This year, summer arrived in the spring with a sudden heatwave that ripened fruit and spring vegetables about two weeks ahead of “normal.” That “other” summer, the one that begins with the last day of school, brings a big shift in school garden activities. In fact, we are often asked, “How do school gardens function when students are gone during the summer growing season?” There are nearly as many answers to this question as there are school gardens.
First, it’s important to note that we have wonderful fall, early spring and even winter growing periods in the Willamette Valley and much of Lane County. Therefore, school gardens are typically vibrant and bountiful during the spring and fall terms when students are present. By carefully choosing crops that can be planted in late winter to mature in May and June; or, particular summer crops that will last well into September and October, School Garden Project helps assure that school gardens will offer a cornucopia of tasting opportunities when students are present.
Of course, no matter what the crop choice, summertime requires irrigation, garden maintenance and harvesting. School Garden Project staff lead summer garden work parties with local service organizations such as the Eugene Active 20-30 Club and businesses such as GloryBee. In addition, School Garden Project continues to experiment with ideas and programs to encourage neighbors, school communities and local families to participate in summer gardening.
This year we are piloting a new summer gardening program with school families at César Chávez Elementary School. Four families with children at the school (but with little prior gardening experience) have enrolled with School Garden Project for a summer gardening program. Each family will have a raised bed for planting and weekly instruction from one of School Garden Project’s garden educators. Parents and children will garden together, harvest what they grow and learn how to prepare meals from their harvest. In return, these families will help weed, water and maintain the rest of the school garden area.
We are excited about this experimental program for many reasons. First, it provides an important opportunity to bring the excitement of school gardening home to families. Second, we can help build capacity in the neighborhood while making the most of the space at the school. Third, the families will contribute to the maintenance of the garden, helping to prepare for the students’ return in the fall.