Peas in a Peapod…

Three of the trust’s volunteers were asked to give their accounts of what happened at the schools they worked with.

Leedstown Primary…

A little over a year ago I stood on a blustery day in Leedstown School playing field, looking at the vast but careworn old sandpit and wondering just how deep it was and what lurked beneath it. We had been given a grant to make a fruit and vegetable garden from the RHS Flourish Scheme via the Cornwall Gardens Trust, and then we had to make it happen.

It turned out that the sand didn’t go quite to Australia and that not too much clinker had been dumped there before it was dug, but we still had considerably more than a weekend makeover (which is what I think some of the parents might have been hoping for) ahead of us.

The key to the project turned out to be one committed parent (his wife was President of the fundraising committee, so he had little choice!) with some useful machinery and a good relationship with local suppliers. Through a spring of difficult weather, the site was organised, slabs laid, fencing put up, and four raised beds with wide timber edges installed and filled with topsoil. Young plants brought on in greenhouses at home were planted out.

The School Gardening Club was (just) up and running in the summer term when Claire Dudley from the RHS came to see how we had spent their money. Unfortunately, she arrived on the wettest day in months, but she really enjoyed her visit, and commented that ours were the first primary school children she’d met who knew about nitrogen-fixing root nodules (although I believe they actually called them ‘those bobbly bits’).  The Gardening Club continued through the autumn, harvesting carrots and parsnips and ruby chard that just never seemed to stop, and is embarking on a new growing cycle with undimmed enthusiasm this term. A Healthy Eating Club in which the children get a chance to mess up the school’s small kitchen area and put some of the produce to good use has joined it. Although the garden is still in its infancy, with limited soft fruit and no tree fruits (yet), it has added a new dimension to both the curricular and extra-curricular activities that more than repays the investment of both time and money.

Our volunteer at Camelford Primary School…

It was a chilly November day when I first visited the nursery class to discuss their vegetable gardening project. At that time, I felt the chance of ever getting anything edible to grow on their small, rather bleak and blowy veranda seemed extremely unlikely.  When the teacher, Liz Walker, told me that many of the children never ate fresh vegetables and certainly didn’t know where they came from, I thought it really would be an uphill struggle to involve them in growing their own veg. How wrong I was.  By July, Liz was writing to say, ‘Today the children shucked another lot of peas and ate them raw for snacks.  All the children took home about ten broad bean pods each.  Two strawberries have ripened (miracle with this weather!) and several tomatoes, obviously still green, are fattening up nicely.  Everything else is doing well especially the shallots.’ We had also managed to grow new potatoes, carrots, mizuna, lettuce, climbing beans, radishes and some herbs and all this in just a few containers.

The largest part of the Cornwall Gardens Trust grant was spent on four attractive, sturdy wooden planters, including a corner one with trellis attached (for those climbing beans).  Less costly, but just as vital, was the wind mesh we bought to attach to the balustrade around the veranda to shelter our crops.  The vegetables we chose had to be happy at being grown in a container, some of them had to sprout quickly to maintain the interest of the three- and four-year-old children and be ready to harvest quickly too; some should be ‘roots’ and some ‘shoots’ above ground, and all (hopefully) would be things that the children might try eating.

Our growing season began in January when I took in some seed potatoes for ‘chitting’ in egg boxes in the classroom.  We potted these up in February in large plastic pots and harvested a modest crop (but enough for each child to try some) in the middle of June.  The broad beans were also begun in February each child pushed a bean seed down the side of a clear plastic cup and watched its progress until we planted them out.  Our vegetable gardening season had begun.  Every time I visited the nursery, I had a group of very willing young volunteer helpers, some more dexterous than others but all of them game to try sowing and digging, thinning and harvesting.

As Liz reported at the end of the summer, the project has been ‘a huge success and of enormous benefit to the children.  We can’t thank the Cornwall Gardens Trust enough. This will definitely be an ongoing project each year.  The children especially loved learning the song:
‘Five peas in a peapod pressed, one grew, two grew and then all the rest, they grew and grew and did not stop, until one day the pod went POP!’ with appropriate finger actions.’

Let’s hope their interest in gardening continues to grow just as strongly as their vegetables did.

The children of Camelford Primary School nursery class grew the following:
Potatoes: International Kidney (also known as Jersey Royal)
Carrot ‘Paris Market Parmex’
Broad Bean ‘The Sutton’;  French Climbing Bean ‘Eva’
Lettuce ‘Salad Bowl’ and ‘Salad Bowl Red’; Lettuce ‘Little Gem’
Oriental leaves: Mizuna
Pea ‘Petit Provencal’/’Meteor’
Radish ‘Cherry Belle’; Tomato ‘Tumbler’; Shallots, Chives, Mint.

Our volunteer at Launceston Primary School…

‘Never work with children or animals’, isn’t that what they say?  When it comes to gardening, I don’t agree.  Children enjoy gardening what could be better than being outside and getting dirty when you should be in the classroom doing something altogether more boring.  That’s certainly what came across from the children at my school.

My involvement with a school starts with a planning meeting, usually with the Head, during which I look at the site conditions and define the aim of the garden e.g. for use as an outside classroom or to illustrate a curriculum area such as a ‘Dig for Victory’ garden to support work on WW2.  Any school that embarks on a garden needs to organise a maintenance programme, even if it’s just to cover basic watering and weeding.  These activities require staff time which is often where the plan fails.  It is essential that the school takes ownership of the project it has to be their garden, not CGT’s.  Therefore, I see my role as one of advice and guidance, offering suggestions of what to grow, when to plant and how to maintain the chosen plan.

At Launceston, the Head decided on vegetables and herbs, which could be linked into the Healthy Schools agenda.  Points to consider are: firstly, young children have difficulty with very small seeds therefore I suggested the younger children plant the bigger seeds e.g. Broad beans, peas, potatoes etc.  The older ones took charge of the more fiddly seeds.  Secondly, there are at least six weeks of peak growing and harvesting time, when there is no one on site I therefore suggested that the children grew early varieties that would, with luck and good management, be ready before the long holidays.

The first task was to obtain the seeds I took a small group of Reception and Year 1 children (4-5 year olds) to the local hardware shop to select seeds for planting this was fun and educational as the children saw the seeds being weighed out and prices added up.  The children were very proud to be in charge of buying seed for the whole school.

I went into the school about once a month, except at that very busy time in April and May when I popped in about every three weeks.  I worked with all classes (except year 6 who were busy studying for the Key Stage 2 sats.)  The children were very interested in how seeds turn into plants we planted some seeds in clear pots so the children could see the root development.  They created spreadsheets, as part of ICT, to plot their plants growth.

Strong healthy plants were planted out and things were going very well until slugs descended with the inevitable results.  So my next visit involved an in-depth discussion on slugs and snails and how to deal with them which being slightly gross the children loved.  Another problem was the soil it really would have benefited from a delivery of organic matter, but this had to wait until the children didn’t need to use the beds.

The children loved growing their plants and I enjoyed sharing their enthusiasm.  There is nothing like seeing the world through a child’s eyes to make you appreciate what you’ve been taking for granted.  We are always looking for new volunteers so why not give it a go, you’ll be surprised how much fun it is.

We are extremely grateful to the McCrone Trust and the Tanner Trust in particular for their continuing support.