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Secrets to Summer Success in the School Garden

Summer presents numerous challenges in a school garden.

Whenever we meet with school communities, the same question always arises, “What are we supposed to do in the summer time?” Fortunately, there are some simple solutions to common concerns about summer in the school garden.

Common concerns about summer include:

1. There will be no staff, students or teachers on campus to take care of the garden.

2. Summer crops use more water than spring, fall and winter crops. Why use lots of water to grow food that students will not be around to harvest?

3. In higher latitudes and altitudes, summer is the main growing season. If we don’t grow in the summer, we won’t have a garden!

4. Irrigation systems can falter – batteries die, leaks occur, water can get disconnected for construction projects, etc.

Our recommendations:

1. Set up a calendar for families and students to rotate taking care of the garden for a week or two at a time. If a family can visit the garden two times per week to water, weed and check that the irrigation systems are running properly, they get to take home any food that is ready to harvest. Make sure to orient families to their responsibilities before school gets out in the late spring.

2. Create a summer program that links to other summer camps or summer school programs, local youth clubs, etc. in order to get more children into the garden when it is in full production.

3. If possible, set up a paid internship program for teens to help take care of the garden.

4. Fallow, mulch over or cover-crop areas of the garden that do not need to be in production during the summer months. Mustards, buckwheat and cow peas are good summer cover crops for cooler climates, sun hemp (a legume) works well in warmer climates.

5. Prioritize maximizing crop diversity in the garden over food production in the summer. A broader diversity of crops will help to ensure a more resilient garden ecosystem.

6. Don’t be afraid to let annual plants get wild and go to seed during summer. Pulling out overgrown plants, saving seeds, building compost piles and cultivating the soil are perfect gardening tasks for students to learn at the beginning of the school year.

7. Plant the summer crops as late as possible in order to get a late summer harvest when students are back in school.

Though the challenge of maintaining a school garden during the summer will remain as long as summer vacation exists, there are numerous ways to rethink the garden during summer that can allow for new opportunities and less frustration and lost production. We hope you find these tips useful!

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