Top 10 Varieties for School Gardens
For avid gardeners who are also parents and/or teachers, the next few months are the prime time to start a garden at your kids’ school. But how do you know which plants are the best for timing your garden to the school year schedule? We’ve selected a few of our favorites that are guaranteed to get a harvest in while classes are in session, and if you’re lucky, these tasty varieties may even convince some of your kids to eat more vegetables! Read on to find out which varieties are best to incorporate into your school garden plan.
1. and 2. Pea Shoots and Sunflower Shoots are a wonderful starter for kids to “get their hands dirty” with growing. Extremely quick to mature, these little plants don’t require any planting space other than a windowsill, and your kids will be able to harvest them within two weeks of sowing the seeds. Best of all, the tender greens of pea shoots have the wonderfully sweet flavor of true peas, so you may even convert some youngsters who claim they don’t like to eat greens.
3. Radishes are one of the quickest-growing crops, which make them great for giving kids the “instant” gratification they seek in the garden, and will guarantee a harvest before summer vacation. Because they are so quick to germinate and mature, some growers use radishes to test their soils before planting their other crops; the growth habits of the radish help to determine nutrient deficiencies and overloads. Radishes also come in a myriad of shapes, sizes, colors and tastes. We recommend our Valentine’s Day blend for a collection that offers up a surprise with every harvest: pink, red, purple and white radishes mature at the same rate and are pre-mixed so you never know which color you’re going to pull up!
4. and 5. Carrots are always fun for kids due to the “discovery” element of harvesting something from under the ground, and unlike potatoes which take too long to mature before school lets out in June, carrots can be planted and harvested while class is still in session. Depending on planting dates and regional temperatures, you may be able to grow full sized carrots (between 55 and 125 days to maturity) or you could plan on harvesting them at the baby stage. Similar to our Valentine’s Day Radish blend, we offer a pre-mixed carrot blend called Starburst (70 days to maturity), with orange, purple, yellow and white carrots. For a classic orange carrot with excellent crunch and sweet flavor, try Napoli F1, which is particularly suited to baby carrot production.
6. Yankee Hardy Lettuce Blend is as simple as it gets: ready to harvest after just 28 days, this mix of red and green lettuce leaves is satisfying to grow and to eat. Many kids are used to salads with flavorless iceberg lettuce or crunchy, sometimes bitter romaine lettuces. They may be pleasantly surprised with this mix of tender greens; but be sure to harvest them early enough so that the flavor doesn’t get too bitter. The closer the plants are to flowering (bolting), the more bitter they will taste. Although most growers harvest these leaves with knives or scissors, you may want to consider having kids pick the leaves instead of cut them to reduce any risk of injury.
7. and 8. Sunflowers can be very useful in educational gardens. You’ll want to purchase flower starts or start your own, if you have the capacity. When it’s warm enough to plant out, you can transplant into your garden and the flowers will bloom as early as 40 days later. Our varieties Teddy Bear and Lemon Queen are particularly good for attracting beneficial pollinators, and make great cut flowers if you want to send a bloom home with each kid.
9. Pumpkins, although not ready to harvest before summer vacation, are nonetheless a fun choice for a school garden. These long season cucurbits require a bit more dedication: if you want to utilize the fruits, you’ll have to maintain the plants through the summer months to have pumpkins for when the students return in the fall. This can be a good option for established garden programs who have kids participate through the summer. When classes resume in September, you can harvest the pumpkins with students and carve them, roast the seeds for eating, or cook the flesh for pies, soups, or vegetable dishes. We recommend Kakai Hulless for a unique aesthetic and delicious, hulless seeds.
10. Goldie Ground Cherry is another option for a dedicated educational gardener: although starts can be planted before summer vacation, the deliciously sweet, tangy fruits of these plants won’t come into their own until late August-early September, just in time for students to enjoy them during their first few weeks of classes. A staff pick and overall garden favorite at High Mowing, these delicious tomatoes taste nothing like your traditional beefsteak, and are extremely easy to grow so even a novice gardener and vegetable eater can achieve success.