Gardening with the Children

by Rob Birse

Ideally, every class would spend some time gardening each week, beginning quite informally with the younger children and developing more structure as the grades advance. Due to time limitations, I have been unable to work with pre-school or classes 1 and 2 this year.

Class 3 has farming as a Main Lesson block, which entails growing one or more of the traditional staple grains, as well as looking at other aspects of farming, for example, animal care, dairying, etc. To the best of my recollection, every class 3 since the very first class in the school has grown a grain crop even if somewhat haphazardly in various locations in the early years. The last four years has seen a consolidation of the grain growing area to the north-east cornier of the school site, below the pre-school. This area has been designated for class 3 gardening on the school Master Plan. The available land is sufficient for classes 4 and 5 to also have gardens there.

Class 3

This year’s class 3 programme has been particularly fruitful, due largely, I feel, to regular planning meetings with Alan Drysdale, the class teacher. Credit is also due to Alan’s enthusiastic support for the work.

Preparation Stage

To begin with, the children, working in groups of five or six, prepared and planted out (with parent help) a beautiful circular herb and flower garden.

Middle Stage

In mid-May this year, on a showery and sloshy day, the class and some parents visited a Bio-dynamic dairy farm at Mt. Mee where the farmers generously allowed the children a real hands-on experience of dairying. We were able to bring back a trailer load of wonderful fresh manure which the children used to make a substantial compost heap.

The heavy work of digging over and preparing the grain beds was also taking place at this time, culminating in the planting on the 7 June, of wheat, oats, barley and rye, plus a fifth bed of a soil building green manure crop.

Current Stage

The grains are growing well; with the first seed heads appearing on the wheat this week (21 August), and the children have been picking flowers and herbs for sale on a Friday afternoon.

Class 4

As is the way with any farming, sometimes crops fail, and this happened to last year’s grain crop. To make up for the disappointment, class 4 planted three beds of sweet corn early this year, and were rewarded with a fine crop, most of which was eaten fresh off the plant. By the time this goes to press, they will have planted potatoes in the now vacant beds.

Class 5

This class has been gardening on a semi-regular basis this year, with half the class gardening for one period on alternate weeks. They have marked out prepared and planted a hexagonal garden containing flowers and vegetables. Unfortunately, this garden has suffered rather badly from the depredations of wild ducks, initially attracted by the gourmet delights of freshly sprouted class 3 grains, but now finding succulent lettuce irresistible. Our next task is to replant and cover the beds with bird netting!

Class 6

Class 6 is the year when more formal gardening lessons begin, with the class divided into two groups, one gardening, while the other has a craft lesson. The groups change over half way through each term. At the beginning of this year, with what appeared to be the imminent construction of a new building on the site of last year’s class 6 garden, it seemed prudent to find a new location. The groups have marked out and prepared a large Mandala garden containing twelve beds radiating out from a circular centre garden. Two children work at each bed.

Planting began in May and the children are now harvesting some high quality produce. One group potted up some Comfrey root cuttings which were subsequently sold, raising $60.00 for the class camp fund.

Class 7

The children become responsible for an individual garden bed, approximately 2m x 1.2m. A new site had to be found for their garden for the same reason as class 6. The only site available was a very infertile piece of ground on which we were hoping to do a “Findhorn”. However, the close proximity to some large, thirsty gum trees has made it difficult to provide sufficient water, and the quality of the crops has suffered.

Given that the proposed building has now been put on hold, we are going to establish a “Keyhole” garden on the site of last year’s garden, and preliminary clearing work has taken place.

Writer’s Note Happy weeding, seeding and feeding!