How Does Our Garden Grow? – Part One

Each time I heard about the food forests that were planted, the townships that had metamorphosed into edible landscapes and the wonderful things people were growing on their tiny terraces, I felt intrigued. I also felt ignorant. My experiments with gardening were limited and at best, free form. I had done some planting with the children in previous years but not as a sustained effort.

I knew that we really ought to be gardening with the children… growing veggies, herbs and other plants. Through this contact children would be inspired to observe and understand the interconnectedness of all things; to experience the power of nature and her cycles. Even with my most cursory readings on the topic of permaculture, I could see the connection between permaculture, cosmic education and education for peace that we strive to follow in Montessori schools. BUT I felt inadequate to guide the children. I hesitated and failed to follow the enthusiasm and fascination children display in natural processes. This was a big, gaping missing piece at school.

Thanks to committed and passionate parent volunteers who have taken on the job of preparing our outdoor environment the missing piece has been found and put into place. They have opened up new ways for us to look at things – educating and guiding us.

I have only just started learning about different aspects to permaculture and am excited with this door that has been opened.

This is my attempt to document our learning and our plans.

A week ago we made three raised beds along a passage wall outside our kitchen.

First bags of cocoa peat, compost, soil and rolls of cardboard and tarpaulin were brought in.

compost

Wood from our woodworking room was converted into frames for our raised beds. Additionally, discarded coconut shells were purchased from the neighbourhood coconut-water seller to make even more raised beds. The first time we saw this was during a school visit to Vanastree where they also used the coconut husks to make steps around the farm!

To make the raised beds we first lined the concrete on which the beds were to sit with tarpaulin, then inside the wooden frame sat a layer of corrugated cardboard and in went the rich soil, compost and cocoa peat.

3 beds

All that was left to do was the sowing.

sowing

We planted all manner of treasure – 2 varieties of chillies, brinjals and tomatoes, lemon basil, turmeric, sunflowers, maize, marigolds, capsicum and drumstick, using companion plants as much as possible.

packets of seeds

On top went a light layer of mulch.

mulch layer

It was such a happy experience for us.

Already the corn, capsicum, tomatoes and chillies have germinated.

Corn

Corn

In the meanwhile  we have found that the soil in the gardening patch for the children is seriously depleted. It lacks aeration and has too much of clay. We have done a ‘double dig’ and planted leguminous seeds to do their magic. Observing the soil and how things are going, the patch is going to need some more time and care to get things going. Eventually we plan to have a ‘keyhole’ design utilising the edge effect.

Most of our hanging baskets are no more filled with just ornamental plants. They have been converted to herb baskets, holding plants like ‘Jalla Bhrami’, Mint, Thyme, ‘Ajwain’ or Bishop’s Weed, interspersed with a few ornamental flowers.

Around the coconut trees we have planted gourds which should climb up toward the sun.

And then there are other features planned:

water body in the front garden made using a recycled child’s bathing tub. Hopefully it will demonstrate an aquatic eco system and bring in the frogs and birds. I have been promised some papyrus cuttings from a friend which should do nicely in it. (The children are going to be thrilled with the papyrus. Not only because of their fascination with all things ‘Ancient Egyptian’ but also because it has a triangular stem!)

A spot for our cacti and succulent garden. This is will grow slowly, getting filled over time.

A tiny tepee in the back garden, sitting close to our banana plant. Creeping and entwining through it will be a bean plant.

In phase two we will look at recharge wells to replenish ground water.

Some of the plans may work and others may not. It’ll be interesting to see what happens and why and then think about what we should do next.

Watch this space for more updates of our experiments at school.

“How often is the soul of man–especially that of the child–deprived because one does not put him in contact with nature” – Dr. Maria Montessori  (from Childhood to Adolescence)

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