Be Realistic! I'd give the same advice to any new gardener - to start small with easy to grow crops. A school vegetable garden also has the holidays to take into account so unless you have interested parties who are willing to take care of the garden for the Summer holidays you are restricted to what you can harvest before the school breaks up in June or July. Don't despair though, there are still plenty of things you can grow!
We also find that many schools will only start thinking about their garden when the weather warms up in April/May at which time you'll only have 8 -12 weeks of growing time left before the holidays. There are still crops you can grow in that time to teach children how to grow food but your choice will be limited a little further.
Start Indoors in Modular Seedling Trays We recommend starting all your seeds off indoors in modular seedling trays as you will have a much higher chance of success. The warmer indoor temperatures mean you will have a better germination rate meaning more of the seeds you sow will grow into baby plants. Seeds sown outdoors are more prone to failure as the emerging seedlings can be quickly polished off by slugs or killed by harsh weather. You can read our article on growing in modular seedling trays here.
Sowing in separate modules is fun for children and means you can sow various different seeds (remember to mark them!) in a handy tray that can be easily moved around the classroom. When the young plants need to be planted outside in 3-4 weeks they can be simply popped out of the tray and into the ground.
What can't I grow? Most vegetable crops are sown in the Spring and are ready for harvest in Summer and Autumn. These crops include all the Cabbage family (cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts etc...) as well as staples like peas and beans. Not all crops will be ready by July which means we need to forget the mental picture of a traditional vegetable bed bursting with a varied selection of crops and concentrate on the varieties that will have time to grow.
What can I grow? There are four options here:
1. Fast growing salad crops.
2. Maincrop varieties harvested when they are still in a baby or immature stage.
3. Sprouting seeds or micro greens.
4. Buy 4 week old seedling plants to get a head start.
Fast Growing Crops
Radish 4 - 6 weeks.
Rocket 4 - 6 weeks.
Oriental Greens 4 - 6 weeks.
Annual Spinach 4 - 7 weeks.
Spring Onion 6 - 8 weeks.
Fast growing crops will show the transition from seed to plant is a very short time and are perfect for classroom growing. These guys are the sprinters of the vegetable world and are great if your are stuck for time.
Immature maincrop varieties
Beetroot 8 - 10 weeks.
Broad Beans 14 weeks.
Early Carrots 14 weeks.
Kohl Rabi 8 -14 weeks.
Early Potato 12 - 16 weeks.
Turnip (selected varieties) 8 - 12 weeks
Immature maincrop varieties can be left to continue to grow to become full size vegetables but you may not have the time to allow that to happen. You can harvest the immature versions at the end of term and enjoy sweet and tender baby crops that are just miniature versions of the full size crop. The children can still experience the excitement of eating something that they have grown from seed even if it's a slightly smaller version.
Sprouting Seeds and Micro Greens Seed sprouts from a very broad range of easily available seeds. A large number of seeds are placed in a jar or suitable container to germinate with the highly nutritious sprouts being eaten as a salad crop or garnish. You can have a look at our 'Growing Sprouting Seeds' article here.
Microgreens are seeds that are sown densely and harvested at 4-6 weeks a baby greens. Many seed varieties can be used with easy to grow seeds like Kale being perfect for this process. Simply scatter seeds in a compost filled seedling tray and harvest when covered in a dense mat of foliage after 4 - 6 weeks.
Seedling Plants Seedling plants are 4-6 week old plants produced by a plant nursery (us!) and delivered to your school in easy to plant seedling 'plug' trays. The advantage is that you can still get plants in the ground at a late stage as they have already been growing for 4-6 weeks in our nurseries. You can view our selection of seedling plug plants here.