successful year in the school garden

Summer really flew by this year and it is hard to believe it is already time to head back to school. We are deep in planning and preparation for our upcoming fall garden.

Here in Texas the heat and undependable rain create poor conditions for trying to keep a school garden growing well through the summer. Add in the fact that our school maintenance crew stops mowing for those months and you end up with a weedy haven and habitat for insects of all kinds. To keep our sanity, we try to focus on growing plants that can reach maturity before school ends every year and then empty all the beds for the summer.

That being said, this year, we deviated from our normal routine because we had an exceptional tomato crop that matured later than we’d planned, so we did not get the beds cleaned out until July 8, about one month after school ended. Every plant and weed was removed that weekend, and I left the final work day feeling like things were finally wrapped up for the year. As much as I love our garden, I was really, really, really ready for a break (and I can’t eat another tomato!!!!). Next year, I assure you, we will be paying much closer attention to choosing quick growing tomatoes (probably cherry varieties) so that kids will have more time to enjoy the harvest before school ends.

We had a lot volunteer basil plants which I decided are the best weeds since they give off a pleasant smell when you pull or step on them.

With the final garden clean up later in the year than usual, I thought to myself, well at least that means things should be more under control when we return — right? That was just wishful thinking on my part. I came back one month later to find the garden in exactly the same state as the year before, when we had a two month break between the last and first work days (see photo). In the future, we may try using some type of mulch to try and prevent weed growth over the summer, but since we knew it would be a short turn around this year and because our garden budget had reached $0, we decided against it. One of our biggest weed problems is nutsedge and honestly, mulch is not much of a deterrent for that hardy plant any way.

Fortunately, with the help of some awesome volunteers who braved our hottest day of the summer (unfortunately, I picked a horrible day for our garden clean-up), we were able to tame every thing back. However, since school started earlier than usual this year, it is going to be too hot to plant for a while. Instead we turned to our trusty grow lights for our first garden project of the year.

Most of our fall vegetable plants grow best when direct-seeded in the garden, but this year for the first time we are starting lettuce, kale, dill and marigolds indoors for later transplant to the outdoor garden. We have not tried doing this before because those first few weeks of school are so hectic that adding in another task seemed like a challenge. I am also not quite sure if everything will have enough time to grow before we need to plant outside … and we will have the Labor Day weekend challenge of not being able to get inside the school to water our seedlings. On the flip side, perhaps our indoor seed starting will help build enthusiasm for the garden program and maybe even save us a bit of money, so we are going to give it a shot. The kids definitely had a fun Friday of planting and the seeds were already sprouting by the next Monday - so far it is a win! I promise to report back in September.

Finally, I just want to end this blog to remind you about the BEE the Change Summer Pollinator Garden Giveaway. With the help of generous sponsors American Meadows and High Country Gardens, educators and parents can enter to win pollinator plants to help teach the children in their lives about pollinators. Don’t miss this opportunity! Make sure to enter by August 31st at: https://www.kidsgardening.org/upcoming-grants-2/bee-change-summer-pollinator-garden-giveaway/

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Blog by: Sarah Pounders

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