Tag Archive: nurture


Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

Oriental poppies can be sheared hard after flowering.

If May is the busiest gardening month, June is the month of nurture and bringing the garden to its midsummer best. You’ve made those sowings and now’s the time to plant out, protect and pamper. Here are my top ten tips for activity this month. I hope they’re useful.

1. Keep on mulching

Apply loose organic mulches to the soil now to keep it moist and deter weed growth. Choose a mulch to suit the situation, and apply it when the soil is wet and weed free. A mulch can also improve the visual appearance of a bed, and will act as a safe habitat for all sorts of beneficial creatures, such as centipedes and beetles, that eat slugs and other pests. You can use wood chips after they’ve been left for a year, so that when you put them on the soil they don’t rob it of nitrogen as they decompose. Or sow a ‘green manure’ cover crop on any bare ground. Buckwheat, phacelia, mustard and fenugreek are quick growing green manures that can be sown now. They’ll help to improve the ground, suppress weeds, make a good ground cover for beetles and other predators and, if you let them flower, buckwheat and phacelia are very attractive to bees – and people.

Wood chip mulch (as long as it's at leas ta year old) can be a good mulch to add around planst to conserve moisture and add goodness

Wood chips (as long as they’re at least a year old) can be a good mulch to add around plants to conserve moisture and add goodness

2. Fruit fooling 

Put netting over ripening soft fruit to keep the birds from getting it before you do. A special fruit cage is great, but a temporary structure covered with netting will do just as well. Strawberries should be forming and ripening fast and other soft fruits are coming on stream (though with the mild winter this all may be a couple of weeks earlier this year).  The fruitlets on fruit trees should be swelling. I’ve noticed another good show of blossom on most of my fruit trees this year, as last, and with no frost to speak of, the plum in particular seems to be developing a lot of fruit, so hopefully we’ll have a bumper harvest. Once the fruitlets are visible they can be thinned on apples, pears, plums and other tree fruit – and gooseberries too. This is vital if the ‘set’ has been good to ensure good sized fruit.

It’s also time to start summer pruning trained fruit like plums and cherries as well as trees or bushes. For trees and bushes, after getting rid of dead, diseased or dying branches try to encourage an open, wine goblet shape. Take out strong vertical growth or crossing branches to reduce the weight of the branches and congestion – a maximum of about 10-20% of living material can be removed. Keep watering fruit trees and bushes as much as you can, even after it has rained. Continue to harvest Rhubarb into July. Harvest the stalks with a gentle ‘twist and pull’ motion, rather than cutting them.

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

Simple net cages can help to protect fruit and veg from birds and butterflies

3. Veg and herbs

Earlier sowings of vegetables should be growing well now, with some early harvests possible towards the end of the month. I’ve yet to have my first pickings of autumn sown Broad Beans, but they’re on the way! Small, first pickings of the season are always particularly tasty. Don’t wait until everything is fully grown before you start to harvest. Also, if your first sowings and plantings have failed or are looking weak there is still time to sow some more. Runner beans should be in the ground and need to be encouraged to climb up their supports. They twist the other way from most other beans – clockwise when viewed from above.

Keep an eye on Brassica crops, such as cabbages, sprouts and calabrese, which are favourites with many pests, from aphids and whitefly to pigeons and rabbits – net these with a fine gauge mesh for reliable protection and remove insects by hand or water spray. Plant out pots of basil and other tender herbs.  Snails seem to love basil, so use plenty of deterrents and controls round new plants. You can also keep Basil indoors, on a sunny windowsill for larger, lusher leaves.

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

Encourage runner beans to twist around their supports

4. Weeds 

Hoe regularly to keep weeds under control. Keep the blade sharp and hoe when seedlings are small and in dry weather for the best results. Dig out bindweed on sight! This perennial weed hates disturbance, so as long as you can dig it out as soon as it sprouts, it will eventually give up. However, rockeries and shrubberies are difficult. Unless you lift everything out and dig the area over you won’t succeed. Mulching with a durable light-excluding material can work here. But there must be no light, and no holes. The bindweed must be completely smothered.

Create a ‘ Weed End Bag’  – this is a way ofrecycling’ pernicious weeds, such as bindweed, which you shouldn’t add straight to the compost heap. Stuff the plants into a black plastic sack or an old potting compost bag. Leave in an out-of-the-way corner until it all becomes sludge, then you can compost it.

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

Hoeing regularly makes weed control so much easier

5.  Steady as she goes

Finish off all top-dressing, staking and pruning tasks in the ornamental garden that may not have been completed last month. Cut back spring-flowering clematis this month, and cut down daffodil and other spring bulb foliage now. If possible add a slow release fertiliser (e.g. Fish, Blood and Bone) to feed the bulbs that you’re leaving in the ground – otherwise dig up the bulbs and store in a dry place (important if your soil is heavy and tends to retain moisture which will rot the bulbs left in). Tidy up spring-flowering shrubs now if necessary, by cutting out one third of the old wood to encourage strong new shoots. Forsythia can be hard cut to strong new shoots to encourage new growth that will flower next year. I’ve yet to do this, and the likes of Weigela, Deutzia and Kolkwitzia will also need doing soon, once they’ve finished flowering.

Cut oriental poppies back hard after flowering (mine are later this year, just coming into flower) – ideally, there should be something planted alongside to take over the space (e.g. hardy fuchsias). Deadheading many flowers as they go over this month can result in a second flowering, in particular this is worth doing for your hardy and half-hardy annuals, to ensure their one and only season lasts as long as possible. Perennials will also benefit – for example, later in the month Lupins and Delphiniums can be deadheaded to encourage a second flowering later in the summer.

6. Flower planting 

Fill any gaps in your borders with annual bedding plants. Water them regularly, particularly in drier weather and in the days after planting. Watering in hotter months is always better done in the morning or evening, to avoid scorching plants in the heat of the day. Sow biennials such as Wallflowers and Foxgloves for next year. If you are short of space these will be perfectly happy in pots in a sheltered spot until the autumn when they can then be planted in their final positions (though Wallflowers seem to do best in open ground). Water pots and baskets daily – even when it’s raining! Plants are growing vigorously and June sun can be very strong, so watering twice a day is sometimes necessary.

Phacelia is a 'green manure' and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

Phacelia is a ‘green manure’ and its flowers are a great source of food for bees

 

7. Greenhouse care 

Temperatures in greenhouses and conservatories will (hopefully) soar this month. Even a couple of days will be enough to cook plants. Ventilation and shading is essential. If you’re going away and have no helpful neighbour, put plants outside, or leave the greenhouse door wide open. Standing a bucket of water in the greenhouse will help to maintain humidity.

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you're going on holiday

Keep newly planted veg well watered- an automatic seep hose system is great if you’re going on holiday

8. Green, green grass of home 

Lawns don’t need watering. Grass may not look at its best in a drought, but it is a great survivor and will come back again when it rains. Unless you have newly laid turf to water in, leave the lawn to look after itself. Don’t mow the grass too short. Cutting height should be about 2.5cm/1” for the summer. If possible, rake before you mow. This lifts weeds up so that the mower blades catch them.

9. Trimming and growing 

Give Box and Yew hedges and topiary and bushes of Lonicera nitida a clip/trim, though, if like here, they seem to be well ahead this year, you might have already done this. Ideally do this on a dull, damp day to avoid the cut leaves of Box turning brown as they dry out in the sun. Give them a feed with a slow release fertiliser after clipping to help them recover. Repeat in September to keep topiary and hedges in a good shape over the winter. When trimming hedges, watch out for nesting birds. Some will still be feeding newly hatched chicks. Leave these areas alone for a few more weeks. June is a good month to take cuttings from some plants, and to save seed from others – early flowering plants, such as Aquilegia and Hellebores, will be setting seed from now on, though the Hellebores seem to have been early this year. If you collect Hellebore seeds before they form a hard seed coat, you can save yourself a lot of time and waiting. The seeds look black and shiny and are still slightly soft and wet. Sow these seeds immediately and they will germinate in a few days, instead of having to wait till the following spring. Take cuttings from hardy fuchsias and penstemons to grow more plants.

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on 'Derby Day' in the UK!

Give any Box topiary or hedges a trim this month- tradtionally done on ‘Derby Day’ in the UK!

10. Wildlife friendly 

As we head into summer, bear in mind any little garden visitors you may have. If possible, why not put out a little extra food for birds and also for hedgehogs – warm and overly dry weather can mean there’s a lot less natural food available for these animals. Remember to fill up any bird baths and feeders as often as you can, and consider leaving a small bowl of water out for the hedgehogs too. Contrary to popular myth, hedgehogs should not be fed bread and milk, but actually ordinary cat or dog food is good for them!

Oh, and one last thing- spare some time to sit and enjoy your garden as (hopefully) the warm days of summer arrive!

With thanks to Garden Organic

Old School Gardener

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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

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