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SHS Garden Journal Blog

Children's Activity: Soil Scientists

Friday, April 12, 2013

Healthy Soil is the essence of Healthy Life

Soil health is important to the health of our garden plants, and in turn to our health. What goes on within our soil life affects what we see above ground. Our plants draw their nutrients through their roots from the soil, contributing to the nutrients we receive when we eat the plant.
Before we embark on planting seeds or seedlings in our garden beds, it is important to have an understanding of our soil quality, type, texture and structure.  Our soil quality can be improved by increasing organic matter, but we need to know what we are dealing with before we start.
This understanding can be achieved by performing a few simple tests to analyse your soil. Involving children in these experiments will help them to understand why certain plants flourish and thrive, whilst others may not have such resilience. 

Children as Soil Scientists:

Here are 3 activities that will engage children in the science of soil:
Soil structure
  • Find three clean glass jars take a sample of soil from three different locations in your garden. 
  • Fill the glass jars a ¼ in depth with the soil. Top this up with water to around ¾ of the jars. 
  • Place a lid on the jars and give good shake – leave the jars undisturbed for a week. 
  • After a week without mixing the contents of the jars examine the layers that have formed. 
You will see that gravel forms the bottom most layer, then coarse sand, fine sand, silt, clay, organic matter, water and air. This will show you the various layers of your soil – a balance of sand, silt and clay is loam.

Soil type

Clay, sandy or loam? 

This is a great tactile observational exercise when children feel like making mud pies.

  • Take a hand full of soil, moisten the soil, scrunch and roll in your hand, and feel its texture. 
Sand = gritty
Silt = smooth
Clay = sticky
  • Roll the soil in your hand like a rope. 
If it falls apart with no formation it has a higher sandy composition
If the shape can be rolled to more than an inch it would have a higher clay composition
If the shape can be rolled half the distance and starts to develop cracks it would be a loam composition containing a balance of silt, clay and sand. 
A loam soil composition with a good top layer of organic matter is ideal for growing vegetables.

Soil pH
Testing pH determines the acidity (sour) or alkalinity (sweetness) of your soil. Plants have certain preferences and tolerances to soil acidity or alkalinity for optimum health and growth. 
  • A pH kit can be purchased so that you can test the levels in your soil at home or school. The Manutec Soil pH Test Kit available at garden stores or hardware stores, is complete with instructions to guide you in how to perform this test. 
  • The ideal pH for growing most fruit and vegetable plants averages between 6.0 and 7.5. A pH level of 7 is neutral figures over 7 are alkaline and figures below 7 are acidic.

"Seed to Seed Food Gardens in Schools" by Jude Fanton and Jo Immig
"Earth User’s guide to Permaculture" by Rosemary Morrow

Product Review: "The Little Rotter Worm Farm"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
The Little Rotter Worm Farm operates similarly to a Worm Tower. The black plastic bucket has a flip-top lid which opens at the top for the addition of your kitchen scraps; and holes in its base for the worms to travel to and from the soil into the compost for feeding. The worms naturally spread their castings throughout your garden bed, alleviating you of this job!
The included Worm Bomb contains Worm Eggs not mature worms. After you release the bomb, add a small amount of food and water well, your worms will take around 2-3 weeks to hatch.
Your children will be fascinated! We love this product!
Price: $39 (GST inclusive)

Order now using our Resource Order Form

NB Worm Bombs also sold separately and can be added to your compost bin or existing worm farm to enhance their worm population.

Effects of Recent Wet Weather on Your Garden

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We have noticed some changes in our garden beds and plants over the past few weeks, as a result of the high rainfall experienced in Sydney. You may be experiencing similar issues in your garden:
  • Waterlogged soil.
  • An increase in garden pests and diseases - e.g. snails, slugs and curl grubs.
  • Plants showing signs of stress.

What's going on in the soil?

Too much water in a garden bed can affect the growth and health of our plants particularly if the rainfall is prolonged. This is due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients in the soil which will promote an anaerobic environment rather than the normal healthy aerobic environment. 

A lack of oxygen will decrease the levels of beneficial soil micro and macro organisms, as they require oxygen to survive. Extra water in soil also changes its structure minimising airflow, further contributing to an anaerobic environment.  In healthy soil airflow and nutrients will circulate between the small spaces in soil particles, making its way to our plant roots.

Soil types can enhance these problems in wet weather:

Clay soil can become compacted restricting the flow of oxygen to your plant roots and soil life – this may lead to root rot where plants will wither and die.

Sandy soil can allow too much drainage leading to soil erosion and depletion of nutrients available to plants – plants becoming lacklusture and the yellowing of leaves.

Steps to support your plant and soil life during times of increased rain are:

  • Good drainage – being aware of your soil type and using compost, manure, mulch, grass clippings, green manure crops strengthening soil structure to minimise compaction and erosion. Avoid leaving plants sitting in pools of water.
  • Add organic matter to the top layer of your soil e.g. compost.  The humus will act as a sponge in the soil absorbing excess water, regulating the dispersal of water, promoting resilience, soil life and structure.
  • Use mulch to protect the soil from erosion and heavy rainfall.  Mulch will help to insulate the soil and provide protective habitat for beneficial microorganisms and soil life.
  • Using worm juice and a sea or fish emulsion (e.g. seasol) on your garden plants to promote plant resilience, nutrient balance and health.
  • Promote airflow in the garden by spacing garden plants, using trellis where needed to lift plants off the soil and removing rotted or dead plants. Harvest plants regularly to allow for new growth and airflow.
  • Garden pond – build a pond on the highest part of your garden to collect excess water and provide a habitat for beneficial predators e.g. dragonflies, frogs, etc that will feed on the garden pests that thrive in wet weather.
  • Curl grubs are very destructive to your garden plants and lawn as they eat away at the roots. They are best removed manually by hand and fed to chickens or disposed of thoughtfully. Attracting native birds to the garden will help to keep them at bay, as birds like to eat them too.
  • Snails and slugs can be kept away by using crushed eggshells around your garden plants. The crushed eggshells are a rough surface that snails and slugs are sensitive too when trying to crawl over. Chickens and birds like to eat snails and slugs too, when you see any of these pests collect them by hand and feed to chickens or birds.

Seasonal Mixed Organic Seedlings - Free Delivery

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

We now have a local Sydney seedling grower supplying us Organic seedlings for our Workshops & Programs.  We are very happy with the survival rate of these seedlings.

We are offering regular deliveries (Free to Sydney Metropolitan) of a seasonal mix of vegetable and herb seedlings, to keep your garden beds full.

$30 for 3 dozen. 

Please email: to order or for further information.

Autumn Children's Activity - Leaf Rubbings

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Whilst the children are helping to rake the leaves to stockpile for your Compost, they can set some aside for the following activity.

Leaf rubbings


Materials you will need:

  • Paper
  • Crayons (assorted colours) 
  • Autumn leaves (not too dry)


  • Place a sheet of paper on top of the underside of the leaf.
  • Hold the paper in place or use some tape on the corners.
  • Gently rub the crayon side on over the leaf.

Extended Learning:

  • Encourage your children to explore the detail in the leaf of the veins, and the patterns that are produced. 
  • Show them different types of leaves that will produce different results. 
  • Ask them to notice the differences in shape, line, texture, pattern and detail. 
  • Help them to identify the type of tree the leaves have fallen from.

Permaculture Principle: Catch and Store Energy

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

It is highly appropriate that we have chosen this Permaculture Principle to focus on during March, with Earth Hour making switching to renewable energy a focus this year. We should all consider solar power as an option for our households and workplaces. Aside from the environmental effects of generating electricity, the increase in electricity prices is reason enough!

In relation to our gardens, March is a great time to 'catch and store energy' with the arrival of autumn, and the abundance of autumn leaves that fall to the ground. 

Leaves that fall onto our garden beds provide beneficial free mulch to protect our soil reducing the amount of water we use. The leaves create a forest floor in our garden beds enhancing the first layer of organic matter in our soil. Earthworms love to feed on leaf litter in the garden, decomposing the leaves to create nutrients for our garden soil. The leaf litter provides all garden critters with habitat so that they are able to keep our garden ecosystem healthy.

Leaves that fall on hard surfaces such as footpaths, gutters or pavers can be collected and used as a valuable resource for creating healthy garden compost. Carbon materials (such as leaf litter) are an important addition to our compost system. A healthy compost system consists of a mixture of nitrogen and carbon ingredients to promote successful decomposition rates and a thriving ecosystem.

Involve Your Children:

While we have such an abundance of autumn leaves, we can encourage children to help us rake the leaves, collecting and storing them for use throughout the year. Talk to them about the importance of 'making hay whilst the sun shines' ie we are catching and storing a resource that we can use when it is not naturally available.

Wonderful Water - Children's Activity of the Month

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Water rehydrates, cools, refreshes, cleanses and provides relief from the heat.

The recent hot weather we have experienced has been a great opportunity to reflect on the importance of water to all living things. 

The effect of the heat that we feel is also experienced by our plant and animal life. 

Promote water awareness by involving children in watering the plants in your garden. In the warmer months, late afternoon or early evening is the best time to water, as this will give plants time to absorb the water overnight, before the heat of the day. In the cooler months it is better to water in the morning, so that excess water can evaporate to prevent damaging fungal or bacterial growth. 

Plants suffer heat stress and this is very evident on hot days – point out the signs to children.  Show them how watering the plants well around the base so it is absorbed by the roots, will help plants to perk up again and provide energy.

Remember that our older established trees and plants require water too, even though the signs may be less evident – this will enhance their resilience, help them to flourish and optimise their health.

You could also place containers or ‘baths’ of water in the yard for birds and other animal life to cool off in the heat. Place containers in a shaded spot so that the water remains cool.

Water wise tip:

Ask children to pour any left over water from their school drink bottle around your garden plants, rather than down the sink. This will benefit the plants, and help children to develop mindfulness about water saving.

Children’s Water Activity: Rainwater Gauge

An activity to help demonstrate water conservation to your children is to create a simple Rain Gauge. This is a great tool for collecting water and measuring the amount.  

Materials required:

All you will require is a glass jar, a funnel, a permanent marker, a ruler and some masking tape.

Children will be able to see how rainwater is collected while watching their jar start to fill when it rains.  They will be able to compare measurements taken when it hasn’t rained for a while, and observe how dry it is. Ask them questions: Where does our water come from? What happens to our water level when we use water or it hasn’t rained?


  • Using a clean glass jar, make measurement markings up the side of your jar using your ruler as a guide. 
  • Insert the funnel into the top of the jar – you may like to use masking tape to secure the funnel. The funnel helps to maximise collection of water by concentrating the flow into the jar.
  • Place your jar in a clear space away from trees or other areas of water run off or drips, so you are collecting only falling rain into the jar.
  • Provide children with a record sheet or chart – you could monitor rainfall over a certain period of time and record your findings everyday. Create a graph to record this information.

You may like to set up a few rain gauges in your back yard or playground to see if there is a difference in the various locations. You could then calculate an average.

There are many ways to extend on this activity and foster an awareness in children from an early age that water is not a resource we have in abundance, and that it should be used wisely.

Pizza Garden - Cook up your tomatoes for a delicious tomato sauce for your Pizza base!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

We would love to hear from you and see how your Pizza Garden beds are coming along.  Please share your photos on our Facebook Page or Pinterest!

If you haven't produced enough tomatoes yet to cook up a sauce, by now you will at least have some herbs in your garden - with all the warm weather, basil should be in abundance! 

Time to make Margarita Pizza!

You and your children will have fun making pizzas and home delivery options won't quite cut it after you have tasted your own!

Revisit our Planting Guide from the December newsletter, for Miranda's Pizza dough recipe.

I have chased Miranda up again (she is very generous sharing her recipes!) for a delicious and quick tomato sauce recipe (using fresh or canned tomatoes) for the base of your toppings. Here it is:

Miranda's Tomato Sauce Recipe


2 x 400 cans tomatoes (800g fresh tomatoes - blanch tomatoes first to remove skins)
1-2 tablespoons oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste


  • Heat oil in a large pan and saute onion and garlic until soft.  
  • Add cans of tomato and basil, season to taste.  
  • Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until sauce is reduced by about half.

Miranda's Notes & Tips

Use any available herbs from your garden: parsley, marjoram, rosemary.  You can also replace tomato cans with bottle of passata sauce but cook longer and add 1 glass of water. You will need to add more salt if using fresh tomatoes.

Margarita Pizza Topping

Spread tomato sauce over your pizza base, sprinkle with fresh basil leaves and top with slices of Mozzarella cheese.  You may also like to sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese.  Bake in hot oven for 15-20min or until golden as described in Pizza Base recipe. Yummo! 

Australian Sustainable Schools Initiative (AuSSI)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

A great start to the School Year will be to register as an AuSSI School – for support of your School Community’s sustainable practices. 

What is AuSSI?

"At the national level, AuSSI is a partnership of the Australian Government and the state and territory environment and education agencies, as well as the Catholic and Independent schools sectors. It is coordinated by the Australian Government Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities. AuSSI is being implemented in each state and territory using a variety of different models."

We love AuSSI's whole-of-school approach for embedding sustainability practices - engaging students through real-life learning experiences, and making improvements to their school's management of resources and facilities.

We encourage you to visit the AuSSI website to register your school and connect with your State coordinator.

Permaculture Principle: Observe and Interact

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Each month we will ask you to focus and think about one principle of Permaculture, and how you might be able to implement it into your home, work or school environments.

Share photos and ideas on our Facebook page, or add your comments below
of the ways in which you 'Observe and Interact' during the month of February