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Rustenburg Early Learning Centre’s vertical garden

| November 17, 2017 | 0 Comments


Growing populations, higher temperatures and less frequent and erratic rainfall challenge South Africa to find ways to grow food more efficiently.1

ISASA member, Rustenburg Early Learning Centre (RELC), agreed to run a pilot project for the WESSA Eco-
Schools Programme2 at the beginning of 2017. Its focus was learning how to grow food in a vertical garden. Growing and eating food “off the vine” while learning what makes the plant healthy for us was a revelation for many children. From the carroty taste of vitamin-A rich parsley to the burny nasturtium flower (planted with cherry tomatoes to improve the flavour), the children were delighted and eager for more.

Red wrigglers
RELC is currently undertaking two themes to earn its Silver Eco-School accreditation:3 “Waste” and “Health and wellbeing”.The locally made tower garden has a central column filled with raw veggie peels and fruit scraps to feed red wriggler worms (Eisenia foetida). The worm population will double every 90 days or so if they are getting enough food and water. Red wiggler worms can eat about half of their weight in food every day, which could provide an exponential maths challenge with which to have fun. Like all worms, red wriggler worms breathe
oxygen through their skin. This means that they require a moist, but not saturated, bedding material. A moist
environment also facilitates the breakdown of organic matter by other microbial and fungal life forms. The RELC children have been able to see that the bedding material level drops by the day as the red wriggler worms
munch away. The only raw foods that the red wriggler worms cannot tolerate are citrus and onions, but they readily consume even tea bags and coffee grounds! The red wriggler worms are free to move throughout the unit and enrich the soil by aerating and providing nutrients from the food waste they are given in the central column. A lid prevents fruit flies and other unwanted creatures from feasting on the scraps. The bottom of the column has another lid, which can be removed to access the dark, rich vermicompost from the column.

Project successfully replicated
After three months, compost was ready to be removed from the column. The tower garden is equivalent to a 3×3 metre plot of land and houses 64 plants. Strawberries, spinach, parsley, tomatoes, turnips and beans have been grown successfully. Excess water is captured in plastic buckets for reuse, and very little soil is exposed to the hot sun or available for weeds to seed in. The tower garden has been introduced to three additional rural schools in North West province: the Groot Marico Academy (in the Groot Marico area), Pitso Tolo Primary School (Lehurutshe) and St Catherine Primary (Marikana). There is talk to run competitions between schools to build vertical gardens from waste materials. As it is easy to feed the red wriggler worms and access the compost, it has proven to be an easy way to change negative mindsets around worms and demonstrate the production of healthy soil. Moreover, it is convenient to work on the tower garden with young children, as they cannot trample or accidently sit on a plant.

Getting children out and about
RELC caters for preschool to Grade R children and is located in Rustenburg in North West province. Early childhood
development at this school centres on all-round development through play and structured activity. During early childhood, physical, cognitive and emotional development occurs at a rapid rate, which sets the scene for children who are friendly, confident and social, with well-developed fine and gross motor skills. Observations of learners over the last five years shows decreased core strength, which is important for sitting straight in class and concentration.4 This may be related to children spending too much time indoors, being entertained by a screen. To develop core strength and reuse waste as part of the Eco- Schools seven-step journey, two swings were made from old
wooden pallets and a tyre. These are thoroughly enjoyed by the children. Wood offcuts and old pipes are kept in a designated “construction play area”, and there are often towers and forts being built in creative play. Bottle tops, straws and ice cream sticks are used to encourage the pincer grasp important for writing and to make shapes, letters and numbers.

To order your space- and water-saver tower garden and
worm farm, call John Kelly on +27 (82) 694 6716. Cathy
Dzerefos is the project manager for the South African WESSA
Eco-Schools Programme.

1. See, for example:
2. WESSA is the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa. It aims
to initiate and support high-impact environmental and conservation
projects to promote participation in caring for the Earth. The Eco-Schools
Programme is an international programme of the Foundation for
Environmental Education (FEE) that was developed to support
environmental learning in the classroom. The programme is active in 64
countries around the world and has been implemented in South Africa
since 2003 by WESSA. See:
3. See:
4. See, for example:






Category: Summer 2017

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