Gardening at School: How We Made It Work

by Ingrid Cowan Hass
IMG_6547A few years ago parents of the PTA at our neighborhood elementary school started talking about adding some landscaping to the school grounds. The principal liked the idea of a pollinator garden in front of the school. There was also an abandoned courtyard garden that had been started with a grant by a teacher who was no longer at the school. We wondered if that could be revived.

The project began with just a few parents weeding over a period of time. Then, last spring, we created two garden beds out of the mound of grass and weeds surrounding the flagpoles in front of the school. We communicated with the school building manager about our plans. His schedule didn’t allow him to do more than mow the grass, so he was thrilled to have the extra help. We met with the principal, talked about the placement, and got approval to put up cedar edging to hold the earth and mulch. I weeded the existing raised beds in the courtyard and collaborated with a teacher about planting some lettuce and kale with her classes. We uncovered strawberries that we replanted with new compost. With the extra care, the strawberries produced a bumper crop!

IMG_8235I started taking a small bucket and gloves to school every day and weeding during drop-off and pick-up for 10 minutes. This generated conversation, awareness, and new volunteers among the other parents. We asked for parents to bring in flowering perennials from their gardens to plant in the new bed. Some dads brought mulch in their trucks. We visited a few other schools that had gardens to learn about what they were doing.

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Sixth Grader Excited about Composting, Gardening, and Recycling at School

Berwyn Heights Elementary has been certified as a green school by the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education (MAEOE). One student member of the school’s environmental club wrote about how Berwyn Heights Elementary runs a successful composting and gardening program.

Hi, I’m Zada and I’m in 6th grade at Berwyn Heights Elementary School in Prince George’s County. I’m a member of the school’s environmental club for the second year now. In the environmental club we do many activities. Some things we do are composting, recycling, and trying to be as green as possible!

Composting was the main thing we did. We would compost every week last year. This year we have buckets for compost in the lunchroom and outside classrooms. Every day some sixth graders, including me, collect the buckets from the cafeteria and classrooms and empty the compost. It is later dumped into a larger compost bin that is located outside of our school. In the compost we put in greens and browns. Greens are things like apple cores, banana peels, orange peels, coffee grounds, egg shells, and salad without dressing, cheese or meat. Browns are things like leaves, grass clippings, and hay. Meat, cheese, dressing, and large sticks and twigs cannot be composted. The ratio is every bucket of greens needs three buckets of browns.

When we began composting last year, we only collected food scraps from breakfast. It took us a long time to fill our large compost bin outside. When we finally filled it, we mixed it up really well and then let it “cook.” While it “cooked” (which was really just sitting there breaking down), we took the temperature of it a few times a week. When it was really breaking down the temperatures got as high as 130 degrees! Once during the cooking process, we pulled everything out, mixed it again and then put it back in the bin.

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