It's a reasonable question from school garden admirers and skeptics alike: what happens to the garden during summer vacation?
The answer? We're working on that. So much of school
gardening is an experiment, a never-finished work-in-progress (which, of course, is part of why it is such a powerful, engaging educational tool) and the question of summer maintenance fits right in with the theme. The ever-evolving list of solutions is creative, exciting, and always welcome to newcomers.
School gardens often follow one of two tracks during the summer: Drawing additional activity to the garden, or planning for a low-maintenance "resting" garden until school resumes in fall. Mixing techniques is, of course, common and encouraged. Here are some of the best ideas we've seen yet:
Ideas for Active Summer Gardens
Summer school or camp programs: Create one, or adapt existing programs to incorporate the garden. Incorporate classroom activities, as well as extra time for cooking, exploring, and reflecting.
Students volunteers or interns: A great way to keep students involved, especially those that really want to dig in beyond short classroom hours. Works well if there is an adult volunteer or staff member available to coordinate students.
Other student organizations: Partner with a nearby community center, Boys and Girls Club, 4-H group, Scouting troop, day care, or summer camp. Have one group adopt the garden for the entire summer, or have groups sign up for specific weeks.
Adopt-a-plot: Make garden beds available for families to "adopt" for the summer. You may allow families to keep produce or donate it to pantries, or plant things of their own, as long as the plot is in good shape in the fall.
Create a sign-up sheet for parents, teachers, community members, and Master Gardeners who want to volunteer. Leave specific instructions for each week or time slot. Sign-up Genius
is a great way to stay organized.
Ideas for Summer Gardens at Rest
Plant spring and fall crops
: In Wisconsin, many annual plants
can be harvested before the end of school in spring, and planted again when school begins at the end of August. Try: radishes, leaf lettuce, spinach, cilantro, and green garlic (plant full bulbs in October, harvest like a bunching onion in spring). Photo at right: a radish "snake" with raisin eyes and chive hair.
Plant edible perennials: They come up early in spring, and herbs will last until fall. Try: asparagus, rhubarb, sun-chokes, and herbs such as oregano, thyme, mint, chives, and sorrel. Consider investing in fruit trees for fall harvesting!
Plant low maintenance crops: Anything that is fairly vigorous and drought tolerant is likely to survive with little care and provide a nice fall crop if it gets a good start in spring. Try: tomatoes, tomatillos, ground cherries, potatoes, kale, swiss chard, pumpkins and winter squash, dry beans, and sunflowers.
Consider drip irrigation
: Investing once saves time and water for years. Small timers can be installed for automatic watering. Dripworks
offers how-to materials as well as a discount for schools; home garden centers often have basic supplies and advice. A good candidate for small grants or fundraiser funds.
Mulch: Use straw, hay, or leaf mulch 2-4 inches thick under well-weeded plants or empty beds to help keep in moisture and minimize weeds.
No space is too small. Cover crops improve soil and out-compete most weeds. An oats and peas combination is a good starter. Learn more here.
Funding for this project was provided by the UW School of Medicine and Public Health from the Wisconsin Partnership Program.