Learning Gardens and associated outdoor activities are a great asset to any school. There are opportunities for learning with vege gardens, orchards, indigenous gardens, scented herb gardens, chooks and composting. Children are learning skills and acquiring knowledge just by being involved and doing things in the outdoors. Associated formal schoolwork can be an added bonus.
Vegetable Gardens are the flavour of the month. Children can be involved with planting, weeding, mulching, composting, harvesting, cooking and eating, or selling produce at a market stall. There are opportunities for learning about our food supply, agriculture and the environment, fertilizers, pest control, food security, water and salinity, etc. Vegetable gardens require knowledge and considerable ongoing input. Many schools underestimate the amount of time and effort that is required to make them truly productive. We can help you set up your vege garden and develop a programme for learning in your school’s vege patch.
An orchard is a longer term investment than a vege garden, but they require much less work and can be extremely productive if they are well cared for. They can also be very beautiful if planted en masse. For example, a row of Valencia orange trees can look quite stunning – the flowers have a wonderful scent, and the fruit obligingly hangs on the tree until you are ready to pick it for eating or juicing. Apples and pears can be espaliered so they are easy to maintain and net. The best trees to grow are those which fruit while the children are at school – these include apples, pears, quinces, oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, avocadoes, olives and persimmons. Fruit trees can remain productive for up to 50 years – if they live for this long they can take on tremendous character and become an integral part of a school and it’s history. It’s worth planning well and selecting suitable varieties.
Indigenous Gardens are made up of plants which have adapted to the local soil, rainfall, temperatures and salinity. They are easy to care for because they have evolved in the local area and require no extra water or fertilizer. They are available at local indigenous nurseries around Melbourne such as Carrum, Sandringham, St Kilda and Yarra Bend. Some indigenous plants are not long-lived or have special requirements so it is worth speaking to the staff at your local indigenous nursery about the best varieties. Aboriginal people knew the local plants well and used them for food, fibre for rope and weaving, wood for spears and digging sticks, and the bark of trees to make canoes. They altered the landscape by continually burning the grass to promote strong regrowth, and to keep the land open. An indigenous garden is a good way of introducing children to the lifestyle of the local indigenous people.
Chickens need to be fed chook food, greens (such as silverbeet) and have a regular supply of fresh water. They also require treatment to avoid problems with lice. It is essential that the coop they stay in overnight is fox-proof. Children learn by giving food and water, and caring for the chickens. Some children enjoy watching the chooks scratch at the ground, establish their pecking order, and generally doing the things chooks do. Chickens add another dimension to the schoolyard and to school life. Of course, there are plenty of eggs as well – each chook will lay an egg every day or two. Children can collect the eggs for sale or for cooking activities such as fritattas to bake in the oven.
Composting is a great activity to do in a school. Children get to see food scraps and other organic materials decompose (part of the nature’s recycling process), and the compost can then be used to improve the soil in the vegetable garden or orchard. It also saves scraps going to landfill. There needs to be a system to collect the food scraps and clean the containers. The compost heap should be moist and the carbon/nitrogen ratio (brown/green materials) kept at roughly 30:1.