The good soil

Make sure it’s fun, accessible and edible! Involve the children from the start in the whole cycle – planting, weeding, caring for plants, farming produce and harvesting seeds for next…

  1. Make sure it’s fun, accessible and edible! Involve the children from the start in the whole cycle – planting, weeding, caring for plants, farming produce and harvesting seeds for next season. Gardening, farming, cooking can all be integrated into the curriculum, for example, units of work on nutrition or the solar system. As well as a set period every week, have open sessions for keen small farmers; at lunchtimes, after school and at weekends. Give children responsibility for looking after the environment, for example, fixing broken fences, cleaning up after storms. Don’t worry about child-sized equipment or gloves (use barrier cream).
  2. Choose a sunny site; not just for the plants but also for the people working there. Make sure there’s easy access to water, and storage for tools and resources. Make sure it’s big enough for every child to play a part. Test the soil so you know how to make it productive. Use heirloom seeds and keep the best of the harvest for next year’s planting. Plant fruit and nut trees too and don’t forget to grow flowers for the joy of it.
  3. Invite parents and your local community to build up a skills-base and a family network. Start with a Big Dig day; volunteers go out into the community to dig gardens for free, and recipients donate their time in return. People love to help and lots of older people have a wealth of gardening knowledge to share – ask them to a workshop every second Saturday. Invite other schools and community gardens to share tools, produce, expertise. The wider the contribution the more enriching the programme; everyone brings different skills.
  4. There’ll be costs – both to set up and run. Plan early for fundraising and sponsorship; find out who and what’s available locally. Start with teachers, parents, the school board; find people, businesses and organisations willing to share time and skills. Ask local plant centres and building suppliers to donate pallets for compost bins, recycled fencing and landscaping materials, tools, seeds and plants.
  5. Think about engaging a gardener as coordinator to work 20 hours a week. They’ll plan soil preparation, planting and harvesting, source seeds and materials, and roster volunteers. It’s the behind-the-scenes work that ensures the maximum class-time benefit for the children.
  6. Think about who’ll look after the garden in the holidays. If your community’s already involved, gardeners will be available all year round to look after it and harvest ripe produce. As a back-up, have a watering system on a timer.
  7. Be resourceful! Use newspapers as a weed mat, or ripped up and added to compost. Get parents and the local supermarket to donate green waste for your compost – it’s cheap and sustainable gardening. Do invest in a worm farm – worm wee is an excellent fertilizer. Worms love banana skins, so encourage children to contribute their organic waste. Use bent wire and plastic or upended plastic bottles to create little greenhouses for seedlings.
  8. Eat from the garden. Make soup in winter, salad sandwiches and smoothies in summer. Rescued food can contribute to communal school lunches. Grow, harvest, prepare and eat together to share the garden’s bounty. Exchange and share excess produce with the community.
  9. Start every garden session with a bug hunt; keep slugs, snails and caterpillars at bay, and remember to include edible flowers and plants like lavender to encourage bees. Worm wee diluted with water, plus crushed chilli and garlic and a few drops of detergent, makes an excellent pest spray.
  10. Network, network, network – lots of schools have done it before you, so they’ll have plenty of ideas and advice.

Talk to your local council.

Thanks to: Garden to Table, Epuni School and Commonunity.