Sowing my Seeds with Love

Some plants will grow, whatever you do to them. They have long tap roots, or winding ones, that reach long or wide under the ground. Even when you try to dig them up, they have a tendency to come back. Gardeners refer to most of these plants as ‘weeds’. They are the bane of my allotment life, because if I don’t deal with them they will take over from the flowers, vegetables and fruit that I want to grow. They will eat up all the nutrients from the soil, and shade out my plants.

Dock and couch grass: quelle horreur!

Other plants are tough, but you have to treat them a bit more sensitively to get the best out of them. Potatoes are a case in point. You could just stick your seed potatoes in the ground and they would probably grow. But you’re better to chit them first, add plenty of compost or manure to the soil, and then earth them up as they grow to stop the potatoes going green. If they go green, they are poisonous and inedible. Did you know that potato is a member of the Solanaceae family, which also includes tomatoes and deadly nightshade? (If you look at the flowers of a tomato or a potato plant, this gives you a great clue.)

Yet other plants are much more sensitive. They have tiny weeny seeds, or they get attacked by pests very easily. You have to take an awful lot of care if you want them to grow well, or even at all. I have found this to be the case with carrots. They’re not exactly hard to grow, but they sure do benefit from lots of extra attention. The seeds are tiny, so it’s difficult to sow them thinly. If you thin them out, the carrot fly smells what you are doing, and comes to lay its eggs on the soil. When the larvae hatch, they burrow down into your carrots and ‘hey presto!’ your entire crop is ruined. So, I know from experience that I will need to cover my carrots with fleece once they germinate, to keep the carrot flies off. And even before that, I have had to surround them with netting, to stop the chickens from scratching the soil and spreading them around.

Netting for now, to keep the chickens off;
fleece for later, to keep away the carrot flies.

Now, I could look at my carrots and shout there are no excuses for failure! I could insist that they attain a growth mindset or develop grit and resilience. But hey, that’s pretty pointless with a seed as sensitive as this one. Just like children, seeds come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, I have a fixed end result in mind – I want great vegetables to eat. But I must be flexible in the way that I get my different seeds to grow. This is categorically not about me being inconsistent. It is about me reacting to different needs with different approaches. And it is me as a gardener (just as I do when I’m a teacher) sowing my seeds with love.

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First Cut is the Deepest

Today I built a second raised bed. This time round I learned from my mistakes. I got my other half to dig out the rechargeable screwdriver and recharge it for me (delegate, get prepared, get good kit.) I worked on a reasonably level surface, rather than a pile of weeds (get your working area ready.) Due to the first one falling apart when I turned it over, I knew to screw the screws in really tight (detail matters). And it took me about one third of the time to put it together.  I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have learned to build a raised bed quicker if someone had taught me. It would have been lovely to have someone to show me the ropes. But I’ll tell you one thing for free. When you learn through experience, the first cut goes deep, so you don’t make the same mistake twice.


Two raised beds, one rainbow flag                    Strawberry recycled tiles thing




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Hyacinths for the Soul

“If thou of fortune be bereft,
and in thy store there be but left
two loaves, sell one, and with the dole,
buy hyacinths to feed thy soul.”
John Greenleaf Whittier

At the moment, the weeds are in control of my allotment. But gradually, bit by bit, I am taking over control. I am shaping the destiny of this tiny piece of land. My methods are haphazard to say the least: I’m not the kind of person who plans things out in minute detail. Instead, I am feeling my way, flitting from one task to the next, as the mood takes me. No one is giving me instructions on how to do it, or demonstrating the best way. I am finding out what works through exploring, and experimenting, through trial and error. Thus far I have managed to hang a gate – yes, it’s a bit lopsided, but then I’ve never hung one before (and probably never will do again). I have laid part of a path, made out of bricks saved from a chimney we had removed. It’s not very even, but it certainly looks good to me. The bricks are covered in cement, so I must chip this off: there is something deeply satisfying about recycling materials in this way.

I have also started to build a fence to surround my plot – the rabbits here are many and hungry. Again, I’m just feeling my way. But hey, how hard can it be to bang a few wooden stakes into the ground and nail some wire to them? And the pièce de résistance is my first raised bed. It came in kit form, so I didn’t have to do any sawing. But figuring out which bit to put where, and screwing it together, took brain power and a fair bit of strength. Again, I muddled my way through it, and it took a bit of time. But, when I build the next one I will be faster, and faster again when I do the next one after that. The very experience of doing it by myself is not only useful in helping me to learn, but is immensely satisfying as well. And I have done some planting – hyacinths, gladioli, dianthus and cornflowers, and some summer fruiting raspberry canes that I dug up from my garden. The onion sets are gently brewing in the greenhouse, and the seed potatoes are chitting in the utility room. Dig swiftly now, they implore me, we need to get our toes into the soil.

I’ve been thinking a lot about control this week, particularly the question of who gets to control the learning. It is so tempting, isn’t it, to be the one in control, especially where children are concerned? They know so little, and we (supposedly) know so much. But the danger of taking control completely is that you tread roughshod over the very process of learning. The mistakes, and the errors, the blistered hands and the wonky gate posts. The exploring, and the wandering, the search for something deep inside yourself that whispers to you, yes, you can do this. That incredible sense of achievement you get when you figure out how to do something by, and for, yourself. The very things that, for me at least, make it all worthwhile.

021          019

Wonky gate,  wonky path                                          Hyacinths for the Soul (and for the scent)

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Nothing But Flowers

You come to a ravine. Everyone tells you that they know the best way to get across the ravine. And they tell you like a million different things. You desperately want to get across the ravine, because on the other side you can relax and enjoy the journey. But the ravine is very wide and the edge where you have to jump off is crumbly and unstable. Some people come along to check whether you can get across the ravine. They have a piece of rope, but they’ve decided that they won’t tell you what length it is. Now they want to watch as you try to get across the ravine. You can take a long run up, and jump across the ravine, trusting that you won’t fall into it. Or you can beg the people to tell you what length their rope is and whether it will get you across the ravine. What would you do?

Ofsted don’t govern my life: even at preschool, the ‘quit’ button is always there. But I meet an awful lot of teachers, and pretty much every single one of them says the same thing. They want to build bridges across the ravine, not beg to know the length of the rope. They want a partnership in which we all support children, but they also want to be left alone to actually teach them. I genuinely don’t get why we don’t offer praise, rather than censure. Support, instead of judgement. No one wants to beg to know the length of a stupid piece of rope, or whether it will get them across a ravine. Why don’t we all just focus on filling in the bloody ravine rather than measuring how well everyone gets across it? It would be a much more productive use of our time.

And on that note, I’ll head back out to my allotment, to focus on filling in the ravine with compost, vegetables, and flowers. (Well, not literally, it’s dark.)

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The Magic of Motivation

8th March 2015 – To Do: Dig (yeah that again)

I wouldn’t say that digging is fun, but I definitely enjoy it. There is a repetitive quality to the action that somehow helps me to clear my mind, and at the same time allows my ideas to flow. Today as I dug for hour after hour, I mulled over the subject of motivation. Clearly, I’m going to need an awful lot of motivation to clear my plot. But I am motivated to do it, and I will keep going even when it gets tough or boring or painful. So I took to wondering what it is that helps cause this magical state. What is it that pushes us on, even when we feel like giving up?

Firstly, I have a tangible end goal, a real sense of purpose – this work is deeply relevant to me. I want to provide vegetables and flowers for my family, ones that I have grown with my own hands, ones that come out of the very soil on which I live. Secondly, I have a target to aim for, a time limit to push me forwards. The growing season is upon us, and if I don’t get going now I will miss the boat. And thirdly, when I begin to lose steam, I can always sprinkle a spoonful of sugar on my efforts. Today’s sugar came courtesy of a visit to the local garden centre. The potatoes are ready to chit. The seeds are ready to sow.

Let the magic commence!

009011Woman versus Weeds, Round Two.                A Spoonful of Sugar to keep me going.

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My Big Allotment Challenge

The first bit of the challenge was to actually get an allotment. When we moved here there were no allotments. The closest ones were in Bristol, and those were all full. Luckily for me, a little known law could help: if the council believes there is demand for allotments, they have a statutory duty to provide them. So I found eight friends who wanted one too, then I wrote a letter which we all signed, and our lovely parish councillors welcomed the idea. They asked around to see if anyone had a piece of land to rent out. And in a weird yet very fortunate quirk of fate, some friends who live opposite had a spare bit of field. So, not only did I end up with an allotment, but I can see it from my study window.

Now there are plants, and chickens, and children, and neighbours. We meet and we chat and our children play together, because the allotments are there. I’m way behind, because we’ve been out of the UK so much recently. But I’m fired up with enthusiasm about the project, and probably the best way to make myself get on with it and actually do it, is to write about it. So I’m going to take a break from blogging about education for a bit, and blog about building an allotment instead. Because plants are a very special love of mine; and learning doesn’t only happen in school. ;)

7th March 2015 – To Do: Dig, Plan
Couch grass is annoying, but there’s something meditative about pulling long strands of it out of the soil. As I dig I try to get a feel for how I want to lay out the space. ‘Not a clue’ sums up my progress. My only thought is to put a circle in the middle. The kids arrive to help: we will buy chickens next weekend, but first we have to fox proof the run. There’s something incredibly satisfying about pushing a spade into the soil, turning it over and sifting through it for weeds. It reminds me a lot of writing. Seamus Heaney wrote the poem Digging about about this: the pen as spade. Here we go then. “I’ll dig with it.” 

Before:                                                                  After:

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Woman versus Weeds has begun.

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100 Years Later

5th March, 2115

The late 20th and  early 21st Century are now regarded as the golden age of children’s literature. A hundred years earlier, there were few great books for children. But at this time, a new age began. Of course, people still loved books written hundreds of years earlier, when many great adult ones were written. But those who spent time with children could now revel in a glorious outpouring of literature for children. Authors like Patrick Ness, Michael Morpurgo, Malorie Blackman and Darren Shan created books that got children reading voraciously.  For younger children, there were amazing picture books from authors such as Julia Donaldson and illustrators like Axel Scheffler. You’ll have heard of Harry Potter as well, after whose friend Hermione our esteemed leader is named. There were astonishing non fiction books as well, full of knowledge presented in a way that brought it to life for  young people. Dorling Kindersley is a name on everyone’s tongue. There is no space to mention here all the wonderful writers who made up this amazing time, but we came across an archive set of lists here, of the kind of books loved by Little People, Slightly Bigger Ones, and that strange group of semi-adults known as Teenagers.

And on one day every year, lots of children and teachers got dressed up, to celebrate the fact that books are amazing, and brilliant, and that everyone around the world loves them.

Happy #WorldBookDay :)

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