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Garden Module
Module 1 guided you through the process of starting a school garden with information on soil testing, conducting a site analysis and identifying potential crops. The next step is to use this information to design and plan for your school farm project.

Planning is very important for farmers. Since agricultural products are harvested from living sources (plants and animals), production conditions must be constant and optimal for growth. There is little room for error so farmers must design their operation and anticipate all the resources they need before they begin. Ask students what would happen if they planted lettuce seeds and later realized they did not have a way to water the new plants?

In Activity #1 of Module 2, students will conduct marketing research to finalize the crop (or crops) choice for your school farm project. After you choose your crop or crops, take time to put together a thorough plan and detailed supply list. The following information will help you in the design and planning process.

Designing Your Garden: Since the goal of your school garden is to produce a marketable crop, your design is based more on utility than on aesthetics. You will focus on creating the proper environmental conditions to keep your plants healthy and productive. You need to design around the following:

Outdoor Gardens:

  • Finalize your location. Make sure you secure approval from all necessary school administrators.
  • Consider accessibility. If you design your garden with 3- or 4-foot-wide beds, separated by 3- or 4-foot-wide paths, it will be possible to work the entire garden while always staying on a path. This will prevent soil compaction in the beds, reduce the amount of soil amendments and water you will need (no need to amend the pathway), and allow plenty of room for wheelbarrows, and small group discussions in the garden. In order for children to reach to the center, beds should be no wider than 3 or 4 feet.
  • Find a close water source. Although moving water from inside out to the garden can be good exercise, it is time consuming, inefficient and potentially messy.
  • Watch out for drainage. Either avoid areas with poor drainage or add drains. Provide plenty of space between your garden and buildings to make sure you do not cause flooding problems.
  • Find or create a place to keep tools. You do not want to leave tools scattered around the garden because it is a safety hazard and they may disappear.
  • Use the growing schedule developed in Activity #3 to determine when, where, how and how much to plant.
  • Review the information you collected on sun and wind exposure before making your final planting decisions. If you choose to use rows, orient them north to south and locate the tallest plants in the center rows (to prevent shading of shorter plants by taller plants).

Indoor Gardens:

  • Finalize your location. Make sure you secure approval from all necessary school administrators.
  • Consider accessibility. Students will need room to water and monitor plants and janitors or custodians will need room to clean around your indoor garden. Make sure there is plenty of room so plants are not knocked onto the floor by accident.
  • Find a close water source. If the water source is outside your room, you may want to take this job on yourself to avoid spills and hazards.
  • Plan for draining water. Your plants must have drainage holes to ensure healthy growth and water will drain out the bottom. Make sure you have individual plant saucers or a plastic liner under all the plants to prevent water from leaking onto the shelves and/or floor.
  • Find or create a safe and clean place to keep tools.
  • Use the growing schedule developed in Activity #3 to determine when, where, how and how much to plant. If you are using grow lights, use plant height to determine the height of the lights.

Obtaining Supplies: Once you create a design, make a list of supplies you think you will need. Supplies will vary based on the size of your garden and what you will be growing, but they may include:

Outdoor Garden: compost or garden soil, tools (shovel, hoe, rake, tiller, trowels, water hose, wheelbarrow), materials to build a raised-bed, containers, plants, seeds, fertilizer, and mulch

Indoor Garden: a table or shelf, lights, a timer, plastic trays, pots, seeds, plants, fertilizer, and potting mix

After you compile a list of supplies you need, search for donations. Check with parents and volunteers to see if they have extra garden supplies (make sure they are in good condition for the safety of your students). Also check with local landscape business to give them the opportunity to invest in your program by donating materials and services (such as tilling your garden for you). In addition to donations, you may also search locally and nationally for grants and awards dedicated to school gardening programs such as NGA's Youth Garden Grant (to read about NGA grant and award opportunities visit: http://www.kidsgardening.com/awards.asp). Check out America the Beautiful's seed donations for communities programs at http://www.america-the-beautiful.org/. Also consider fundraising ideas such as a plant sale or "adopt a plot." Check out NGA's article "A Wealth of Wisdom" for additional suggestions at: http://www.kidsgardening.com/Dig/DigDetail.taf?ID=1865&Type=Art.