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Ten School Garden Activities for September

Welcome back teachers and students.

September in a school garden is one of our busiest times. We need to get started quickly to insure a harvest before the long winter break.

For those without a school garden the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has written an extensive online manual, Setting up and Running a School Garden.

For those returning to an existing garden there is much to do. Preparing the beds for another season of seed sowing and transplanting is probably the hardest job physically we will have all year. Organizing a garden day with other parents, teachers, students and volunteers is something you may want to consider.

The following ten activities should be done (more or less) in order:

1) Discuss garden rules and tool safety. For those unfamiliar with garden rules these are the basics: a) No running in the garden; b) No walking in the beds; c) No running with tools; d) Do not carry or swing tools on your back; e) Do not bring hands tools over your shoulder; f) Walk with the tool by your side, blade down; g) Return all tools to their proper place immediately after use; h) Do not leave tools in the garden; i) Anyone not following these rules does not get to work in the garden.

2) Search for dried flower heads and seed pods in which to save seed (i.e. sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce, fennel, cilantro, beans, etc).

3) Clear beds of everything other than perennials (i.e. herbs and strawberries).

4) Collect all organic refuse and compost it. For more information on composting see The School Garden Resource page at the California Waste Management Board and the 8-page pdf, Guide to Home Composting from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

5) Add amendments (i.e. organic compost, aged manure) to existing soil, mix well and turn soil top to bottom and bottom to top. See video, How to Amend a Raised Bed.

6) Review the pdf, Vegetable Family Chart. At this time of year we will be planting cool-weather crops. There’s actually more to choose from now than there is in the spring.

7) Read seed packets for specific information regarding height and row spacing. (Taller plants go in the rear so as not to cast shadows on smaller plants.) See How to Read a Seed Packet.

8) Plan and design garden space.

9) Lay out rows. (Ideally, rows should be perpendicular to the arc of the sun.)

10) Sow seeds and/or transplant seedlings. Set up irrigation schedule.

Venice HS Learning Garden

Gardens evolve. All gardens, school or otherwise, season to season, year to year, they grow, they change, and with the proper care, they prosper.  The “Learning Garden” at Venice High School has been evolving and prospering for more than 15 years.


Back in 1995 horticulture/landscape teacher Diane Pollock “inherited” a weed-ridden one acre property that was more home to feral cats and vagrants than it was to living plants. In collaboration with Garden Master David King and numerous community volunteers they have created one of the show-piece school gardens in America.


Today, the students are enriched by the various gardens that surround them. There’s a Chinese Herb and Medicinal Plant Garden, a Mediterranean Garden, a Fruit Orchard, a Rose Demonstration Garden, a Grape Arbor, and the U.C.L.A. Ornamental Garden.


A California native plant section has been lovingly created and cared for by Christine Walker.


Agricultural plots are tended to for organic vegetables. Compost piles teach sustainability.

One exciting recent development is the Culinary Arts and Sustainable Agriculture Academy (CASAA) created by teacher Tina Gruen. This new venture takes the garden a giant step forward by developing a complete “farm to fork” concept.  Students not only grow their food, but are taught how to prepare it as well. The entire process from seed to table can now be experienced first hand.

The Learning Garden’s famous potuck lunches on Fridays just got a whole lot tastier!

School Gardens in the News

1)Spring Hill, FL
Kids learn hydroponic gardening

Linda Rothenberg’s students have turned more than $5,000 in grants into an outdoor classroom that is growing vegetables. As Westside Elementary School’s science lab teacher, Rothenberg sees more than 700 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, and all have participated in the project.

2) New York, NY
PS 6 breaks ground on NYC public schools’ first green roof, a dream of teacher who passed in ’07

A public school in New York City has broken ground for a rooftop garden and greenhouse. The roof will have planting soil for vegetables and flowers, solar panels, a weather station, a turtle pond and a greenhouse for classes during the winter.

3) St Thomas, USVI
At Sibilly, Composting Starts From The Ground Up

Jason Budsan of EAST talked to the Sibilly School Gardening Club members after the ceremony. “Compost is nature’s first recycling project. It starts from the ground up,” he said. He showed them three flower pots filled with different kinds of things that will become compost — papers, grass and leave clippings and kitchen trimmings.  He explained how the compost bin works. “Collect organic waste materials, and put them in the tumbler. Add enough water to moisten only. Close the door and give the bin five turns every few days. In about four to six weeks, you will have supercharged soil.

4) San Jose, CA
Parents help San Jose school garden programs grow

The Booksin school foundation and parent volunteers are working on a grass roots pilot program to turn the campus garden at 1590 Dry Creek Road into a training center for teachers from other schools in the San Jose Unified School District. Teachers would use the Booksin garden to learn how to conduct classroom activities, and then bring that knowledge back to their students, says parent Jennifer Mowery.

5) Pocantico Hills, NY
School of gardening: Stone Barns is teaching teachers how to grow vegetables and integrate that into the classroom curriculum.

Long before the popularity of buzzwords like “sustainability,” “locally grown” and “organic,” Denise Martabano was planting her first school garden with youngsters from the Meadow Pond Elementary School in South Salem…And now this local pioneer in the school-gardening movement is spending many of her Saturdays at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills leading workshops with teachers from throughout the tri-state region, teaching them how to grow gardens at their own schools and integrate them into the classroom curriculum.

6) Portsmouth, England, UK
Sounds like this school garden is extra special

The garden is alive with the sound of music thanks to new oversized instruments at a school…The seven beautifully hand-crafted outdoor musical instruments which range from eye chimes, to drums, xylophones and chime bars, have been carefully selected for younger children.

10 School Garden Activities for September

Week 1 – Welcome back everyone. Hope you all enjoyed your summer.

For those without a school garden who would like to know how to get started please read: How to Start and Maintain a School Garden.

For those returning to an existing garden there is much to do. Preparing the beds for seed sowing is probably the hardest job physically we will have all year. Organizing a garden day with other parents, teachers, students or volunteers is something you might want to consider.

The following 10 School Garden Activities for September should be done (more or less) in order:
1) First and foremost discuss garden rules and tool safety. For those unfamiliar with garden rules these are the basics: a) No running in the garden; b) No walking in the beds; c) No running with tools; d) Do not carry or swing tools on your back; e) Do not bring hands tools over your shoulder; f) Walk with the tool by your side, blade down; g) Return all tools to their proper place immediately after use; h) Do not leave tools in the garden; i) Anyone not following these rules does not get to work in the garden.

2) Search for dried flower heads and seed pods in which to save seed (i.e. cosmos, sunflowers, marigolds, lettuce, cilantro, beans, etc).

3) Clear beds of everything other than perennials (i.e. herbs and strawberries).

4) Collect all organic refuse and compost it. For more information on composting see: Compost page at Wikipedia, the Compost Guide from compostguide.com, and the Guide to Home Composting from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works.

5) Add amendments (i.e. organic compost, aged manure) to existing soil, mix well and turn soil (top to bottom, bottom to top).

6) Review Vegetable Family Chart. At this time of year we will be planting cool-weather crops. As you will see there’s actually more to choose from now than there is in the spring.

7) Read seed packets for specific information regarding height and row spacing. (Taller plants go in the rear so as not to cast shadows on smaller plants.)

8) Plan and design garden space.

9) Lay out rows. (Ideally, rows should be perpendicular to the arc of the sun.)

10) Sow seeds and/or transplant seedlings.

Week 1 – Planning, Clearing, Tool Safety, Compost

For those new to school gardens now is the time to find a proper location. You’ll want a spot that is level, with at least six hours of sun exposure, and good drainage. If the desired location is facing south, all the better. Make sure there is a usable water source nearby. If no ground is available containers will do nicely, the bigger the better.

For those with existing gardens, begin clearing your beds pulling all dried matter and weeds leaving nothing but dirt. However, before you get started, look around and see what is left from the summer. Dried corn tassels make a wonderful fall arrangement. Dried pole beans left on the vine can be collected for next season. Dried flower heads such as sunflowers, cosmos and marigolds can also be saved for seed.

If you are already equipped for composting add the cleared matter to your compost pile. If not acquainted with composting now would be a good time to introduce yourself. Compost is nature’s way of recycling itself. Plants that have expired are put into a pile with other organic matter. By keeping the pile wet and aerated the pile decomposes forming compost, which is then added back to our existing beds to enrich the soil.

For more information see Composting page at Wikipedia , the Compost Guide from compostguide.com, and the “Guide to Home Composting” from the Los Angeles Department of Public Works in either English or Spanish.

Tools and Tool Safety are always addressed at the outset. Both are essential to a successful garden. Basic rules are as follows: 1) No running with tools; 2) Do not carry or swing tools on your back; 3) Do not bring hands tools over your shoulder; 4) Walk with the tool by your side, blade down; 5) Return all tools to their proper place immediately after use. Do not leave tools in the garden; 6) Anyone not following these rules does not get to work in the garden.

Essential tools are: Garden Fork for turning soil and compost, Shovel for transplanting, Dirt Rake for leveling the soil, removing root clumps and large pebbles, Garden Hoe for removing weeds, Hand-shovels (also called trowels) for digging small holes, Hand-cultivators for weeding and aerating soil, and Pruners for cutting large stems. Miscellaneous tools include: scissors, string, gloves, rulers, tape measure, row ends and plastic bags to distribute the bounty.