Start a Garden
How to Start a School Garden Program
School gardens can provide an environment in which students can learn to work with teachers, parents and neighborhood resident volunteers while growing plants and learning the relationship between people, plants and wildlife. The lessons that are taught at the garden site are limited only by one's creativity. School Gardens are a special kind of learning center. Like libraries, they need responsible and knowledgeable people to do all the jobs necessary to maintain them as functional places in which children will learn. They should be seen as permanent additions and must be utilized year-round. Below is a framework which you should consider before starting your garden. A recent survey by the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom found that more than 60% of the children thought that cotton comes from sheep and vegetables come from the store. There is clearly a need for agriculture education for urban students. In addition, gardens create enthusiasm for learning, encourage nutrition and foster team-building.
Step 1 - Form a Garden Committee.
As a teacher, you do not have the time that is needed to coordinate the garden program. Someone else has to be responsible for the garden work, finding funds to support the garden, scheduling educational activities, finding and training volunteers, researching and disseminating information. Forming a garden committee from a pool of dedicated people with those skills will enhance the success of your program. Look for volunteers among the school staff, parents, and local residents. Or if you know of a gardener, ask that person to volunteer or to recommend another gardener. Find out who is interested in being involved by sending out a flyer announcing a meeting. Personally announcing the meeting to local groups (PTA, Rotary Club, teachers, churches, senior citizen centers, local garden clubs, etc.) is even more effective.
Step 2 - Define the purpose and objectives of your garden.
Every school garden must fulfill some need or objective. This is why each garden is unique. All teachers utilize the garden as a learning aid. For some teachers it may reinforce natural science classroom studies. For others it may reinforce social studies. Some teachers may utilize the garden across all curriculums. Whatever your needs are, by addressing these issues, you will have a better understanding of the work involved in this stage.
Step 3 - Layout your students gardening activities.
By determining your objectives at this early stage, you will have the opportunity to look at your lesson plans to see when and what types of garden lessons are needed. If you need help finding educational exercises and activities, there are many resources available for teachers. You will need to determine which groups of students will be doing what and when, and determine how bed space will be allocated. The experiences and input from your garden committee will be helpful at this stage. This is your opportunity to schedule specific activities at specific times or assign certain tasks to your volunteers.
Step 4 - Define a year-round garden plan.
You have identified what your garden will be like while school is in session. But now, you need to think about your garden during summer break. The main question is, "Who is going to keep this garden maintained until school starts?" "How do you want the garden to look on the first day of school?" A year-round garden plan will account for any school break.
Step 5 - Choose a permanent garden site and design your garden.
Your garden site should be in an area that receives plenty of sunlight, has good drainage, and in close proximity to water, electricity and accessible to students, volunteers and teachers. The site should have enough room for your garden, tool storage, and students. Maintaining a large garden will use up all of your time and energy so select a relatively small area.
The following concerns should help you decide where plants will grow best:
- - A Vegetable garden needs 5-8 hours of full, direct sun every day for plants to be healthy - Hoses are heavy and often can't be left in the schoolyard. You will want to build your garden as close as possible to a water spigot or hose bib. Or install one near your garden site.
- Drainage - Most plants will die if they sit in soggy soil. Make sure that the site you choose isn't the lowest place on campus. Watch where water sits longest after it rains, and you'll know where you don't want to build your garden. You can build a garden on asphalt by using raised beds. If you are going to use soil that is already on campus, it is important to have it tested by a reputable company. Some vegetables can become unhealthy to eat if they are grown in contaminated soil.
Access - The garden needs to be close enough to classrooms that it can be used regularly. A garden that is out of sight is hard to monitor, maintain and enjoy!
- Tool Storage - Choose a location to store and secure tools close to the garden so that transporting tools isn't a chore.
6 - Build your Garden according to plan
This is the big moment when teachers, volunteers, students and their parents pool their resources and build this permanent addition to the school.
Information courtesy of University of California Cooperative Extension and Inland Empire West Resource Conservation District.
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