Students at Casey Grammar getting hands on in their raised automatic watering garden bed
Ever heard of a vertical wicking garden? Neither had I until we found out about the vertical kitchen garden at Casey Grammar School in Melbourne.
According to Mal Dunkley, primary gardening teacher at Casey Grammar, the all-new school food garden has been welcomed by the students, teachers and parents.
“Our older style garden took a lot of effort to weed for smaller yield. The new gardens are virtually weed free, so students become smart gardeners who grow the maximum produce for minimum water, space and effort" said Mal.
The new veggie garden has been a great success with bumper crops, it requires low maintenance and has allowed our students great learning opportunities. The unique garden is vertically stacked, allowing for ease of reach for students of all ages and sizes. Because the system is ultra-low maintenance itE enables busy teachers time to focus on lesson plans and activities for students.
“Weeds are rare in the garden and the wicking system means that the watering is done whilst the students are working in the garden. The watering system goes virtually unnoticed and the area underfoot is well drained and hard wearing.” said Mal.
A number of parents have expressed a desire to volunteer their time to assist in the garden and Mal Dunkley hopes that grandparents and community members will be keen to help too. This wider community involvement will give those involved a window into the learning of the students and the students to learn from them.
Practical and making the most of a smaller space while providing a different learning environment
Low maintenance and weed free
The vertical wicking system used was supplied by Biofilta. The system called, a Foodwall allows the plants to access water day and night. The vegetable garden is watered by the rainfall runoff from the nearby science building roof. The beds are bottom watering or wicking beds that work by capillary action and as water is available for the garden around the clock the plants don’t get stressed in the heat and teachers and staff at Casey Grammar never have to worry about over or under watering the vegetables.
Tasting different food
Teachers and students sample new foods they haven’t tried before and also take some home to eat. The leftovers are composted by worms and seeds are collected for the next season.
The Casey Garden will be expand through the successful growing of food to include a full outdoor kitchen and covered seating area for food technology and healthy eating programs. The first stage of the project involved getting the efficient garden installed and learning how to grow the food over the seasons. This will allow the staff to plan lessons throughout the year.
The first school to use wicking garden beds
Casey Grammar is the first school to implement the vertical wicking garden beds which enables students to access the food at their eye height and reach. Because each tub is easily accessible, whole classes can tend to their allocated garden quickly and efficiently. Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Foundation CEO, Ange Barry said, “It’s great to see new systems like the Foodwall in schools because it helps make teaching kids about growing food fun and easy. Having a system that saves space and makes the existing school garden even more productive is wonderful for the whole school community”.
The teacher in charge, Mal Dunkley has added skills in urban horticulture to his portfolio as Casey Grammar School places greater emphasis on teaching students about gardening. Mal is the school librarian and budding gardener who had an interest in horticulture and has quickly learned how to grow food from seedlings and enjoys seeing kids trying new foods and learning about gardens.
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