As the growing season approaches I find myself eagerly looking forward to starting seeds in our school greenhouse and eventually planting the garden. And as fun as this process can be, I and maybe other garden educators, classroom teachers and school PTOs need to ask a very important question first: what does our garden budget look like? And so loyal blog readers, today I’m providing five tips to help you think about how you can get your school garden going on a tight budget.
- Consult your records and adjust accordingly: Each year keep careful track of everything growing in your garden. Did you have a shortage of peppers last summer? Maybe plan on adding 3 or 4 more plants. Was the carrot bed too crowded? Perhaps only go with one pack of seeds this year rather than two. Were there too many cucumbers? Cut back on the number of plants you grow and look for a variety with a smaller yield. Having an accurate estimate of the number of plants you’ll need based on the size of your space and the demand for any given variety will greatly aid the planning process and prevent unwanted expenses on excess materials.
- Before buying seeds and/or veggie starts reach out to the community: Cooperative Extension offices, community gardening groups, and garden stores might be willing to donate seeds from last year or the year before to your program. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using older seeds; many times germination rates are just as high as newly packaged seeds! Alternatively, if you don’t have the time or capacity to start your own plants, nurseries might offer up their surplus seedlings if you ask.
- Use what you have: You might not even need seeds to start your garden, instead try your hand at kitchen scrap gardening and grow celery, various leafy greens, potatoes and even pineapples from leftover food scraps.
- Get creative with recycling: Rather than buying new growing flats or plastic pots to start seeds, make your own newspaper pots or reuse yogurt containers that students bring in from home, K-cups from the teachers’ lounge, or milk cartons from the cafeteria (check out our Carton to Garden contest if you use cartons to start your garden). You can even make a watering can out of recycled materials by simply poking holes in the screw-on cap of a plastic gallon milk jug.
- Connect with parents, teachers and other school community members: Interested in adding more supplies to your garden arsenal, look no further than the school community. Ask people to look around their basement and garages for any tools they might want to donate—even old sandbox or beach toys can be effective gardening tools for Pre-K and lower elementary school students. Simple 5 gallon buckets can be perfect for everything from transporting garden debris to container gardening projects. And an old plastic storage container can be the foundation of a worm composting system.
You don’t need to have the nicest watering cans, high tech grow lights, or matching trowels and rakes for a garden to have an impact. The simplest garden and tools can still offer meaningful and exciting experiences for youth of all ages.