Q.I am headteacher of a primary school in Llandudno, North Wales.
We are about to undertake a project with the pupils on Vegetable Growing. We have two raised beds approx 25ft x 5ft and 2ft deep filled with good soil.
I would appreciate advice on what would be the most suitable.
(Ms Nesta Evans, 24 October 2008)
A.For this sort of a project, you’re probably best off principally going for the sorts of vegetables that you can plant in situ and won’t require too much pricking out or transplanting before your pupils get the chance to harvest them.
Once the weather has begun to warm up and any chance of frost has passed, salad leaves are a great standby – sown fairly thickly and thinned as they grow, the thinnings can be used as a cut‐and‐come‐again “garnish” leaving behind the rest to grow to full size.
Although their seeds are small and fiddly, they aren’t too difficult to sow – but if you want to do some actual planting with your youngsters, the good big seeds of most kinds of beans are a great choice. Broad beans are really hardy and can be sown from late March until May – the dwarf kind don’t crop quite so well as the taller varieties, but they don’t need so much support and they’re probably easier for little fingers to harvest. They take around three‐and a half months to grow, so you should get a crop before the end of term. French beans are another possibility, but you’ll have to get them in early – which means May – if they’re going to be ready before everyone goes off for the summer.
When it comes to fast results, that old “child’s garden” favourite, radish is hard to beat – but not every youngster likes the taste, so it’s probably best grown in moderation! Carrots are another firm favourite – grow them from early spring and crop them small, they retain a wonderful sweetness and are just as good cold as hot, which makes them great for healthy snacks. Carrot fly can be a problem – but you can get insect proof mesh to keep them out – and the precautions might be a good way to introduce children to the whole idea of pests and the measures needed to control them. One thing’s for sure, if your project inspires them to take up gardening for themselves, they’ll be meeting plenty of pests soon enough!
It would be hard not to mention the potato in all this – it’s probably best to concentrate on early varieties such as Arran Pilot, Maris Bard and Pentland Javelin; planting these in late March should see you getting a crop in June or July – again, just in time for the end of term.
I’ve been assuming in all of this that there’s probably not going to be anyone around during the summer holidays to tend the plot and keep things watered and weeded. Obviously if there’s someone on site – or you have an army of willing young volunteers – the options are even wider.
This sort of practical biology is a great way to teach children – so pob lwc / good luck!