Permaculture in school

To create a synergic garden with pupils, offering valuable input to the conventional school programme. Following the principles of Permaculture, students can learn more about the strategies of nature, understand the principles of the interconnections between man and nature and learn how to work together on a common project.

Objectives

To transmit to children and youngsters in general the sense of interdependence between man and nature and the circularity nature of  ecosystems.

To acquire knowledge of basic agricultural techniques.

To directly experiment synergic agriculture - the beneficial association between plants and the importance of the insects in the garden.

To develop a genuine and ecological awareness.

To reflect upon the self-production of food.

Materials

A piece of land with soil in the backyard of the school where it can be possible to cultivate vegetables.

To realize the garden:

  • water pipes with holes for the water drops irrigation system
  • a sink close to the garden
  • straw for covering the soil
  • plants and flowers
  • gardening tools ( shovel, rake, etc..)
  • gloves
  • appropriate clothes

To create the seedbeds:

  • a sunny room where you can leave the plants grow
  • different containers or pots for the seeding.
  • possibility to recycle objects and use them as pots for the plants.
  • seeds
  • soil

Implementation

To create a synergic garden in a school requires several steps in order for the pupils and students to understand the principles behind the Permaculture.

To create a garden with the synergic technique requires some specific materials and knowledge of the plants and the techniques to follow.  One suggestion is to contact experts of the sector, or maybe some farmers who deal with the topic and ask them to help the teachers in explaining and realizing the different activities.

If you are a teacher, maybe in scientific subjects, a good opportunity is to connect the activity in the garden with the school program, in order to have theoretical and practical activities.

The activities can be organized in a number of meetings with the class.   It’s up to the teacher, school requirements, program of the lessons, availability of the expert, etc…

The sessions can last min 1 hour and max 2 or 3 hours.

You can copy the different session and adapt them to different classes.

A  THEORETICAL LESSON IN THE CLASSROOM

(from 1 h to 2 hrs)

Initally, as an introduction to Permaculture principles, the first meeting with the classroom should be organized as a theoretical lesson where pupils and/or students can understand the idea of the project. Not everybody has an idea of what Permaculture is, nor a synergic garden. For this first lesson it might be useful to bring some photos or a video that show a synergic garden.

In general for the first approach to Permaculture it is important to underline:

- An ecosystem generates no waste, the waste of one species is the food of another;

- The materials circulate through the web of life;

- The energy that powers these ecological cycles comes from the sun;

- Life from its very beginning, more than three billion years ago, has not been spread all over the planet by conflict, but with collaboration and the formation of networks of elements.

- Diversity of species provides resilience to a system.

Definition of Resilience/ A Resilience system:

In ecology, resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to respond to a perturbation or disturbance by resisting damage and recovering quickly. Such perturbations and disturbances can include stochastic events such as fires, flooding, windstorms, insect population explosions, and human activities such as deforestation and the introduction of exotic plant or animal species

To understand the principle of Permaculture in an easy way it’s possible to use a simple example that pupils and students can understand.

The principles of Permaculture take inspiration from nature and how it functions. It’s possible to use the example of the forest: the land in the forest is covered by the leaves, the soil is not worked by humans and the elements of the ecosystems support each other.

With this recognisable image pupils and students can start understanding the reason of using the straw as cover for the ground and why it’s useful to associate different varieties of vegetables.

A second step is to observe the soil of the garden. This exercise is a first step for understanding this component of the land and how the first layer is so important, because it’s the place where all the nutritive elements of the earth stay.

Take  some soil from 3 different points in the area where the garden will be created and put them in three different cans. Add water and wait a little bit.

The didactical and interesting thing is to see how the different elements present in the soil separate themselves thanks to the water.

Together with the students, observe if the land is good for cultivation. If the first layer is substantial, it means that the land is good and full of humus. If not, it doesn’t matter. Thanks to the Synergic techniques you are going to use, in 2 or 3 years the soil will be enriched by compost.

The third step can be a game called the web of life.

This exercise shows the importance of the natural system’s interconnections and the attention we have to give to each element, even if at first sight it seems unimportant.

TO PREPARE THE GROUND

This session is held outside in order to prepare the garden for cultivation.

With the help of teachers, parents and other people involved in the project, work on the preparation of the ground by first hoeing it.

With appropriate gardening tools, clear the ground of wild plants. Don’t throw away the wild plants, they can be reused for composting.

It’s better to start clearing the ground before the students arrive. In this way the pupils/students can participate in the final stage of the work and appreciate the final results.

Try to divide the group into smaller groups and give them the appropriate tools.  Make sure that everybody has the opportunity to hoe the ground.

During the hoeing it’s possible you will find little creatures, like worms. If so, explain to the pupils/students their importance, by recalling the theoretical lessons of the first meeting and the importance of the first layer of the soil, where these creatures work in a symbiotic exchange with the soil, the plants and the environment in general.

TO REALIZE THE SEEDBEDS AND SOWING.

Find a sunny classroom;  it can be the existing classroom of the pupils/students or another one. The important thing is for the seedbeds to remain in the same place during the germination period.

Prepare the room by putting on each table a bag of the soil, some containers or pots, the seeds of the vegetables or plants you want to cultivate in the garden and  some pieces of paper and coloured pencils.

Present to the class what you are going to do, you can show the pupils/students how to sow the seeds as an example and then they can repeat the process for themselves.

Give a short theoretical introduction on the different ways that plants can reproduce themselves: Seeds:  a small embryonic plant enclosed in a covering called the seed coat, usually with some stored food (Salad, zucchini, tomatoes, cauliflowers, etc..)

Bulb: modified stems with a short fleshy vertical stem, covered by thick fleshy modified leaves that enclose a bud for the next season's growth.  A bulb grows under the soil, but it is not actually the root of the plant (Onions, garlic, etc..)

Tuber:  various types of modified plant structures that are enlarged to store nutrients.  They are used by plants to survive the winter or dry months, to provide energy and nutrients for re-growth during the next growing season, and as a means of asexual reproduction. There are both stem and root tubers (Potatoes and some types of flowers)

Once sown in the pots, write or draw on a the paper the name of the seeds. In this way, once the plants have grown you can recognize what they are.

RAISED BEDS AND IRRIGATION SYSTEMS.

Create the raised beds with some soil and mark out different lines of where to plant the seedlings from the seedbeds.  It’s important to leave space for walking around inside the garden and for picking the fruit/vegetables from the plants without stepping on the soil surrounding the plants. The width should be about twice the length of the arm of a pupil/student.

During this phase try to not step on the soil too much, in fact the less the soil is worked, the better it is.

After having decided on the shape of your garden and built the raised beds, install the drop irrigation system, by fixing the tube to the soil with some pieces of metal strands.

Then sprinkle the straw everywhere, on the raised bed and on the pathway. All the soil should be covered by the straw.

THE PLANTING

When the plants in the seedbeds start to grow and they are almost 15 cm high, it’s time to plant them!

With the help of the companion planting method (the planting of different crops in proximity) the pupils/students can enjoy the planting and they can decide where to plant one species or another. Here there is the possibility to shape the garden, following the line of the raised bed.

THE MAINTENANCE

The irrigation of the garden has to be done each 2 or 3 days, it depends on the weather and the amount of rain.  First, test the dampness of the soil each time, by putting a finger into it.

To continue the work with the classroom you could create a group responsible for the irrigation. With the help of a poster stuck up on the wall, the students can write their name and choose the day which they are responsible for.

 

Evaluation

Evaluation is crucial for this activity and it’s possible to evaluate the knowledge and competences gained by the group, thanks to the different activities.

The teacher who decided to link the school program to the gardening activities can create a test to do in the classroom.

INTERMEDIATE EVALUATION

After each meeting and activity you can run a simple and easy evaluation with the group by using the document “Today I learned to…”

Ask to the pupils/students to create a circle. Give them the paper “Today I learned to…” and ask them to reflect upon the activity they made.

The group can share the reflection or keep the document for themselves.

It’s possible to use this document at the end of each activity by using a new blank document each time.

FINAL EVALUATION

Organize a final evaluation activity in the classroom at the end of the entire project by using an active and creative methodology. It’s useful to remember what the students have learned and share it together.

Print some photos of the different steps and activities you organized for the garden. Ask each student/pupil to take one photo, without looking. When everybody has one or two photos, ask them to create a time line of the meetings and activities developed with the use of photos. (You can stick a string from one wall of the room to another, and using clothes peg, the students/pupils can put the photos in the right place)

Then, split the class into 3/4 groups (it depends on the number of photos) and ask to them to create a visual poster to show the different phases and write the content of each activity.

Give them the time to be creative and to draw and write what they remember. The Teacher or Expert, can help them to remember the steps and the content of each meeting.

Once they have finished, ask to each group to present the poster to the entire class.

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