Planting a school garden

Sustainable Danville Area Tip of the Month – May, 2013

By Cindy Egan and Marilyn Lucey, Co-Chairs Green Your School Summits

Spring has finally sprung, the days are getting longer, the weather is getting warmer and it is time to plant our summer gardens.  Planting a garden is a wonderful way to teach our children about how vegetables grow and how to be responsible for caring for a garden patch.  Although many of us have room in our yards for a small garden, some of us aren’t able to support a vegetable garden at home.  If you have a student attending one of the 35 schools in San Ramon Valley Unified School District (SRVUSD) it is possible that you and your child can get involved with the garden at their campus.

The benefits of school gardens are many.  “Tending to new plants teaches children responsibility and teamwork. It provides an opportunity to bring science, math, social studies, and language and visual arts to life through hands-on learning. Vegetable gardens let children taste the wonders of fresh food. In addition, parents, students and teachers can all enjoy the growing feeling of community that comes from sharing a new adventure“, says Marika Bergsund of GrowingGreat.org.  This organization is a great resource for planning a garden and for standards based curriculum.

Currently, 15 of the schools in our district have or are starting a garden on campus.  These gardens vary in size and are used for a variety of purposes including science projects, sources of food for culinary classes, and for donations to the local food bank.  Greenbrook Elementary has a California state award winning organic and watershed wise garden that offers lunchtime education activities and donates fruits and vegetables to the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano Counties.  Charlotte Wood Middle School has a garden used primarily by Judy Kerns, the culinary arts teacher and graduate of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program. These are just a few examples of how our schools are using gardens in the classroom and beyond.

While it is great that there are so many schools with a garden program, there are 20 schools that currently don’t have a garden.  If that includes the school your children attend, you can get involved by talking to the PTA, teachers and administrators about starting one.   Most of our campuses have room for a small garden but teachers need assistance with the manpower to build the beds and then plant and maintain the garden.   Sustainable Danville Area’s Green Your Schools Summit organizers Cindy Egan and Marilyn Lucey can advise you on how to start and maintain a garden program.

The Green Your Schools committee of Sustainable Danville Area is working with the Wellness Committee of SRVUSD to coordinate with the schools that have gardens and to encourage more schools to start gardens.   In April, we hosted a meeting at a local nursery where teachers and parents learned about suitable organic vegetable choices for the climate in the Danville area.  We were inspired with ideas to incorporate native plants and organic fruit and vegetable plants in our garden.  Here are some of favorites to try:

  • Golden muscat, red flame or table grapes on an arbor or fence –  delicious to pick and eat when ripe.
  • Alpine strawberry – grow in a hanging pot or at the edge of the bed so the berries trail off the side, sweeter than most strawberries,
  • Microgreens – grow in a 2 inch deep flat, great project for kids
  • Dwarf citrus – grow these in barrels or as shrubs, yes, as shrubs instead of trees so that kids can pick the fruit easily
  • Herbs – variegated mint bush and lime thyme are great for cooking, wonderful sensory smell experience and are natural pest repellants
  • Lavendar and Salvia – these drought tolerant plants are beautiful and attract our pollinator pals.

Along with plants and flowers blooming, the pest population that feed on our bounty can explode as well.  Here are some suggestions for integrated pest management:

  • Interplant marigolds and alyssum amidst your vegetables
  • Amend your soil with bloodmeal and moles, squirrels, gophers will stay away
  • Set your traps for wasps and yellow jackets NOW in hopes of catching the queen early, if you catch the queen, you won’t have a problem with the army later
  • Whitefly infestation?  Find the main host plant, bag it and toss it – do not compost it, then repeatedly treat the other affected plants with sprays of soapy water

Local nurseries like Sloat have a Growing Up Green program for teachers and school garden parents.  Sign up and you receive discounts on plants and an abundance of free, excellent advice.

In May, our meeting will focus on resources for gardens and developing feeder programs between our schools.  Students, teachers, parents from our SRVUSD schools are invited to share their green and garden programs.  We strongly encourage interested students to attend – our stewards of the future mean a lot to us and we want to make their contribution visible. The May meeting will be held on May 15th at Dougherty Valley High School.  For more information on location and time, visit Sustainable Danville Area’s website and follow us on Facebook.

Reprinted with permission from Danville Today News

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2 responses to “Planting a school garden

  1. What a great community effort and opportunity for kids to get excited about fresh vegetables. Thank you for your support of the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano too!