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SHS Garden Journal Blog

Children's Activity for May: No-Dig Garden Patch

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The No-dig Garden Patch

Creating a No-dig garden patch is the perfect growing environment for edible plants, as they love the rich organic matter nourishing their growth. It is also a fun activity to involve children in. The no-dig garden is made up of layers of ingredients – in our experience being the most fertile of growing spaces filled with life particularly worms. 

'The No-dig Recipe' by Esther Deans

Esther Deans' “Gardening Book – Growing without Digging” first published in 1977, shows us the way to garden without digging and how you can even grow food in a home made garden bed sitting on concrete. I excitedly found a copy of this book in a second hand bookstore.
Below is a tried and tested variation of Esther’s Recipe: 
Newspaper or cardboard (non-glossy)
Autumn Leaves (no gum leaves)
Blood and Bone
Compost (home made)
Comfrey or fresh grass clippings (from your garden)
Manure (chicken, cow or horse)
Loose straw or Certified Organic Sugar Cane Mulch
  1. Soak newspaper in a wheelbarrow using water and 1 cup of molasses. Molasses is great for promoting soil microbes.
  2. Decide on the location of your garden (a sunny spot), measure and mark the length and width of the garden bed using flour. If grass is long within this space you could trim back a little with clippers. 
  3. Sprinkle the area with Blood and Bone and then layer with soaked newspaper or cardboard to suppress growth of grass. 
  4. Cover the entire area with sheets of newspaper or cardboard layers at least ½ cm thick.  Overlap the newspaper or cardboard by a third leaving no gaps for grass to grow through.
  5. Create an edge for you garden with bricks or pavers, etc placed on top of the outer edge of newspaper/cardboard.
  6. Sprinkle some Blood and Bone (1 handful per square metre), home made compost (from your compost bin), manure (chicken if you have it, otherwise cow/horse is fine) and comfrey and/or fresh grass clippings from your garden over the newspaper.
  7. Add a layer of Autumn Leaves.
  8. Lay the surface with a thick layer of lucerne padding. 
  9. Water well – you can add diluted worm juice if you have it.
  10. Sprinkle some Blood and Bone (1 handful per square metre), homemade compost (from your compost bin), worm castings, manure and comfrey and/or grass clippings. 
  11. Spread a thick layer of loose straw or certified organic sugar cane mulch over the top.
  12. Water well with diluted Seasol liquid seaweed solution.
  13. Repeat from steps 5 to 8.
Allow the bed to rest for two weeks. This will give the ingredients an opportunity to start to break down and combine, before you start planting. During this time continue to water the garden bed. 

When ready to plant make pockets in the garden bed and fill with some home made compost or mushroom compost – plant your seedlings into the pockets of compost. 
We recommend a mix of Asian Greens (bok choy, tatsoi, pak choy), silver beet, kale and beetroot to be planted in May. Please email us if you would like to order a seasonal tray of local organic seedlings.  $30 for 3 dozen.

For ideas of what to plant in May go to:

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

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.

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.

Book Review - "Permaculture Gardens - Sow, Grow, Care, Share"

Monday, December 31, 2012

Kellie Bollard's latest book opens:

"Good design and lots of compost,
a little time and love,
sunshine, fresh air and water,
a shovel and some gloves.

A healthy eco system,
a garden full of creatures,
nature that is balanced
is what permaculture teaches."

The most experienced permaculturist will admit that there is a challenge in providing adults with a simple definition of what permaculture is about.  This would be the reason why children's books on this design system are few and far between.  Once again using rhyme and fun pictures, Kellie successfully engages and introduces children to the term permaculture and exposes them to some of its principles and ethics in creating a food garden e.g. valuing diversity, caring for the earth, sharing with others.  A concise glossary assists in further understanding words that may be new to some children.

"Permaculture Gardens - Sow, Grow, Care, Share" is Kellie's third children's book.  All three books are filled with beautiful photographs and rhyming language that will educate and inspire children as well as their parents, carers and educators with ways to care for our environment.  "Worms, the Mechanics of Organics"  was shortlisted in the 2012 Wilderness Society Environment Award for Children’s Literature; and along with Kellie's first book "In the Bin" is now on the NSW Premiers Reading Challenge booklist.  

We highly recommend that you purchase a set of all three books as a fantastic educational resource around sustainability for your family, service, school or library. Visit our Contact Page to register your interest in ordering. 

On sale through our online ecostore very soon! 

Holiday Activity for the Children - Recycled Garden Art

Monday, December 31, 2012

Garden art is the ideal way to add character, creativity and a personal touch to your garden.

The cheapest and most creative way to create garden art is to reuse and recycle items found at home. You may also like to ask friends, family, neighbours or visit Reverse Garbage for extra bits and pieces to add to your design. Here are a few great ideas to ignite the inspiration:

1. Stepping stones

Materials required: Ready-mix cement, sand, stirrer, ice cream tub, cooking oil, glass marbles or other decorative items you have found.

Instructions: Follow instructions on ready mix cement to make an even consistency, grease ice-cream tub or mould with cooking oil, spoon cement into tub or mould to at least 5 cm thick, wait for 45 minutes for the cement to begin to set. You can now start to decorate using your reuse items. You may even like to add handprints. Leave your stepping stone in the tub or mould for up to 3 days to ensure that it has set and dried well before removing. 

2. Garden signage

Materials required: Pavers, acrylic paint, sealant. Old pavers are a great way to create signage for your garden.

Instructions: Make sure you give the pavers a good clean before you start your artwork. Paint your label and design on to the paver. Wait for the paint to dry before using a sealant to protect the art from weather.

3. Wind chimes

Materials required: Old cutlery, timber off cuts, buttons, cd’s, shells, bottle tops, steel cans, fabric off-cuts for colour, or anything else that you are able to collect. You will need some nylon fishing line and something to hang the chimes from e.g. a coat hanger, a strong stick, etc.  Tie your chimes to the fishing line and attach to your coat hanger or stick.

4. God’s-eye or ojo de dios (cultural symbol made by the Huichol Indians of Mexico)

Materials required: Two strong sticks and a variety of wool colours. (When changing wool colour, tie the new colour onto the existing colour and continue weaving.) 

For instructions on how to make a God's Eye and for instructions on other interesting craft ideas, visit the website: Crafts by Amanda

5. Garden ornaments

Here are some examples of what the students at All Hallows Parish School have created using reuse and recycle items. 


What ideas do you have? You may have some great ideas of your own please share these with us it would be great to feature your works of art on our garden blog. 

Please note that the above activities may require adult help or supervision. When using products such as the ready mix cement and sealant, ensure that you follow the manufacturers safety instructions at all times.

Activity of the Month - December

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Garden Creature Detective

With the arrival of the warmer weather, comes an abundance of diverse life in our gardens. Insects and other garden creatures have a very important role to play in keeping our garden soil and plants healthy. There are many beneficial insects and creatures (also know as garden predators) that keep pests away. 

Some of the beneficial insects and creatures that you should encourage to your garden include: Wasps, Hoverflies, Bees, Lacewings, Ladybirds, Worms, Frogs, Lizards (maybe even a blue tongue!), Hawk Moths, Beetles, Earwigs, Spiders, Butterflies, Praying Mantises, Slaters, Dragonflies, Damselflies, Dung Beetles, Native Birds etc.

If your children are looking for something to do, why not suggest to them to become Garden Creature Detectives! 

Provide your children with a magnifying glass each and encourage them to explore the garden. Ask them to search for as many different garden creatures as they can find living in your garden. This is where technology is a wonderful thing!  Using Google Images, your children will be able to identify most creatures that they find - younger children will of course need a little help from someone old enough to read. 


Something else that you might like to do is to encourage creatures to your garden by creating a habitat for them:

Blue Tongue Lizard

A dry rockery is a place a Blue Tongue Lizard will call home. Find a sunny spot and use various sized rocks. stacked close together and plant a few low growing native shrubs.

Native Birds

Plant nectar-producing native shrubs and plants (eg Bottle Brush & Grevillea) and introduce a bird bath to your garden.

Beneficial Insects 

You might also like to grow some insect-attracting plants around and within your vegetable garden e.g. Marigolds, Nasturtiums, Cosmos, Zinnias, Dill, Daisy, Chamomile, Feverfew, Parsley, Mint, Lavender, etc.