School gardens in summer
Options for utilizing your school garden during summer months.
Now that spring is finally here and things are starting to grow, there are only a few weeks left of school. One of the challenges with a school garden is that the most productive time of year in the garden is the summer when school is not in session. Carefully consider how to utilize the school garden over the summer months to provide the most opportunity to be able to use it again when school begins in the fall.
The most ideal situation would be if your school has a summer program that could utilize the garden for lessons or for a summer meal program. This may take some coordination as the staff involved with the summer program may be different than the staff that use the garden during the school year. If items grown in the garden will be used in a cafeteria setting during the summer, whoever is planting the garden during May and June may want to coordinate with cafeteria staff to see what items could be best utilized. You will want to make sure things in the garden are clearly labeled and potentially provide a diagram that includes plant name, date planted and expected harvest date.
If your school does not have a summer program that could utilize the garden, consider partnering with other community groups. Is there a 4-H club or other youth group that may want to have garden space over the summer? There are great curriculums such as the Youth Farm Stand Project Tool Kit that can help guide these groups on how to use this as an entrepreneurial learning activity as well as a garden project. Are there volunteers that would help maintain the garden over the summer? Master Gardener Volunteers in your area could be a great resource for this as many need volunteer hours as part of the program. Is there a community garden in your area? Consider making space available for community members and families that would like to have a garden but may not have space at home.
If, for whatever reason, you are not able to make the garden space available for others to use during the summer months, you can put a garden to bed for the summer similar to how you would put a garden to bed in the winter. If you have someone that can occasionally water your garden or if you are able to install irrigation on a timer there are several options for the summer months. Consider planting crops that have longer growing cycles and are typically ready for harvest after school starts. This would include crops such as pumpkins and winter squash. Another option would be to plant a cover crop for the summer. This will help minimize weeds and build soil so that the garden can be easily brought back into production in the fall.
If your school has put a lot of thought and resources into utilizing a school garden during the school year, I encourage you to put the same amount of thought into how the space will be utilized during the summer months. Michigan State University Extension Community Food System workgroup supports school gardens as educational spaces and sources of local produce for school meal programs.