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April Showers Bring May Veggies

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School gardens are a fantastic way to transition a more traditional classroom to an outdoor, experiential learning opportunity centered on student engagement and critical thinking. You don’t have to wait for warmer weather to get started! Get a jump on the growing season by starting seedlings indoors and prepare your garden location now for a spring planting event.

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Growing Your School Garden

Starting seeds indoors is a great way to initiate a garden project. It’s also inexpensive if your school is looking to grow a variety of plants. Check out these 5 steps to kick off a successful growing season:

  1.  Choose your garden type. Gardening can be more than planting traditional veggies. Consider growing a variety of plants that will compliment your environmental climate, growing goals and school garden location. Need some ideas? Start indoors with these plants:
    • Cucumbers
    • Lettuce and other salad greens
    • Radishes
    • Basil
    • Lavender
  2. Purchase your seeds. Start seeds in small, individual containers such as egg cartons, empty baby food jars, ice cube trays or recycled yogurt containers. Fill each container with potting mix and dampen with water before sowing seeds. Create a seed label by writing the plant type on a popsicle stick and insert into the seed container.
  3. Consider using a clear plastic dome (or even just plain old plastic wrap) to fit over the tray of seedlings to allow in light but retain much needed moisture and heat. Prick holes with a toothpick in the dome or plastic wrap for ventilation. Don’t forget to water as directed!
  4. Determine a location for your seedlings. A windowsill is not necessarily the best place to grow seedlings because of the temperature fluctuations. Most seeds sprout best at temperatures of 65-75°F with 12-16 hours of light. Need additional light? Use standard “cool white” fluorescent tubes. Hang lights 2-4 inches above your seedlings for optimal growing conditions.
  5. About 2 weeks before transplanting the seedlings outdoors, move them outside for increasingly longer periods each day. Prepare the garden with plenty of compost and soil, and transplant the seedlings to the garden on a cloudy day or late afternoon. Water appropriately and enjoy!

Engage your School Community with your School Garden

A school garden is also a great way to engage your school’s parents and families to be actively involved in your wellness initiatives.

  • Invite parents and family members to help plan the garden – organize a planning committee with staff, teachers, students, parents and community members that have an interest or expertise in gardening, or host a brainstorming session with the broader school community to get more ideas on the garden design.
  • Schedule regular garden work days and send out invites to your school community well in advance. Use these days to plant your garden each year, maintain it as it grows and harvest in the fall. You can also use these days to expand the garden as you’re able by building new garden beds, fencing or a tool shed. Garden work days can also be a great way to celebrate Every Kid Healthy Week!
  • Ask families to donate or lend tools and equipment you’ll need to maintain the garden. Items like shovels, spades, rakes, pruning shears, water hoses and nozzles can be expensive to buy new so send the call out for any used items that are still in good shape and safe for student use.
  • Consider ongoing volunteer needs you may have, like helping to manage the garden by watering and pruning or helping teach students good gardening practices during the school day. These could be great opportunities to get grandparents or stay-at-home moms and dads involved.
  • Keep parents and families informed about your school garden and send home info sheets on the plants and veggies you’re growing, including recipe ideas and how they can grow their own at home. This will help those that may not be able to come into the school to volunteer stay engaged so they can be a part of the project, too!

Social Emotional Health Highlights

Activities such as these help students explore…

Self-Awareness: Harvesting fruits and veggies that children have worked so hard to grow is the perfect opportunity for students to celebrate the success of their own hard work. A school garden provides chances for children to be a part of something bigger than themselves and gain self-confidence and self-efficacy by recognizing their capacity to use their skills to achieve their goals. Students will develop a sense of ownership for their health when they experience growing their own food from seed to yum!

Responsible Decision Making: Growing veggies requires patience, evaluation, and reflection. Students can work together to problem-solve and analyze solutions to assure that all of the plants in the garden reach their fullest potential. Gardens provide ample opportunities to teach children about responsibilities in care-taking and problem-solving.

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