Friday, 21 November 2014

Out in force

This morning JPa went out to the garden to carry on digging up the weeds surrounding the plots, and this morning we met students from other tutor groups for the first time this year. This is the first morning we have met up with another group, and it has reminded us that we have to share the equipment in the garden shed. Well it was a bit of a wake up call. Now we have to make up a rota for the new tutor group so that we aren't going to the OC as whole group. Otherwise we will take all of the tools so that there is nothing left for the other tutor groups or we share (begrudgingly) the tools and have students with nothing to do.

Today is the first attempt at a break time visit, the weather is looking promising, if cold and grey can look promising (haha). We plan to meet at 11 at the tool shed and go on from there. I shall let you all know how it goes.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Moon planting

I don't think we can trace moon planting back to it's original source, but the ancient Egyptians were known to use the lunar calendar when farming as well as the Babylonian's. Man has used the sun, the moon and the stars to tell time, days and to navigate so it is not much of a jump to hear that the moon could help you farm.

It is apparent the different plants grow better in certain phases of the moon. In the same way that the moon affects the tides, it affects the moisture in the soil, pulling it to the surface. Some plants need to concentrate on the root system more than others and some have to put more effort into the leaves or fruits above ground.

A rough guide:

There are three methods for planting by the moon. The Synodic, or waxing and waning cycle, the Sidereal, and the Biodynamic cycle. The simplest one being the Synodic method. This is the only one I have ever used, I have had success with this method, and I often wonder when friends tell me something along these lines: 'The first seeds I planted grew really well but the next lot were small and some died' if it was just down to the moon phase.

At the new moon (cannot see a moon, or only a small crescent on the right), the lunar gravity pulls water up, this is good for above and below ground growth. This is the best time for planting above ground annual crops that produce their seeds outside the fruit. Examples are lettuce, spinach, celery, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and grain crops. Cucumbers like this phase also, even though they are an exception to that rule.

In the second quarter (right hand side crescent moon up until full moon) the gravitational pull is less, but the moonlight is strong, creating strong leaf growth. The types of crops that prefer the second quarter produce above ground fruits with their seeds inside, such as beans, melons, peas, peppers, squash, and tomatoes. Also this is a good time to mow your lawns if you are trying to increase growth.

After the full moon, as the moon wanes, the energy is drawing down. The gravitation pull is high, creating more moisture in the soil, but the moonlight is decreasing, putting energy into the roots. This is a good time for planting root crops, including beetroot, carrots, onions, and potatoes. It is also good for perennials, biennials, bulbs and transplanting because of the active root growth. Pruning can be done now as well.

In the fourth quarter (crescent moon on the left) there is decreased gravitational pull and moonlight, and it is considered a resting period. This is also the best time to cultivate, harvest, compost, transplant and prune. Mow lawns in the third or fourth quarter to retard growth.

I recommend giving this a go, I think it speeds things up and gives good results. For example if you plant carrots after the full moon the root system is drawn down sooner, and the root just happens to be the desirable part of the plant.


Leafmould is a brilliant soil replenishment. Used on its own makes a brilliant compost to plant seeds in, dug into the plot brings nourishment and mixed with sharp sand makes good potting compost. The best bit about leafmould is it is free!

Basically collect lots of leave that fall from trees in autumn and store them, slightly damp for two years either in holey bin bags or in a purpose made compost bin (it needs to be aerated so a compost bin like the council sell might not be ideal) using chicken wire or something similar nailed around a wooden frame. After the two years are up the leaves should have rotted down nicely and are ready for use.

The best leaves to use (because they rot down quickest) are Oak, Beech and Hornbeam. I'm not sure about the other trees, but I know for certain there are Oak trees on school property and we walk underneath one on the way to the OC.

I think I need to have a word with the 'powers that be' if this can be done, either somewhere we can store/hide away the bin bags or maybe convince Resistant materials so make us a leafmould bin. Cross your fingers for me.

Enthusiastic helpers

Whilst out in the Garden this morning, the students once again asked:
 "Miss can we come out at break or lunch to do some more gardening?" Well bearing in mind all the 'gardening' we are doing currently is digging up and weeds surrounding our vegetable plot, what a wonderful thing to hear. This is music to my ears because some mornings when it is cold and grey and we say "we are off to the garden, keep your coats on" I worry that some (or all) of the students would rather stay inside in the warm and not outside and put to work.

We are going to try a garden visit on Friday break time weather permitting, so watch this space!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

JPa planted winter onions and garlic

We chose these because not only will they grow over the winter when the plot would otherwise be empty but they don't need any attention, and as the weather has not been up for many visits to the OC this has been a real help.

When we get the chance (when  it is dry and the register is not too full of notices)  we go out to the garden to do a bit of weed control.
The whole tutor takes part, armed with forks, spades, gloves and trowels we head out to war against the weeds. With much gusto the greenery is soon flying onto the compost heap,. We have been trying to clear the gravelled area (although it is growing back quicker than we can cut it down) and hopefully as the winter continues our efforts will succeed as the plant growth slows.

We put a sack of manure on out patch and raked it over. As you can imagine the students LOVED that, all holding their noses and trying to look busy doing other jobs, suddenly the gravel all the way over by the gate was super interesting.

Planting the bulbs could not have been easier, we made a hole, put in a bulb, roots down and slightly covered with soil, done. The don't need to be watered or watched. They might need weeding from time to time and that's it! A brilliant crop to plant for the winter, with the only downfall being that the patch of earth cannot grow this crop again for 6 years.

The onions and garlic have already created shoots, and I am looking forward to reaping what we sow! These crops should be ready for lifting in the late spring, and therefore just in time for planting out the next season's crops and seeds.

An amazing harvest

This harvest took place in September 2014. This meant the JPa had a new tutor group, the year 9's of last year had moved onto to upper school and the new group are currently year 8.
Well what a great way to get the new students hooked on the garden project. the first job that they had to do was pick tomatoes, dig potatoes and cut off courgettes, these lucky young people got to reap the benefits of the last years tutors hard work.

We could not have been happier with this amazing harvest. There were lots of different types of courgettes, green, orange, yellow and white. Long, short, round and frilly! We had so many tomatoes and these pictures are just the last ones that were harvested. The green tomatoes were soon red because we put them on a sunny window sill to ripen up.

We are thinking that once again we will make the potato wedges because the students liked them so much, and the other vegetables might go to staff as the students were impressed with them, but not that keen to eat them (no surprises there).

How does your garden grow?

The 2013 to 1014 garden was the most spectacular luscious green. With lots of tomato plants, all of the different courgette plants that we had growing and the potatoes that grew again from the potatoes that were left in the ground from the previous year.

 It just looked so fertile I had to get some photos in!

Planting out

Positioning the plants
We spaced out the plants over the plot to make sure that they were correctly spaced to grow well, we then dug them a little hole, ease them out of the pots and gently loosened the roots. Then we carefully put the plants into their holes and covered with soil and firmly pressed the soil down. Most students had a chance to do this, we did have a few heavy handed gardeners so not all of our plants survived this process.
Luckily enough we had plenty of seedlings to make up for the casualties.

The next step was to give them a cane for support where needed and water them.

We decided to cover the plants with netting in the hopes that this will keep away anything that might want to eat our crops, because ideally we want to do that!

Hardening off the crop

Once the seedlings looked more like plants, the next step before planting out is to get them hardy. This is a process where you put the plants outside during the day to get them used to the temperature but bring them in at night because it would be too cold for them.
This tends to take about a week. If you don't go through this process your plants might die of the shock of being moved into a different temperature, light or wind. It is best to put your plants out of the harsh winds or strong sunlight. We put ours outside the Food classroom, it was rather windy there but this was the best place we had available to us. But thankfully the plants survived this process and could then be planted out into JPa's plot.

Grandiose plans

September 2013
After the success in 2012 JPa had many plans to get back in the garden, and started seedlings out in the classroom on the window sills. To me it was clear that we had far too many seedlings for our 8X8ft plot, so after talking to Mr Rodd we developed a vague plan to sell any surplus plants to the other tutor groups, hoping the funds raised might pay for the potting compost used.

We had an array of courgette plants to sew (black beauty's, yellow scallops, patty pans, long ones, round ones frilly edged ones!) and with the Morrison's vouchers the school bought some runner bean, carrot and tomato seeds.

Well after putting out our beans and peas and having every single one of them eaten by slugs and snails (except for one lonely pea pod) suddenly we didn't have too many seedlings, there was plenty of room on the plot to accommodate the plants.

What was left of 15 plants after the slugs and snails went to town:

We could now only cross our fingers for the next batch of seedlings and hope the slugs and snails have had their fill.

Enjoying the havest

Before the summer holidays JPa pulled up carrots, beetroot and radishes. Dug up a few new potatoes and left the rest the mature. We also had a few courgettes. We had the problem of water throughout the summer holidays, thankfully a member of the caretakers offered to water for us if he had the time. all we could do was cross our fingers and hope.

When we came back in September, the plants were looking a little bit worse for ware and dry but there were alive, and we did have a few tomatoes, a lonely courgette and an abundance of potatoes!

We decided to make potato wedges and have a small class party so that the students can taste what they have grown and a way to show how great they have been this year.
I scrubbed the potatoes clean, sliced them, and coated them in a little bit of vegetable oil, garlic and rosemary. I part baked the wedges in the afternoon so that they would not go grey and because there would not be enough time to get them cooked before tutor time in the morning. Mr P put them into the oven when he arrived at school the next day to finish cooking them, when the students came in for tutor time the wedges we hot and ready for serving. We supplied some orange juice and tomato ketchup too. Mr P played some music and everyone seemed to have a really nice time

A helping hand

A friend of mine gave me 4 tomato plants to put in the school garden. As they were already looking too big for their pots the plants went straight into the ground. The tomato plants did really well and produced some lovely fruit.

In this picture you can see the courgette plants with that brilliant yellow flower, the rows of carrots, the tall tomatoes, the bushy potato plants and right at the back the beetroot, all looking good and coming along nicely

The first summer

The first summer in the OC brought us huge courgette plants with beautiful bright yellow flowers, wobbly carrots and plump radishes. We were using anything we could lay our hands on to get water from the school to the Outside Classroom to help our garden grow. We were all excited to hear of plans for a hose pipe to be run to the OC so that we could lay down our milk bottles so to speak. 

The plants that made the cut.

Well after many mornings and suggestions JPa finally chose to plant:
and two types of flowers, Marigolds and Evening primrose.

Mr P, kindly went out and brought us seeds and bulbs and now the gardening can commence!

Preparing the plot

The first thing that the students needed to do in the OC was to prepare the seed bed. This meant digging up any weeds and plants that were currently growing, dig over the plot to loosen the soil, and take out any large stones.

Luckily for TTC parents and people from the community handed in Morrison's garden vouchers, this meant that we got a delivery of spades, forks, rakes, trowels, gloves, wheel barrows, plant pots and a selection of seeds. This was brilliant! These tools meant that we could get started and they really made the students look the part.

Next we used garden twine to divide the plot into 9

Then took out any weeds that had resurfaced

Sharing out the work load

The group soon realised that with a plot that size, there would not be jobs for everyone each day, for one thing getting 25 students around the plot would be a squeeze.

JPa decided that they needed a rota system, divide the tutor group into smaller groups. Each time we can go to the garden one group can go out, and the groups took turns so that all the students got a chance to go and visit the OS classroom.

So now weather permitting, trips to the garden were with a small group that had a clear plan as to what to do that day (weed, dig, rake, water etc)

Monday, 3 November 2014

The scarecrow

When JPa were told that the gardens would also be judged on appearance they began thinking of ways to make their garden look good and stand out from the rest. After some wild suggestions (water feature being the most interesting) we chose to do a scarecrow, this was voted on by the tutor group after some suggestions had to be turned down due to them being unfeasible.

JPa all started designs for what the scare crow should look like, how it would be made and what it would be called. After researching how to make a scarecrow, we found out that to make a scarecrow you need a T shaped frame, which you then 'dress up' with old clothes, then stuff the clothes with straw to pad it out.

There are a few different ways to make the face of a scarecrow, but JPa decided that the best looking faces were made by stuffing nylon tights with toy stuffing and sewing buttons on for the eyes.

Mr Linford helped us out by making us a frame, and with a lot of help from me, JPa had a scarecrow. With some old clothes destined for the charity shop we dressed the scarecrow, tied the garments with string at the end of arms and legs etc. and stuffed the shirt and trousers with straw.

I stuffed the foot of a pair of nylon tights and sewed a nose and buttons for eyes onto the front, and with some squashing and squishing I managed to get the lumpy stuffed tights to resemble a head with a face, pop on a hat and tada! You have got yourself scarecrow, easy peasy!

Getting started

Well luckily for us, JPa were interested in the idea, and we soon had ideas coming forth for garden plans.
First things first we outlined the project to the students explaining what it was all about. This started discussion about what we could plant and how JPa wanted the garden to look. Were we going to grow edible plants, flowers, or what? It soon became clear that the students were eager to plant things that they could eat, this soon became quite a long list.

The next step was to see how to grow these plants, we needed to find out if they were suitable for our time frame and plot size. With a helping hand for our friend 'google' we soon narrowed down our list. Once we had a more realistic idea of plants to sow, we made a garden plan.

The students decided that dividing the garden up into sections was the best way to make the garden look good as well as make it easy to maintain and care for. After a few ideas and then a vote it was decided that the garden would be divided into a grid of 9 squares.

What we are about

In 2012 Mr Rodd started 'The OC Tutor Community Project'  with the aim of developing a sense of community amongst year 8 students. This was presented to the students as a competition. Each tutor group in year 8 have been given a small garden plot to look after and grow plants in. They have to make the most of this plot and create a garden that will be awarded for:
Best use of area
Best kept bed
Best kept surrounding area
Amount grown
Largest veg/fruit