Sunday, 18 December 2011

Riverbank Community Cafe and Market Garden

I've just begun working with Riverbank Community Cafe and Market Garden in Chorlton to create a community garden from a patch of waste land. What we grow will supply a new community cafe that is planned but local people will also have an opportunity to get involved.  There will also be opportunities for people to learn more about cooking, composting and food growing and we'll be giving away free fruits trees and bushes.

There's more information at: Riverbank

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

St John's signs

I really like these signs that Gardening Club members at St John's have made on a couple of wet and cold Tuesday afternoons.

We used bits of old wooden pallet, sanded down and then they got to work with coloured pens. We've used linseed oil to waterproof the signs which will go up in the greenhouse, around the insect hotel they made and in the courtyard.

Rosie, by the way, is the school rabbit.

Monday, 12 December 2011

How many seeds?

I stole this idea from the bugs.

Well, from BUGS, the Baltimore Urban Gardening with Students project in the USA (  You can't see the mess here but the table is covered in kiwi, tomato, apple, lemons and chillies.

It was a nice way to introduce a seed planting session and talk about seed saving from the plants we grow. First, pupils estimate how many seeds are in each piece of fruit and then they cut them up and count the seeds, comparing their estimate to what they actually found. And then you eat everything.

Remember to have children wear gloves if they're handling the chillies and remember to do the same (not like I did resulting in a spicy tasting slice of kiwi at the end of the session).

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The Ardwick Avocado

I've started working at St Chrysostom's Primary in Ardwick.  When I asked a group what they'd most like to grow, one boy said "avocados!"

We were gathering ideas so I didn't want to curb his enthusiasm by telling him that we couldn't or that it would be difficult and, besides, something made me think that you could do something with avocado stones.  When I looked it up in my old House Plant Expert book, there it is on page 150: Fun Plants.

Apparently you put the stone in a pot, keep it warm and dark until it germinates and then you can get quite a nice plant (no fruit though). There was also mention of other seeds that might produce a plant including citrus fruits, dates and, crucially, pomegranate because today at St John's one girl said she'd love to grow them. So, we'll have a go and report back.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

The diamond plant

I visited St Peter's RC High School recently where Sowing Success offer therapeutic horticulture sessions for students.  Jo was kind enough to give me this little Echevaria which she assures me that children love because water forms beautiful little diamond-like bubbles when it falls on the leaves.

They're into their succulents over there and it's something that we can do more of at St John's with the greenhouse. Not a good as a nice leek though is it?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Compost corner

After the insect hotel, we've branched out now at Armitage into making compost bays from old pallets.  To get to this point took just over an hour working with two pupils who had a great time learning to use a saw, hammer, sandpaper as well as discussing what compost is and how we can make it.

We're planning to line it with chicken wire to give it more stability and keep the compost in, then it'll need some kind of front section. We'll start adding material to one bin for the rest of the year and then move to the other side next year. Around March/April, the first lot should be ready to use.

Next step will be to set up a composting group who'll gather fruit, veg, tea bags and so on.  If you're going to compost at school make sure you add an equal amount of torn up cardboard, newspaper or shredded paper every time you add to the pile. Simply piling on uneaten fruit will give you a fruit fly infested slime. 

We may start to use it in teaching next week with Year 6 doing something on micro-organisms in Science.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Metal into willow

We've been trying to think of ways to hide the view of the bins at Armitage. So we've experimented with weaving willow through the fence.  Seems to work and most people think ti looks good. We have a willow walk that needs a trim and two old enormous willow trees on the site to use. This will be a nice job for a group of older pupils to crack on with.  Then we can grow some climbers on it for added coverage.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

All the leaves are brown

Well, brown, gold, yellow, red...
But what to do with them all?  Simple. Gather them up, put them in a bag or compost bin and leave them. After a year you'll have reasonable mulch and soil improver.  After two years you'll have a beautiful crumbly mixture.  At Armitage it took us just one lunch and break to fill two big bins.  Pupils loved it, especially jumping in the bag to flatten them down.  

Nice learning opportunities about trees and seasons too.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Planting in October? In Manchester?

Oh yes!  Here is the rocket planted by one of the Reception classes at Armitage, two weeks in.  It's been in the greenhouse but could easily have been put indoors by a window. You could grow this all year round and it's an easy one to save the seed from. Just let a few go to seed and dry out. You'll see the seed pods and will get loads from just a few plants.

Children love the fact it's called rocket and that it grows so fast. Some even like the taste which is already strong, even in small seedlings.

And here are some of the onions the Gardening Club at St John's planted in early October. The ones that survived being in the Nursery playground!

Here and at St John's we've put in some winter pansies and other bedding plants in for some outdoor colour.  Even younger children can do this. They're cheap and should flower through the late autumn and early spring. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Longsight bay leaves

St John's has a large Bay tree that needs trimming (we need to wait until spring to really cut it back) so the school Gardening Club cut some branches and then used scrap paper to make packets that they designed. The smell of the bay leaves was wonderful and the pupils came up with some lovely designs.

We're going to give the packets away to parents and community members at a school Open Day on Thursday. Maybe we'll find some people interested in getting involved in the school garden and greenhouse?

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Planting on playgrounds

Armitage Primary want to green the school and use plants to enhance its appearance. In particular they asked me to think about ways to cover some metal fences and a pergola in the EYFS outdoor area.

So we asked Timber Recycling in Manchester (TRIM) to make us some wooden planters. Children painted the inside with linseed oil and we've filled them with a mix of soil from Kennedy's in Salford and compost from Fairfield Composting who use the waste fruit and veg from Manchester's main wholesale market. Hulme Community Garden Centre gave really helpful advice about planting options, what to fill them with and how to preserve the wood. I was interested that both TRIM and HCGC advised on just preserving the inside.

The first plants are now in, some winter bedding with a few onions and garlic mixed in. Climbers will go in in November, probably a mix of winter jasmine, evergreen clematis and others that will provide cover over the winter.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Making an insect hotel

I don't like calling them "bug hotels", they say "bug" in the US and I think we have enough US culture here already. Anyway, we've started to make one at Armitage. The nearby construction site were kind enough to donate some pallets, bricks and pipes. In fact I nipped over to ask and half an hour later a mini digger came rumbling round the corner loaded with materials we could use.

The pallets needed a bit of sanding and I removed some nails before pupils got to work filling it with 5 Star insect facilities.  A great job for younger children this. Reception and Year 1 children scoured the school grounds for twigs and branches and then put these in the pipes or just scattered them in the pallets. We simply put one pallet on the ground, filled it up and then put the second one on and so on.

The top will be a green roof planted with drought resistant herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme giving us another precious growing area.  Now I just need to go back to the building site and see if they've got any old scaffolding planks.

It will be interested to see what moves in.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

New school year

I'll be working in two Manchester primary schools this term to help them get more into gardening (Armitage CE Primary School and St John's CE Primary School). At Armitage we'll be finishing off our wildlife stack by making a green roof, collecting leaves for leaf mould and generally getting things ready for the spring.

St John's have a greenhouse attached to the school building so we'll be deciding what to grow over the winter. Oranges from Longsight, there's a thought. And how are the parsnips in the raised beds doing?