Here in Central Oregon, the prime growing season is exactly when school is out of session. That doesn’t mean there isn’t any use for a school garden! There are tons of ways to get students involved throughout the school year, from planning indoors in the winter months to hands on garden work outdoors in the fall and spring. But there still is the reality of what happens to a school garden when school is out? Here are some ways that local schools do – or could do – to deal with this reality.
Some schools have a generous point person volunteer that loves gardening and wants to own this project. Others have asked student families to sign up for one week over the summer to come visit the garden and do some maintenance work. This works best when the garden is in an accessible location at the school (and you have willing volunteers!)
School Garden Champion
In this case, one teacher has either officially or is the self appointed garden champion, and they take it upon themselves to check on it over the summer. If this is you, we recommend you work to form a Garden Committee next school year, because you may eventually burn out. On a lighter note, our garden grants (available in the fall) can be used to cover up to $500 stipend for a teacher that is the garden champion, especially over summer break.
Some school locations have summer activities happening at the school already, either by the school itself or by a youth organization utilizing the site over the summer to run their programs out of. This can be a great way to get youth involved in the garden over the summer, enrich their programming, and make sure that someone is taking care of the garden. Also be open to youth programs nearby? Partnerships can be mutually beneficial in this way. For years we have worked with Amity Elementary School and the Downtown Bend Boys & Girls Club, both within walking distance, as a way to have students experiencing the garden through it’s entire growing season.
School Year Gardening
Some schools ensure summer success by only growing during the school year. This is most appropriate for smaller indoor year round growing type set ups. However, there are some ways to plant an outdoor school garden specifically designed for only school year harvesting.
- Plant spring crops that can go in early as soon as the soil can be worked (peas, spinach, radish) and harvest whatever comes up by the end of the school year. Your peas will not have reached maturity, but your students will be blown away that they can eat pea leaves that indeed taste like peas!
- Plant things that can stay in the ground until students return in the fall, and are fairly low maintenance. Ideas include carrots, beets, potatoes, onion. They can plant garlic in the fall, you come back and harvest it when it’s ready in late July or so, hang em up to dry and they will be ready to join the other roots veggies for a roasted veggie meal or a soup. Another idea is to plant beans at the end of the school year when it’s warmed up, and then leave them on the vine. You’ll come back to dried beans (or still drying) that can be saved for replanting, sent home with students, or turned into a soup for a class harvest celebration meal.
- Make seed tape with your students to accurately space out those tiny carrot and beet seeds, that way you don’t even need to spend time thinning out the seedlings in the summer. Also it makes a great wintertime/early spring indoor classroom activity to prep for your garden.
Let us know if you do, saw, or heard of other ideas for school garden summer maintenance. Happy Gardening!