Back to School and Into the Garden!

School is back in session and it’s time to get our youngsters out of the cafeteria and into the garden–their very own school garden.

From aphids to zinnias, beets to watermelon, children can gain a wealth of valuable knowledge from participating in a garden, but they need guidance.  And who better to guide them than you?

ladybug in action!

“Me? But I don’t have time for a garden.”

Of course you do—you simply don’t realize it yet!  Gardens don’t have to be time-consuming.  Nor do they have to be stressful.  I mean, where in the garden manual does it say you must sacrifice every ounce of your free time and sanity for the sake of growing vegetables?

It doesn’t.  If vegetables can grow all by themselves in nature, they can certainly grow within the confines of your garden beds.  And a garden can be successfully managed with minimal time, so long as you have a plan.  I learned this tidbit of wisdom from my kids, not to mention the demands of real life. Try juggling a husband, kids, career… Like many of you, the last thing I have time for is a garden, but when the rewards are so great, and the lure is strong—

kids planting peanuts

Why not?  And once the kids get the hang of it—watch out—they’ll run full speed ahead!  Trust me.  Handled with a little forethought, weeding, watering, pruning and picking can be fun!  It begins with seed selection, plant feeding, bug plucking, picture-taking ending in the ultimate harvest party bonanza. 

Granted, kids LOVE harvest, same as we all do. What might surprise you is how much they enjoy the process.  They’ll name their plants, care for them like babies, hunting down any bug that might threaten their existence and dispatching them to another section in the yard. Best of all, they’ll do so in a totally non-toxic environment. You see, we here at BloominThyme are 100% organic. No chemical pesticides or fertilizers for us!

organic plant food

To get started at your school, choose someone to act as garden coordinator. This can be a teacher or parent, anyone willing to accompany the kids outside and supervise their activities.  Lessons can be found here on the website under the Kid Buzz section or scour the internet and make a packet of your own! There are a plethora of resources to choose from, both locally and nationally. 

In Florida, the University of Florida agricultural department encourages school gardens and provides an amazing amount of information to get your school garden started.  They’ve also come up with an ingenious motivator in the form of a school garden competition.  What kid wouldn’t want to have the best and brightest blooms?

An abundance of private organizations exist as well, like The Edible Schoolyard out in California founded by Chef Alice Waters, Kids Gardening located up in Vermont and Lifelab, just to name a few.  Funding an issue?

finished seed packet

We raised money by making our own seed packets and selling the seeds we harvested. For your initial garden, try the National Gardening Association’s website for ideas.  Also, check with your local seed and feed store for some help with donations in exchange for a little blurb in your school newsletter and/or website.  The cost to them will be minimal yet the exposure they’ll reap will be exponential.  If you’re building raised beds instead of in ground, consult with your local hardware/lumber store for some help.  Connecting the community and children is a win-win for all involved.

From an education aspect, these gardens can become part of the actual curriculum (Kids Gardening provides a ton of tools for teachers), or they can simply be part of a volunteer effort.  Either way, the kids will thank you.  One need only glance at a few of our school garden photos to see the pleasure the kids derive from being outside, steeped in the glory of nature.  In fact, pass them around at your next PTA meeting and you’ll see the hands fly up. 

“Who wants to help with our school garden?”  I do!  I do!

And we haven’t even discussed the harvest party!  When kids actually “reap what they’ve sown,” it connects the dots between planting and harvest like nothing else.  Every weed they pulled, every seed they buried, every sprout they watered culminates into the most delicious food they’ve ever tasted.  Add the fact it presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate healthy eating choices, ie. oven-baked French fries, homemade (baked) potato chips, salsa, coleslaw, fruit smoothies to name a few, and you have the perfect combination–and a captive audience.

making sweet potato fries and pies

Gardening is all what you make of it.  Exciting and fun or dreary and doldrums, it’s up to you.  To help you get started, you can find a few lessons in the Kid Buzz section of this website.  For more information, check these suggestions from About.com homeschooling.  Above all else, keep in mind the kids don’t care how fancy a garden you design, they only care about getting involved in the process.  Start with what you can afford, what you can manage time wise and the rest will follow.  Remember:  elbow grease is free yet the payoff is priceless.

Share this link and let’s get something wonderful started.  Gardening is an adventure—share it with a child!