Budding young gardeners around the country will soon be able to gain inspiration from a unique toolbox designed for use in primary schools nationwide.
The Bio-Protection Research Centre (BPRC) and Biological Husbandry Unit (BHU), both at Lincoln University, have developed the How Does Your Garden Grow kit in conjunction with Kings Seeds.
The kit aims to amplify the primary school curriculum by teaching children some of the less understood essentials of sustainable gardening and encouraging them to use “nature’s services” in place of pesticides.
“As far as the services of nature are concerned, ladybirds eat pests, earthworms make soil, bacteria and fungi break down leaf material, and these are all available for us to use,” said Bio-Protection Research Centre Professor Steve Wratten.
“Everybody knows about the role of buzzy bees in pollinating crops and most people know that ladybirds eat pests such as aphids. But when it comes to what earthworms contribute to your garden’s health, most gardeners’ knowledge is rather thin.”
Professor Wratten said the kit was an inexpensive way for gardeners and schoolchildren to be able to answer some of these questions in a hands-on way.
“It will help them to work out the acidity of soil, which needs to be slightly acidic for potatoes and slightly alkaline for brassica vegetables, and teach them how to attract bees to crops and get ladybirds to eat pests.”
The kit contains at least 12 techniques for children to experiment with, as well as a booklet explaining how to use them, and a website offering more details.
Items include seed packets, nitrate sticks, pH strips, petri dishes and a magnifying glass. The dishes show how active soil bacteria and fungi are in the garden.
The project is based on the wider research activities carried out at the BPRC, which involve finding natural ways of protecting New Zealand’s ecosystems.
“We do a lot of work on farmland, trying to understand and improve nature’s services. It’s not sustainable to continue using all those chemical inputs, so we need to find other ways of operating. Bad farming destroys nature’s services,” said Professor Wratten.
The kits will be sold to primary school teachers, with BPRC staff visiting schools to guide the associated gardening projects.