School Gardens and Summertime

The end of the school year is a time to celebrate and get ready for SUMMER! With school gardens, it’s the perfect time to have a harvest party to celebrate the year’s work. The spring vegetables you grew are just waiting to be picked and sampled, and hopefully this rain has made your plants grow even faster. All the weeding, watering, and pest-fighting has paid off, and it’s now time to taste the fruits and vegetables of your labor. It’s also the perfect time to create a strategy for what to do with your garden during the long summer months. Although gardening in Central Texas can be a year-round activity, maintaining the garden year-round can often be quite challenging at schools, especially over summer breaks when everyone leaves. Gardens that are left unattended can often look like an unruly weedy jungle when August rolls around. It can be hard to find the motivation to start the fall garden when the beds are full of weeds, and we are all about eliminating barriers to school gardens, so here’s a way to ensure that your garden will be ready for next fall’s planting season.

There are two main approaches to a smooth transition between the school year and breaks. One strategy is to entrust garden care to parents and community members who live nearby in exchange for the opportunity to take home harvest produced over the summer break. This can help build support and buy-in for the garden for individuals who may even stick around during the school year to lend a hand.

Another approach is to put gardens “to sleep.” Putting gardens to sleep is a simple approach that requires pulling out the existing plants and either heavily mulching the beds (use three to four inches) or planting a thick cover crop. A cover crop is a plant that requires little to no maintenance and completely covers the garden area. Both mulching and using a cover crop prevents weeds from taking over the beds and builds the quality of the soil. To “wake up” garden beds in the fall, simply rake away the mulch or, two to three weeks before planting, uproot the cover crops, allow them to dry in the sun, and turn them about an inch under the soil to boost your soil’s health for another year of school gardening.

Common cover crops to use for summer include: alfalfa, Alsike clover, Crimson Clover, Red clover, White clover, annual ryegrass, buckwheat, oats, and cowpeas. Planting a cover crop returns nutrients like nitrogen to your soil and builds soil health for fall planting.

We hope you enjoy your spring harvest, and we hope you take time to ensure that your school gardens have a plan in place this summer!