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Starting Your Own School Garden

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The first step in planning a school garden is to Determine Your Goals!

Also check out these cool Themes for school gardens!

Once you understand the benefits of garden based learning and have some gardening goals, its time to look at the nuts and bolts of creating a garden at your school. To further that end, the following condensed checklists have been compiled to assist educators, administrators, parents and community volunteers in setting up a school or youth garden. (a much more extensive planning checklist is available here)

1) ORGANIZE A GARDEN COMMITTEE AND SUPPORT BASE (key to sustainability)

  • Include administration, teachers, parents, and students in the planning process. 
  • Define specific talents and expertise of each member of the committee and support group, list specific needs/wants and have individuals commit to those areas. 
  • Establish a projects list, realistic time-line for completion of tasks, and specific objectives for students in the garden. Visit successful school gardens to get ideas and ask questions.


2) SELECT GARDEN SITE

A good site is:

  • easily accessible to classrooms 
  • Check for proximity of water source.
  • Receives direct sunshine for 6 to 7 hours daily
  • good water drainage
  • clear of trees and roots

It’s important to make sure school maintenance is in support of your layout design as they will be doing the maintenance around your garden and may be able to assist when it comes to mulch and compost delivery.

Call NC One Call at 811 to have location of underground utility lines marked. Also, call Guilford County School maintenance for private lines and easements marked.

 
3) DESIGN YOUR GARDEN

  • START SMALL. Don’t feel pressured to have a big harvest. You don’t have to plant lots of different crops. Classroom gardens should be more about the experience and magic of planting, rather than what is produced. Develop a general feel of garden….will there be individual class beds, theme gardens, tool shed, greenhouse?
  •  Sketch out a plan for the entire area including:  beds for annual crops of vegetables and flowers.
  • Theme gardens for butterfly and larval plants, medicinal and culinary herbs, teas, edible flowers; orchard area, permanent areas to include native plants and berry patches (habitats for birds, insects, snakes, frogs, etc.).
  • Be sure to include composting and worm bins, tool shed, benches, and shaded outdoor classroom. If necessary, divide into phases as funds and energy permit.
  • Make sure paths are wheelchair accessible, at least 36” wide. 


4) DETERMINE COST OF LABOR AND MATERIALS
(here are some cost estimates for common gardening supplies)

There are supplies, tools, and equipment that will be needed to grow a garden. Determine whether the garden can be built in-house with volunteer labor or whether you will need to hire someone to construct it. Define the purpose and objectives of your garden. Are the priorities science curriculum, food production, waste reduction education, nutritional education or learning where food comes from? Whatever your needs are, by addressing these issues, you will have a better understanding of the work involved.

5) FUND-RAISE

You will need a variety of resources including financial donations, as well as donations of materials, skills and time from members of your school community. 

  • Determine start-up and maintenance costs, and what funds are immediately available. Is there a system established with the school regarding accounting? Determine who will keep track of the budget.
  • Make list of needed items and list of possible local resources: PTA, parents, and local vendors. Send home a wish list with your students. Many parents have old tools lying around that they don’t use or would be happy to donate items such as seeds, gloves, compost or mulch.
  • Obtain list of grant proposals, determine who will research, write and facilitate the grant.


6) GARDEN!

  • Start early enough so you don’t have to rush.
  • For building projects, identify an experienced carpenter or builder in the group to organize workers. Identify those with plumbing, electrical and irrigation knowledge and skills. Ask volunteers to bring needed tools including saws, hammers, post hole digger, wheelbarrows, shovels, spades, pickaxes, digging bars, and spading forks (depending on tasks being done).
  • Remove any unwanted current vegetation from the garden site. School maintenance will address this if you give them enough notice.

7) REGULAR WEEDING, WATERING & MAINTENANCE

  • Gardens need at least weekly attention. Determine if volunteers need to be recruited or if students/teachers can handle the necessary tasks. Do not expect school maintenance or grounds personnel to maintain the garden.
  • Define a year-round garden plan. First, identify what your garden will be like while school is in session. You will need to determine which group of students will be doing what and when and determine how bed space will be allocated. Then, think about your garden during summer break. The main question is, “who is going to keep this garden maintained until school starts?”

HAVE STUDENTS START PLANTING!!!

Make sure that the students are involved in each step of the process whenever possible!

MOST IMPORTANT…Have Fun!

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