Garden Planning for All Ages

As every Wisconsin gardener knows, the winter months are a perfect time to hunker down (seriously – it’s 20 below out there), and plan for spring. Inviting kids into the planning process helps keep them involved in gardening year-round, and offers them an additional feeling of investment in their plants come spring.

Garden planning is also a platform for real-world learning opportunities. Crop spacing requires students to consider the needs of specific plants, while math skills are essential for seed ordering, garden design, and planting dates.

The process of garden planning can be tailored to almost any age group. Even students in the lower elementary grades can get involved, using techniques like square foot gardening, seed catalog cut-outs, or other visual tools to put their garden together like a puzzle. Discuss cool and warm season crops, have students figure out all the plants they would need to make their favorite recipe (think salsa garden), or have a winter taste-testing to decide on crops to grow.

Older students can get more detailed with crop-planning spreadsheets, planting calendars, or production goals. Consider having students talk with whoever will be using garden produce to find out any particular needs. If produce is destined for the school cafeteria, talk with food service staff or consider a school-wide survey of what students want on their salad bar.  

The options are endless! So get out those seed catalogs, and shuck off the winter blues with a bundle of thoughts about all things green.

Many thanks to Purdy Elementary and Sparta High School for providing photos in the above article!


Planting Calendar: This little booklet has a week-by-week guide - with plenty of planning space - for starting seeds indoors, and planting out your garden in spring. Developed by Community Ground-Works' farmers specifically for Wisconsin gardens. You can purchase the book for $7, or download blank pages in a Excel format for free.
Garden Planning - Start Small, Dream Big: This article from has some great tips about planning a garden with kids!
WSGI's Garden Planning Page: We love garden planning so much, we dedicated an entire page of our Resources section to it!  Here you can find a Vegetable Spacing Guide, Garden Design Tips, and much more. Feel free to send us additional resources to add to our list!
Playful Learning Blog: This blog has a wonderful post about garden planning with kids. Written by a gardening mom in California, this post has some great ideas for helping young kids enjoy garden planning anywhere.

GrowVeg Online Garden Planner: This program allows you to draw out your garden, place and rearrange your crops, and generate a planting list. Really, this is so cool!! Each of the 130 crop types has an "information" button that includes plant family, companion planting, cold tolerance, and more. Crop icons are sized to scale so accurate spacing happens automatically. You can view your garden plan by month to see how things will progress. There is also a square foot gardening mode. You can use the free 30 day trial, or pay $25 to access the site for one year. 
My Square Foot Garden: How to plan a square foot garden using Excel, plus how many plants per square!

Events ... visit our Events page for more

Wisconsin Farm to School and Local Food Summits: January 29, 30, & 31.

Don't miss this awesome event! You can attend one or both summits. WSGI's Beth Hanna and Jennica Skoug will present! 
Outdoor Classroom Management Webinar: January 15, 2015
3:00-4:00 pm Central Time

This edWeb webinar covers topics such as tone setting and routines, fostering student buy-in, encouraging cooperative learning, and much more.

Tasty Tidbits ... of wisdom, fun, and information

Garden Joke of the Month:

What do you get if you divide the circumference of a pumpkin by its diameter?

Click here for answer.

School Garden Research:

Benefits of Gardening for Children: This 2009 research summary is a wonderful brief on gardening outcomes, from healthy behaviors to academic achievement to interpersonal skills. Yost & Chawla; Children, Youth and Environments Center for Research and Design.


Success Story: Sparta High School

Sparta High School's Tennis Court Gardens

During spring and fall at Sparta High School, food service staff members take regular trips to the on-grounds tennis court, where they pick tomatoes, lettuce, cabbage, and other produce for students' lunch trays.Tennis court? 

Yes, folks, school gardens can live just about anywhere. There are six tennis courts at Sparta High, and, while old and unfit for rackets and balls, they are the perfect site for raised beds, vining vegetables, and outdoor learning. 

The project began when Autumn Grooms, project coordinator for the Monroe County Transform Wisconsin Healthy Food System Grant, was searching for a new school garden site. “We were approached by Sparta High with the tennis court idea,” Grooms said, “and were able to get the kids, staff members, and community involved in the planning process. We worked with the nutrition services director from the start, too. 

“We wanted the school and community and everyone who uses it to make it functional, and something they are proud of.” 

During the planning process, Grooms organized a regional garden group to garner advice from other schools, and help plan the Sparta garden. “We talked to people that knew more about them that we did,” Grooms remembers. “We learned from them. We contacted Beth Hanna from WSGI, who helped us organize a group of people in the region to talk about school gardens where we found out about best practices, and used many of those."

To keep the project from feeling too overwhelming, the garden planners decided to begin by converting just one of the six tennis courts into a garden during their first year. To keep the kids involved, they had the woodworking class help with the garden layout and build raised beds. Students in the high school’s greenhouse class helped plan out what to grow and start seedlings. 

This spring, they will begin building gardens on two additional tennis courts. Plans for the new garden spaces include planters for blueberry bushes and an outdoor teaching table with benches. Someday, they hope to grow a tree on that old, green cement. 

Bringing life back into an unused area, it seems, is inspiring. One high school student, after many trips with a compost-laden wheelbarrow, got to thinking about the garden’s potential: “wouldn’t it be neat,” he said, “if all the food we grew here, would be all the vegetables in the kitchen?” 

Sparta is well on their way. In addition to the tennis court garden, the high school greenhouse also includes a year-round hydroponics system that grows lettuce and tomatoes for the cafeteria. Aquaponics is in the works. “The students are really excited about it,” agriculture teacher Eric Follendorf said. “It’s awesome when they have that a-ha moment when they’re working in the greenhouse – when they realize, ‘hey, this is something I could do at home.’” In the spring, many students and community members do go home with plants – the class raises extra seedling starts each year for a school plant sale. Follendorf’s greenhouse class meets Wisconsin state standards for agriculture, and is on its way to meeting science standards as well. 

In the future, Sparta High hopes to invite neighboring elementary schools to visit the tennis courts, where high schoolers can help teach the younger students about gardening and healthy eating. And, perhaps, that transformations can happen in the most unlikely of places. 

Read other Wisconsin School Garden Stories

Share Your Garden Story Telling the world about what is going on in your garden helps build public support for school gardens, and can help sustain your garden program through community engagement and school pride!
                                                                                                              For those new to WSGI, we couldn't leave out these amazing resources. "Got Dirt?" will walk you through starting a school garden, while "Got Veggies?" will help you implement a garden-based nutrition curriculum.  "Cultivating Childhood Wellness through Gardening" is an online training that will help you establish and utilize a school garden.  You can watch the entire training or select specific chapters.

Find them all here.

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