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Schools are back in session for the year and parent/teacher groups are forming across the county. One topic that has been popular is that of school gardens.

The first phase, started more than 20 years ago, was butterfly gardens. Unfortunately, too often the caretakers wanted to eliminate the caterpillars that ate the plants, forgetting that this is an important stage for the butterflies.

Next came the native gardens that help students learn about plants native to their region and support local insects and birds as well as butterflies.

Finally came the edible gardens, which help students learn how vegetables grow and where their food comes from – like french fries coming from potatoes in the ground or tomato sauce from red tomatoes on a plant.

Not all the gardens survived, but all three models are still found with edible gardens still being very popular. If you plan on starting a school garden, particularly an edible garden, there are some things to be aware of and careful planning can make the difference between getting a school garden up and running or not.

Who is going to be responsible?

This can be a group of parents, science teachers or an outside volunteer group such as Master Gardeners or garden clubs. The organizers get a plan together and approach the school board or principals of the school for authorization. Year-round maintenance is important as well as long-term responsibility. Too often the parents who start the garden are happy to be involved while their children are in that school but lose interest when the students graduate.

How is it going to be used?

Gardens can be a quiet sanctuary for students to relax in or a place where teachers can read to small groups. Edible gardens are used for students to watch seeds grow into lettuce and can be used to get students to try new vegetables. If it is intended to be used in conjunction with the school curriculum, the appropriate teachers need to be involved, and modules created to fulfill a specific educational component.

One fun example for younger children is an alphabet garden where they match uppercase letters (on Popsicle sticks next to plants) to the lowercase ones they have written on a Popsicle stick.

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Who is going to fund the garden?

Gardens cost money. Amending soil, building raised beds and purchasing seeds or plants all cost money and this has to be funded. Spend some time looking at the costs involved and sources for grants for the garden.

School gardens, particularly edible gardens, can be a tremendous help to teachers who struggle to illustrate basic botany, and nutrition to students. In areas where food insecurity is prevalent, it can help provide healthy, fresh vegetables for the students.

Outdoor gardens not only give the students time in the fresh air, but exercise as they move about the garden looking at pollinators and bugs. With careful planning, the garden can be utilized in science, math, reading and writing, plus some art components.

There are lots of sources for finding out more about how to create a school garden, particularly an edible garden. The local Clemson Extension office in Orangeburg should be your first call and Clemson University has a whole web section on School Gardening: clemson.edu/extension/school-gardening/index.html

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Kate Copsey is a garden author, writer and speaker now living in eastern Orangeburg County. Her book "The Downsized Veggie Garden" is available from bookstores everywhere as well as her webpage www.katecopsey.com.

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