I like a bargain just as much as the next person and can often be found working out the best value per 100g in the supermarket, to check if a so called offer is really as good as it is meant to sound but I have always worked on the thought that a bargain is only a bargain if you actually need it in the first place. Freebies, on the other hand, need to be treated with greater care and given a lot more though as, depending on where you are getting your freebie from, you could find yourself swamped in junk emails or snail mail and even then, it might not be all you thought it was going to be, often proving the adage ‘too good to be true’ correct.
What has all this got to do with the school garden, you might be asking, and why are the school beds so tired?
Well back in 2010/2011 when the grant application was being drawn up (and subsequently approved) for the vegetable garden, the people involved with the application process , made a couple of fundamental errors. First of all they didn’t view the proposed site in the summer, when the surrounding trees were in full leaf which has resulted in one of the beds being in almost full shade (95%) and another being in mostly shade, with partial sun ….. very partial sun, all summer.
Secondly not much though was given, or so it seems, to the nutritional needs of the vegetables to be grown. Instead of a nice but costly blend of good quality topsoil, compost and fertiliser being used to fill the substantial sized beds (the biggest is 1.75m long by 1.75 m wide by 1 foot deep), an offer of free topsoil from a neighbouring farm was accepted. By the time I took over the running of the vegetable garden, the beds were in place and were filled with the donated topsoil … a dense, very claggy soil, filled with hundreds of large stones.
My heart sank, whilst this soil might be good in a large field where heavy farm machinery could make short work of churning up the solid mass and pumping in high volumes of fertilisers, in the school beds, getting this substrate enriched was going to take a lot of hard work. Over the last four years, compost, feed and fertiliser have all been added and yet not much has changed in terms of the workability of the soil. It is almost impossible to get a spade or fork through. The children struggle to dig with the not insubstantial trowels they have at their disposal and the stones, many the size of tennis balls, are a very real problem which will take years to clear.
I know this sounds ungrateful, after all the soil was a freebie, but I feel that this was the one area where the grant applicants shouldn’t have stinted, even a mix of 50% free soil and 50% quality top soil would have been better than what we are currently coping with.
This year I almost have to admit defeat because in spite of all my best efforts to enrich the soil, it simply isn’t working and the garden is struggling to grow. In a nutshell, the beds are tired and I have to admit that unless we can add a significant amount of decent substrate to the mix this autumn, then it doesn’t bode well for next season. Thankfully one of the parents has a rotavator which I can use to try and loosen the existing stuff up before we add a fresh mix but we may need to remove a fair amount of the original soil first.
That said, we have to raise the funds to purchase new topsoil first and that in itself is going to be a challenge.