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Kitchen garden: lessons on life and gardening at Mawson PS

At the Royal Canberra Show last year, Mawson Primary School won overall Most Successful Junior Exhibitor. They came first with cucumbers, yellow capsicums and yellow cocktail tomatoes; second for their eggs and watermelon; and third for their purple beans. The watermelon was shared with all the classes in the school, each student being offered a taste to try.

During our recent sneak peek, the vegetables were being nurtured for harvesting for this year's Show and, when the Canberra Times photographer visited last Wednesday, four types of cocktail tomatoes, corn, pumpkins, spaghetti squash and carrots were being picked and eggs collected from the chooks.The sweet corn and popping corn seeds had been planted, in blocks, once a fortnight over an extended period so the cobs did not all ripen at once. There was a lush clump of climbing spinach and rows of leeks starting to go to seed.

The Environment Centre and kitchen garden was officially opened in February 2011 and Kathryn Glanville is the Environment teacher at Mawson Primary. There are student Eco Leaders (Years 5/6) and Greenies (Kindy/Year 6) who come on a Friday afternoon to do extra gardening, animal care and special projects. The teaching is shared by Kathryn three days a week and Monica Marsham one day a week.

The vegetables are raised from seed and last spring the students grew seedlings and packaged up seeds they had collected for sale at the school fete. It was a lot of work but they raised $1,000.

Every class from kindergarten to Year 6 is involved in the kitchen garden and comes once a week for 45 minutes. During this time the students participate in science, sustainability, gardening and Fresh Taste lessons.

All produce grown on site is used to cook with or to sell to fund new projects. Teachers and parents stop in and buy produce mostly by gold coin donation. Anything extra is placed in the staff room.

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There are eight large raised beds and last year they added five small no-dig garden beds. The current project is to put in four new wicking beds. Last year fruit trees were added to the garden including plum, white mulberry, lime tree, male and female kiwi fruit vines and also berry bushes, a thornless blackberry and raspberry plus strawberries. A row of feijoas has been planted along the fence line.

The school has six chooks, three Australorp crosses and three Rhode Island Red crosses. There are two worm farms and a pet turtle called Fred. Each class has a chicken scrap bin their classroom and all scraps from lunches are collected and fed to the chickens with leftovers going into the worm farms or two compost bins.

Students participate in simple cooking lessons where they grow, harvest and then cook the produce. Tomatoes and purple beans are the favourite to just pick and eat. Zucchini pizza cooked to a recipe devised by Kathryn is very popular as are green smoothies made to a combination using what is ripe in the garden and working with food allergies/preferences.

Kathryn Glanville says as she was growing up her family always had an interest in gardening and science. She was previously Environment Centre teacher at Farrer Primary where she started working in 2009. It was there she met Carol Quashie-Williams whose children went to the school and Carol also volunteered in the Farrer Primary Environment Centre garden which we featured in this column in January 2014.

Carol Quashie-Williams is an Agricultural and Environmental Scientist working and promoting sustainable agriculture without chemical usage. Kathryn and Carol became involved in Scientist in Schools program from 2012, part of Scientists and Mathematicians in Schools, a national program managed by CSIRO which started in 2007.

When Kathryn moved to Mawson Primary in 2015, she asked Carol if she would come to be the Scientist in School there too. Her knowledge and enthusiasm are amazing and very much appreciated by Kathryn and the school. Carol took seeds and seedlings to work at the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources to raise funds for the schools. They were very popular and the Departmental Chief Scientist says his cucumbers and squash are growing well.

This has been a harsh summer for our plants and over the Christmas holidays, students attending the After School Care Holiday program were responsible for watering the Mawson Primary kitchen garden. There is a large water tank on site and a large box filled with small gardening gloves and another stacked with gardening tools appropriate for use by children.

The ivory/yellow spaghetti squash (Cucurbita pepo) is a highlight this year. Looking more like a melon than a summer squash, it is the ready-made vegetable pasta. Kathryn and Carol took a cooking class using the prolific vegetable.

MAWSON PRIMARY SPAGHETTI SQUASH

Cut lengthways in half and scoop out the seeds. Then steam until soft. Let cool and, with a fork, strip it out going with the strands, Add a little salt and butter and eat as is or top with your favourite sauce.

For the home cook, a spaghetti squash can be skewered all over (or pierced with a sharp knife) and roasted at around 190C for about 1 hour 20 minutes. Cook on a baking sheet and turn over half way through cooking. Add to pancake mixture or serve with parmesan and fresh herbs.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.