Also see Summer Care Ideas at www.csgn.org/maintaining-your-garden which includes Summer in the School Garden a 40 page guide for summer garden care! 

For most, school is out for summer and there aren’t many students or families around to tend to the school garden. So what will happen to the school garden that students have worked so diligently to maintain all school year – weeding, planting, and harvesting?

The Harvest of the Month educator newsletters offer great tips for maintaining school gardens under different conditions and all year round, including this summer.

Keep It Growing

In the summer, to keep your garden growing, here are a few tips:

  • Use mulch—it reduces weed growth, maintains soil moisture, and enriches the soil.
  • Schedule volunteers to help with summer care.
  • Stagger the planting of summer vegetables to extend harvesting throughout the season.
  • Use low-maintenance plants. (Hint: Check for drought tolerance and vigorous foliage.)
  • Deadhead flowers and harvest vegetables.
  • Collect supplies for fall garden.
  • Sign up for regional e-mail reminders from organizations, such as National Gardening Association, www.garden.org. These reminders provide seasonally appropriate gardening tasks.

Experiment With Corn

If your school has summer sessions, or is a year-round school, you might consider another approach to keeping your garden green and healthy – this one’s from the Harvest of the Month Corn educator newsletter.

Start growing corn. And conduct an experiment: grow some corn in the ground and some in containers. (See page 3 of the newsletter for complete School Garden activity.)

Did you know that the United States is the world’s leading producer of sweet corn, accounting for about 46 percent of the world’s production of sweet corn between 2002 and 2004. And California is the top producer of sweet corn, although corn is grown in all 50 states.

To maximize pollination, plant corn in the ground at least four rows side-by-side in areas with good air circulation. There should be 10-14 inches between each plant, and it should be planted in full sun.  Be sure the soil is high in organic matter and it gets lots of water.

For the students growing corn in containers, fill two 15-gallon containers with dirt from the garden and corn from the same packages as the corn grown in the grown.  Follow the same directions.

Take it farther by having the two groups keep journals on what happens as the corn grows. Each group journals their activities twice a week and charts growth of their seeds. Discuss pros and cons of growing techniques. Which grows faster? Which has more pests? Which needs more water? Which yields more harvest?

Keep in mind that sweet corn has a short harvest window and if you miss it, you may end up with starchy corn that is not good to eat. If you have a school garden that will not be used much during the summer, you could plant popcorn as an alternative. Unlike sweet corn, it is meant to dry in the garden and it stores well too.

Start a School Garden for the New School Year

And finally, if you’re interested in starting a school garden at the beginning of the new school year, Harvest of the Month newsletters provide a number of helpful ideas to consider before the first soil is tilled. First, consider the benefits of having a school garden, including:

  • Extending science lessons from the classroom.
  • Incorporating health and nutrition education messages.
  • Increasing students’ knowledge and preferences for fruits and vegetables.
  • Getting physical activity by working in the garden.

And don’t forget to bring nutrition education into the garden. Use your school garden for a nutrition education activity.

  • Have students research the nutrition information for each produce item in the garden.
  • Have students make their own signs to look like Nutrition Facts labels. List nutrients that meet the good or excellent sources requirements.*
  • Make additional signs with “Serving Tips” on how to prepare and serve the fruit or vegetable.
  • Affix signs to 6-8” sticks (or clean popsicle sticks) and stake in the garden bed.
  • Conduct a garden scavenger hunt where students search for the produce with the greatest sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, calcium, and iron.

For more ideas on school gardening activities, download the Harvest of the Month educator newsletters.

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Note: Harvest of the Month is developed by the California Department of Public Health’s Network for a Healthy California (Network). The Network is a statewide public health effort working with hundreds of partners and organizations to empower low-income Californians to live healthier lives through good nutrition and physical activity. Funding is from USDA SNAP, known in California as CalFresh. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.cachampionsforchange.net.

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