Young Gardeners: Pushing the boundaries
By: Web Editor
The pupils of John Whitgift Academy in Grimsby have come to enjoy their time tending their kitchen garden under the watchful eye of tutor John Cavill. This year they are trying some new growing techniques.
Well it’s been an interesting time at John Whitgift Academy this month (I’m writing this in mid-May). In 18 months of running the kitchen garden project, this is the first month we have ever been rained off, which does go to show just how heavy the rain has been. So what have we been up to? Well we have done lots of weed pulling in the beds and around the concrete area where the garden is situated.
We have been painting the raised beds and refreshing them a little and it was the students’ idea that we move two of the raised beds out of the shade to the full sun at the back of the garden. After moving the beds back, the students took immediate advantage and planted things in them.
One of the first jobs this month was to sort out and take a look at the collection of seeds that we had been given. Mrs Ritchie, who is one of the college directors, last year ran an after-school gardening club and so had collected quite a large amount of seeds of all types including many flower seeds. So the students have added this collection to the large collection of sponsored seeds from DT Brown, Jungle Seeds and others. This took quite a while to sort out but of course this is another way of raising the students’ awareness of what they have and the potential of what they may be able to grow.
One thing that the students have asked to do this year is experiment with what goes where. They would like to write their names in carrots, grow things together to see if they influence each other, and generally mix the planting up a little. For me teaching them is great; I love to do things in the garden that are not considered the norm and here is an excellent opportunity.
Experimenting with plant mixes
So to start the ball rolling with what to plant with something else, Molly and Sam planted nine of the donated DT Brown strawberry plants in one of the lower beds. Then after searching through the previously sorted seeds they came across fennel. This is something we hadn’t considered growing before and after I told them to open the packet of seeds and to sniff them, they were intrigued.
Molly is always unsure when I ask her to do something after eating hot mustard leaves last year, so being asked to ‘sniff’ seeds made her a little nervous again. They planted three seeds in holes in and around the strawberries and as they were sowing they asked whether the strawberries would taste of aniseed or if the fennel would taste of strawberries. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.
Wheat field and our own bread
I was attending a sustainable schools exhibition at the Lincolnshire Showground recently and bumped into an award-winning master baker (Pete Welbourne) who was demonstrating how easy it can be to make bread using a small oven at the show. This gave me an idea. I spoke to Pete and he has put me in touch with a company called Openfield Ltd, which supplies Warburtons and Sainsbury’s and is going to give us enough corn for 100sq m of our very own wheat field. Then if we are successful in growing the wheat, harvesting it and grinding it into flour, Pete will come to the school and show us how to bake the bread.
We will be posting everything we do in relation to the wheat field on my website (see panel on p67). If we can help other schools do the same as us, then we will be proud to show you just how we have done it.
American Indian bed
This is a mixture of sweetcorn, runner beans and squashes. The American Indians realised the advantages of growing them together and called them the three sisters. The sweetcorn acts as a support for the beans and the squashes cover the ground and prevent the soil from drying out. They also smother weeds.
I have had many emails asking how to make the three sisters bed, so over the next two months we are going to show you how we make ours, then hopefully you can follow our progress.
We chose our largest bed that was kindly sponsored by WoodBlocx. It had been used to grow a green manure crop of mustard over the winter and this was more than ready for harvesting in late spring. Once the mustard had been chopped and dug into the bed we were ready to get soil preparation under way as described below.
To prepare our three sisters bed we simply made five humps of soil (these ensure that the pumpkins that will be planted into them will not become waterlogged); a row of two humps and another of three, in a staggered pattern. The soil to make the humps was simply taken from the existing soil in the bed and heaped up. The students raked the rest of the bed and patted down the soil humps to aid with settling as they didn’t want to get things planted only to find that the soil had settled away from the roots. The squashes were planted on the humps as soon as it had settled fully. We will then be planting sweetcorn between the humps and finally the runner beans will be planted around the sweetcorn, eventually using it as a support.
Applying soil fungi
We are pleased to have a new sponsor for our project, Plant Works, which makes a product called Rootgrow, a mixture of mycorrhizal fungi that’s being produced in the UK. Now I must admit to never having heard of this before but now I have read all about it I am very excited and so are the students. The fungi is something that’s existed for about 460 million years and it works by encouraging a secondary root system from your plants. The fungi depends on the plant for its survival and helps it to collect the nutrients it needs. In return the plant provides the fungi with carbon and sugar and this bond between the two is known as symbiosis. Sometimes plants need years to develop a good root structure and this is something that Rootgrow can do in a matter of months.
So we will use Rootgrow with all of our fruit and vegetables except brassicas and let you know how we get on. We are now itching to get our hands on our friendly fungi and to start using it in all that we grow. The company is also sending us a box of goodies including a mini meadow mix of plants that attract bees, bugs and butterflies that we will also put to great use.
John Whitgift Academy garden project
At John Whitgift Academy the Inspiring Communities Government Fund made it possible for the school to team up with John Cavill to design and build the garden and help educate the children through gardening. It aims to lift the aspirations of all the children in the school through learning outdoors.
Follow progress each month in KG and you can also log on to John Cavill’s website at www.simplygardening.co.uk/whitgift.html to view the latest information.
If you have a school project you’d like us to feature in KG simply contact editor Steve Ott at firstname.lastname@example.org
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