Site Vegetables are expected to give a lot. We want them to grow quickly and provide good quantities of nutritious food. To do this we need to pamper them a bit and this means giving the best site we can to grow in.
Growing vegetables in a school garden does require a little bit of planning as it will be one of the deciding factors on whether you fail or succeed in growing a fabulous crop. It breaks my heart when I see teachers struggling with a school garden program placed in a dark corner of the yard so we've included some basic guidelines to help you place your school garden project.
Sunlight When choosing position for your school garden you need to take into account how much sunlight the area gets. Ideally you will need a minimum of 6 hours direct sunlight per day for most vegetable crops. Keep and eye on your proposed area for a few days to get an idea of how much sunlight it gets throughout the day, get the children involved and time how long the sun shines on different parts of your site. Please don't try to start a school garden in a dark, shaded area between two buildings as you will be disappointed.
If you have an area in semi shade that doesn't get the recommended 6 hours of sunlight you can still grow a range of shade tolerant herb and salad crops but your choices will be a little more limited. Have a look at the examples below for an idea of what might suit the garden in your school.
LESS SUN (at least 3 – 4 hours a day) Most leafy crops: Lettuce, rocket & other salads Pak choi & stir fry greens Mint, parsley, coriander, chives Woodland fruits: Blueberries & blackcurrants
MORE SUN (5- 6 hours - nearly ½ day) Peas, beans and root crops: Runner & French beans Mange-tout Potatoes Carrots Radish
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LOTS OF SUN (6 hours - over ½ day) Fruiting crops: Tomatoes Courgettes or squash Chillies/peppers Strawberries Aubergines
Aspect Aspect means what direction does the garden face. To do this you'll need a compass or a map to know where north and south is when you are standing in your school playground. For example if I stand in my back garden with my back up against my house I'm facing South West and therefore I have a South West facing garden. The aspect of your school garden makes a difference because this determines the amount of sunlight you will get and the strength of that sun.
Ideally a South facing garden is best as it will get the most sunlight during the day. Plants grown in a South facing garden can get twice as much light (stronger light and longer hours) than a West or North facing garden so if this option is open to you it's the best position. Have a look at the diagram below showing a south facing garden, the shaded area shows the shade cast by the garden fence.
Don't worry if you can't achieve this, I'm just saying it's the ideal, if you have a North facing site you can still grow but you will need to choose your crops more carefully (from the 'less sun' list)..
Surface Hard or soft? Do you need to place your beds on grass or on a concrete/tarmac area? I would always recommend timber raised beds for schools as they can be placed on hard or soft ground.
Soft Ground The advantage of placing your beds on grass or soil is that they won't require as much watering, you will have a greater depth of soil and can use a shallower bed which takes less soil to fill. You also have the advantage of worms and other soil life entering the bed from the surrounding area which fertilizes and aerates you soil.
If you are placing your vegetable beds on a grassy area we would recommend digging the sods of grass up to a spades depth and turning them upside down. This means the grass will be facing down with the roots up which kills the grass and stops growing up through your vegetable beds.
Hard Ground We understand that in many school garden sites a soft surface simply isn't possible. A raised bed is still perfect but you will need at least 14 inches in height. A 14 inch bed gives enough soil depth to grow a broad range of vegetables and will hold enough soil and moisture to avoid the need for constant watering. I have gone into more detail on school garden raised beds in the 'How to Build?' section.
We can supply a broad range of solutions from ground level beds with liners to table height beds to fit the playground area you have in mind, we also have purpose built reservoir beds which can be left unattended for a few days so perfect for the weekend or shorter school holidays.
Access to Water It's a good idea to try to position your school garden near an outside tap for ease of watering. The easier it is to water the beds beds the more likely that someone will do it! Try not to make it difficult for yourself by having to fill a clumsy watering can from a small sink.
Help and Advice Remember we are always available for help and advice on the site on school vegetable gardening by emailing us on [email protected] or calling us in the office on 01 524 0884.