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  • Bridgette Macilwaine

Planning a school vegetable garden

School gardens allow children to be active outdoors working as a team, caring for growing plants, reduce stress levels, gaining new skills and to eat fresh food as they learn. The act of caring for living soil and plants allows children to learn numerous lessons that transfer to their lives.


Let’s begin with the simple question of “what is a school garden?”


An easily accessible garden where students can incorporate learning hands-on by growing food and flowers in an outdoor classroom, working as a team, readucing stress and anxiety and gaining new skills. Designed and coordinated with teachers, children, parents and local community groups.


Before constructing the school garden, sketches or a 3D visual could be created to aid with expectations and discussions between the teachers, children and parents, and to answer questions or concerns regarding materials, costs and use of space.


A rectangular example layout as shown below, includes a central gazebo and teaching area with table height accessible beds, wide paths, seasonal beds, storage shed and comppost area.


Each school garden design will vary depending on the available space, budget, and design input and requirements from students and teachers regarding the layout and shape of beds.


One main popular question is “what happens to the food grown in school gardens?”

All food produced in school gardens can be highly beneficial to the students, teachers and parents, the food grown can be:

  • used as snacks for the children;

  • sent home with students to share with their families;

  • incorporated into school lunch menus;

  • shared with the local community;

  • used in cooking classes for the children and parents to learn to incorporate the fruits and vegetable in the meals together

  • sold on small school stands to raise money for the school garden

Best vegetables for school gardens:

  • Salad and herb crops such as lettuce, spinach, chives, thyme, basil, rocket and radishes are quick to grow and harvest;

  • Potatoes are a great vegetable to grow as well as adding colour when they flower;

  • Carrots are a great vegetable for children, as they are tricky to grow straight, there are smaller round options and always good fun pulling up fun carrot shapes;

  • Peas and beans - add beautiful colour and flowers, and have amazing flavours, when picked and eaten raw as garden snacks;

  • Edible flowers such as nasturtiums, calendula, chammomile, chive flowers;

  • Beetroot and swiss chard - these brightly coloured vegetables are another easy option and a great addition to salads, stews and pies.

What to include:

  • Raised beds – easy access by everyone and appropriate width to reach from either side

  • Walkways between planters with mulch to keep dry and safe access for children

  • A water tank or access to faucet with filter attached for chlorine

  • A locked shed for tools, gear and materials

  • Garden supplies

  • Fences

  • Signs indicating use of space and to encourage learning

  • Greenhouse for sensitive plants and seed starting

  • Bird houses to attract birds to eat unwanted insects

  • Bee and bug houses

  • Fruit bushes and trees

  • Bird bath

  • Concealed compost area

  • Covered outdoor kitchen/food prep area


A wide range of raised vegetable beds can be incorporated into school gardens depending on the space available and the preferred quantity of plants the school aims to grow. These few examples below show the varying options of multilevel beds, different shapes and integrated seating or table areas which are possible. (Images below reference from the Wood Blocx website.)

In order to balance soil nutrients and reduce the occurrence of pests and disease, crop rotation should be used throughout all growing areas. Green manures can be included in your crop planning as they increase soil nutrition, keep weeds down and can produce generous attractive flowers beneficial to local insects.


Crops such as lettuce, sweetcorn, courgettes and pumpkins can fit into any rotation system, wherever you have space for them. Crop rotations suggestion over 4 years can start with roots, replaced by potatoes, then legumes and then brassicas.

Planning a school garden:

  • Regular meetings with schools boards, parents and community groups;

  • Locating an appropriate sunny area with a level surface;

  • Understand if any chemicals are used on the school property;

  • Develop a vision and design with input from students and teachers;

  • Prepare budget and list of equipment requied;

  • Start small and plan to expand;

  • Creating a planting and harvesting plan with the students;

  • Creating a maintenance plan for the summer period.

 

Thanks for reading, any questions we would love to hear from you!


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