In recent days I’ve been working with the pupils of Scoil Mhuire Ballyboden re designing their school courtyard and having a great time making a mess. Like many schools the grounds of the school can become a target for vandalism so we decided after a walk around the site to use the protected courtyard to make a large insect hotel and 6 new raised beds. As part of the design there is a bed for herbs, one for strawberries and 4 to grow the major vegetable families namely potato, pea, onion and cabbage. Each of the vegetable beds will be assigned to a class (group) to look after and so in time each pupil will have the opportunity to learn how to grow a variety of vegetables.
A large assembly hall opens into the courtyard which would become the base of operations for all the sawing, cutting and assembly out of the rain.
I don’t think anyone realised quite how much stuff we would need to collect. In the small example below the bamboo square which provides a place for some species of solitary bees to lay eggs feed and pupate took 24 feet of cut bamboo to fill. We put the call out by visiting each classroom and showing the children a variety of materials and what insects they are likely to provide shelter for. Each morning the children dropped off bags of materials and each day the principal repeated the appeal over the intercom.
Some past pupils were on hand to help with some of the heavy jobs like cutting and drilling the logs to attract solitary bees.
Under supervision the pupils got stuck into the work at a number of workstations in the hall.
Here the pupils are cutting the tops off bottles and rolling cardboard into spirals to create a habitat for lacewings. Lacewings will help to keep aphid sap suckers in balance on our vegetables and flowers.
The pupils made a range of habitats to attract as diverse a variety of creatures as possible to the courtyard. Will there be spiders I was asked and when will the creatures move in. Yes and soon..
Flower pots and vegetable trays make a good container for a damp woodlouse habitat. Add drainage holes and leaves to the bottom and weight down with pebbles and stones. A broken clay pot makes a little shelter. This is a creative opportunity for the children to consider the conditions various insects need.
In the upper levels of the hotel we attached 10mm mesh to hold cones , straw,twigs and other lighter materials in place and stop them getting blown out by the wind. It’s a good idea to be able to remove some materials for investigation from time to time. A rolled door matt is a good addition and can be taken out to look at what shelters inside.
The courtyard is covered in paving slabs 600mm square so we set about lifting some of these to site the Insect Hotel. Removing 4 slabs for the hotel and 4 for each of the 6 raised beds. We cut a few larger holes in the bottom two pallets turning the bottom one upside down. In these levels we placed heavy materials such as stone, brick, logs etc all the way through allowing for nooks and crannies throughout. The outside face provides a wonderful chance to play with pattern texture and materials.
The slabs and sand bedding have been removed and will be re used in another vegetable patch on the outside of the school. This will provide better access particularly in the wetter months. The lone holly is not thriving in this spot so is being relocated.
We had pre ordered some 16 foot lengths of 6 inch decking and each length made up one raised bed. Pupils from the 6th class measured, cut and assembled some of these.
One of the 2 tonnes of compost soil mix needed to fill the six raised beds. A few small buckets, hand trowels and willing volunteers are all that is needed to empty them surprisingly quickly.
In time the depth of soil can be increased by adding a second level to the raised bed using some corner battens.
Work continues on the Insect hotel adding the upper levels and a touch of creativity. Stong pallets can be hard to come by but its worth the effort. The overall footprint is 1 x 1.2 metres. Some herbs including chives, mint, thyme are planted into the nearest raised bed . The mint is planted into a well drained pot to restrict its spread.
Some heather and primrose are added to an existing bed with a yew.
The drill master and some of the team that added the roof. Flowers and herbs in pots can be placed on top to attract Bees and Butterflys. A roof garden to top it all off with some trailing plants.
Still a ways to go with this one but a good start. The Insect Hotel is now a focal point in the school visible from two halls and circulation areas. Hopefully its presence will draw interest and investigation from around the school.