This term in the garden we have been preparing the raised beds on the field to create a more natural wildlife friendly space. We've started planting herbs like sage which has a long history of use in our food and health treatments. Soon we will plant lavender and chamomile.
In the small vegetable garden we have started planting herbs, broad beans, onions and cabbages. Lessons have explored the parts of the plant, planting techniques, preparing the ground and looking for mini beasts. It's been joy to work with these budding gardeners.
Faiths4Change have been commissioned annually to run the weekly school gardening club for a number of years. The gardening club is run after lunch on a Friday afternoon. We usually work with 2 groups of 6 – 8 children from year 2 & year 3 to enable all children to have a whole season of gardening. During 2019, the gardening club sessions ran from April through to the end of November.
The purpose of the gardening club is to connect the children with nature – link with Catholic social teaching, RE – inspiring awe and wonder, discovery of the natural world, providing them with an understanding of the importance of plants to humans and other species and to enable the children to understand that fresh fruit and vegetables is grown/produced from the earth. Gardening club activities offer hands on connection with classroom topics such as plant based science.
To help achieve this understanding some theory on the needs of plants, photosynthesis, structure of soils and how plants grow etc. is needed as part of the gardening club sessions. This is usually undertaken at the beginning of sessions, prior to practical work starting and revised each week.
The gardening club sessions were delivered by Annie Merry and the sessions were supported by year 2 & 3 Teaching Assistants and managerially by Kelly Nuttall (Year 2) and Alyson Rigby (Head Teacher).
The children attending the Busy Bees gardening club sessions during this growing season were initially from Year 2 (first half of summer term) and then Year 3. It’s always lovely for the Year 2 children to plant seeds and then see them grow & flourish, to then harvest the food and then compost the plants & save the seeds as they move into Year 3.
Spring was very cold and summer was rather wet, in comparison to 2018. Mostly this didn’t present us with too many problems, as most Fridays the weather was suitable. On the few occasions that it wasn’t, sessions were either cancelled or Annie undertook maintenance in the garden. During the summer holidays, watering sessions were few as they were not needed.
We had a simple arrangement with Jo the school chef previously, but when she left during 2019 to be replaced initially by a series of chefs our regular arrangement of leaving harvested food stored in the infant’s area staff room fridge until Monday morning didn’t work. However, children were happy to take harvested food home including potatoes & kale to enjoy with their families.
Children also planted early spring bulbs including Crocus, Snowdrops & Tete a Tete in pots to take home too.
All of our vegetables, herbs, flowers and fruit are grown organically and alongside companion plants to increase pollination, food for beneficial insects, to naturally deter pests, because it tastes better and we are stewards of God’s creation.
Year Round Food Growing
We had planted Swiss Chard plug plants in the 2 small raised wooden planters in the Wonderwall garden in winter 2018. It was ready to harvest when we returned to the garden in spring 2019.
We grow potatoes each year. They grow from a large seed which looks like a small ready grown potato, the seed is easy to handle and is hardy. Potatoes grow quickly and easily in our climate. The growing potato offers a good example for children to use to identify the different parts of the plant including the stem, leaves, flowers and (when dug up) the roots and the mother tuber.
The children always enjoy harvesting the potatoes, often remembering that they had planted a seed potato and sometimes remembering where they had planted it, and counting the number they dug up or unearthed with their hands (wearing gloves).
At the beginning of the gardening year and throughout the season when we are planting and harvesting seeds, we compare different seeds for size, colour and identify that seeds are full of energy that they need to grow into a healthy plant with the right conditions.
We identify what those conditions are and how we can help seeds to grow into healthy plants. These include;
Space for roots to grow – we ensure the soil is finely tilled / worked and identify worms that create pockets of air in the soil; we clear our growing areas of weeds (and identify weeds too).
Sunlight – for warmth and light which our seedlings absorb through their leaves
Food – we add old plants, plant tops, straw and other materials to our compost bin to provide food for mini beasts, fungi and bacteria which in turn make compost for us to dig out and add to our growing areas to provide food for our seedlings.
Water – we learn to sprinkle a little water on seeds we sow so as to activate the seed and moisten the soil.
We identify the different parts of plants, above and below soil level including flowers from which our strawberry, raspberry and currant fruits and some of our vegetables such as beans grow.
Companion Planting: Orange, Yellow & Red Flowerbed
This summer children planted red salvia and orange marigold plants into our orange and yellow flower bed which is usually just full of Calendula. The added colour looks attractive and also increases the available pollen and nectar available for bees, hover flies and other beneficial insects. We grow calendula as a companion plant, it provides a good source of seeds for collection, drying and sowing on in the autumn.
Collecting seeds to save for next season.
The children got really excited when they discovered that the calendula seeds they had planted, nurtured and watched grow into plants provided them with more seeds to sow when they began to die. They worked together to collect lots of seed from the Calendula flower heads in the orange, yellow & red flowers raised bed. They collected the Nasturtium seeds from the trailing plants growing in the tyre stacks by carefully looking underneath the plants to retrieve them. I took these away to dry out and brought them back in, we made and decorated seed packets and stored our saved seed in them in the autumn (see page…).
Tasting – raw & fresh
Most of the children are really keen to taste food from the garden including raw greens and edible flowers. This year children have tasted;
Nasturtium varieties – leaves and petals
Baby broad beans
Currants – red & black
Strawberries are popular fruits to eat; usually picked and washed and eaten in the garden. In spring children identified the flowers as the source of the growing fruit, noting that the fruits were green and hard when unripe. They put fresh straw around the plants and understood that the straw keeps the soil moist which helps the plant to grow and keeps the strawberry fruit off the soil reducing the risk of it being eaten by slugs and snails.
Children regularly checked the strawberry plants to see when the strawberry fruits had turned red and were ready to eat. The big strawberry bed gave us many, many delicious fruits again this year and also many more plant runners once the plants had fruited.
Learning that plant runners are new plants, gave children an insight into what plants do when they have finished flowering or fruiting – they reproduce to ensure survival; giving us new seeds or plants.
We spent some time over a few sessions identifying strawberry plant runners, learning where and how to cut them, firming them into compost in pots ready to be planted in a new location in spring 2020.
It’s likely that the new strawberry plants will be added to the three big raised beds on the field that we began planting strawberry runners into in 2019 to increase our strawberry crop.
Children cleared the straw from the bed at the end of the season and added this to our compost bin. The compost bin is often a source of interest as children like to have a look at the many creatures that live in the bin and break down our plant waste into compost.
Favourite Jobs & Experiences: Year 2 & 3
The children and I were really well supported as in previous years, by the enthusiastic and kind Year 2 & 3 Support Assistants. The children are always enthusiastic about all elements of the gardening group sessions but particularly enjoyed…
Uncovering the hedgehog offered us an opportunity to consider other creatures that use the garden, what their needs are and to discuss hibernation. Children from year 1 also popped out with their teacher to have a look at the hedgehog and make observations…
“I can see it breathing”
“How long will it sleep there?”
“Will it get hungry?”
We talked about hedgehog hibernation and noted that if the weather became mild the hedgehog might move home and find food to eat before hibernating again. Year 3 children enjoyed answering some of the year 1 children’s questions. Everyone enjoyed seeing the hedgehog.
Creating portraits using found materials in the garden
In late autumn the children used plant material, sticks & soil from the garden to create self-portraits. Each one was different and enabled children to reflect that each one of us is different but made in the image of God. We extended this concept to all other creatures, which made for much laughter and many questions.
We placed the completed self-portraits in the keyhole garden under the currant bushes to decompose naturally.
Making seed packets – we made origami seed packets reusing paper which had been printed on one side. The children made and decorated the seed packets in their own style, labelling them and then adding the dried calendula and nasturtium seeds they had collected from the orange, yellow and red flower bed previously.
Making, planting and harvesting anything from the garden to take home is always popular. Spring flowering bulbs are no exception and bring a little colour into children’s gardens, yards or outside window sills.
Chunky Jobs: Not for smaller hands
As much as possible children are encouraged to participate in a full range of garden activities including maintenance such as weeding, watering and adding compost. There are a few jobs that do need to be done by the gardener. This year those jobs have been;