PS-41

Photo courtesy of our friends at PS-41 in New York City. Students study plants on their rooftop garden.

In celebration of Farm to School month, we’d like to focus on an integral part of farm to school programs: school gardens. Follow our step-by-step guide from gaining school approval to integrating lesson plans. School gardens offer a multitude of educational opportunities and health benefits, including building food literacy, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption in children, improving physical activity, forming positive relationships, and promoting environmental stewardship.

This is the second installment of our ‘Starting a School Garden’ series. In today’s post we will discuss tips for planning your school garden. With the school’s support, you can now move on to finalizing your garden design. (Click here to read part 1.)

Location

There are many important factors to consider when choosing the location of your school garden. Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Water – Plants will need to be watered regularly, more often in hot weather. Make sure your location has a nearby water source.

Sunlight – Vegetables and flowers need a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight to grow, but more is ideal. Check the location’s sunlight exposure throughout the day.

Soil – What was previously in this location? Use a soil test to determine if the soil is healthy and safe. Weeds and bugs are signs of healthy soil!

Accessibility – Keep your school garden close to classrooms. This will help teachers stay committed and students focused and enthusiastic.

Size – The size of your garden should fit your budget and person-power. Plus, it’s better to start small and expand after a successful season.

Drainage – Does the area flood easily? Flooding and standing water could suffocate plants and become a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Space – Leave room for walk ways and areas for learning. Fill in spaces with mulch or wood chips to keep the area looking neat and clean.

If ground space is limited, consider a rooftop garden. Our friends at PS-41 in New York City found space for a school garden on their rooftop (photo). Roofs need to be strong enough to handle the weight of soil and water barrels and have good drainage.

Choosing what to plant

When choosing what to plant in your school garden consider the following tips:

  • Choose plants that will grow well in your region. (USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map)
  • Select plants suitable for the season. (Seed Planting Calendar)
  • Easy to grow plants that don’t require a lot tending are great for inexperienced gardeners.
  • Grow food that kids will eat plus a couple new things to try.
  • Get kids involved in researching and choosing what to plant.
  • Stick to a few crops and doing them really well. This will ensure long-term success and enthusiasm.

Supplies

Supplies will vary with the type of garden. Here we’ve provided a basic starter list.

To save money on supplies hold a “garden supply drive.” Ask families to donate gently used garden supplies they don’t need anymore, and ask local businesses to donate or discount other supplies in exchange for recognition in the garden.

  • Garden tools and gloves
  • Age appropriate watering cans
  • Water hose (100 ft, 3/4″ wide) and head (or even better, if your location and climate allows, install a rain barrel to collect rainwater and teach children about conserving this precious resource!)
  • Soil amendments/compost
  • Seeds, vegetable starts, fruit trees, etc.
  • Mulch or woodchips
  • Children’s literature and curricular resources

Once you’ve completed these steps, you can begin planting your garden. Click here for Part 3 of this series on how to start a school garden!


More resources for starting a school garden:

Farm to School Garden Fact Sheet

Let’s Move School Garden Check List


Read the full Starting a School Garden Series here.