Image of wheat

Garden Module
Harvest is an exciting time for students. They are proud and often amazed to see the 'fruits' of their labor. Their sense of accomplishment and satisfaction bolsters confidence and self-esteem.

The time to harvest varies by crop. Many lettuce and herb crops can be harvested throughout the growing season (make sure to leave enough foliage so the plant continues to grow). Root crops like carrots, beets and radishes are ready to harvest when the top of the root reaches an optimal size (carefully move soil from the top to check). Crops producing fruits such as tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and beans are usually ready to harvest when the fruit is softening, but still firm to the touch and reaching the right color. Some fruits also provide odiferous indicators of ripeness like cantaloupes, strawberries and peaches. Flowers should be harvested as soon as the buds begin to open.

To discover harvest instructions for your specific crop, search the NGA Home Gardening website at www.garden.org.

Regardless of timing, here are a few tips for harvesting all garden products:

  • Use clean cutting implements. Using unsafe or dirty cutting implements can contaminate your harvest and potentially damage your plant.
  • After picking the fruits and vegetables, wash your hands with soap and water. Next wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly with clean water and dry with a clean paper towel. Even if you do not use pesticides in the garden, you want to remove any dirt, bacteria or other microbes picked up from the environment.
  • Place clean fruits and vegetables in clean containers (in other words to not place them into the basket used to harvest).
  • If you are not going to eat them immediately, you will want to refrigerate most fruits and vegetables to maintain their freshness and slow decay. You do not want to refrigerate tropical and subtropical fruits like tomatoes and bananas however, because the cool temperatures will actually decrease their quality.

Selling Your Harvest: After harvest, you are ready to package your product. Use the research you collected in Module 2 Activity #1 to guide you through the following steps:

  1. As a class, decide the best way to package your product. If you are selling salad greens, it may be best to place them in plastic bags. If you are selling cut flowers, plastic cups may work well. Creative labels and logos add to the product's appeal. Packaging needs to be both practical and attractive.
  2. Determine a price for your product. Make sure it is appropriate for your intended audience and the value of the product.
  3. Decide when and where to sell your product. Determine who will be in charge and how you will handle the money. You may need to seek help from additional adult volunteers.
  4. Promote your product through different forms of advertising (school newsletters, signs outside the school, letters to parents, etc.). Activity #1 in this Module provides lesson ideas related to product promotion.
  5. Discuss customer service with your students. Give them tips on how to engage your customers.
  6. Enjoy the sale!

For additional information on setting up business operations, check out the National Gardening Association's book titled Growing Ventures: Starting a School Garden Business or the following websites:

A Wealth of Wisdom:

Transforming School Yards: Raising Funds and Building Support


Peddling Plants

Nutritious Business Reaps Rewards


Getting Hooked on Worms:

Plant Sale Grows Kids

Aromatic Entrepreneurs:

Post Harvest Garden Care, Outdoor Garden: After harvest, you want to remove all plants from the garden except for annual or perennial plants that will continue to grow and produce. If the removed plants are healthy looking, you can place them in a compost pile. If you suspect insect or disease problems, the plants should go in the trash.

If you are not planning to immediately plant another crop, you may want to do one of the following to make sure your garden area is not overrun by weeds:

  • Mulch your garden. Cover your garden with a thick layer of mulch to discourage weeds and decrease water loss. The mulch will break down over time and provide organic matter and enrich the soil for next year's crops.
  • Solarize your garden. Solarization is the process of using the sun's energy to kill weeds and soil-dwelling pests by covering your garden with a layer of plastic. For a step-by-step guide from the University of Illinois Extension Service about solarization visit: http://www.thisland.uiuc.edu/57ways/57ways_15.html.
  • Plant a cover crop. A cover crop, sometimes called green manure, is a short-lived legume (e.g., beans) or grain (e.g., buckwheat) planted to prevent weeds, reduce soil erosion, and boost organic matter. They also help maintain and/or increase the nitrogen content of the soil. For more information visit the Organic Gardening website at: http://www.organicgardening.com/feature/0,7518,s1-2-7-789-2-1-2,00.html.

Indoor Gardens: Remove all plants and place healthy plants and soil in a compost pile and diseased or insect invested plants in the trash. Many teachers ask if they can reuse the soil. Generally you do not want to reuse indoor soil for new indoor plants because the humidity and low levels of air movement in the environment cause mold and fungi to build up. It is best to start each new indoor project with fresh, sterilized soil. Old indoor plant soil can be add to a compost pile or used in outdoor garden beds where the conditions will keep mold and fungi in check.

However, you can save your plant pots for later use. Pots should be cleaned by adult volunteers in a solution of ½ cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water. Let them thoroughly air dry before stacking.

Also carefully clean your growing area and equipment including grow lights. If you do not plan to grow another crop, disassemble your equipment and store it in a safe place to use in future school years.