Use the winter and early spring to plan for a school garden project
Considerations in planning a school garden.
Updated from an original article written by Michelle Walk, Kathryn Jacques.
Winter and early spring is the best time to plan for a school garden. Get your garden project started by forming a team, gathering input, and developing a plan that works for how you intend to use your garden. There are many grants and resources available to help start school garden projects, but be sure to plan for sustainability by thinking of strategies to maintain and fund the project beyond the start-up phase, as this is where many projects struggle. This article will share considerations to include in your garden planning process.
Start by forming a garden team to help with the planning process. Your team should include teachers and staff interested in using the garden or those expected to help with maintenance. This includes school or early care and education administration, teachers, food service staff and maintenance staff. Also consider including parents and community volunteers that have gardening experience or an interest in supporting the project in other ways. Depending on the ages or grade levels that will be involved, this is also a great opportunity to engage youth in the planning process.
Determine how you plan to use your garden. Is it intended to be an exploration activity for young kids, connected to science lessons where experiments might be included, or do you plan on using a majority of what is grown for taste testing or cafeteria use? This is important as it may impact the layout of your garden, the supplies you need and training for specific practices, such as food safety. School gardens can easily serve multiple grades and multiple uses if proper planning occurs in the design stage.
Determine when you plan to use your garden. Will it only be during the school year? Do you have a summer program that could also utilize the garden? Is there a community group that could utilize the garden during the summer or volunteers (including Master Gardeners) that would help maintain it? There are methods to properly put a garden to bed during times it won’t be used (winter or summer) to minimize weed build up and make it easier to get the garden back into production when you are ready to use it.
Understanding siting and construction considerations is critical in making the growing season as productive as possible. Items to consider include access to potable water, sun exposure, wind, and soil conditions. Raised beds and small hoop house structures are always an option as well. If looking at a hoop house structure you have the additional consideration of winter maintenance and snow removal.
Lastly, now that you have your plans in place for how you will use your garden, develop a budget for what is needed. In addition to any building materials you will want to include items such as seeds, harvesting tools, containers for plant starts, soil and soil amendments, like compost. Be sure to plan for a soil test if you are planning to grow in the on-site soil.
Special thanks to Kathryn Jacques, Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program Instructor, for her role in developing the materials used in this article.