The more observant of you will have noticed that in recent weeks, there has been a distinct lack of posts relating to gardening. Naturally this time of the year sees a drop off in garden related activity, as crops come to the end of their cycle, the colder weather sets in and thoughts turn to garden maintenance and preparation for next season. But this year there is a much more prevalent factor behind my lack of posts, a sadness which has over come me, an over whelming sense of disappointment which has driven my ‘get up and go’ right out of the country, never mind the room.
So what has brought about this sense of disappointment and dismay?
Well first of all, over in my own garden, the poor showing of many of my favourite crops due in mixed measures to the prolonged humid spell which hit at a critical time and is, I am positive, the reason why flowers weren’t about or pollinated at that all important point in June when many plants start to set fruit, and also to the lack of nutrients in the beds. Obviously the first of these is beyond my control and must be accepted as just one of those things but the second is down to lack of planning and forethought on my side and will be rectified this autumn/winter with large quantities of topsoil and manure being added to the beds ….. once I’ve cleared them that is.
However, this is only part of the problem. The main cause for my negativity and lack of enthusiasm, can be placed squarely at the door of the school garden.
Three or four years ago, when I took on the role of Gardening Club co-ordinator, I did so because I believed strongly that teaching the children how to grow their own food was important and if that food could then be harvested and passed on to parents, staff and more importantly the kitchen that prepared the hot meals, then it was a worthwhile enterprise. The added bonus of potentially passing freshly harvested snacks into the classrooms, added to my enthusiasm and I ended up putting far more time into the garden than I ever intended to do but to me it was worth it.
As the years have come and gone I have faced an uphill battle getting the parents to take the fresh produce, for reasons that have, until recently, defeated me. Then a couple of months ago, a parent confided that part of the problem is that parents are wondering how many pairs of little hands have handled the produce before it comes onto the playground. I was perplexed until it was further explained to me that the possibility of germs was the issue!
Firstly you have to understand that my band of gardeners always wear gloves unless that is they are handling seeds and generally speaking, they each pull or pick their item and then it is placed into a basket for me to wash and sort out. Germs are not an issue and to be absolutely frank, when you consider how many pairs of germ ridden hands have potentially touched the produce in your local supermarket before you buy it, the concern over the organically grown school veg is totally mystifying to me and is, in my opinion, without any substance whatsoever!
That said, if this is a genuine concern I need to address it and so after some thought, came up with what I think may well be a suitable solution – ‘pick your own vegetables’. Next season, a letter will go out on a Friday informing parents what should be available to pick the following week and then they would be invited to come and pick their own vegetables, with their child, on a first come first served basis. This would, I hope, negate the concern over handling and encourage a bit more interest in the vegetable plot.
Deflated though I was by this revelation, I remained fairly upbeat because at least I could send the vegetables to the kitchens to be prepared and returned as part of the hot meals. Then this term we changed suppliers and it was the knock on effects of the new supplier that knocked me for six and has left me feeling totally disillusioned, disheartened and seriously debating whether or not it is worth carrying on with the garden!
The new supplier will not take any of the food from the vegetable patch!
I was stunned and really very upset and angry about this. The whole point of the vegetable patch in the first place was, I thought, to grow food with the children and then to get them to eat it. But no, apparently if we were to supply fresh vegetables from the school garden the supplier would have to treat it the same way they would fresh meat.
It is fair to say that the wind has been well and truly knocked out of me and with cabbages, carrots and parsnips still in the beds, the future of the garden has been hanging in the balance for the last few weeks. It is hard to find enthusiasm for something when you appear to be the only person who actually appreciates the potential benefits. Even my own garden has not been the solace I would have hoped for and has failed to pull me out of the doldrums.
However, I refuse to allow the negativity of others to keep me down for long and this week I plan to start clearing my garden ready for enriching and then in the next week or so the school garden will receive the same treatment. The children in gardening club really appreciate the garden and hopefully the new ‘Pick your own’ scheme will motivate some of the parents to partake of the produce, grown and lovingly tended by the children. If not, then I’ll have to seriously rethink the viability of the vegetable patch and the amount of time I and the children, invest in it.