From an educational point of view, if we want our schoolchildren to become involved in gardening, when they move on from school and college, would’nt it be a great idea to introduce them to the fundamentals of gardening, at an early stage. I am specifically talking of the basic initial awareness of how stuff grows, what is required to make a garden grow, how planting and watering is carried out and other elements of outdoor gardening, without getting technical or over-complicating the subject.
The idea of having raised bed gardens for schools is admirable, however, we are slightly constrained in that the summer holidays comes into the equation. If we do commence a gardening exercise, we will not see out the project to its conclusion, unfortunately. If you pardon the pun, I am simply implying that we ‘sow the seed’ in their heads and who knows, perhaps some of these schoolchildren will go on to do horticulture and gardening on a professional basis at university.
The short school growing season;
As we know, in the northern hemisphere, gardening commences from mid-March onwards and ends in or around Sept-Oct approx, depending on what we plant and grow and also what type of climate we experience. So if we begin planting and sowing a raised bed garden in schools anytime around March-April and bear in mind that the summer holidays will commence in June-July, we have a very short window in which to advise and teach the kids of how the great outdoor world of gardening works and operates.
To set up a series of raised beds for this purpose, need not be a hurdle or a barrier in attempting to get this exercise up and running. A basic rectangular structure, measuring approx 4ft X 8ft, would be sufficient and two or three of these raised beds will easily suffice for this project. It is just to give an overview in basic gardening and demonstrate what we can begin to plant as soon as spring arrives.
I am pretty sure that the teachers would love to teach the children, how plants and vegetables grow from seed and subsequently these seedlings are then planted on outside in the garden and become the fruit and vegetables that we eat on a daily basis. It would be a welcome distraction from a childrens’ point of view ( and teachers ), to get out of the classroom envoirnment for a few hours and have some fun outdoors, working and sowing some plants or veggies in a raised bed garden.
The foundation of this exercise can be started indoors, by potting up some seedling trays and then show the kids how to plant the seeds, water the trays afterwards and place on a sunny widow sill, greenhouse or patio area and then wait for those seeds to then germinate. This work could be easily started in Feb-Mar approx and by mid-mar onwards, these would now be ready for outdoor planting. This method will give seedlings a great start and they will have grown into baby plants in approx 4 weeks, thus standing a better chance of survival and go on to grow into real vegetables in a short period of time.
What to plant early in school;
In order to plant and harvest within the short school growing window, we are also rather limited in what our choices are, before the summer vacations begin. The vegetables that fall into this category are as follows, Spinach, Lettuce, Rocket and Spring Onions. There are others but these four will grow in a very short space of time and be ready to eat by May-June, providing we have favourable growing conditions. Even though we have only scratched the surface here, these basic lessons in sowing, planting, growing and harvesting of vegetables will give children a good insight into how gardening is done on a regular basis.
Other vegetable varieties like Carrots, Parsnips, Peas, Beans, Cucumbers, Cabbages etc, can all be planted around the same time, but would not be ready for harvesting until approx Sept. onwards. Unless we have a diligent and caring school-caretaker, who would commit to looking-after and tending to this garden, all of our good work would have been in vain, but that is an issue that can be solved on a local and school by school basis.
Fast growing varieties;
Whilst we covered above, the vegetables that stand a greater chance of being ready before the schoolterm summer break, there are a few other varieties of vegetables that are worth mentioning here and they too will also be ready for harvesting, albeit not entirely fully grown, they still can be picked and eaten before maturity. These are what we call in the gardening world, microgreens or sprinter vegetables. They are pretty well known and some of these varieties are , Beetroot, Broad Beans, Early Carrots, Early Potatoes or Baby Poatatoes, Swiss Chard to name but a few. The educational element of these sprinter veggies is, it will show the transition from seedling to plants in a very short space of time and is ideal for this school exercise.
These vegetables can be eaten before becomming fully grown and are just as sweet and succulent in this miniature stage, just like as if they were fully grown. They can also be used as salad dressings or may be used as ingredients of soups and pizza toppings etc etc. Again I want to emphasise that while this was only a temporary overview of whats involved in the setting up of a school garden, the basic foundations are nevertheless similar to what happens in real life gardening. The principals are very much the same and perhaps, somewhere sometime, this can become part of the school curriculum.
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