Category Archives: School Gardens

School Gardens – Let us help you!


Since 2009 grow.eat.enjoy. has been helping schools, preschools and after school care centres to install and maintain sustainable and edible garden systems. We have installed and maintained award winning school gardens in Sydney, working within and outside of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Program.

We offer:

Composts

A compost in school grounds can process all of your schools organic waste including leaf litter, fruit and vegetable scraps and garden cuttings. A well designed compost can be effective and easy to use.

Composts provide a great opportunity for learning from science to literacy and everything in between!

We can install a compost system to suit your schools needs. We can also offer workshops and regular maintenance sessions to help you get started and keep you composting.

Garden beds

Vegetable growing beds have become increasingly popular in school environments. Even if your school doesn’t have a kitchen, a vegetable garden can still be a valuable addition to any school.

grow.eat.enjoy. can install a variety of different styles of garden bed and will help you find one suited to your schools needs, including water efficient models. We are also available to offer support in teaching programs and maintenance, particularly at change of seasons.

Chicken Coops

While often a final step in a schools edible garden, chickens are a great way to start a garden program. Chickens can process organic waste, provide fresh eggs and are an amazing draw card to get parents and children involved in the school grounds. We can help you choose a suitable site and coop for your school, we can even help you hatch your own chicks from fertile eggs. Once you have chickens we can be there to support you as you learn to care for them and help with any problems you may encounter.

At grow.eat.enjoy. we are always happy to come and chat with you about your schools needs and help you find the right start (or addition) to your sustainable school garden!

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All Schools Need Compost Systems

I’m in the process of applying for a grant so that my son’s high school will have the funds to build a compost system at their school. While it was always my plan to get one into the school it was actually my son who initiated the discussion. It was a proud parent moment to see him frown and think about throwing away the garden waste we are currently removing and announce we need a compost. But it’s not just this school that needs a compost. ALL schools (pre, primary and high) need a compost. A nice big compost. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Reduce green house gas emissions – throwing organic waste into the general rubbish stream results in higher green house gas emissions. This is because when organic matter decomposes in landfill it decomposes anaerobically (without air) which releases methane gas. Methane is a potent green house gas and landfill is a significant contributor to its release into the environment. Composting allows this waste to decompose with air (aerobically) which reduces the amount of methane entering our atmosphere.
  • Turn Waste into Resource – the compost produced can be used in school grounds or passed on to people within the school community. Traditionally made compost is one of the best ways to get nutrients into soil and making it yourself reduces the need to buy it wrapped in plastic. Also soil that is rich in organic matter holds more water and traps carbon.
  • Community Composting is Cool – Not everyone likes composting at home so community composting is a good way to capture those that want to compost but don’t want to do it in their own back yard.
  • Compost is a Teaching Tool – The compost area is a great place to talk about a whole range of subjects from the science of global warming to the maths of temperature and cubic measurement to literacy of making ‘how to’ signs. I like to use the compost as a vehicle for anti littering discussions (no plastic does not break down in a compost – how did it get in there? what should we do with rubbish when we see it on the ground, even if it isn’t ours?), not to mention the inspection of insects and other creepy crawlies we find in there.
  • Compost is a way to connect with Local Business – school composts are a great way to get to know your local businesses, particularly the ones that produce organic waste. There’s nothing like a bucket or two of coffee grounds to heat up a compost and most cafes are more than happy to separate out their waste grounds for collection.

If your school doesn’t have a compost and you think it might like one, start the conversation. Or ask me how to get one going. There are also plenty of grants around to help you get started, like this one!

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Is bad compost still better than no compost?

Here’s the question – is it better to compost badly than not to compost at all?

This question has been on my mind lately. I haven’t had the time to get out to my own compost as much as I’d like and I’ve lost a valued helper at one of the schools so that compost isn’t getting the attention it used to get. So am I thinking I’m doing a good thing with my piles of organic waste when actually I’m not? If I’m not getting out there and getting air into the compost am I doing more harm than good?

The problem is this – when you are composting aerobically (with air) everything is fine. The problem with decomposing organic waste occurs when it decomposes anaerobically (without air) as is assumed to be the case when organics go to landfill. Anaerobic compost produces methane. Great if you’ve got some kind of method to capture the methane and use it as an energy source, bad if it’s heading on out into the atmosphere. Methane is a significant contributor to green house gas emissions. That’s why people object to methane producing cows and why some people object to composting.

So how can we make sure we are doing more good than bad? If you aren’t a regular compost turner then keep your compost simple and the balance right. Here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Don’t put in dinner leftovers, any meat, fats or bread.
  • Get a compost bin that has an open base to encourage worms in there to do the aerating for you.
  • Don’t let your bin dry out. Keep it moist, this will keep all the good bacteria alive and working.
  • Cover all of your kitchen scraps with dry leaves or shredded newspaper. This will keep your compost balanced.
  • Turn it when you can.

My conclusion is that it’s still better to compost badly than not to compost at all. When organics go to landfill we have nothing except more green house gas emissions. Even if we are a little lax with our composting we still end up with a nutrient rich compost at some point. And we encourage other kinds of soil life. What do you think?

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Bees, why we need them, how to get them, what to do if you don’t want them but still want to be nice

Bees.  They get a lot of media attention due to their importance and current plight but we don’t all need to be bee keepers to help the bees. All we need to do is a few simple things.

But first:  why do we need them?

Bees pollinate a large number of our crops.  Other insects can help too but people tend to agree that bees do most of the work so if we want to keep eating like we’re currently eating, we need the bees.

How to get them

There are a number of local companies and councils who’ll come and help you out with hives.  If you are a school have a look at native bees. They are stingless and still fascinating (see pics at the top of this post).  If you are a business or home owner in Sydney consider getting in touch with the Urban Beehive and have a look at hosting options. If all this is sounding too hard how about making habitats for the many solitary bees we have?  Hollow sticks, holes in mud bricks, these all make excellent homes for some of our excellent bees, as well as excellent activities for big and little hands.

What to do if you don’t want them but still want to be nice?

The first thing you need to do is throw away the poisons.  Don’t put or spray anything in your garden that hasn’t come out of your kitchen or compost. The second thing you need to do is plant flowers.  Or let your herbs go to flower.  Bees love it when you do that.  The third thing you can do is write to your local council.  Ask them if they are using poisons.  Then ask them to stop.

 

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Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Here we are in 2015. It’s a year of change in our house. My littlest starts school, my biggest starts high school and I head back to university. I also finish my time at Stanmore Public School.

Stanmore was one of the first large spaces that I had the pleasure to design, build and maintain with the help of the Stephanie Alexander Foundation, the fantastic teachers, parents and students at Stanmore Public School and a few very lovely community volunteers. We turned a neglected area of the school that the children were not allowed to play in, into a thriving, productive garden. We dug a pond, hatched chickens, planted fruit trees, herbs and vegetables. We moved mulch and turned compost. It’s a little sad to be leaving just as the fruit trees are coming into their own but I know I’m leaving it in good hands.  Above are pictures of the garden just after it was built, plus the beautiful corn we grew this year and the garden as it looks now.

Grow.Eat.Enjoy. is still operating as normal with a little more time and flexibility to help you with your edible garden dreams big or small. If you have an edible project you’d like to discuss please get in touch. We are always happy to help!

Posted in Edible Gardens, education, School Gardens, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation | Comments Off on Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Run ins with Sydney’s Urban Wildlife

As the Randwick Public School chicks spend their first night outside I’ll spend another night worrying about foxes. I’ve only seen the shadow of one once as it returned to terrorise our quails after reducing the flock size from 8 to four but I know they are there in numbers enough to warrant fox proofing. Our quails are now fully fox proofed which unfortunately means they have less roaming space. The Randwick Public School chicken house is not proofed to my liking as I prefer a full wire base on the run rather than just sides hence the coming sleepless night. Hopefully they will be fine.

At Gardeners Road Public school as we continue to install their new edible garden we hear stories of the rabbits that inhabit the grounds. We’ve yet to see any damage to the garden but it’s going to be a tough problem to solve if the rabbits decide to get involved.

At Tranby House in Glebe the garden we installed was promptly eaten by a possum. Possums aren’t so bad as all they do is eat, they don’t dig and remove the plants. To combat the possum issue I put up a loose netting around the garden, this is something the possum doesn’t like to climb and the plants are recovering well. I didn’t think I needed to net the citrus trees as well but it turns out the possum has a taste for these leaves too. More loose netting required. Another thing possums don’t like is walking on a thin wire so if you have a fence without over hanging trees and a possum problem you can consider running a taut wire on top of the fence to stop the possum invading your patch.

At the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation training last week I had a discussion with a couple of teachers who were battling cockatoos and crows. These birds were happily ripping out whole tomato plants as soon as they were planted. We discussed a couple of options they thought could work including simple netting using bamboo and polypipe as well as providing an alternate food and water source away from the vegetable gardens.

I love watching flying foxes out in search of food at dusk but I don’t have any trees they enjoy. Different story for people with a laden fruit tree that gets stripped by flying foxes. It can be dangerous to net trees as they can easily get tangled in the nets, so if you are thinking about doing this then please choose your nets carefully (smaller holes = safer nets).

At Stanmore Public School we have a rat problem. We’ve tried four different baits and traps without any success at this stage. Though they don’t disturb the vegetable growing it would be nice not to have them.

Posted in animal intergration, Edible Gardens, Grow, pests, School Gardens, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation | Comments Off on Run ins with Sydney’s Urban Wildlife

Vegesafe – what I learnt and what you need to know about lead in your soil

The good people of Vegesafe have recently released a report on their findings re regards to heavy metals in Sydney soils and how that may affect veg growing. They will also be at the Australian Garden Show in Centennial Park so if you’re planning to go, you can bring in a sample of your soil for free testing.

We had Mark Taylor from Vegesafe come to Stanmore Public School to conduct tests on the soil in a number of different parts of the garden. Our soil in this garden was all pretty good (still elevated but not dangerously so). It was a really interesting process and Mark and his colleagues were full of helpful information. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Lead in soil will usually be the result of a building having been there and old lead paint flaking off and getting into the soil; or
  • Left over from the days of leaded petrol if you’re on a busy street;
  • Plants don’t tend to take up lead from the soil so eating plants grown in lead contaminated soil isn’t the problem (though probably still not recommended);
  • The problem comes if you don’t wash your veg properly or if you are playing in the dirt or tracking it through the house or in some other way coming into contact with it and possibly ingesting it. This, particularly for young children, is the problem.
  • Mulching and generally making sure there are high levels of organic matter in the soil reduces the levels of lead contamination in your soil.

Mulching! Is there nothing it can’t do?! But seriously I think this illustrates again the importance of good soil. Vital to our health, our food’s health and our children’s health, it’s worth the time to get it right.

Posted in Edible Gardens, education, Grow, School Gardens, Soil Health | Comments Off on Vegesafe – what I learnt and what you need to know about lead in your soil

Getting your kids working in the garden and eating in the kitchen

I spend half of my working week helping children to grow food in school gardens and the most of my non (paid) working life trying to think of healthy meals my children will eat. Most of my work with school children is via the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation. This is a fantastic program with flexible models to suit all schools. Teachers are given training and curriculum support and kids are exposed to the joys of gardening and cooking while trying new foods they’ve had a hand in growing. I joined the program for environmental reasons not convinced it would really change eating habits. After a few years of being involved I have become convinced that getting your kids involved in the growing and cooking of food is a great way to ensure they remain interested and engaged with their nutritional health not to mention that ever increasing importance of knowing where your food comes from.

But what about at home? And what if you have fussy eaters in the house who aren’t old enough for school or not at a school with a kitchen garden program? I, like lots of others, have one (or two) of those children who aren’t particularly interested in eating vegetables or trying new things. I did the growing thing. We grew peas. He planted the peas, watched them grow, then watched me eat them. Legumes aren’t his thing I discovered.

But we persisted and found other things to grow that he will eat (he still grows legumes just doesn’t eat them). But the growing alone wasn’t enough to change his eating habits. What really made a difference was group eating. And by that I don’t mean eating with the family. I mean sitting down with a big group of children and watching everyone else enjoying food. This, I find, to be the best place to introduce new foods to my children. Around a camp fire with a few other families or at friend’s houses seem to be the places my difficult eater finds trying new things easier.

So for your fussy eater at home, what can you do?

  • Grow – start small, a few herbs and a strawberry plant
  • Cook – get your kids involved in planning, shopping and preparing
  • Share – make eating a social event

On a side note, taking the pictures for this blog post and checking on our seedlings at the same time my 4 year old saw me taste a new radish leaf and asked for a try. He then asked for another while proclaiming how much he liked it! (He’s not my fussy eater but still, it was a radish leaf?!)

Posted in Edible Gardens, education, Enjoy, Grow, Herbs, School Gardens, Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation | Comments Off on Getting your kids working in the garden and eating in the kitchen

Building community in the garden

Today, a couple of my children and I spent a very pleasant 3 hours in their school garden with two other families and their children.  The kids gathered caterpillars and seeds and ate tomatoes before moving on to running through sprinklers and climbing trees.  The adults dug and picked, sorted and trellised and everyone had a lovely time.

2014, for me, is the year of building community.  When Thea and I started grow.eat.enjoy. we wanted to put edible gardens into homes (we still do).  But as the years go on we move more and more into education and community gardening and I’m finding this a good place to be.  When I’m at Razor&JOY, tending to their office garden, and staff come to sit amongst the plants while they eat their lunch; when I put a call out to the OzHarvest volunteers and people come from all walks of life to work in the garden with me; and when I make a connection with a parent from a non English speaking background who in turn brings others to our school garden and everyone feels happy and connected, I know, like Thea and I always thought, that gardening brings so much more than just good food.

So here’s to 2014, my year of growing good food and building community.  If you’re in Sydney and need a little help doing either, let me know.

Posted in Community Gardens, Edible Gardens, education, Enjoy, Grow, Oz Harvest, Razor & JOY, School Gardens | Comments Off on Building community in the garden