School Gardening in the Northeast

sowing seeds

Puzzler: How to create a school garden that produces vegetables, flowers and fruits before the end of June and after Labor Day in the Northeast?

The weeks in the middle are actually our prime time for gardening here in upstate New York but this is also when schools are closed. This can present a challenge for schools that want to have a garden.

Here’s a possible plan I put together for a garden club meeting this morning at a local elementary school. Turns out, this garden has found creative ways to deal with some of the challenges other school gardens experience.

School Garden Plan

The following planting plan includes plants that perform while school is in session.

In late May, plant rows of sunflowers, zinnias, cosmos, bachelor buttons, Jerusalem artichokes and marigolds. These plants will still be blooming in September and attract beneficial insects and butterflies.

The Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) have edible underground tubers that can be eaten raw or cooked and have yellow flowers attract beneficial insects.

If soil is moist, plant swamp milkweed for the monarch butterflies. Also include larvae plants such as dill to create a habitat. When possible, plant the pollinator garden where it can be viewed from classrooms or hallway windows. Add birdhouses for even more enjoyment and learning opportunities.

In an area designated for perennials, plant rhubarb. And, if there is someone to diligently weed the first year, plant an asparagus bed. This will be harvested before school ends.

When school is back in session in September plant garlic, which should be ready to harvest the end of  June. A school garlic sale could be a great fundraiser for the garden program.

Also, plant lettuces, mache, sorrel and spinach which will be “salad” ready to harvest in six weeks. Walking onions are another possibility.

Plant Pansies. They are an edible flower that you can add to the salad. And pansies bloom until hard frost.

In October, plant spring bulbs such as tulips, daffodils and scilla. These are in their glory before the school year ends.

If there’s room, an apple tree orchard using dwarf trees would be an asset. This would bloom in the spring and fruit in the fall. Perfect timing for a school garden.

sow seed twoSchool Garden Club 

Today, I was invited to visit the Division Street elementary school garden club in Saratoga Springs. They are ahead of the game. They have an established garden and have some summer help keeping the garden growing.

The school district also has a grounds supervisor committed to creating school gardens and educating the next generation about what it takes to grow healthy food.

Today a group of young gardeners planted kale and beans in seed trays. Kevin Templin, grounds supervisor for the Saratoga Springs school district, talked about the plants and showed the club members how to sow the seeds.

It’s an impressive group. One seven-year-old was able to explain cross pollination. Several others were experienced gardeners having grown vegetables and fruits with their families.

Along with a high level of enthusiasm, this south facing school garden has two other advantages. First, it is well situated. It has a courtyard feel with brick walls on three sides. This will help to extend the garden season and protect the garden from animals and strong winds.

The gardeners already have garlic growing in the ground. They also plan much more,  including a pollinator garden that draws butterflies and beneficial insects.

And they have volunteers willing to tend the garden during the summer months when school is not in session. In addition to staff support, families of the garden club members are asked to adopt the garden for one week during the summer. Sharing the responsibility in this way has worked well for them.

If you have other ideas on how to create and maintain a school garden, please share them.

Your experiences are valuable as we all work to teach the next generation about growing food and cultivating a healthy lifestyle.

Thank you to the young gardeners and their leaders for welcoming me today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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