Starting a School Garden
Setting up a school garden is fairly simple and there are many resources available in your community and online.
Gardens can also be linked to STEM curriculum! See the STEM units on our website for examples related to starting a school garden and soils.
Choosing a focus for the Garden
Gardens can provide food for humans, attract pollinators or butterflies, serve as monarch way-stations, provide space for meditation, practice xeriscaping, or focus on native plants. You and your students can choose from a range of possibilities!
Depending on the type of garden, irrigation may be a requirement. Work with your school administration and maintenance personnel to make a plan. Native plants may only require water for the first year whereas garden vegetables will need regular watering throughout the growing season. At a minimum, a sturdy hose and a timer can do a lot to make sure daily visits during the summer can be minimized. Verify that there’s a hose outlet near the proposed garden site or that one can be installed in that location.
Expensive lights are not required. Simple four foot T8 fluorescent shop lights can do the job just fine and LED grow lights are ever decreasing in cost. Special “plant bulbs” can be used. However, for starting plants that will soon be outdoors the specific spectrum may not be worth the cost. With fluorescents, this combination works well:
- Two 48 inch shop lights (Each shop light uses two T8 fluorescent bulbs)
- One two pack “cool” spectrum T8 bulbs
- One two pack “warm” spectrum T8 bulbs
Moving starts outside
It’s important to acclimate plants that have been grown inside to the outdoor environment to prepare them for direct sunlight and more extreme temperatures. This is referred to as “hardening off”. The process is easy but if done incorrectly can kill your starts.
- For at least 3 days before you are ready to transfer your starts to the outdoors, place them outside in an area where the plants will only receive direct sun for half the day.
- Make certain that there will be no chance of frost when left outside overnight.
The School Garden Project website - manuals, handbooks, games, worksheets, gardening ideas, and grants all in one place!
Garden Planning and Expertise
The OSU Extension Office and your county Master Gardeners have a mission to educate and help in the community and are a fantastic partner.
Potting soil and supplies
Local farm stores donate broken/ripped bags of potting soil. Lumber suppliers may have pieces unusable for building but perfectly fine for constructing a raised bed. Pots can also be made by students from newspaper.
Seeds and Plants
Many seed companies, including Territorial Seed Company located in Cottage Grove, Oregon and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and have seed donation programs for schools. You’ll need a short description on school letterhead, along with your non-profit 501c(3) number. These are best accessed in the fall for end of the year seeds that have not sold (these seeds are still very viable for the following season). Be general in your requests, so rather than a specific variety of a plant just specify the general type. (ie: “Beets” instead of “Bull's Blood Beets.”)
Also consider the CTUIR Native Plant Nursery in Mission, Oregon to purchase native plants and trees to compliment the garden.
And many more! Search “Garden Grants” on Google and be wowed by the possibilities. There’s a lot of support available out there!