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GARDENING Organic school gardens

Outdoor Living

How does your garden grow?

School gardens are great way to get kids to eat their greens

Hans Wieland

Organic gardens in schools have become more popular in recent years. The word is that participating children love the gardening sessions, while parents and teachers alike see the positive effect it has on the children.
In light of recent debate on obesity in children and the effects of junk food in schools, gardening is one way of getting children away from computer screens and into the gardens for some exercise and fresh air. It’s also a great way to get them interested in eating vegetables. One parent whose children have helped to grow a school garden in Belleek in Co Fermanagh told me: “As a father of four young children I know how difficult it can be to put something healthy on the table and I have noticed that my children are more inclined to eat what they have grown.”
The Organic Centre in Rossinver, Co Leitrim, has provided a varied programme for schools for many years. Establishing an organic garden in a school as an outdoor classroom is a natural extension of the Green Flag award. Composting is another aspect of gardening that children enjoy.
“The trick is to make gardening fun and do interesting things”, says Ciara Barret, who works as a school gardener with The Organic Centre.
Children enjoy seeing the direct relationship between their actions and the final result. “When they sow a bean and it germinates in ten days, then they follow the plant at each stage,” Ciara continues. “I always improvise with materials. I grew potatoes in a tyre and carrots in a half barrel in one school that didn’t have much land.”
So many of the school garden activities are simple, but wonderful teaching aids. “Seed sowing is a great opportunity to combine theory and practical teaching about how plants grow,” Ciara explained. For example, so much can be learned about seed germination and phototropism with a simple, hands-on experiment: Try soaking a large amount of tissue in water and pressing it around the inside of a glass jar, placing a few bean/pea seeds between the tissue and the jar wall. Ensure full contact with the wet tissue and the seed, and don’t place the seeds too close together. Keep the tissue moist and the jar in the classroom. Watch the seed burst out through its skin and head for the light.

Growing together schools
The Organic Centre has just produced a small booklet on organic gardening in schools with a monthly ‘to do’ calendar and seasonal recipes, tried and tested with school children and parents. Contact the centre for a copy.

Benefits of a school garden
  • Makes teaching interesting and fun
  • Allows teachers to cover a huge part of the curriculum in a practical and inexpensive way
  • Helps facilitate the education of children with learning and numeric difficulties
  • Utilises the school grounds and gives children a different learning environment
  • Children learn about where food comes from, how it is produced and what’s in season

Hans Wieland is joint manager of The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information in organic growing, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie, e-mail info@theorganiccentre.ie or phone 071 9854338