Summer work at the gardens

All throughout this project I have been asked what will happen to Gardening Club once I leave Edinburgh – a question which sometimes made me worry for I wanted the gardens to have a long lasting impact and yet I knew I won’t be always there to maintain them and the club. I hoped that I will do a good enough job as a teacher, gardener and leader that the existing club members will want to continue working in the gardens after my departure – after all growing food is quite exciting and rather addictive – you are always looking forward to next year’s harvest!

It’s been almost two months since I left Edinburgh and I am here to report that the gardens are not only alive, but are also delivering good harvests! The peas have grown well thanks to the frequent rain showers and some of our club members have been over to the gardens to do a bit of weeding and harvesting.

I do sincerely hope that Trinity Academy Gardening Club will live on – growing food is such a good way of bringing both knowledge and job into pupil’s lives! We do need help though – if you would like to contribute to the project, you can go stop by to do some weeding and harvesting, or join in on the weekly Gardening Club sessions to help with whatever is the agenda of the week – presentation, sowing, weeding, etc.

For more information, please contact me at gndaskalova@gmail.com !

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Cleo’s Pollinator and Seed Dispersers Essay

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You know when you think of gardening and picture shovels and rakes, slaving over that patch of earth, desperately trying to rid it of weeds before the rain sets in, turning the ground to sludge? Or walking back and forth forever with your back hunched, stooping to sow the little seeds, sometimes getting a meager harvest, or none at all? But do you think of sitting down and admiring your work, a job well done? Watching those black and yellow things, buzzing through the clematis, or the shiny eyed animal burying its nuts under a tree? Well, they are workers that never rest, never sitting down to admire their work, and without them the ecosystem would crumble. They are the pollinators and dispersers.

In “The Bee Movie”, a bee finds out humans are stealing their honey and demands it should be returned. However, there is so much honey returned, there is no reason for bees to pollinate, so everything dies. In the end, they resolve it, but it really shows how important pollinators are. It doesn’t show it in the movie, but as the bees stop pollination and the plants (producers) die, there’s nothing left for consumers to eat, having a knock on effect up the food chain, affecting us as well.

Now, bees aren’t just the only pollinators. Flies, wasps and butterflies are just some of them. There are also dispersers, such as blackbirds and squirrels. Some plants can self disperse, but most need help, like the rowan tree that has shiny red berries, which look so good to birds or small children. The birds eat the berries and spread the seeds. Squirrels bury acorns and some grow into trees and others they get to eat. Bees spread the pollen and get the nectar.

So maybe we think it’s not worth it. Or maybe you believe Doctor Who and think bees come from the planet Melissa Majoria and are aliens, but really, they are a massive part of gardening and we couldn’t live without them. Sometimes it may be hard and the crop – poor, but remember who never stops working, never gets a rest and is never thanked. So let’s all thank the bees and birds, and squirrels and remember they do a lot of the work and however pointless it may seem, remember the feeling you get when you sit down for super, look at your plate and think: I grew that. Me and the seed dispersers or pollinators made this food together, and I am proud of it.

 

Trinity Academy Harvest Festival

The first Harvest Festival of hopefully many more to come in Trinity Academy took place on the 23rd June this year. It has been over a month since the event and yet I still feel happy and inspired when I reminiscence over the enthusiasm of my pupils and the joy and attention with which they shared their gardening knowledge with their friends and family.

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We made presentations and posters and rehearsed our talks during the week leading up to our big event. We each chose topics we feel particularly passionate about and were proud to present them. I was so happy to see the Gardening Club members confidently speaking in front of a room full of people – and not only did they spoke, they also engaged their audience, asked questions and gave food for thought.

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In the last few months, I have tried to make our Gardening Club both educational and fun – we learned a lot together, but we also laughed and felt the exhilarating thrill of our achievement – a bountiful harvest! We kicked off the Festival with a video giving a bit of background to our goals and who we are, followed by a presentation by myself. I am currently writing this in Australia, in anticipation of starting a new job as an ecology field assistant, and it would not have felt right to leave Edinburgh behind if it hadn’t been for Gardening Club. Life in academia changes frequently and one moves around the world a lot – which of course has its advantages and disadvantages, but somehow leaving is easier knowing that I have left behind a flourishing garden. And a team of enthusiastic young people and teachers willing to continue and further my efforts.

My presentation was followed by those from Eilidh and Ben, who both did a wonderful job. Afterwards, Cleo read her beautiful essay on pollinators, which I will publish here later. It felt so good to see how much the pupils have learned – not only about agriculture and ecology, but also about how to engage the public in science communication, how to lead discussions and share opinions – a set of skills they will undoubtedly use whichever career path they take.

Once our guests were all acquainted with our project, we all walked to the allotment together to see our garden. Ben masterfully led the tour, describing the many different species we have planted and their roles within the allotment – some attract beneficial insects such as pollinators, others deter pests, some are just plain tasty! We then harvested two crates full of salad greens – lettuces, mustard and rocket.

Back at the school, we gave our guests the chance to try all the herbs we are growing – dill, parsley, chervil, oregano, thyme, mint, bronze fennel, sage and pineapple sage (which indeed smells like a pineapple!). We chatted and talked about Gardening Club, treated ourselves to tea and biscuits, and then held a special awards ceremony for our very deserving pupils. We all went home carrying a bag of salad greens and herbs, but more importantly, we were all inspired and excited to continue growing and maintaining Gardening Club.

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Allotment progress: growing steady!

The last three weeks have been great for Gardening Club – we now have a real, growing allotment plot! Our peas, lettuces, radishes and carrots have germinated, and are quickly growing. We were all very impressed by the quick growth of shallots – they look quite majestic next to our little spring onions!

We have used our ‘indoors’ time to work on the Harvest Festival coming up at the end of June, to learn about pests, diseases and how to prevent crop damage, but mostly we have been outside! In sunshine and gloomy weather, battling winds, we have all worked hard on maintaining our allotment – we are on top of weeding, we have planted out most of our seedlings (with leeks and pumpkins still to go!) and are enjoying rushing to the garden every week to see how much the plants have grown.

It is particularly exciting and rewarding to see the pupils apply what they learned from the lessons and discussions in the allotment – a great combination of theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Fingers crossed, we will soon be harvesting radishes and lettuces!

Pupils blogging: Farm visit reflections

The farm is very diverse, it’s not just growing one specific crop as a monoculture. There are many different types of crops grown, such as potatoes, rhubarb and rocket. There are many herbs as well – mint, fennel, lemon balm and lots more! The farm supports wildlife by setting aside areas where no crops are grown, such as their wilderness area, which has many trees and even a wetland. Wild garlic is growing freely in the forest area. One plant I particularly liked was chives – they have a lovely green stalk, which changes to a stark purple on the flower. The most exciting thing I learned today was about the importance of maintaining soil fertility and using the right manure – for example, some manure makes the soil very high in phosphate, but it is still lacking other important elements. The farm was amazing! My favourite part was preparing and sowing the soil. It was really good fun!

The farm grows many different crops, such as herbs (lots of herbs!), potatoes and spring onions. They also have many trees and bushes. Additionally, there are sheep on the farm, which are used primarily for grazing. Finally, they have a wilderness area, which is a safe haven for animals. One plant we saw was rhubarb – it’s a very big plant, with massive leaves and lots of stems. The leaves are green, with red stripes, and are about 50cm long. The rhubarb also had flowers coming out, which were bright pink. Unfortunately, you have to remove the flowers, so  the plant can put more energy into the leaves! The most exciting thing I learned today was also about soil and how using soil over and over again without taking care of it, can make it unusable and infertile. I really liked going into the tunnels and getting first hand experience about what farm work is like! I also learned that to find out what is the structure of your soil, you get a hand full of soil, add a bit of water, and try to make a sausage. If the sausage could crumble easily, it was fine soil, with lots of sand in it, if it couldn’t, then there was lots of clay in it.

The farm is beautiful in the way agriculture and wildlife live in harmony – fields are separated by pockets of wilderness. It is obvious that wildlife is very at home in this farm! I was particularly impressed by the bronze fennel – it wasn’t flowering, and just had leaves, which were very fine and smooth. The fennel was growing in clumps. I learned that it is really important to take care of soil, and that plowing is not very good for it. I loved the farm and the garden! My favourite part was looking at all the herbs – lemon balm, fennel, spearmint, min, apple mint!

The farm is beautiful! They have a wide range of plants and animals, both wild and farmed. They have potatoes, rhubarb growing in abundance, and a forest full of wild garlic. We were told to brake of the rhubarb flowers, so that the plant doesn’t use all its energy into flowers and seeds. There were many different herbs, of which I most liked the fennel – I even added some to my lunch! The leaves of the fennel were dark green with a purple tint – we also talked about fennel toothpaste! I learned so many things – for example that putting too much manure into the soil is not good for it, and that all the chemicals which are used in agriculture go from the soil, to the plants, and then to the animals. The farm visit was amazing and totally cool! They have a wilderness area to encourage animals, and the farm is organic and very biodiverse. My favourite part was looking at all the different herbs! The visit was very informational, interesting and fun!

 

Farm visit

IMG_4167Yesterday Trinity Academy Gardening Club was fortunate enough to visit Phantassie Organic Farm in East Linton. It was a beautiful day, spent on a beautiful farm! We met local farmers, got a tour of the farm, and even engaged in some practical work – we prepared and sowed a bed of rocket and mustard greens. We learned about what makes plants annual, biannual or perennial, with examples for each category, and deepened out knowledge of plant interactions and competition through observing the forest floor – the wild garlic is in full bloom, trying to use up the last sunny days it will get before the trees leaf out and it gets shaded out.

We talked about soil fertility and the importance of taking care of your soil to ensure it produces a good yield for many years to come. We even learned about phosphate and different types of manure! We had a lot of great discussions with the Head Gardener, Guy, who also taught us about plant groups and rotational farming. The farm visit was a full daytrip with so many highlights, that they all merge together into a sunny day full of happiness and knowledge.

I particularly enjoyed the herb tasting session – so many different types of mint! And a bronze fennel, that even I, a less than enthusiastic fan of normal fennel, enjoyed. The walk in the wilderness, as well as the Questions & Answers session were great successes, and I felt very proud of my pupils, who asked such great questions and listened carefully to what Guy was saying about supporting farm wildlife and the crucial role of farmers in our world. The visit was even better than what I had envisioned in my dreams (and I had been dreaming about it for months!), and  I would like to extend a most sincere thank you to Phantassie Organic Farm. The farm not only welcomed us for the full day, but also sent us home with a box full of seedlings for our allotment. They have a great veg box delivery scheme, with more information available on their website.

Pupils blogging: Allotment progress

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Since our founding in September the Trinity Gardening Club has flourished by taking part in many fun, creative and exciting activities. We have learnt a lot in the past few months about vegetables, gardening techniques and different types of farming.

I along with our other members are enjoying ourselves a lot. We recently began to plan our garden and are deciding on what crops to grow, where to put them and when would be best to plant them. We have also been in the CDT workshop making signs that will be put in the ground along with the crops to signify what crops are where.

After much discussion we have decided on what crops to put where and are as:

  1. Sugarsnap peas
  2. Radish
  3. Pumpkin
  4. Cauliflower
  5. Red currant
  6. Leeks
  7. Carrots
  8. Lettuce
  9. Parsley
  10. Strawberry
  11. Potatoes
  12. Sunflower
  13. Nasturtium
  14. Borage
  15. Marigold
  16. Raspberry
  17. Basil
  18. Rosemary
  19. Swiss chard
  20. Parsnip

By Ben

Pupils blogging: Reflections on farming

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Last week we settled down with a quiz sheet and watched an hour long documentary (called Grow!) about organic farming.

The film was about young people who were (for the most part) not from a farming family and had got into farming. They weren’t doing just any farming though; organic farming is farming without nasty chemicals and unnatural fertilizers. this means the plants are safer and tastier when it comes to eating them, but it’s hard work; It’s like normal gardening but on a much, much, much BIGGER SCALE!  We saw how hard it was for the farmers to deal with the stereotypes- most people didn’t think they were farmers unless they wore checked shirts chewed barley!

 We all definitely learned lots, and what the young farmers have been doing is really inspiring- by the end we were all bursting with fresh ideas for our allotment space!

By Hannah