The summer fair
Here’s a picture of our stall at the school’s summer fair. We decided to show off what we’ve been growing this year, and sell a few things while we
were at it.
The older children, Year 6s who are going to secondary school next term, put up the display and took it in turns to run the ‘shop’. They saw it as a kind of reward for supporting the gardening club, and have been looking forward to it for weeks.
When some of the younger students found out about this, they complained that they weren’t involved. But their grumbles on the day did not come to much, with too many distractions at the tombola and bric-a-brac stall. Nothing like a dog-eared teddy to take your mind off things.
For sale, we had basil in pots (£1.10 each and a snip compared to the garden centre and supermarket, which unlike our stuff is not organically grown). There were geraniums that we had raised from plug plants bought in the spring. And garlic, too, sold as three bulbs plaited together.
At first, I had wondered what we would do if there were no takers. Would we drop our prices as the afternoon wore on? Wander around the playground trying to give the stuff away, as punters preferred a flutter at the tombola to any of our bargains?
I needn’t have worried though. In the event, we sold out in no time. Which just left the vegetables we had picked for showing off, among them potatoes, spinach, carrots, chard and salad. These we put into two wooden crates scavenged from the greengrocer’s and got the headmaster to auction hem at the end of the day. As the smell of hot dogs and beefburgers drifted across the playground, the two gorgeous looking veg boxes sold for £5 each. A huge bargain for the lucky takers. A big thrill for gardening club too.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Maybe the recent heat has gone to the children’s heads. How else to explain all the students at gardening club claiming to like spinach? And chard. Green stuff that would not normally be allowed on their plates, let alone get anywhere near their mouths.
We have been doing a lot of harvesting recently. Last week, it was garlic, which is now in the polytunnel drying, and the strawberry crop has provided some nice grazing for the past few sessions. But this week it was the turn of the potatoes, ruby chard that was threatening to bolt, and our perpetual spinach — and the children were going to take their veg home. We divided up the potatoes into 11 equal piles, one for each child that had turned up, and threw in a couple of onions for good measure — always useful to the cook of the house.
But although there was a good pile of greens, it would not stretch to 11 decent portions. But not to worry, I thought. I was sure some of the children would not want it anyway.
So I asked who liked spinach, expecting only a few takers and many more grimaces. Instead, everyone put up their hands shouting me, me, me. What about chard, I said? Again, the same enthusiastic reply.
Now I like to think that growing stuff might mean you are more likely to try eating it. But no way was I convinced that every single student had come around to the idea of eating their greens. And I also knew that two sisters had recently fed some gardening club courgettes to their pet giant snails. But what to do? I had to be fair. So 11 sorry looking helpings of chard or spinach it had to be.
The children were delighted and went off back to class with their spoils. What would their parents think, I wondered. I mean, would they bother with a few leaves that would cook down to nothing when they were trying to cater for a whole family? Or would that organically grown spinach and chard end up in the pet guinea pigs? And, in one case at least, some giant snails.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Two weeks is a long time in the summer garden. Half term has been and gone, and I didn’t make it to gardening club the week before, so while I have been slacking the weeds have been busy. No question, then, what we would be doing this week.
But weeding that was once a joy for many of the students (see previous blogs), has become a trickier exercise now. This is because the make-up of gardening club has been getting younger over the past month or so, and a group that once represented all ages in the school, is now largely made up of year ones and year twos. The older children that could be relied on to spot the difference between beetroot and bindweed have been distracted by Sats tests and the school play. Perhaps some have been poached by other activities (I’m OK about this, I really am). It means the young ones that are left (and numbers seem to be growing by the week) need close supervision.
So we start off in a huddle (not all of us: one group is off looking for the worm they ‘rescued’ from the soil at last gardening club; another is watering the spuds) and I show them what needs to be done. This is a difficult bed we are working on because there are carrots, beetroot, onions, garlic and a couple of potatoes all growing together, so there’s potential for costly mistakes. Still, most of the children, seem to understand what needs to be done, and soon I’m off to help elsewhere.
More basil seeds are sown in pots and a few of us earth up the potatoes, gently mounding soil over the young shoots. This helps to keep light off the tubers and stop them going green. The watering is going well, with one child guarding the hose and filling up watering cans so it doesn’t get out of hand.
And how’s the weeding? Back to the bed in question where the carrots have survived the tidy up, and a few potatoes have been ‘discovered’.
But what’s this? G standing in the middle of the bed with a trowel in her hand. Around her an area now free from weeds. And under her feet the remains of a trampled onion patch.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Last year, I built four more raised beds, doubling the number we had at gardening club. The idea was that the new beds could be adopted by the four classes that make up our small school, one each. I hoped that this would involve teachers and more students in growing, and that it would help to bring gardening and the outdoors into curriculum time — rather than treating it as a bolt-on to the normal school day.
I had some success, and all the beds were planted by the middle of the summer term, after the distraction of Sats tests was over. I did, however, get the impression it was another burden on willing, yet busy, teachers. So
a year on, with the controversial Sats preoccupying many of the staff, I am not surprised that only the bed belonging to the Year 1 and Reception class has been planted again.
This is not going to turn into a moan about Sats (I’ll leave the arguments to the experts) or a whinge about the staff (they have enough on their plates). The truth is that I’m quite relieved there are three beds going
begging. Once again, we have got carried away with our seed sowing in the polytunnel, and there are too many baby plants coming through for the space we have at gardening club. Plus, we have just received a delivery of dozens of young ‘plug’ plants from our old friends at Rocket Gardens, who specialise in ready-made veg gardens by post.
So sorry Class 2, 3 and 4, we’re requisitioning your plots. Needs must. You probably won’t notice until Sats are over. And, with your beds now full of promising young vegetable plants instead of a rag tag of weeds, I suspect
you might be relieved.
Dominic Murphy’s book The Playground Potting Shed: A Foolproof Guide to Gardening with Children, is published by Guardian Books, priced £12.99. To order a copy, visit guardianbooks.co.uk or call 0870 606 4232.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Foul and Fair
Just when we were getting used to the hot weather, it’s turned rainy and cold. But gardening club is gathering its summer term momentum, so half-a-dozen children braved the showers. This is an ideal number because we can squeeze into the polytunnel and get some more seeds planted.
We sowed some French beans and I brought in some old loo rolls for the purpose. Once the beans are big enough in a few weeks, and there is no longer risk of frost, we can bung them straight into the ground. The loo rolls got a giggle from the children, too.
I have half an idea that we can do a display at the summer fair in mid June, and maybe sell some stuff. The few times we have managed to sell salad leaf at the school gate, the children have loved it. I’m thinking basil will go down a treat with the summer fair punters, so today we sowed
this into a dozen or so pots. The pots are big enough so the seedlings can stay put and not have to be potted on (basil has a tap root that doesn’t respond well to disturbance). Fingers crossed, they will germinate well and be big enough to sell in June. ‘Just like those herbs in the supermarket,’
I say to the children. They look transfixed. Or bewildered.
I hope we’ll have some spuds by then and the cabbage (hurrah!) will be massive. If we get rid of this bad weather, the garlic will be ready, too. We’ll pull up a few onions, providing they’re not looking too pathetic. But what else?
Better get going with some more lettuce and salad. What would we do without you?Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Glorious sunshine on our first gardening club of the summer term, and we’re still putting in spuds that we didn’t get in before Easter, squeezing them between the dying daffodils that were planted on a whim last autumn.
Daffodils seemed like a good idea at the time, and we had some vague notion that there would be enough for the children to take home a bunch for Easter. But come the end of last term with the Easter break approaching, the bloom rate per child was a mere two or three. Of course, I could pat myself on the back and say that’s because of high numbers at gardening club, so there were more students to share the crop. Or the moral might be that daffs had no place in our raised beds. Whatever: picking them hardly seemed worth it.
This week, we sowed beetroot, too — straight into the ground instead of starting them off indoors like last year. The advantage of this is that beetroot don’t like to be moved, so will not have to undergo the trauma of planting them out when they are seedlings.
Last summer, I was cruelly reminded of this fact. The gardening club had sown our beetroot indoors in the spring term, to give them a head start, before planting them out. However, some weeks later, when the weather was warmer, the Year 1 class had sown their seeds straight into the earth of their own raised bed.
Guess whose beetroot fared better? Year 1’s — shoved into the ground as seeds and more or less ignored afterwards — thrived. Ours — sown inside the comfort of the polytunnel, loved, watched over and transplanted outdoors only when the weather got better —always struggled and gave us a pitiful crop of marbled-sized roots.
So with this year’s later sowing at gardening club, we risk the beetroot not being ready at all by the end of term. But firstly, we’re only after golf-ball sized vegetables that are sweeter and much better to eat than their fibrous late-season equivalent: we don’t want our crop growing so
big. Secondly, if Year 1’s efforts are anything to go by, we have nothing at all to worry about.
Finally, we started gardening club this week – I meant to get going after the half term break but somehow that didn’t happen.
It’s a time to take stock and do some planning for the weeks ahead. This year, we might try leaving some crops in the ground over the summer holidays, for example – I’m thinking leeks, but please get in touch with any other suggestions. As always we would like to have the bulk of our cropping done by the end of summer term in July.
I would also like to work towards a gardening club display at the summer fair in June: perhaps we can sell some basil plants and show off a few of the things we have grown.
But dreaming aside, what of the present? The garlic is thriving in one of our raised beds; the onions beside it have fared less well, but a decent amount has survived winter. I don’t suppose many of the children will be excited at the prospect of eating these crops, but they’ll love it when we come to pick them.
This week we sowed some early carrots (‘Early Nantes’) in the gaps around the onions. I know, I know – I’ve said before that our heavy soil is not the best for carrots, but I live in hope.
And the cabbages that I’ve recently come to treasure (see blog of 29/9/08)?
They made it through the winter, the netting above them keeping the pigeons away. But with the recent mild spell, the slugs are back, the cabbage leaves displaying their tell-tale holes. So we weeded around the plants, as you do at this time of year, fed them with a seaweed feed and topped up the homemade slug traps (see blog of 31/10/08). To judge from the gooey mollusc remains inside them — which the children find both repellent and fascinating at the same time — they have been doing their job.
This time though, the bait is sugar and water, not expensive cider. I don’t like wasting a good drink on such pests – and we are in a recession.
Last week, I wrote about our late gamble with winter salad. Just seven days later, and three of our eight containers have germinated already (the rocket and mixed salad leaves, since you ask). It’s not quite the jackpot, but so much better than I hoped, and just the thing to engage the children. Now, even though it’s got a lot colder, I’m tempted to plant some more.
There is less promising news from the cabbage bed (see September’s blog), where caterpillars, slugs and, I suspect, pigeons have combined to make a sorry sight. There are now many skeletons where once stood young brassicas, and most remaining plants are sporting the colander look, their leaves riddled with holes, their lives hanging by a thread.
It seems too cold for caterpillars, and there is no sign of them on the plants, which just leaves the birds and slugs. I wrote a bit about slugs last term, but not about the best design for a beer trap. Often these are badly designed which means they don’t work properly, killing useful creatures and filling up with rainwater, too.
The best beer trap is made from a plastic container with a lid, say a pot of margarine or hummous. First, cut out sections at regular intervals around the rim so that the top resembles the crenellations, or battlements, on a castle. The holes you have made should be big enough to fit a slug. Now fill up the container as far as the lip of the battlements, put on the lid and bury the the whole thing slightly in the ground, making sure the bottom of the battlements are raised above the soil surface. This design should mean that no inquisitive frogs should fall in the top, while nice insects like ground beetles will not wander in at the sides. You don’t have to stick to beer: any sweet liquid, such as a solution of jam and water, is supposed to work, and I have been successful with cider (usually cheaper than beer).
For the pigeons, we have put up netting, stretched tightly over bamboo canes that have been planted around the sides of the bed. To deter the birds further and avoid them getting caught in the nets, old CDs are suspended on string across the middle.
And all this for a bed of cabbage.
Dominic Murphy’s book The Playground Potting Shed: A Foolproof Guide to Gardening with Children is published by Guardian Books, priced £12.99. To order your copy for £10.99, visit guardianbooks.co.uk or call 0870 606 4232.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Sometimes at gardening club, everything gels perfectly — the weather, the jobs, the sense of achievement from our brief, Tuesday lunchtimes together. That happened this week when we planted our onions. It had rained the previous day, but the clouds disappeared right on cue. A bed had already been cleared, so we could start planting straight away. But best of all — and this is rare — the group really pulled together.
Often, when there are large turnouts like this one (there must have been at least 15 of us — a lot to control in the garden, believe me) I find myself flitting around different groups of friends, trying to keep some interested, and others out of trouble.
Normally, then, such encounters are chaotic (mildy so, most of the time, but complete anarchy when it is muddy). It is only when a handful turn up and we work as one unit that you could ever call us organised.
But this year, some of the older children in gardening club have been with me right from the start. As well as knowing the ropes, they are now in the top of the school, wearing Senior Pupil badges and keen to show off their authority. Why not, I thought, put this new status to the test?
So I asked a couple of them to take charge of planting our onion bulbs (known as ‘sets’). This is a popular way to grow onions because it is so much easier than raising them from seed. And some varieties (we used ‘Radar’) can be planted in autumn, for earlier harvesting the following year.
I got things going by pegging out rows and explaining to the children how deep the sets should go (the depth of a thumb, about a trowel head apart). Then I left them to it, one girl supervising the planting itself, another handing out the bulbs to a queue of younger children waiting their turn.
I won’t know how well it worked until the sets send up their shoots, but it was a liberating feeling, and hopefully for the children, about as interesting as planting onions can get. I have a new watchword for gardening club this autumn term. Delegation.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)
Early September, and there is still much you can do in the vegetable garden. That’s if the weather lets you. Our new term at gardening club got off to a bumpy start because of heavy rain, and it was not until the middle of the month that it was dry enough for our first meet.
I was impressed by the turnout, however: lots of new recruits from years one and two, and a few from higher up the school There were familiar faces from last term, too. But the favourable numbers only made me more anxious that what I planned would not interest them. A six-week holiday (for which read ‘neglect’) had left our raised beds in need of a good weeding — and weeding, I reckoned, would hardly get pulses racing. There were no vegetables to pick or dig up (the slugs had got the beans and the pumpkins left from last term), no time to sow any seeds if we were going to clear some space. These children were getting the boring stuff before the fun: like having to clean out the rabbit hutch before you can cuddle your new bunny, or wash up before you can eat your fish and chips.
I reckoned wrong. The children got stuck in, ripping away dead cornflowers and sow thistles, and in 45 minutes, we cleared two beds. Admittedly, the soil got trampled and a lot of roots got left in the ground, but it was a start. The following week, I simply arrived a little earlier to give me time to get one of the beds into shape, and we were ready to plant.
But what to put in? I have never been excited by growing cabbage. It is always cheap to buy in the shops, and I probably have some lingering prejudice against it that goes back to soggy school dinners (I should add that having learned to cook it properly, I now enjoy eating it). But at this time of year, when the growing season is as good as over and gardeners are looking to fill that bare patch of earth, young cabbage plants (or ‘plugs’) take on a different hue. No longer are they the dull staples of the vegetable world, but an OPTION.
So I bought some plugs from our local garden centre, and we have planted a whole bed of these brassicas, criss-crossing it with string to keep pigeons off. I am watching out for other pests, too, as the warm weather over the last week has brought out the cabbage white butterfly, whose caterpillars would soon trash our new planting. And I am trying not to think about slugs, who did so much damage to our garden last term. Soon, they will be gone for the winter and our new babies will be relatively safe. I never thought I’d feel so strongly about cabbages, but here’s hoping they make it through to that day.Filed under live projects | Comment (0)