowers are a wonderful example of the power of nature as they shoot up to enormous heights and beauty starting from little seeds that the children can sow themselves. Similarly, children can get involved in producing signs for different parts of the garden, another way to make them feel that this is their garden and make it look funky too!

A simple scale model heps to convey your design

A simple scale model helps to convey your design

7. Consult on an outline plan – once you’ve taken all of the above into account you can firm up your plans on paper and maybe even produce a simple 3D cardboard/ scrap model of how your garden could look! Models are especially useful for getting children (and adults) to imagine just what features there are and what the layout will look like.  This could go on display at the School for a week or two and you can invite people to put their views on sticky notes nearby so that everyone can see who’s saying what. Gather these up and then  with your committee/support team work out those which should be incorporated into the scheme.

By the end of this process you should have a clear, accurate design plan on paper that everyone is signed up to and which is ready to rock!

In Part 3 of this series I’ll share some thoughts on constructing your School Garden and especially the day you ‘ground break’.

Sources & Further information:

How to grow a School Garden’ – Arden Bucklin-Spooner and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books

School Gardening Club- ideas

Budding Gardeners- lots of advice and info

Garden planner tool

Planning your school garden

Food & Agriculture Organisation School Garden Planner

California School Garden Network Guide to School Gardening

School Gardening Wizard

Old School Gardener

If you’ve enjoyed reading this post and others on this blog, why not comment and join others by signing up for automatic updates via email (see side bar, above right ) or through an RSS feed (see top of page)?

sowing seeds The case for gardening in schools has perhaps never been stronger – it encourages exercise and healthy eating and helps to ensure that children ‘reconnect with nature’ – as discussed in the initial post on school gardening.

Today, in the first of a series of posts on the practical steps to creating a successful School Garden, I’m looking at how to get your project up and running.

Where do you start? How do you build up the momentum that’ll be needed to turn your dreams into  reality? How can you get the resources you need to get it off the ground? Here are 7 steps to help get your school gardening project off the starting blocks.

1. Do your homework- check out the internet for advice and ideas about school garden learning and explore other school gardens in your area. This research will help you to firm up your ideas and think about how you might present them. Talk to those involved in the school gardens you visit – their advice and experience is priceless. And they might even offer to help you get started!

2. Make the Case – so how do you get the key people on your side? If you’re a volunteer, float your idea with one or more teachers who you think might be sympathetic and explore the idea a bit further (if you’re a teacher speak with your colleagues and sound out some parents). Once you’ve firmed up your initial thoughts, it’s time to get the Head teacher on board. You need to have a clear outline of what the project is going to achieve and how it could benefit the school’s approach to learning in general (including curriculum links if possible) and ‘learning outside the classroom’ in particular – so think ‘outdoor classroom’ and use this key phrase in your plans. Your outline should ideally include a suggested location for the garden, rough design,timescale and how the garden will be established and looked after. It might also be an idea to say how you think progress will be monitored and reported. If you are able to convice a number of teachers, governors, parents and friends of the School, so much the better.

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

Hedge planting- put some natural boundaries around your garden with community effort!

3. Build a team – you  will not create the garden alone, even less ensure its effective ongoing use. You need to build a team around the project which can do the many things needed. A committee/ steering group/ project team of some sort needs to be set up and at this stage. It will be important to get all the key interests in the project involved; later on your committee structure might be slimmed down as individual roles start to pan out and inevitably some people lose interest. So who should you target? Keep an eye out for parents who can bring particular skills, assets (mini diggers!) or contacts to the project  – these might be builders, gardeners, landscapers, forestry workers, publicists or funding bid writers and so on. Establishing a broad and varied support base at this stage will set the project on a positive course. Hold formal meetings to develop your project but also use the web to communicate. Don’t forget to ask the Head, teachers and governors to be on the committee – their involvement at this stage is important, but may reduce once the project is flying!

4. Think ahead – as the project develops it will become clear what the real goals will be and the main lines of action you’ll need to take to achieve these. Being clear, concise and friendly will help to communicate the project effectively. At the same time, be patient – it’s natural to want to launch right into construction works, but it will take time for your project to evolve and the learning opportunities to be firmed up, which will in turn have a bearing on your design, layout, routine etc. So it’s important to have detailed discussions with the teachers who will make use of their ‘outdoor classroom’. This discussion may take anything from a few months to a year.

picture- RHS

picture- RHS

5. ‘Quick wins’ to promote your cause – whilst it will take time to clarify your overall objectives and start to firm up your design, you can keep up the momentum and start to generate wider interest. Plan activities which will test out some ideas and generate interest ; e.g. can you start to grow things in containers around the school and get children involved in cultivating flowers or food in these? A little project starting with seed sowing in the classroom and eventually seeing mature plants placed outside will demonstrate what can be achieved and get the children on board.

6. Check possible barriers to progress and get permissions – check out whether your outline design has implications for the school’s utilities or the way it operates,  and if you need them get permissions in principle before going much further with your design work. For example, a reliable source of water nearby is an important if not vital consideration – will this be possible from existing outside taps/ rainwater harvesting or do you need to get another connection installed? Will this be acceptable to the school?

7. Secure the start-up resources – once you have a clear, albeit outline, view of your project and the design of the garden, it’s time to firm up what resources you’ll need to get the project established and get commitments for these. Some of these can be ‘promises’ of help from well skilled/equipped parents or friends of the school. But you’ll probably need some start up cash – to purchase materials, tools, seed etc.  Sources internal to the school can be approached – the school budget if possible, but more likely a Parents/ Friends Association. Then you can explore outside sources including local charities as well as national programmes like the Big Lottery.

Once you have a strong team around you, a clear plan with the start up resources you need and a growing awareness and support from the school and wider community, it’s time to get serious! In the next post on School Gardening I share some tips about planning and designing your new space for growing children!

Source: ‘How to grow a School Garden- a Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers’- Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle, Timber Press Books 2010

Useful websites:

Garden Organic support for Schools

RHS Campaign for School Gardening

RHS young gardener of the year 2013

Learning outside the classroom- manifesto

Learning through landscapes

Setting up and running a school garden- UN Food and Agriculture organisation

Morrisons ‘Let’s Grow’

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a 'Garden Gang' event last Saturday

Cawston Primary School Garden following work by a ‘Garden Gang’ event last Saturday

Old School Gardener

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