Gardening Club #3

Last week’s gardening club was another great success. Class 1 had come up to the allotment in the afternoon to help finish building the bird hides for the RSPB Big School Birdwatch and after school club finished off the work they started. It was lovely to see the children so committed to their purpose and helping each other, and their teacher, to get the job done.

It was a real group effort. The netting forms a key part of the bird hide because once the frame is covered it means the foliage from the old Christmas trees can be pushed through the holes. The children helped their teacher to cut the netting down to size, which they then tied onto the frame.

The children worked well together to cove the hide in the net.

All that hard work, it’s a good job there’s the odd water butt lying around to have a sit down on! It was kindly donated by a local resident from the village, and the school couldn’t be more grateful. Over the next couple of weeks, parent and children volunteers will help to hook it up to a gutter on the shed so that it can start to collect water.

It’s wonderful to see how happy the allotment makes the school children feel. Perhaps it is a combination of being outside in the fresh air or just a bit of physical labour, but it brings a real smile to all their faces.

The children also helped to dig over the ground where the wildflowers will go.

A good job done. The hides are up and just in time. They look great.

Seeds Glorious Seeds!

Just a month into our new allotment project and the response to our school’s seed shortage has been overwhelming. We began with literally nothing to plant and now, within the space of just a few weeks, we are sprouting seeds out of our ears! Thanks to many kind and generous donations we have around 60 different vegetables and flowers to sow. It’s incredible!

One of the biggest organisations who has shown their support is Down to Earth. They support people in growing and harvesting their own fruit and vegetables. Their aim is to increase access to, and availability of, fresh, nutritious and healthy food and encourage reconnection with the land. They provide a range of services including gardening and run several community projects across Gloucestershire.

A group of enthusiastic parents from the school have had the pleasure of meeting this incredibly kind bunch of people both on the allotment as well as at the Stroud Farmers Market last weekend. There are plans currently underway for members from the Down to Earth team to come onboard and give workshops. It’s a really exciting partnership, the main benefactors being the children.

As we start the sowing season it really is all about the seeds, which is why one of the first workshops we are keen to organise relates to seed guardians. Seed guardians grow one or two crops for seed in their own gardens or allotments, and donate that seed to the seed bank. Down to Earth, who run the Stroud Seed Bank, offer ongoing support and the chance to be part of a growing community. In Spring they hold a training session for seed guardians and in Autumn they come together for a harvest meal with swapping of seeds and stories from the year. We believe it will provide a wonderful opportunity for the children, giving them a real sense of purpose not only their planting but also to themselves. To become the first school in Gloucestershire with its own army of seed guardians would be something really quite magical.

It hasn’t just been the local’s who have helped. A national seed bank also sent a wonderful box of goodies bursting with beans, beetroot and butternut squash!

Christmas presents have also helped to tot up the total. One little boy from school was so excited to receive seeds from his Grandmother that he stuck them on his wall proclaiming they were his best Christmas present! Delightful stuff.

Some seeds have led to much intrigue. This giant tub of rainbow chard was kindly donated by the Stroud Seed Bank. They didn’t come with any sowing instructions, which made the whole learning process even more exciting! It took a bit of digging, (excuse the pun) to unearth (excuse the other pun) as to how they should be sown and harvested.

These broad bean seeds were kindly donated by Nailsworth Garden Centre. This incredibly kind bunch of people also gave the children a bird feeding station, bird food, trugs, sowing labels and pens and lots of bags of compost manure. The total value of the donation was over £100.

Another wonderful seed source has been Learning Through Landscapes. They recently awarded the school with a £500 nature grant and with that came a huge bundle of seeds and sowing packs.

Thanks to everyone’s generosity and support the children now have an incredibly extensive and varied seed collection. Crops such as cape gooseberry for example, are something most of the children will have never tried, so it’s fantastic they now have this opportunity.

Of course, with all these seeds comes plenty of opportunity for harvesting and ultimately cooking. When the weather warms and the fruit and veg start to ripen we hope to invite local cookery companies to the allotment to give the children some outdoor cooking experiences with food picked straight from the soil.

It’s not just all about the fruit and veg, flowers will also form a key part in the school’s allotment plan. With a large area of the site reserved for wildflowers the hope is that lots of pollinating insects will visit. It will also be visually stimulating for the children and provide yet more educational content.

There is so much in the news at the moment that is so relevant to everything the school is trying to put in place. Plastic is a big one, as is sustainably sourced food. Mental health is an endless subject for debate with many citing increased screen time and reduced time outside being the key reason for the rise of mental health problems in children. The allotment project at Oakridge tackles all these really big issues in one swift blow. The children are extremely fortunate to be a part of something so special where the underlying current pushing it forwards is them.

Gardening Club #02

Last week’s gardening club followed in the same theme as the previous week - bird hide building in readiness for the RSPB Big School Bird Watch, which the children are taking part in next week.

There’s a lot of love for the great outdoors at Oakridge School, a philosophy that the children’s parents and teachers try to instil in the children on a daily basis. The school’s new gardening club is just one way that ensures the children appreciate and care for the world around them.

We were blessed with another beautiful afternoon of brilliant sunshine, and although pretty chilly, one could feel Spring might be just around the corner.

Having cut all the trees up the previous week it was time to build the frames. The bird hides use a very simple a-frame, much like a tent only with a couple of viewing slots in the side. Once the frame was in position the children helped to tie the trunks firmly together.

There was a great deal of concentration involved as KS1 pupils helped tie the netting onto the frame. Great for their dexterity and problem solving.

Next the children helped to cover the netting with all the foliage from the Christmas trees. Again, it was a simple technique that involved grabbing branches and sticking them through the holes in the netting.

Much fun was had trying it out for size to see if it would actually stand up, (it did!)

The finished piece has much charm. It is delightful to look at and gives a great deal of satisfaction knowing all the little hands and hearts that went into building it. The children will take great pleasure in using it next week to study and count birds.

Life at Oakridge wouldn’t be complete without a sunset and a child jumping up and down on a heap of old branches as if they were a trampoline. It defines childhood and everything it should comprise. At Oakridge our children are blessed.

Gardening Club #01

After school gardening club at the allotment started today and what a great success it was. The allotment has been months in the planning and so it was extremely pleasing to see the children enjoying themselves, working together and generally being so happy outside in the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

The activity for today’s session was making bird hides out of old Christmas trees in readiness for the RSPB’s Big School Bird Watch the children are doing in February. The hides are an A-frame constructed from the stalks of seven trees. The foliage is then used to cover the frame and camouflage it. It’s a great lesson in reusing and recycling.

There were nine children at today’s session and with fourteen trees to strip in just under an hour, they had their work cut out. Unbelievably, they got through eleven trees - a remarkable achievement!

Everyone got particularly excited when a bird’s nest was found hiding among the branches of one of the trees. No one had ever seen anything quite like it. Just a few weeks ago all these trees had been stood in people’s houses looking beautifully decorated for Christmas. Why no one had spotted it sooner was mind boggling. Still, the children had fun guessing which kind of bird might have made the nest.

Everyone worked incredibly hard to strip the branches off the trunks, even our youngest members gave it a good go, assisted by the older ones.

The children found their own methods for stripping the trees. Some attacked the branches with such vigour one felt they would wear themselves out within the first five minutes, while others adopted a more methodical approach. Ultimately, both methods had the same outcome!

The children were extremely proud of their efforts and quite rightly so. The branches, particularly around the lower section of the trees, were quite thick and it took a great deal of strength to cut through them. The foliage was also rather spiky and didn’t relinquish easily.

The children all showed great determination and drive, there was much jubilation every time another branch was dismembered from the trunk!

With tired hands and arms, the children teamed up and made light work of the final few trees. A thorough health and safety check had been done at the beginning of the session, drawing the children’s attention to the possible dangers involved in the activity and to the tools they were using. It was nice to see them all being sensible and looking out for one another.

All of the gardening club sessions will have two adults, which equates to one adult per six children. It was pleasing to see that the club was nearly at maximum capacity, even on a cold and rather damp Winter’s day.

The stalks were piled up and will be pulled into A-frames at next week’s gardening club. Viewing slots will be created using canes and netting will be stretched over. The foliage will then be pushed through the netting and held in place by its own weight.

Thankfully the children showed much more excitement and enthusiasm than pooch here!

Gardening club finished at 4.30pm and by the time everyone had packed everything away we were treated to the most stunning sunset. The children were mesmerised. There was no better place to be other than standing on the allotment watching the sunset for those few minutes. An incredibly enriching and rewarding session for all those involved.

Family Day

Last Saturday was an action packed one as work got underway transforming the new school allotment. It was a triumph of team work, dedication and determination as the foundations were laid to transform a scruffy patch of grass into a productive vegetable and wildlife area.

It was wonderful to see so many families from the school come together with one common purpose in mind: to provide something better for their children. It was lovely to feel support from the wider community too. Local residents popped down to say hello, dropped off tools and tins of biscuits.

Work on site began early with the children helping to set out using string and pegs. Together, they carefully measured the space for the wildflower area before marking it out. Even those as young as five were keen to help, with this little one in the picture below reeling the string off the roll.

The children at Oakridge are a practical bunch. It was refreshing to see so many little bodies getting stuck in getting their hands dirty. The older ones helped the younger ones not only with the tasks at hand but also with words of encouragement.

There was a lengthy task list. Key jobs included digging over the grass for the wildflower area, making the raised vegetable beds, building the compost heaps, erecting the greenhouse and digging out the pond. It was this last job that proved the most challenging. The soil in the area is notoriously stoney and after just a few minutes of digging the Dad’s soon reached bedrock. Not to be defeated and with pick axes at the ready, the hole gradually began to take shape.

Small pockets of parents tasked themselves with different jobs. Alongside the pond building, another team built the raised beds. All the timbers were very generously donated by Jewsons in Stroud. There was over £200 worth of wood so it was extremely kind of them. They even delivered it all for free.

The local and wider communities have been so supportive of the school’s allotment project. As well as all the free timber, a local resident offered to deliver a whole heap of manure too - free of charge. Others have donated gardening tools and made cash contributions. All of these things will go such a long way in making sure the allotment is a huge success for the children both now and in the years to come.

As parents we have a responsibility towards our children not only to keep them safe but to give them the freedom to judge risk for themselves - a vital quality to possess. Being outside in the fresh air, feeling at one with the countryside and doing some manual labour teaches so many valuable lessons. It sure beats the screen time that so many children seem to crave these days.

As well as helping to dig out the pond, the children raked the soil over in the raised beds and picked out bindweed roots…

…the very small ones enjoyed eating chocolate biscuits.

While the parents talked, the children worked…

…and the dogs rested.

There were a total of six raised beds. All were marked and measured out before being cited into position. Cardboard was placed underneath each one to create a natural, organic membrane between the wood and the grass, on top of which tons upon tons of compost, manure and soil were placed.

The soil that came out of the hole for the pond was reused in the raised beds. Given how stoney it was one volunteer had the bright idea of sieving it prior to it going into the beds. This was a remarkably successful technique.

To help keep motivation high there was a lovely big fire pit. Folk caught a whiff of the smell of sizzling sausages as smoke soared into the wintery sky. The scrumptious food was a warm welcome after a hard morning’s work.

For all the work the children did, equally there was plenty of play too. The compost bins made great dens and parents would often peer into the top of one to find half a dozen children inside with Saphie the dog on their laps feasting on chocolate biscuits!

The allotment is a beautiful space. Surrounded by open fields and big skies, there is a real sense of peace and tranquility. There are many parents in the school who are looking forward to using it as a place to come and picnic in the Summer months, to chat and gather with friends, perhaps garden together or simply sit and enjoy the countryside.

It was a rather momentous moment when the first buckets of water were poured into the pond. It took nearly the whole day to grind the hole out of the rocks, there was great cheer as the water flooded the cavity.

All of the waste materials dug out of the ground were reused in other ways. For example, the soil from the hole of the pond was dug into the raised beds, the rocks were reused to make a hibernaculum, (reptile house) and the grass from the wildflower area was used to cover it. In time the hope is that the grass will start to grow therefore forming a seat for the children to sit on.

The greenhouse was erected in one corner of the site. It is without glass, (for obvious safety reasons) and instead the open sides will be filled with plastic bottles. This is a future project for the children, in the mean time, parents have been asked to start collecting lots of 2 litre bottles - it’s going to need a lot!

There was plenty of fun and cheer to be had, even as the sun was setting. Children have a stamina that just goes on and on, it’s wonderful!

As with everything, this is a work in progress. Once the wildlife area is planted up and the grass recovers it should be bursting with life and colour. The hibernaculum will be enhanced with the addition of corrugated sheets that will provide a habitat for grass snakes etc. The turfs of grass on top will hopefully root and once the grass takes will provide some much needed seating for lessons. The children will help plant up the pond, which will provide an endless resource of learning for them over the coming months and the bird feeding station will become the focal point of the school’s RSPB Big School Bird Watch, which is happening in early February.

The six raised beds will be where all the vegetables are grown. The school has decided to adopt a no dig method, which means the soil is left undisturbed and in turn makes for stronger, healthier plants. The first vegetables the children will be planting are broad beans and they can start planting these over the next few weeks. They can also start to chit potatoes. The school is very excited about how the vegetable garden will support the children’s diets at school, particularly at lunch time.

Now that the first phase of the allotment is complete, phase two is already underway. Plans include building a willow fence around the perimeter of the plot as well as the pond and wildlife area, building a sunken fire pit, erecting a shed, building the plastic bottle greenhouse and buying a large work bench for class lessons.

Fundraising continues and if you would like to donate please go to https://rocket.fund/p/oakridgeallotment/.

After school gardening club starts tomorrow. The first two sessions will focus on building bird hides out of old Christmas trees in readiness for the RSPB Big School Bird Watch the children are doing in February.

Seed Paper Crackers

On Tuesday Class 1 and Class 2 helped make the crackers for their Christmas party, but these were no ordinary crackers - these were seed paper crackers.

If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s basically a very eco-friendly cracker that uses paper impregnated with seeds that can be replanted in the Spring and left to germinate. It’s a brilliant concept that ties in perfectly with the school’s desire to improve its eco-footprint and encourage the children to become more sustainably aware.

The activity began with the teachers showing the children the seed paper. It was explained to them that instead of just throwing the disused crackers away, this year, they will be replanted on the allotment. The paper is embedded with various flower seeds that are good for butterflies and bees - Chrysanthemum “Golden Ball”, White Gypsophilia “Baby’s Breath”, Snapdragon “Rainbow Mix”, Iberis Umbellata “Candytuft”,  Lobularia “Snowcloth”,  Ageratum “Blue Mink”, Petunia,  Godetia,  Azalea and Dorotheanthus.

The children filled the tubes with a party hat, joke, candy cane and pull snapper…

…with a little bit of jiggling everything seemed to just about fit.

It was lovely to see the children try various different techniques in order to try and keep the innards inside the cracker whilst they wrapped the cardboard tube in the paper. Some methods were more successful than others but it was good to see the principle of trial and error being applied.

Next, the teachers helped the younger ones to wrap the recyclable cardboard tube lengthways in the plantable paper.

The ends were tied securely with festive ribbon…

…and hey presto - one seed paper cracker!

By the end of the session a big bundle of crackers was beginning to pile up, all looking wonderfully festive and hand made. There will be thirty seven in total all bursting with seeds, which come the Spring, the children will plant on the allotment to help attract birds, bees and other wildlife. It was a true lesson in sustainability, a wonderful hands on classroom activity, a bit of festive fun and a fantastic opportunity to engage the children in new ways of thinking about waste, the environment and their sustainable footprint.

The children enjoyed the Christmas party yesterday and it was so lovely to see the seed paper crackers in action. The paper was collected up and is now being stored safely until the Spring, when the children will plant it on the allotment.

Our First Donation

Last Friday myself and another parent from the school headed over to Nailsworth Garden Centre. The lovely bunch of people there very kindly agreed to donate some materials to help get us going on the allotment, and what a generous bunch they are.

Thanks to their generosity the children are now in possession of two colourful trugs, a bird feeding station, two bird feeders, bird food, lots of packets of beans, six bags of manure and various plant labels. The total value of the donations is over £100.

They have very kindly agreed to continue to pledge their support on a seasonal basis, which is extremely kind of them. We are very much looking forward to putting all these wonderful new items to good use on the allotment very soon.

Fundraising Video

This video has been a bit of a team effort by various parents at the school but I think this is the final, polished version!! The subtitles really help get the children’s message across.

The children are trying to raise funds to buy gardening tools and equipment for their new allotment, your support would go a long way in helping them to achieve their goal. To make a donation simply follow the link below.

https://rocket.fund/p/oakridgeallotment/

There are so many benefits the children will gain from growing their own food, not least being outside in the fresh air doing some physical exercise and getting their hands dirty. The allotment will teach the children about the importance of growing food locally, not just in terms of the health benefits it provides, but also from an environmental perspective and the importance of sustainability. It will give them a solid understanding about where food comes from, what's involved in order to grow it and the satisfaction of knowing that they grew it all themselves.

Tree Planting Ceremony

The children planted an apple tree at the allotment today to celebrate National Tree Week and to celebrate the fact we have got this wonderful new outdoor learning space.

It was a rather poignant moment because it was the children’s very first visit to the allotment. We weren’t quite sure how it would go but it turned out to be a very positive experience for everyone involved. It was fantastic to see the children working outside in the fresh air together doing something so engaging. One can see instantly how enormously beneficial having this space will be.

It was decided that the apple tree, being the first thing to be planted on the allotment, should go right in the middle of the site. The children worked out the centre by pacing from each of the four corner posts.

Next began the real hard graft of digging the hole. Despite the rather stony soil, all the children had a go, even little Elin, who is our only pupil in Reception. Jumping up and down on the spade proved a remarkably successful technique!

The older children helped the younger ones and there was a real sense of team work as they pulled together to make the hole big enough.

You’ll always find a smile wherever you go at our school. It’s a great reflection on how happy and content the children are.

It wouldn’t be a proper day at the allotment if we didn’t find the odd worm and this one was a whopper! It provided a lovely impromptu chat with the children about the importance of earth worms and the job they do to keep the soil in tip top condition.

Once the hole was dug, the children all took great pleasure in filling it back up again with soil. Many hands make light work and there were plenty of gorgeous, grubby little fingers by the end!

One of the final jobs was to whack a stake in to help brace the tree. The children all had a go with a little bit of parent help to overcome those stubborn stones.

Class 1, along with two representatives from Class 2, all had a super time celebrating National Tree Week and doing their bit to help the trees. We are all looking forward to seeing our tree grow over the coming months and can’t wait to pick our first crop. Oh the fun we’ll have eating, cooking and stewing the delicious fruit.

From The Ground

Our project, ‘From The Ground’ is a whole school initiative founded for the children, created by the parents and supported by the teachers. The sole purpose of the idea is to enrich the children’s learning. The allotment will be a wonderful space, providing a cross curriculum learning platform and opportunities for practical, outdoor lessons.

The allotment lies in the heart of the village of Oakridge Lynch, nestled between Stroud and Cirencester, in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

At present the plot is just lumpy grass, but we have big plans! The area is to be segmented into three zones: class 1, class 2 and a family area. The class zones will provide space for curriculum related activities, while the family area will take the form of a more traditional vegetable plot. We also hope to create a teaching area.

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We have recently applied for a Learning Through Landscapes Nature Grant and if successful we will be given £500 to spend on seeds, books, ground cover sheets, kneeling mats, a wildlife camera and a bug hotel. The allotment and the nature grant are just the first steps in obtaining Eco-School status and a Green Flag Award.

Work on the allotment is due to start in January 2019, when we are holding a family day. Some of the turf will be dug over but we are also going to adopt a no dig policy. It’s very important to us to help the children understand the ecology of the plot and with that in mind will look to support our vegetable growing by planting a wildflower meadow and other pollen rich areas to attract lots of birds, bees and insects too.

There will be plenty more news coming from the ground over the next few months so stay tuned for more blog posts, pictures and updates.