Summer Vacation for Your Garden- Adapted from The Life Lab Garden Times, Spring 2003.
Here are some ideas to keep your garden maintained during the summer so that your fall garden will be full of treats to harvest instead of weeds.
Garden Guardians Have families or neighbors sign up to "adopt" the garden for a week or two during the summer. Leave simple directions on where to water and weed and encourage your garden guardians to harvest the veggies and flowers that are ready for picking. This will not only serve as a simple thank you, but will encourage your plants to keep producing fruit and flowers. Ideally you'd want the whole summer schedule made up with the contacts of the weekly caretakers so that they can find substitutes if summer plans change.
Consider creating a simple video to share with instructions or leave good writen documentation of caretaking tasks. This video is an example of a summer care video made for the summer Garden Guardians at Pacific Elementary Life Lab in Davenport, CA.
Weed Now Not Later It is important to make sure that weeds are under control before the garden takes it summer break. The smallest of weeds in June will be big seed dispensing monsters come mid summer. Make sure you get rid of all the visible weeds before your break so they don't haunt you in fall with their massive tap roots and seed heads.
Use Mulches Mulching for weed suppression and water conservation are both great strategies that are well worth the extra work. Mulching is also a great task for children of all ages. Covering your garden paths with 2-3 inches of wood chips will help smother out potential weeds and deter them from growing. Many tree service companies will donate chipped trees and many municipal landfills now have green cycle programs that give away wood chips. Mulching your garden beds and fruit trees with straw (not hay, which has seeds in it) will keep weeds at bay and will conserve water by shading the soil.
Using an Automated Drip Irrigation System will ease the stress of abandoning your garden over the summer. Knowing that your plants are getting the water they need and returning to a garden of abundance is a great feeling! Equipment for irrigating a small school garden with an automatic timer can costs a couple hundred dollars. Visit the Garden Classroom to see various types of timers and drip systems in action or visit www.savingwater.org for information on effective irrigation.
Dripworks.com offers 15% discount for school gardens and has incredible resources for DIY irrigation.
- View their 9 page Drip Planning Guide to learn all you need to know to install a drip system
- Watch their videos to learn even more
- View their gallery of irrigation plans to better understand the supplies you will need to irrigate your garden. Most school gardens fall into the "Framed / Raised Bed" design category.
- View their irrigation kits which make it easy to purchase the supplies you will need to irrigate your garden. Add a battery powered timer and you will be set for the summer. We have had much success with the Galcon LCD Timer, Galcon Dial Timer, Orbit Single Dial Timer, and Orbit Two Dial Battery Timer. They are simple to use and very suitable for school garden irrigation needs. If you are watering more than one zone such as garden beds, fruit trees, and/or green house you can use a multi-valve timer to allow different watering schedules from one faucet.
- Addtionally they have an online garden planning tool where you can see other educational garden designs – search "school gardens"
Plant for Fall If you are serious about harvesting vegetables in the fall, pick long season vegetable varieties. Read the "days till harvest" listing on the back of seed packages and plan accordingly. If you want to eat fresh corn in September with your students, plant 90-100 day corn in late May instead of 65 day corn. Also remember that many vegetables need to be harvested to keep producing throughout the summer so make sure your garden guardians harvest regularly to encourage continual fruiting.
Try planting some of these crops in late May or June and come back to school with something to harvest.
- Shelling Bean (dry beans)
- Edible / Birdseed Sunflowers
- Winter Squash or Pumpkins
- Health Master Carrots
Learn about school year crop planning.
Try planting a Three Sisters Garden with popcorn, winter squash, and dry beans. Our friends at www.kidsgardening.com have a good article on the Three Sisters Garden and the folks at Cornell have some a whole site related to the Three Sisters.
Also view Summer in the School Garden A Resource for Working with Volunteers to Maintain your School Garden a 40 page guide for summer garden care from www.growing-gardens.org and confluencecenter.org