The Land Rover Owners Wife

Gardening Club: A sensation in the playground

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A tasty snack for the pack-up children.

A tasty snack for the pack-up children.

With my kitchen scales, a note pad, pen and a bottle of water safely tucked into my wicker basket, I headed out of the door to the school garden, determined to find, pick and weigh a healthy and tasty snack from the garden, to give to the packed lunch children. Mrs C, the head dinner lady, had asked me last week if it would be possible for the pack-up children to have something from the garden, as generally the produce goes to the kitchen for inclusion with the school meals. It was also the turn of Years 3 and 4 to have an afternoon snack, provided by the garden and tomorrow, the last day of the year, it will be Years 5 and 6.

I already had a pretty good idea what would be available and so I headed straight to the courtyard and the crop of peas. We have two varieties growing in the Courtyard planters and raised bed and both of these should, if my memory served me right from Friday, be laden with fat pods, ready for picking ….. and they were.

A short while later, with the pods picked, counted and weighed for recording on the vegetable yields spreadsheet, I made my way out to the picnic tables which are dotted around the edge of the playground and at which the pack-up children were eating their lunches. Armed with 20 Purple Podded pea pods and 27 of the smaller Farm Peas, I began to give them out to the children. I have to say that all bar one of the children opted to try some and only 2 or 3 weren’t keen on the taste but at least they had tried them and with the the sound of surprised delight from those who hadn’t been at all sure but subsequently found that they did indeed liked them, ringing in my ears, I headed off to find the Year 3/4 teacher and gave her the remaining 17 or so pods which was just enough for her class to have as a snack this afternoon, if they chose to.

Pink speckles on the pods apparently look like Rattlesnake skin and give this bean it's name

Pink speckles on the pods apparently look like Rattlesnake skin and give this bean it’s name

With the peas sorted and the Courtyard watered, I then moved onto the polytunnel which was also in need of a water but also to collect some Kale, Spinach and Lettuce seedlings to plant into the now empty rectangular raised bed. This bed had originally been planted up with 3 varieties of Lettuce but the majority of them had gone to seed for some reason, probably the extreme heat and so I had pulled them out, popped them into the compost bin and now it was available to rehome some of the surplus seedlings currently residing in the polytunnel.

I also wanted to check the Rattlesnake Pole Beans in one of the Barrels to see if anymore beans were ready. I had managed to find and pick 8 or so yesterday (Sunday) when I came to water and I wanted to see if I could add a few more to this total, so that I could offer them to parents at home time. As you can see from this picture, the pods of this plant have a pink speckled marking on them, similar, I’m told, to that of a Rattlesnake skin, hence the name and I was happy to be able to add another 7 or 8 to yesterdays pick.

Back in the polytunnel, I was selecting the seedlings I needed when I heard one of the staff calling me. I put my head out the door and was asked if I could possibly take a look at a very strange bug that was loitering on the green metal railings by the sun canopy. Intrigued by the description of it looking like a 2-3 inch long brown caterpillar thing, I grabbed my camera and headed back around to the playground, making sure I’d shut the polytunnel door against any opportunistic butterflies.

Privet Hawk Moths caused a sensation in the playground

Privet Hawk Moths caused a sensation in the playground

As a gardener I do come across a lot of creepy crawlies and I have to admit to not being too keen on certain ones of them but as I approached the excited huddle of children. keeping watch and a respectable distance from this strange, alien looking creature they had found, I knew that I would need to act calm and fearless, or what little street cred’ I had (and it isn’t much to start with) would disappear in a cloud of hysteria.

Looking a lot more confident and sure than I felt, I moved forward to get my first glimpse of this fearsome creature and nearly giggled with relief but managed to contain myself and instead smiled and explained to the children that this was actually a pair of moths, probably a species of Hawk moth, mating. I thought that the knowledge that their strange and alien bug was actually a pair of moths would be a huge disappointment but in the age old manner of children everywhere, they confounded me by being even more fascinated with these unusual visitors.

I took some photo’s and promised my eager audience that I would try to find out exactly which species of moth these were and then I took myself back to the Polytunnel, gathered my tray of seedlings, a watering can and a trowel and headed off to the raised beds.

Kale, Spinach and lettuce

Kale, Spinach and lettuce

Half an hour later and the bed was home to 9 Kale, 9 Spinach and 6 Lettuces from the ‘Green Hearting Mix‘ seeds. I had planned to sow some more of the Farm Peas in the circular raised bed, currently home to carrots and beetroot, once I had removed the lettuces that had been planted when the parsnips failed to appear but which, as with those I had pulled from the rectangular bed, had also bolted. However, the sun was now baking hot and I was desperately in need of a cold drink and not the now hot water in my bottle, so I put the netting back over the Kale, Spinach and Lettuce, packed away my tools and headed for home.

After uploading my pictures and locating the contact details for the Butterfly Conservation organisation, I rattled off an email with photo’s attached and a very short while later they replied and identified the pair as Privet Hawk Moths! Result! I headed back to the school before home time, to cut some mixed salad leaves which, together with the beans and some courgettes, I also hoped to give to parents in exchange for a donation to the garden and I was able to pass the information from Butterfly Conservation onto the class teacher of the children who had found the moths in the first place.

The moths, of course, were oblivious to the sensation they had caused in the playground and had left by the time the children came out at home time but I suspect that in a very short period of time, their caterpillars will be munching away on the surrounding hedges and trees …. I just hope they don’t have a taste for any of the things we have growing in the unnetted beds and tubs.

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2 thoughts on “Gardening Club: A sensation in the playground

  1. Hi Elaine. Purple peas! how cool. We never get any fun stuff, something to do with biosecurity. (Grumble grumble) I’m glad they are really tough for the most part so we don’t end up with anything nasty here, especially as we are so far away from the rest of the world. But then we don’t get cool stuff like purple peas and cucamelons – which I would so love to try. It will take ages for the seed companies to get approval and put them in their catalogues. I shall wait with anticipation and maybe one day I’ll be able to plant purple peas and cucamelon – maybe, hopefully.
    Your moth(s) were really cool. I’m sure the kids thought you were the bravest person ever!
    Cheers Sarah : o )

    • If it helps alleviate the disappointment of not being able to get Purple Podded peas in new Zealand, be aware that the peas themselves are a pale green 🙂 They do look amazing against the purple pods though.

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