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The Outdoor Permaculture Classroom: Edible Forest Gardens for Schools

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The Outdoor Permaculture Classroom: Edible Forest Gardens for Schools
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For more information, Please see websites below:
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Organic Edible Schoolyards & Gardening with Children
http://scribd.com/doc/239851214
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Double Food Production from your School Garden with Organic Tech
http://scribd.com/doc/239851079
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Free School Gardening Art Posters
http://scribd.com/doc/239851159`
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Companion Planting Increases Food Production from School Gardens
http://scribd.com/doc/239851159
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Healthy Foods Dramatically Improves Student Academic Success
http://scribd.com/doc/239851348
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City Chickens for your Organic School Garden
http://scribd.com/doc/239850440
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Simple Square Foot Gardening for Schools - Teacher Guide
http://scribd.com/doc/239851110

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The Outdoor Permaculture Classroom: Edible Forest Gardens for Schools

  1. 1. 18 Permaculture Magazine No. 54 www.permaculture.co.uk THE OUTDOOR PERMACULTURE CLASSROOM Dave Richards introduces richly multi-functional and diverse edible forest gardens for schools. There is growing awareness of the educational value of school gardens. E Top: Close inspection of a fruit tree during a school visit to the RISC roof garden, Reading. Centre: Looking for ants, Blagdon Nursery School. The ants nest was revealed by construction work. Left: Pupil spreading wood chip mulch around a living willow arch at St John Fisher RC Primary, Pinner. arly August, and across the country school gardens gradually wither beyond redemption. Tomatoes nurtured from seed shrivel in their grow bags. Beans that provoked huge excitement when they sprouted in their blotting paper seedbed will not be producing a crop. The summer holidays need not spell the premature end of grow-ing projects that cannot manage a watering rota or arrange access with the school caretaker, however. The perennial forest garden is the perfect antidote to this problem. Once established, they will survive a dry summer holiday, provide a learning environment which gets richer with age, and offer an edible harvest for much of the year – from nettle and wild garlic soup in the early spring, to medlar pie in the autumn.
  2. 2. www.permaculture.co.uk No. 54 Permaculture Magazine 19 In the spring of 2006 we set up Sector39 as a small business designing and building sustain- able gardens. We combined many years experience of sustainable development projects in several countries with exploring how to make the most of the educational potential of the Reading Inter- national Solidarity Centre (RISC) edible forest roof garden which was featured in PM53 ( An article on it’s construction from PM35 can be found at www. permaculture- magazine.co.uk/articles/archive). To date, we have completed eight school garden projects and have others in the planning stage. Adapting our experience to the realities of schools has been challenging; working with limited budgets, preconceptions of what gardens should look like and severe constraints on teachers’ time. The past year has provided much food for thought and some guidelines for designing successful forest gardens for schools. There is growing awareness of the educational value of school gardens. The Growing Schools initiative and Learning Through Landscapes both provide ideas and resources for schools that want to explore the curriculum through the ‘outdoor classroom’. The government’s National Frame- work for Sustainable Schools identifies eight ‘doorways’, inc- luding waste minimisation, energy use and school grounds, through which schools can extend their sustainable activities and become a model for the wider community. Gardens have also proved their worth in promoting Healthy Living and fit nicely into the framework of the EcoSchools programme where schools monitor their environmental impact and devise and implement strategies for reducing it. The climate for an integrated permaculture approach to trans- forming school grounds from a maintenance headache (finding a contractor who will mow grass and strim shrubs for a bargain price) into a resource, is prom- ising. Schools have responded enthusiastically to the idea of a garden designed to be integrated into all areas of the curriculum, from maths to design technology, and which incorporates reused, renewable and recycled materials into the hard landscaping. The design stage involves dis- cussions with as many stakeholders from the school community as can be assembled. This has been the easiest part of the process – we all aspire to be ‘sustainable’ now. Each aims to be low maintenance and maximise the educational value of hard landscaping and planting, within the constraints of the site... and budget! PERMACULTURE IN ACTION Construction has also been relat- ively straightforward. The basic formula is familiar permaculture stuff. We aim for low carbon gardens which use local materials where possible. All our sites have been neglected areas, on heavy clay soil. We apply a dressing of ground rock from SEER and fish, bone and blood meal to provide longer term nutrients. Several layers of cardboard scavenged from the school bins or local shops suppress most weeds until plants are established. A thick mat of straw from a local farm garnished with Zoopoo (composted veget- arian manure from Paignton Zoo) provides the initial dose of humus. Small pockets of peat-free compost are made for plants. In the spring, when the mix has had a good soak and begun to break down, and Above: The start of garden const- ruction at Geoffrey Field Junior School, Reading. Left: The school garden, 1 year later. Herbaceous perennials such as cardoon and Jerusalem arti- chokes make an immediate impact while the fruit trees will take longer to mature. Geoffrey Field Junior School, Reading. Right: Learning to weave willow. Whitley Park Infants School, Reading. Photographs: Schools pictures © sector39 RISC pictures © Dave Richards
  3. 3. 20 Permaculture Magazine No. 54 www.permaculture.co.uk plants have become established, we apply a wood chip mulch, available in mountains from tree surgeons. Edging for raised beds and paths ranges from bricks, rescued from convenient skips or landfill sites, to oak cordwood. We have found a fantastic local timber yard, trees2timber, which tries to find uses for cordwood rather than rendering it into chips. We make benches from green oak sleepers as the natural tannins mean we don’t need to use chemical wood preser-vatives, an important consideration in the school environment. Where budgets have allowed we have also included living willow archi-tecture built by Steve Pickup of the Willow Bank. Over the past 15 years Steve has perfected con-struction methods which ensure a long healthy life for his beautiful structures. He has built hides and entrance archways which make an immediate impact. This is very important as much of the planting, particularly the trees, will take several years to make a strong visual impression. Although the forest element of the gardens will not need water-ing once established, most also include beds of annual vegetables, so children can still have the pleasure of planting seeds and touching soil. So we include rainwater harvesting with reused juice containers (1,500 litre/330 gallon) monsters where we can per-suade our clients that they can be made less intrusive with climbers or a creative art project. These not only last longer but also make the important, but often ignored, point that reuse is preferable to recycling. Where the site allows, we divert overflow from water butts into water features and planted soakaways, ‘rain gardens’. The recent floods have drawn attention to our increasingly impermeable landscape – the government sub-sequently endorsed green roofs. ‘Bio-retention’ not only enhances the landscape value but also reduces the load on stormwater drains. Our planting schemes follow the edible forest template, with emphasis on multiple use, year-round interest and educational value. Fruit trees on dwarfing root stock provide structure and CHANGING ATTITUDES At the end of the day, no matter how many permaculture boxes have been ticked, the success of a school garden must be judged by how far it has been embraced by the whole school. Apart from the ravages of slugs and rampant bindweed in a few gardens, this has been the most challenging task. Predictably, children have respon-ded with enthusiasm to smelling ZooPoo, running through willow structures and balancing along benches. Some teachers are more used to the TV garden makeover, however, and expect instant results rather than the more gradual process of working with nature. Once the hard landscaping and initial planting are completed we try to have a training session to give staff an indication of the educ-ational value of the garden and how to access support materials. This is essential because many will not have been involved in the design and most are not gardeners. Teachers’ responses to the ‘stories’ we have embedded in the gardens have been positive... Neolithic hunter-gatherers getting their carbo-hydrates from the fleshy roots of sea kale and the importance of pres-erving heritage fruit trees easily capture the imagination. Ideally, we would continue with a series of workshops, including how to maintain the garden in the critical accessible harvesting. Unfortun-ately, no nuts because of allergies. Where we have south facing walls or fences we use cordons and espaliers to illustrate ancient means of harnessing nature’s bounty. Mulberries are essential – not only delicious and a part of every childhood – but also an historical link back to James I’s failed attempt to foster an English silk industry. Clumping bamboo is another favourite, especially to create a quiet retreat, fed by overflow from the water butt. Learning about sustainable gardening and permaculture has been an education for all of us Left: Adding ZooPoo to the mulch. Whitley Park Infants School, Reading. Below: Hexagonal green oak bench. The points of compass are marked in Welsh slate which gives a pleasant tinkling sound when walked on. Geoffrey Field Junior School, Reading. Right: Press launch of the garden at St John Fisher RC Primary, Pinner.
  4. 4. www.permaculture.co.uk No. 54 Permaculture Magazine 21 first few years while plants become established, but funding is a major limitation on the time we can devote to this follow-up work. The other critical factor is time. The demands of the National Curriculum are heavy and teachers lack the time to rejig schemes of work to include the potential of the outdoor class- room, especially if this is relatively unfamiliar territory and they lack confidence of working with soil and plants. It is, however, possible. St John Fisher Primary School in Pinner has been one of our most success- ful partnerships. In the words of Diana Farrell, “Learning about sustainable gardening and perma- culture has been an education for all of us, staff included. We didn’t know what the garden would look like. The straw looked odd to begin with, but we have been patient and waited for it to go away! The children will gain so much. They will see things growing, it is a prim- ary source. When learning about plants and fruits for example, it will be far more meaningful and exciting to gain knowledge from real examples growing in the school environment and in some cases grown by themselves. During the first year we expect the garden to be left to establish itself and grow, whilst the school establishes how we are going to incorporate it into the different curriculum areas and how we will manage the weeding, watering and general mainten- ance. This is not something that all staff will embrace with enthusiasm, so slowly, slowly is probably the best way to introduce new activities and ideas for them to take on board.” The past year has been chal- lenging and fascinating. Our basic premise, that forest gardens can be an exciting year-round resource for schools, has been clearly demon- strated. The key to this potential being realised, however, is the com- mitment of key staff members, especially the head teacher. We have several very interesting projects waiting for funding, including a relatively low cost backyard reed- bed system developed by Water Works UK. This will provide an exciting action research project for secondary school students to calc- ulate the environmental benefits of processing greywater onsite. We’d really like to work on a new build project which integrates more sustainable buildings with landscapes – green roofs and façades as well as forest gardens. Finding adventurous governors, planners and architects is not easy, but we’re still looking... Steve Jones and Dave Richards are the former and present gardeners on the RISC roof garden. Steve was a consultant on Channel 4’s recently broadcast series ‘Dumped’. sector39 90 Crescent Road, Reading RG1 5SN Tel: 0845 070 2716 Mob: 0794 705 7468 Web: www.sector39.co.uk USEFUL WEBSITES www.permaculture.org.uk www.teachernet.gov.uk/growing schools/ www.ltl.org.uk/ www.teachernet.gov.uk/sustainable schools/framework/framework_ detail.cfm www.wwuk.co.uk www.trees2timber.com USEFUL RESOURCES How To Make A Forest Garden Patrick Whitefield A step-by-step guide to creating a ‘maximum output for minimum labour’ food producing garden, designed using the ecological principles of a natural woodland. Everything you need to know in order to create a beautiful and productive forest garden, including: basic principles, layout, choosing plants, perennial and self-seeding vegetables, and design examples. 192pp, £16.95. Making Living Willow Sculptures Steve Pickup takes you through the process of making a living willow structure, showing you: how to choose an appropriate location; preparation of the site; how to plant willow rods; the different weaving techniques; and how best to care for your finished structure. DVD, 75 mins., PAL (0), £20.00 Both available from www.green-shopping.co.uk Right: The RISC roof garden, Reading has proved to be an invaluable resource for schools. Below: Steve Pickup’s willow structure was christened the ‘Whitley Whale’ by the pupils at Whitley Park Infants School, Reading. Above: Even a single plant may fit many conditions in the National Curriculum.

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