How to Grow a School Garden in September

It’s September. The kids are back in school and the you can’t keep up with the number of zucchinis that just keep coming. But seeings as this is back-to-school time, it’s a good time to consider the future of a garden that operates on a different schedule: How to grow a school garden.

School begins in September, but many gardens don’t get going until the spring. A school garden doesn’t need to limited to a few months at the end of the school year. Greens are your go-to crops for cool fall planting.

Want a fresh garden salad for Thanksgiving? Before the frost settles in during the month of November, you can still squeeze a few weeks of moderate growing temperatures out of our west coast weather. Fall is an opportunity to stray beyond hardy lettuces and experiment with other intriguing vegetables. Arugula (Eruca sativa), beet greens (Beta vulgaris), chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), mustard greens (Brassica juncea), and corn salad (Valerianella locusta) all provide new tasting opportunities for students. If you’d like some colour in the fall garden and your fall salads, add edible pansy flowers to your border. If your students don’t mind waiting, early fall is a good time to plant purple sprouting broccoli for a spring harvest, and garlic planted in October yields delicious garlic scapes just before school lets out in June.

If the weather gets too cold to garden outdoors, the school garden can move inside if you wish. Experiment with growing sprouts and microgreens: they’re not only tasty, but they also provide a close up look at the early life cycle of a plant.

Fall is also a good time to plan for a spring wildflower garden. If your school raises butterflies, spring wildflowers will provide nectar for them when they move from the classroom into the outdoors in the spring. A wildflower garden also attracts bees and other pollinators, encouraging them to visit the flowers and your garden vegetables. Plant wildflower seeds in the spring or fall.

Fall and winter gardening also provides an opportunity for students to experiment, build, and determine what helps keep plants warm in the winter. As the season gets cooler, tuck planters into a sheltered space, or use cloches, cold frames, and other miniature greenhouses to keep the temperature up around your tender greens. Students can measure the temperature inside the cloches and greenhouses, turning fall and winter gardening into a classroom science experiment.

If you’re not up for planting food, fall is an excellent time to grow your garden soil. As the rains begin to fall, exposed soil and nutrients can run off your garden beds. Plant fava beans or other cover crops to keep your soil intact, and till them into the soil in the spring, adding nutrients for your spring gardening endeavours.

Leaves are another amazing source of nutrients, and they’re free for the taking. If you’re studying trees, leaves, and photosynthesis, creating mulch is a way to incorporate this learning into your school garden. As the leaves fall from schoolyard trees, collect them and spread them on your garden beds, or ask students to bring leaves from home. These leaves will attract worms and other decomposers. During the cool season, these creatures will work hard to turn those leaves into rich organic soil for your spring garden. Leaf mulch is also a science experiment all by itself: take a look into that mulch, and you’ll have an entire unit about decomposers at your fingertips.

Fall is also the time to establish classroom routines. Use a classroom worm bin or outdoor compost bin to reduce waste from lunches, and turn this waste into valuable soil for your outdoor gardening plans.

Whether you’re building soil or growing edible greens for classroom consumption, a school garden can be a project for all seasons.

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