Tag Archive: school garden

Thanks to a new wave of Year 12 volunteers, two very kind parents (Mr Fox and Mr Southgate), Mr Crick and his construction group, Mrs Brook and her ‘Care of the Countryside group’, Roy the horse poo man, Mike and Keith and Whitwell Railway station, Malcolm at Reepham Hardware store, the wisdom and help of Mr Nigel Boldero, the kind donations of unwanted garden tools from staff, students and parents, Mr Ernie Adams and the site team and, of course, our regular Saturday volunteers, the winter work is now very nearly at end down at the allotment site. Without these people, the Allotment Project would not be developing as quick and with so much dedication and devotion for a third year since February 2015.

The raised beds
We have made some major improvements to the raised beds. Due to the fact the water table is very shallow and often causing us some flooding issues, we have had to make the raised beds even higher. On our largest raised bed we used a technique borrowed from the ‘permaculture’ gardener Sepp Holzer whereby we buried dead branches and leaves under top soil. This not only aides drainage but it will create long lasting nutrients as this organic matter rots away over time.

r1Just before the start of the February half-term, and thanks to Whitwell Railway Station, we used more kindly donated railway sleepers to heighten two other small raised beds. Again, this means we will be growing crops well above the water table and we will be able to create our own new fertile soil that it not clay based (the allotment site mainly sits on clay).

r2The soak away/rainwater catcher/harvester
In an effort to be super green and sustainable we continue to work towards supplying the allotment site with its own water supply by catching rainwater from surface runoff. Thanks to Mrs Brook’s ‘Care of the Countryside’ group, Mr Crick’s construction group, Mr Southgate’s brick donations and of course the Year 12 volunteers who dug the whole another metre deeper, we now have a much more soundly made and reliable soak away area to harvest rainwater. This water will soon be pumped out using a simple solar powered pump into our two 1000 litre containers.r3

The polytunnel
Everything has been reorganised in the polytunnel and everything is now ready for the new growing season. There are two new raised beds, using old wooden pallets, to hopefully grow tomatoes again for a second time. These new raised beds mean we no longer have to buy and use grow bags as the tomato plants will have all they need from the soil we have created for them.

r7The fruit cage
The Year 12 volunteers have improved the inside and outside of the fruit cage. Many thanks to Mr Southgate for donated unwanted bricks which we used to make a new path so the strawberries don’t get trampled on! The ceiling of the fruit cage was also raised so volunteers no longer have to crouch!

r9Other pathways
As we are getting more volunteers it was only sensible and practical to improve access to the allotment site. Thanks to the College Enrichment group a new path has been built using old broken bricks (thanks again Mr Southgate) as a drainage layer and paving slabs kindly donated by Mr Raggett. This means no more muddy and slippery paths in and out of the allotment.

r10Compost and horse manure
In an effort to be even more sustainable and green, we have started to create our own compost area. This is made using green waste from the allotment and leaves kindly gathered by the site team and the contractors Countrywide. Old straw bales, food waste/tea bags from the staff room/canteen and those who fly-tip the countryside have also all been composted. Thanks to Roy (the horse poo man) from Reepham Rotary Club we have been well supplied with ancient horse manure that is fantastic for growing our produce in. Thanks a million Roy.

r11r12Chicken coop
Hopefully by March we will have a small brood of chickens down at the allotment site. All preparations are being made to build the chicken coop on a limited budget. Most of this will be paid for by the East of England Coop token scheme which is currently operating in Briston and Melton Constable Coop stores. Thanks to Callum Pell who kindly donated a disused and battered old children’s playhouse. Thanks mainly to Mr Fox, this playhouse has been reassembled and will soon to become a new chicken house for the chickens to live in and lay their eggs. Molly Brown (Year 12) has taken the lead on this mini-project and has organised obtaining some hens for us. We intend to sell these eggs to the school canteen for them to use in their cooking.

Spring 2017
Spring will be here soon which means will we will start sowing and propagating seeds in order to plant in our raised beds. Thanks to Solana (a local potato seed company) we have secured a great many seed potatoes that we will be planting in March when they arrive. In other news, we were approach by the company Adnams who run a ‘Food for Thought’ scheme. If we had decided to join up, it would have meant that Adnams would buy our produce and use it in their restaurants over East Anglia. They could have also given us £1000 on top of the money given in payment for our produce. After some careful thought, and an open discussion with our regular volunteers and others, it was decided that this would undermine the whole purpose of the Allotment Project. Food should be grown locally and for the local community nor should it have to travel hundreds/thousands of miles to get to us. This should be the message for the children to understand. Food production should be both sustainable and environmentally friendly. In time we are planning that more and more food can be sold to the school canteen. It would be amazing, maybe one day, if we could provide all food products for the school canteen. This remains a dream.

r15Thank you very much for taking the time to read this update. If you would like to help out one lunchtime for the younger volunteers I would be extremely grateful. I hope that this year, now that we are getting more and more established, there can be a shared responsibility amongst other staff to help run the Allotment Project. One person ‘running the show’ is not sustainable. There will be another seasonal update in the summer.
Thank you again for taking the time to read about the ‘goings on’ down at the Allotment Project.

Matt Willer
Staff volunteer at RHSC’s Allotment Project


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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