Dig This! How To Start A School Garden
Learning takes place in your classroom every day, but have you thought about taking it outside the classroom? Starting a school garden can have many benefits for students, and it’s fun, too!
If you’ve ever wondered how to start a school garden, you’re in luck. To learn more about why gardens are important for schools and how to get started, we spoke with Beth Horst and Grace Julian, founders of The Edible Classroom, a Pennsylvania-based organization that partners with schools and communities to create and sustain gardens.
Why are school gardens important?
The garden provides an opportunity to engage in hands-on experiential learning. Research has found that participation in youth gardening programs can have the following impacts on students:
- Increase science achievement scores
- Improve social skills and behavior
- Improve life skills, including working with groups and self-understanding
- Improve environmental attitudes
- Increase interest in eating fruits and vegetables and improve attitude toward fruits and vegetables
Could you offer a few tips on how to start a school garden?
When starting a school garden, first consider how you would like to use it: as a tool to teach the curriculum, to teach healthy eating habits, to use with special needs students, for academic enrichment, to draw in the community. The beauty of a school garden is that it offers an on-site space to do all of the above. Gather support from key players including administration, teachers, and PTO.
What are some good choices to plant in a school garden?
There are so many fun things to plant. It depends on your purpose. Fast-growing veggies are fun like spinach, lettuces, and radishes. These can be planted and harvested while school is in session. Students can also plant at the end of the school year with the following fall in mind. Planting tomatoes, peppers, and herbs provide a great fall harvest. These can be grown together as a “Pizza Garden” or “Salsa Garden” to tie in the preparation and eating of the fresh produce.
A garden is also the ideal place to plant a pollinator garden to educate students about the important role of pollinators in the food system. Perennials like purple coneflower (Echinacea), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), bee balm (Monarda), and asters would be a good place to start. Annuals like zinnias and sunflowers offer colorful blooms that last into the fall. Students can then harvest the sunflower seeds and taste them or save zinnia seeds to plant the next year.
Could you suggest some school gardening activities for teachers to tie into their garden?
The list is endless! Planting a Native American Three Sisters garden to learn about companion planting is always a great lesson. A favorite Edible Classroom lesson is Salad with a Side of Science. It combines a science focus with healthy eating. Math is easily incorporated—measuring the depth and spacing of seeds. The math lesson can be extended to include measuring the perimeter of the garden or of a raised bed. Calculating the volume to learn how much soil is needed to fill it is another math option, to name just a few. Endless literature connections exist with a host of great garden-themed books.
Is there anything else about school gardens that you’d like people to know?
A garden is a great way to engage students over the summer. It can be as simple as a few “open house” style garden lessons, or as robust as a summer-long garden camp. These summer offerings keep the garden thriving year round and provide meaningful summer activities for kids.