School Gardens in the Summer

Do kids still need or want to be involved in school gardens in communities rich in beautiful natural spaces?  Yes!

Do kids still need or want to be involved in school gardens in communities rich in local food & natural spaces? Yes!

School gardens are great.  They deepen connections between students and their food.  They’re full of real life science, art, math, culture, and writing opportunities.  And of course, they get us outside to do real work and hands-on learning.  But in a place like Vermont, they can be only be started at the very end of the school year, they thrive and flourish during summer vacation, and then the first frost comes soon after the new school year starts.  Many families even have plenty of space to garden at home.  Is it worth it?  What do you do in the summer?

Yes, it’s worth it!  Here are some suggestions for the summer:

Green Thumbs School Garden Camp

Green Thumbs School Garden Campers

-Summer Programming: I’m running two weeks of Green Thumbs School Garden Camp in my town’s school gardens.  The late June and early August sessions, which include numerous opportunities for major kid-powered garden work, are spaced evenly through the summer so the only summer-long weekly task is watering.  Campers have had a blast (read more about our first week by following this link)!  Gardening can actually be quite fun if it’s a choice not a chore, if you’re with your friends, if there’s water and mud play involved, and if you get to eat delicious snacks created from things you grew and picked.

-Tips for Gardening with Kids: Read this past post for some tips for adults working with children in gardens.

-Watering: This is a great way to engage families.  Have individuals or families sign up for a week of watering.  If weather is hot or dry, they are responsible for watering the garden that week.  This spreads the burden out, allows garden coordinators to travel and enjoy their summer, prompts students and their parents visit the garden in the summer, and helps grow the community of support around the garden without anyone getting over burdened.

Many hands make light work when it comes for food preservation!

Many hands make light work when it comes for food preservation!

-Summer Harvest: Summer harvest parties can pick and process food, freezing or canning it for the school year.  Make sure to coordinate with your food service director if you take this route!  Harvest can also be eaten by families who help water and by summer campers.  If you have a food shelf in your community, consider donating the school’s summer produce so that all community members can enjoy local fresh veggies.  If you have a local farmer’s market, engage middle or high school students in selling the produce.  Managing the table requires the mastery of all sorts of mathematical, economic, agricultural, and social skills.  Funds raised can help support future garden projects or can pay students a stipend for the hours they worked.

Garden Maintenance: Yes, we really can do most of our garden maintenance with kids during two weeks of camp.  Admittedly, it does help to avoid being a perfectionist (which I highly recommend if you’re gardening with children!).  In preparation for next week’s camp, I did a site visit to see what needed to be done.  Hopefully the following photos and text can help you if you’re managing your own gardens.  Happy Gardening!

Cut old flower heads off of herbs and other perennials to stimulate new leaves to grow.

Cut old flower heads off of herbs and other perennials to stimulate new leaves to grow.

Build trellises for climbing plants.  What a great engineering challenge for campers!

Harvest peas and pull out old pea plants.  Build trellises for climbing plants. What a great engineering challenge for campers!

Harvest and dry garlic.  Make a mild pesto with garlic, kale and basil.

Harvest and dry garlic. Make a mild pesto with garlic, kale (in background) and basil.

Dead-head edible flowers to stimulate increased future production.  Harvest herbs and flowers for sun tea.

Dead-head edible flowers to stimulate increased future production. Harvest herbs and flowers for sun tea.

Uh oh, MAJOR engineering challenge!  Trellis and sucker tomato jungles.

Uh oh, MAJOR engineering challenge! Trellis and sucker tomato jungle.

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