Advice & Tips for Teachers
This post has been created to help teachers avoid problems commonly experienced in school gardens. It is full of ‘I wish I knew that‘ tips and school specific advice.
If you have a question, ask me in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
You don’t need all the answers…
Learn alongside the children: When the students ask a question you can’t answer, use that as a stimulus for further learning.
- Take a photo
- Go to Google Image Search
- Click the camera icon
- [Browse] for your photo to upload
There is a wealth of general and school-specific gardening information available both online and via support services. Ideas on where to get help can be found at the bottom of this post.
Gardens are not picture perfect year round…
Thats normal! Most productive plants are annual meaning they grow quickly, produce fruit, veg or edible foliage, set seed and die all within the space of a year. Your garden cannot look like a lush food forest when seedlings are in their infancy. Likewise, it will not be the peak of health when older crops are due for retirement.
Gardens do not need to be organized into neat little rows. If something self-seeds and is happy in its new home, leave it and plant around it. It means one less gardening job. Corn is the exception and needs to be planted in blocks for good pollination
Embrace the good the bad and the ugly…
Appreciate that not all your carrots will be straight and that fruit and vegetables will have blemishes. This is nature. Appreciate the uniqueness and diversity in all its forms (a great teaching moment just there). Remember, for every perfect piece of fruit or vegetable found at the supermarket or fruit shop, is another that has been tossed away because it wasn’t ‘perfect’.
Try unusual fruit and vegetable varieties such as purple or ball-shaped carrots, yellow ‘Stars and Stripes’ watermelon, pink and white striped ‘Chioggia’ beetroot, rainbow chard, purple beans, Stripy ‘Zebra’ or Tigerella’ tomatoes.
Cardboard – not weed mat…
Line raised beds with thick cardboard or newspaper, not weed mat. Weed mat does stop weeds but it also stops roots from penetrating below it in search of water and nutrients. Cardboard or thick wads of newspaper will stay in place long enough to stop weed seeds germinating and will then break down into the soil over time.
Always mulch tops of beds to prevent weed seeds blowing onto the top of soil and germinating.
Healthy soil is key…
The soil supports and provides everything required for your plants. Healthy soil holds the moisture, nutrients, and micro-organisms necessary for healthy plants. Always protect soil with mulch, crops or a green manure to prevent wind and rain erosion. Replenish beds with organic matter such as manure or compost each season.
Fill beds to top: When filling or replenishing raised beds, fill them to the top and let settle for 2 weeks prior to sowing seeds or planting seedlings. Soil level will drop by about 5cm.
Working with seeds & seedlings…
Wait to mulch: If sowing seeds, wait until they germinate before mulching. Mulch can inhibit seed germination.
Label, label, label: When sowing new seeds & seedlings, always place a label or marker in the beds indicating the sowing date and what has been sown to reduce the chance of others planting in the same bed and to remind you of what and when you planted. Simple seed marker ideas include paddle pop sticks or old small glazed tiles written on with a permanent marker.
Seed size: Larger seeds are easier to handle for smaller hands:
- Small seeds: tomatoes, carrot, parsley, basil
- Medium seeds: beetroot, coriander, silverbeet and spinach
- Large seeds: pumpkin, melons, cucumber, zucchini, beans, peas, corn
Prevent transplant damage: Children often damage seedling stems when removing seedlings from pots and they never truly recover. Growing plants in biodegradable containers such as newspaper pots allow the entire pot to be planted without removing the plants.
You can grow coriander…
Lots of people think they can’t grow coriander but consider this… Coriander has a short growing season and will only last a few weeks before flowering then going to seed. Replant every 2 weeks or let it self-seed and you will have plenty year round. Grow in shade/part shade during Summer.
Check below the mulch: When children swear they have watered the plants. Check below the mulch. Quite often they wet the mulch but the soil below stays dry.
Water repellent soil is usually depleted of organic matter. Add compost or manure and never mulch vegetable beds with Eucalyptus leaves.
Do you have a question you want answered. Ask in the comments below…