What to do over the summer is a school gardening question I get asked from school’s everywhere. And rightfully so, it’s a big endeavor to keep a school garden alive when no one is around everyday to care for it.
How big of endeavor? About 9 feet of pole beans!
Remember to give plants sufficient trellising for the summer!
Down here school’s are starting to let out already, and if you teach in one of those school’s I’m sorry for my tardiness on this post… if school’s still in for a month or so and your garden is just kicking into gear, It’s time to start making your School Garden Summer Plan now!
Now with this list, I’m assuming that there is not an irrigation system and there is not a full time paid garden educator to manage these tasks, and the garden itself, over summer. If you have either of these, we are all a bit jealous! So while everyone is off at the beach, here are:
3 tips and tricks to help keep your school garden growing all summer
1. Awesome volunteers.
We all have them for sure, but the key is organizing them into efficient action. Do this by creating a School Garden Summer Maintenance calendar.
This is best done by the individual teachers or room mothers for the class bed(s). Print off blank calendar templates for summer break (link in Seeds to Sprout.) For each week of the summer break, have a different family sign up to come care for the garden.
Give each volunteer family a packet with the written job instructions, lock codes, logistical details, weeding, watering instructions, and expectations such as harvest as much as you want while you are in the garden and the minimum number of times they need to commit to coming during their week.
The last week of school, have a meeting with the students whose families volunteered and walk them through the summer garden tasks. You may also want to have a quick afternoon meeting that week with the adult volunteers as well to do the same walk through.
Then, the week before each family’s volunteer turn, send them an email reminder. (Or have a trusted room parent take over this task if you have a multi year class.) I suggest writing these emails before school is out, save them as drafts, and then just hit send when the time comes. If you have an automatic schedule feature available on your email, schedule them so you don’t have to remember! These reminders can also be done in a classroom newsletter format and scheduled to be sent out through that platform.
Of course some families may forget even with a reminder, but this is a great way to help keep the students invested and have the needs of the garden met at the same time!
If you have a multi-year class and really want to be on top of it, create a 1 week summer garden journal fun sheet as part of the volunteer packet. This is great for engagement as well as providing a bi of volunteer duty accountability. Have the students document their garden observations when they come during their week. Then when you return to school, have the children bring them the first day, share their discoveries within the first week, compile the pages into a book and have it on the natural history or garden shelf the first month of school!
Because you are awesome and busy, and because I can’t stand not setting you up for garden journaling success, I made you a downloadable 1 page Summer Garden Journal Fun Sheet! Get it here: Summer Garden Journal Fun Sheet pdf
(credit Amy Parmalee)
2. Get the Maintenance Staff on board.
Ideally this relationship has already been cultivated and is thriving, but in the cases of single garden beds or small schools without full time maintenance, or very large schools with an outside maintenance contract, maybe not. Either way, the Maintenance staff or the person who facilitates them, as well as admin, need to be contacted and warmed up to the idea of the summer garden.
Let them know about your volunteer schedule and explain the duties that the volunteer families will be doing and locations they will need access to (ie: water spigots) over the summer break. Give them printed copies of the calendar and the Garden Duty Packet so they know the expectations. (Give this to admin as well.) It is important to have Maintenance in the loop on these things, if for no other reason than that so the garden doesn’t get mowed over and the families don’t get hassles while trying to volunteer.
Have the students each make illustrated thank you cards for the Maintenance Staff. These cards can be along the theme of “Thanks for looking out for our garden and taking care of our school while we are away.” They could also acknowledge all the hard work this staff does during the year as well.
Write Maintenance a garden poem! (credit Amy Parmalee)
Then, have the children prepare a little treat from garden goodies for the staff. Whether a fresh salsa if you have tomatoes already, some herb packets from dried garden herbs, rosemary chocolate chip cookies, or a fresh pitcher of iced tea with garden flowers on top. These type of gestures go a LONG way and also remind the children that many different adults work very hard to make the school and garden a special place for each child.
Arrange a short meeting with Maintenance during the school day with you and a couple Student Garden Ambassadors to give the staff the handmade cards and treat. While the staff won’t be asked to do garden chores, this is a great way to let them know they are appreciated and hey, maybe on one of those weeks when a family doesn’t show up, they just might do you a favor and water that thirsty garden because they know they are appreciated!
Leave space for runners!
3. Plant and plan accordingly.
You can’t plan too much when it comes to making a summer school garden plan. Consider what is being planting this spring that will be dead when you return to teacher work week. How much work will it require to get the garden in order when you return to school? Will you need to come in a few days the week before? Do you want to arrange a volunteer work morning the week before teacher work week? If so, that will need to be set and coordinated before school gets out.
Cleared and ready!
Do any areas need cover cropping before school’s out? What will you use – cow peas, rye grass? What about the compost? Will it just need to be covered with brown and left to cook all summer or will the volunteers be adding to it and managing it? Are you planting the right plant in the right place in the garden to account for summer growth and space needs, height and shading, and insect attacks?
Healthy, cared for, school compost worm bins!
Will there be a summer camp using the space? This is actually great because they can water too, but you will need to arrange a meeting with the summer staff to go over logistics and expectations.
(credit Amy Parmalee)
And finally, realistically, ask yourself how much do you want to be in the garden over the summer. Don’t feel bad if it is none!! You’d be hard pressed to find me at school over summer when I was teaching full time!
I did extreme prepping, coordinating, and planning in May, scheduled one day in July to come check on things, and other than that, I left the garden in the hands of the volunteers! Summer was my time for my garden, travel, and relaxing on the beach! Don’t feel bad about it! Teachers need a restful summer so they can be their best during the school year!
Okay so now you’re ready! Go, grow, and get those gardens ready for summer!!!
What plans have you already made for your summer school garden? Share them in the comments below!
Share your almost summer school garden pics on Instgram #wingswormsandwonder
Seeds to Sprout:
Want some tips on cover cropping? Check out this very thorough Wonder Wednesday blog post on Putting Your School Garden to Bed or learn some basic reasons to cover crop in this post.
Looking for a nature and garden inspired summer reading list? Check out this article I wrote for Outdoor Families Magazine: Notable Summer Reads for Outdoor Families (or teachers!)
Do you love all the awesome tips and trick on Wings, Worms, and Wonder for creatively connecting with nature? Well, I love to give them to you!! Help me keep up this amazing work by voting for me to be eligible for a small business grant. At the time of this writing I only need 87 more votes!! I would super appreciate it! Thank you for growing with me by voting! Just click the link to vote & then share it with you friends! It only takes 3 seconds!
Here’s a link to a free stylish printable calendar for 2015!
Look how crazy this garden got last summer while I was away!! It had to fend for itself.