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Growing together

Eastlands's depressing expanse of mud, covered with old carpet and plastic, has become a thriving organic garden, just in time for science week. Mary Cruickshank reports

Science week at Eastlands Primary School, in Rugby, Warwickshire, got off to a good start with a visit to Conkers, the woodlands discovery centre, which opened last year in Derbyshire on the site of the new National Forest.

This ambitious project is turning the derelict Midlands coalfields into 200 square-miles of woodland. As well as trying the assault course and adventure playground, the Year 5 pupils had the chance to explore different wildlife habitats and find out how seeds turn into trees.

Another transformation, albeit on a smaller scale, has been taking place on their school allotment, which is now reaching the peak of the growing season. I first visited them on a grey day in February and found a depressing expanse of mud covered with old carpet and black plastic, and marvelled at the enterprise of a school that was prepared to take on a 300 square-metre plot in addition to all its other commitments.

By May, things were looking up. Thanks to a lot of help from teachers, pupils and parents, the site was starting to take shape (see TES Teacher, April 19 and May 31). Last month, on the hottest day of the year (June 17), the allotment was flourishing. The broad beans were almost waist-high with the children, and rows of lettuces and raddishes were competing with the weeds. Bright yellow courgette flowers were opening in the sunshine and the herb garden was humming with insects. Year 2 pupils were measuring rates of growth and collecting other data for their plant diaries. "My pumpkin has 11 leaves and looks healthy," Rebecca proudly reported.

There's lots of scope for development, but time and resources are limited, especially this term with an Ofsted inspection underway. But headteacher Jill Tomlinson is pleased with the progress and looking forward to a visit from county education officer Eric Hill, who has been invited to come and dig with the children.

Not everything on the allotment has thrived, however. Pigeons are blamed for the failing sunflowers, and the slugs and blackfly - the scourge of organic gardeners - are proving hard to control. Support teacher Jill Mkandiwire is making beer traps for the slugs and the gardening club has been put in charge of weeding.

Different year groups have taken on small plots and there's no shortage of interest, with the school council also asking to get involved. As well as supporting science week activities, the allotment has become a good place for "de-stressing and letting off steam", says Clare Ashton, co-ordinator of the after-school Acorn club, which has helped to stock the allotment.

Plant growing has always been popular with the club, led by deputy co-ordinator Carol Humphries. As well as supplying seedlings, Acorn members are making raised beds for soft fruit, herbs, vegetables and flowers. They're also interplanting the tomatoes and courgettes with marigolds to keep off the whitefly. Carol plans to use the produce in club cooking sessions and the pumpkins at next term's Hallowe'en party.

Science week ended with a visit to the organic gardens at Ryton, where the Henry Doubleday Research Association's education team has been helping Eastlands with their allotment. It would be a long-term project, they were warned when they took on the plot from Rugby council last year, but the first year's results look promising.

Conkers, the National Forest discovery centrewww.visitconkers.com The HDRA schools organic network www.schoolsorganic.net

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