Composting – Turning with Gardening Club

Getting grubby in the compost

We’ve been tidying up the compost area after winter as this school is so good at composting everything that we have had to order more bins. Today at school one of our new compost bins was ready to use, so as it was a Gardening Club day and we’ve had a couple days of sunshine it was time to turn one of the older ones and rearrange.
The bins sit in front of a fence and tree line that has over the past year been absolutely covered in a vine, planted for quick growth and screening when the school was built. This does get cut down but quite often it’s only once a year and loads of the little bits get left behind. It’s tricky, because the school have requested it be completely removed and all of those little bits that all regrow really quickly, but it can take up to four months for that to filter it’s way through to the correct department and for action to actually happen. Don’t get me started.

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This school is awesome at composting, if you visit the school in the morning you will see a succession of visitors to top up the bins; small children with compost buckets and their fruit snack scraps as well as lovely catering staff with the raw food waste.

Gardening club tonight is a new group who have only been together a few weeks, I have taught some of them through previous Gardening Class but we had never attempted to turn the compost so I wasn’t sure how they would react. Children who don’t have any regular access to outdoor space are not on the whole used to bugs and beasties. The group tonight were also, due to various reasons, all female.

When I suggested investigating the compost there were squeals but I was thrilled to note they were delight rather than of horror, and they all rushed directly to the bins.
I turned the top couple of inches onto a tarp and we picked through with a stick, to see what we had. This bin has been sitting covered since Club finished in October.
As it’s a school there is always an element of extra bits; glue sticks, pen lids and some crisp packets but they are the exception definitely not the rule.
When I suggested we swap our hands for the stick to see what else they could find, they all ran for the gloves and within minutes were turning things over and exclaiming at all the lovely worms. As a general rule we don’t use gloves but I do think it’s a good precaution for compost investigation.
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Our garden sieves had both mysteriously disappeared so we improvised with a basket, sieving into a wheelbarrow, one shovel at a time. The girls took it in turns to shovel and various tunes were used as a dance rhythm to shake the sieve to. Large lumps were investigated and broken up if possible, plastic put in the bin pile and teabag outers went back in to a pile to break down for another few months.

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By the end of Club today we had a full wheelbarrow of absolutely gorgeous home made compost and a group of very dirty children, all of whom went home talking about worms. The glue stick and pen lids  went back into class after a wash and a couple shovel fulls of worms went into the new compost to give it a head start.
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Parts of a flower

Finally got the new phone and had a chance to play with the closeup on the tulips. Such a good example to show the children of the different parts of a flower.

Tiny flowers

Erodium Roseum

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Sometimes a small flower can have a large impact; this tiny alpine is a fantastic ground cover and forms into hummocks (love that word), keeping the weeds down beautifully under larger shrubs. A friend has this on two long patches on the driveway and it gets run over regularly but still produces beautifully.

Picture of healthy looking pea seedlings

The peas we sowed into old cat food boxes which were surprisingly healthy after the Easter break.

Holiday weather, windy composters and purple carrots

It’s not always easy to get access to the school out of term time and my own children are off school so work gets a little more complex. The sudden gloriously sunny weather made me slightly nervous about what we find at our first garden club of term 5. It was a relief to find a lot of germination had happened and little green shoots were poking through of a large number of modules. Some had in fact appeared and then dried too quickly, which was a shame but it was a batch of saved Calendula seed and I saved at least 1000 seeds last year so we simply resowed.

A bigger issue was the wind we had had, one of our barely full new plastic composters was at the other end of our space, with it’s contents strewn, most of our unused pots were everywhere and it all looked a bit unloved. Twenty minutes later, some sweeping and sorting and it felt a lot better. There is something soothing about stacking and matching small plastic pots that pleases part of my brain.

We sowed more flowers (hollyhock, nasturtium, marsh mallow) with a few for the summer fair garden sale. I had ordered some exotic coloured corn with blue, red, purple and black kernels.Picture of planting modules and corn packets
We also put in sunflowers; giant, red, lemon and multi head so as to have a real variety and some carrots; Nantes for a relatively sure early crop, small round, purple and red to be more interesting to look at.  Much as children in inner city school’s can be totally surprised and thrilled by eating a straight, orange carrot they helped grow, the look on their faces when they pull a purple carrot is amazing and I do believe the memory stays with them longer.

Millpond – painting heads gallery

A wonderful set of beds designed by Diane of Urban Eden Designs got painted in all sorts of animal patterns.

Animal Face Raised Beds

Raised Bed fun

One of the design features in the courtyard allotment needed to be a number of raised beds. Most of the area was tarmac and it was too expensive to dig it up. Diane from Urban Eden Designs came up with some beds that fitted in the best positions around the courtyard and had gorgeous animal faces on the end. We asked the children to vote as part of the design process and we

ended up with some fabulously individual beds.


Animal Face Raised Beds – Part Two

Raised Bed fun

Once the beds were created and lined the next stage was filling them. A large deposit of compost was popped in the school carpark, unfortunately because of the lorry’s limited turning circle it had to block a parking space. In an inner city school these are like gold dust. Luckily we had our amazing friends from Good Gym Bristol help us out. If you haven’t found them yet they are just fantastic. Put simply ‘We run to help projects and people in Bristol’. On a cold tuesday evening about twenty people in red appeared around the corner and started wheelbarrowing the cmpost around the school to the raised beds. They did a few stretches, they had a go at digging up one of our stubborn shrubs with a mattock and they moved about a tonne of compost.


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Building raised beds

It does appear at first glance to be quite easy, but when the tarmac isn’t level and the bricks aren’t straight then building a three section bed up against a fence becomes quite a beast. Good job Diane has a sense of humour.

Millpond Trees

One aspect of the design was to make use of a grassy slope, recently fenced in which the children used as a cut through between two areas.

This could have been dug out and terraced but a much nicer option is to turn it into our fruit area. Four dwarf rootstock trees where put in, along with twenty red/white/blackcurrents, tayberry and blueberrys.

Purchased from the lovely Pennard Plants, they arrived promptly, beautifully carefully packaged and in great condition.

The next step was to dig some holes, so the next parent group meeting, we grabbed our spades and a group of fifteen parents started digging. There wasn’t a pattern to which went where, except for the blueberrys being next to each other.  It took maybe thirty minutes, they all had a good soak and we have high hopes for fruit this year. Except for the Tayberrys which we know will need longer.

Millpond Primary – Design

Diane’s design is gorgeous, lots of colour, a massive increase in growing area without impacting too much on playing area. What is currently grey and frankly quite dismal and boring will hopefully come alive with people growing and eating.

If you want to see the beautiful watercolour designs she created they are available on the Urban Eden School Gardening pages.

PlayGroundology emerging social science


by Jack Monroe, bestselling author of 'A Girl Called Jack'