Gardening is a wonderful hands-on experience that offers numerous benefits to students, fostering a love for nature, encouraging healthy eating habits, and promoting teamwork and responsibility. If you're passionate about introducing gardening to your school community, starting a school garden or garden club is a fantastic way to get students involved. Let's dig in!
Plan and Prepare:
To lay the groundwork for a successful school garden or garden club, careful planning is essential. Start by forming a team of enthusiastic teachers, parents, and students who share your passion. Collaborate with school administrators to determine the available space and resources for your garden.
An excellent place to start is KidsGardening, an organization dedicated to getting kids out into gardens. They have an extensive collection of articles on starting a school garden, getting kids excited about growing, and even detailed growing guides. Their plant growing guides can give you an idea of how much work and time goes into growing different types of vegetables and plants so you can be sure you’re prepared.
Also check out the resources provided by the American Horticultural Society. Their commitment to advancing horticultural education and sharing best practices can provide you with additional insights and support as you navigate the complexities of establishing a school garden. They have a great section on their website with resources for educators looking to get kids interested in gardening.
Don't overlook the expertise of local agricultural extension offices, which are deeply connected to the specifics of your region's climate, soil conditions, and plant varieties. They can provide valuable guidance on selecting plants that thrive in your area, cultivating healthy soil, and addressing potential challenges unique to your local environment.
Seek Support and Funding:
Engage the school community by spreading awareness about the benefits of a school garden. Reach out to local businesses, community organizations, and grant programs that may be interested in supporting your initiative. Fundraising events, sponsorships, and donations can help cover costs for seeds, tools, soil, and other necessary supplies.
Local plant nurseries and agricultural supply businesses can be a great place to seek donations of plants and growing supplies for your garden. Consider offering a plaque or dedication with the name of contributing businesses in exchange for continued financial support of the garden or club. Forming a relationship with a small business like this can help engage your community and get external resources invested in the success of your program.
Seeking a grant can seem daunting, but they’re one of the best ways to get substantial funding for your school garden and secure its existence into the future. KidsGardening provides grants and has collected a list of some other grants also available for school gardens.
Design Your Garden:
Involve students in the garden design process to promote a sense of ownership. Consider factors like sunlight exposure, soil quality, and water accessibility. Create different garden sections for growing vegetables, herbs, flowers, or even a sensory garden. Don't forget to incorporate paths, benches, and signs to make the garden visually appealing and educational.
Not sure where to start? Check out our guide on planning a garden and get a copy of our printable garden planner. You may find involving kids in the planning process helpful when trying to get them excited and invested in the outcome of the garden. Consider breaking your class or club into small teams and assigning each team a garden box or section of a garden plot. Then let them collaborate with their team members to decide what plants they’d like to grow with the space they have. This promotes ownership of the gardening process and builds interpersonal skills.
Establish Garden Guidelines:
Develop a set of rules and guidelines to ensure the smooth functioning of the garden. Teach students about sustainable gardening practices, including organic methods, composting, and water conservation. Emphasize the importance of respecting plants, wildlife, and each other in the garden environment.
Regardless of if you’re interested in the potential health benefits from growing organic foods, having an organic garden is a great way to keep students away from potentially harmful chemicals and reduce chances of a student being injured in the garden.
Being wise about the water you use in your garden can reduce the cost of your garden but be cautious about rain collection barrels if you decide to use them. Make sure you have secure lids to prevent drowning risks, or avoid them altogether and use a WaterSense® labeled smart device to reduce your water usage.
Choose plants that are suitable for your region, considering climate and growing conditions. Involve students in the selection process, encouraging them to grow a variety of plants that reflect their interests and learning goals. Incorporate companion planting to enhance biodiversity and deter pests naturally. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is a great tool to help decide which plants can grow well in your region.
If you let your students decide which plants they’d like to grow and they have decided on plants that don’t fit within your growing zone and climate, try to steer them towards plants that are more suitable but allow a small plot of garden for the unsuitable plants. Seeing how different plants react to heat, cold, and weather can be an incredible learning experience, but it can be discouraging if they’ve planted all or mostly plants that won’t do well in your climate.
Maintain and Monitor:
Regular maintenance is crucial for a thriving garden. Create a watering schedule and assign responsibilities to students for watering, weeding, and pest control. Using a smart timer for watering allows a designated teacher or volunteer to manage the watering schedule remotely, even during times when no one is present to water the garden. Encourage students to document plant growth, observe wildlife interactions, and maintain garden journals. This hands-on learning experience will deepen their understanding of nature and foster a sense of responsibility.
Extend the impact of your school garden by incorporating cross-curricular activities. Connect gardening to subjects like science, math, language arts, and art. Organize workshops, cooking classes, or farm-to-table events to explore the culinary aspects of gardening and healthy eating habits.
Starting a school garden or garden club is a great way to empower students, foster environmental stewardship, and provide hands-on learning opportunities. By following these steps and incorporating your own creativity, you can cultivate a vibrant garden community within your school. Remember, the journey of a school garden is as important as the harvest it yields. So, grab your shovels and get ready to inspire and nurture the next generation of green thumbs!