Get involved and start a schoolyard garden
by Ellen Goff
If you have school-aged children, you're well-acquainted with selling candy and wrapping paper and volunteering for the parent-teacher association, so why not give some time and energy to experiential learning by starting a schoolyard garden?
A deceptively simple idea, a garden requires a lot of planning to ensure short-term success as well as longevity. Here are some ideas parents can use to draft an action plan for launching a school garden project.
Creating a garden is a process; one that will continue for years. First, schedule a meeting with potential participants and volunteers. Contact teachers, key members of the parent-teacher organization and other interested volunteers who can provide time, guidance and materials. Perhaps there's a landscaper, naturalist or experienced home gardener among the parents.
Set realistic goals such as having fun, providing opportunities for students to explore the natural world, fostering kids' sense of identity and ownership with the project and incorporating biology and math lessons.
When choosing a site, start small. Eighty to 100 square feet is manageable. Find a spot that receives at least six hours of unobstructed sunlight each day, has a nearby water source and is accessible to a driveway for easy transfer of plants, soil amendments and equipment.
After securing the principal's permission to use school property, identify one person to document the garden's progress. This logbook will become a valuable record for future volunteers.
Next, contact the county Cooperative Extension office to determine what help is available, such as a consultation with a Master Gardener volunteer to review the proposed location, bed design and plant selection. Visit other school gardens in your area and talk with those volunteers about their experiences.
The kids should then decide what type of garden they want. They can create a schoolyard habitat with native plants to attract birds, butterflies and insects. Many kids like to eat what they grow, so fruits and vegetables also make popular choices. Bring in seed catalogs for them to browse and search school garden websites.
Sharpen the kids' math skills by enlisting their help to draft a timeline, starting with the ideal planting date and working backward. Say today is Feb. 1. If you plan to grow strawberries, and their ideal planting date is May 1, you have 12 weeks to create a plan, prepare the site and purchase plants. Plan at least one Saturday work day when families can participate in preparing the soil for planting.
Finally, determine who will care for the garden during the summer, and schedule volunteers in advance. If your group wants a smaller project, consider The Growing Connection, a program designed to teach children about the science of growing food plants. Their kit contains seed packets, soil-less growing mix, fertilizer, project sheets and an EarthBox, a self-contained, portable and simple-to-use planter.
With planning and attention, your schoolyard garden will soon be growing as fast as your kids.