How to Start a Kids' Garden
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name of your club and contact information to:
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website with your club, and please email photos and captions or stories for the
Kids Blog any time you'd like! Just include the name of your club and your city
and state, and we'll post it so that we can learn from each other, and enjoy
Here are some key pointers to help you
plan your club:
in on your purpose.
Do you want to get kids gardening just
for fun and exercise? Do you want to use the garden as a way to teach math,
reading, writing, science, history, team-building and other topics for
out-of-school, informal learning? Do you want to use the garden to train the
kids in cooking, business or career exploration? Will they take home all the
produce, or do you plan to sell it? Where will you sell it? Or do you plan to
give some or all away? If so, to whom?
It helps you promote the garden idea
to children and youth, their parents, potential donors, and your community, if
you have a clear purpose in mind before you ever break ground. Then you can
budget more readily, too.
a place to plant: public property vs. private property?
There should be a community garden
support group in your community by now; run it through a search engine and ask
around, perhaps at your county or university extension office, because these veterans
would be your No. 1 best advisors for the all-important step of selecting a
place for your kids' garden.
The easiest is to plant the garden on
your own land and cover any unmet expenses. You can control and secure the
tools, water supply, and who comes in and what goes out, the most easily. But
you do have to put up with the hassle of allowing people onto your property for
this purpose. However, this may be the most relaxed and most fun way to go.
Second-best is on unused,
privately-owned land, such as a vacant lot owned by a neighbor, a nonprofit
organization, or your neighborhood association. If no one locally knows who
owns the land, your county tax assessor's office can tell you. Oftentimes, you
can run hoses from a neighboring house under an agreement to reimburse that
neighbor for water costs; that can be a great way to supplement rain barrels
while still ensuring a steady water supply. If you hope to use private land,
take the extremely important first step of finding out who the property owner
is, setting up a meeting, talking over your plans, negotiating a deal (free?
monthly rent? free, with a box per week of veggies and/or flowers for the
landlord?). Prepare an agreement in writing. Try to get as much of a time
commitment as you can, but be understanding: if the ground is for sale, you
might be out before you even get a start. So be aware.
Another idea is to find public land,
perhaps in a park or out-of-the-way space, which is owned by the taxpayers. Your
City Council representative or state legislator can help you here, perhaps
greasing the way for a deal to let you use it free. Work with municipal
authorities to develop your community garden within their rules and
regulations; there might be permits for growing and selling produce either on-
or off-site. They might even help you rig up a meter to get your water from a
nearby fireplug, if you're really, really lucky.
The last choice, because it is usually
a bit of a hassle, is to start your kids' garden on school property. Quite
often, school officials are worried that gung-ho volunteers will disappear when
their children move on to the next school, leaving them with no volunteers and
several holes in the ground; this may be a very valid concern. Schools also are
concerned about the maintenance hassles, mess, conflicts with janitors,
liability, and many more questions. If you are lucky, a school-based garden can
be a huge convenience for all concerned . . . but it's not always the most
feasible of your options.
up a budget.
Do you have to buy untreated lumber
for raised beds, or can you get them donated? Soil and compost? Seeds and
plants? Pots, containers, canning jars? The water bill? Tomato cages? Garden
hose? Rain barrel? Extra ingredients for cooking that you plan to do? Can you
borrow kid-sized garden tools, watering cans, buckets, and other tools of the
Can your youth gardeners each
contribute some kind of a tool, or can you locate people willing to give them
to you? Try eBay or www.craigslist.com
Gardening is just about as expensive
or as cheap as you can make it to be. It's best to count up the costs FIRST,
and then figure out how to meet them.
you don't have water, you don't have a garden!
You really, really don't want to run water
pipes to your garden. That can cost thousands of dollars. Talk about defeating
If a water supply isn't readily
available, improvise. Try making a deal with a neighbor and bring a long garden
hose . . . or devise several rain barrels . . . or, last choice but still
doable, arrange with your club members to take turns hauling water in. After
the first few weeks, when your seeds and starts are established, water doesn't
become quite as critical, but your dreams of a beautiful garden can . . . well
. . . DRY UP if you haven't solved this crucial problem first.
your support group.
Experienced gardeners might be able to
pull off a kids' garden club without any help. But most of us need a support
network so that the club doesn't become overwhelming.
Can parents afford a one-time
membership fee of, say, $25 in exchange for materials and instruction for one
weekly garden lesson for eight weeks?
Can you find a company or individual
to sponsor your garden club with one check? Or maybe two or three companies
who'll split the sponsorship in exchange for putting their sign or logo on your
Would your school let you have some
Would your neighborhood association lend
you land, money or pay for a sign?
How about an adult Sunday School group
or Bible study to "adopt" your group?
If your child is already in a Scouting
or 4-H group, could the group meet over the summer and focus on gardening?
Can you get some parents and other
adult volunteers to come and help the kids plan the garden, and then help again
on Planting Day in the spring?
Do you have one or more experienced
gardeners who will come and help from time to time, and "mentor" you along with
teaching the kids?
Is there someone who could help you
gather recipes and organize a cooking or canning party and donate the jars,
share kettles, etc.?
Do you have a list of potential donors
from your church or business associations, to whom you can write fund-raising
letters asking for help?
Have you tried some of the government
agencies and nonprofits listed in the "Garden Links" page on this website?
See? There are more people around who
can help you, than you might have thought. The more "spade work" you do before
you recruit young gardeners, the easy it will be on you in the long run.
start-up costs are best. Baby steps!
Set up your garden on land for which
you don't have to pay rent. Someone's backyard, a schoolyard, a social service
agency's land, or even an empty lot all can make fine locations. Just check
with the property owner before you do anything else.
Although the cheapest way is to create
wide, raised beds of soil with no physical framework, you might want to
construct wooden frames. See if you can get someone to donate untreated boards
to make raised beds, and help the kids screw them into boxes.
See if you can get someone else to
donate black garden soil, compost, mulch, kid-sized tools and, of course, seeds
Keep it cheap, and you'll worry less
and enjoy more!
through mini-grant sources and After School Treats, Inc.
If you still don't have enough money
to operate your club the way you'd like to, there are mini-grants available.
Everybody loves kids and gardening! Ask at your local county extension office
or university . . . county or city government, including health/nutrition
department . . . garden stores and nurseries . . . or any kind of corporate or
individual sponsors or donors that you can line up.
For the Omaha metropolitan area, there is a limited
amount of start-up funding available through the parent website of www.KidsGardenClub, which is www.AfterSchoolTreats.com. There
is a nonprofit organization which has 501(c)(3) tax status. After School
Treats, Inc., collects donations from all kinds of sources and issues
mini-grants as funds become available.
Perhaps someone in your network of
contacts wants to help, but wants a tax deduction, too. Anyone can give a
donation to After School Treats, Inc., through this website, and 100% of it
will be passed on to your group for your gardening project.
The donor will receive a tax
deduction, because After School Treats, Inc., is a 501(c)(3) corporation.
for more information.
the sun's path and patterns, and the lay of the land.
The No. 1 factor for a good garden
location is that it has at least six to eight continuous hours of full sun per
day. Shady spots won't give the plants enough sun-energy to grow well. However,
garden locations that get shade in the early morning or late afternoon are
It's probably best to grow on a flat
surface, but you can make a raised bed on a gentle slope, level it on one side
so that the soil lays flat, and it'll be OK.
Another key factor: easy access to a
Also to consider: secure storage for
tools and supplies.
If the land was formerly a garden or a
farm, has been "under grass" and organically raised (no manmade chemicals) for
a while, and especially if livestock used to graze there, rejoice! You probably
have fairly good soil to start. But don't worry if your soil isn't too great:
we gardeners have ways of dealing with that!
This is a great first lesson for youth
gardeners. Soil is all-important; they should become experts at analyzing soils
as a lifelong skill.
You can purchase a pH soil test kit
from any garden supply store. That will guide you as to what soil amendments
you should make.
Quite often, you will need to add
compost or rotted manure to increase the fertility. Sometimes, you may need to
add sand, bone meal, fireplace ashes and any number of other acid-increasing
If you are in an inner city, it's best
to have lead and arsenic soil tests done by the Environmental Protection Agency
before you break ground to grow any kind of food crop, to make sure there's no
lead or other contaminants in the soil. If there is, find another spot, or
you'll have to remove the top one foot of soil and re-test. It's not fun. Also
not fun is that sometimes, the wait for this test can be longer than the
growing season. So please try to plan ahead, if this is a concern.
You also need a water supply very
close to the garden. Rain barrels are a great idea to save money, and they are
fun for the kids to paint and decorate. You might be able to find a Scout
willing to build you screened tops for your rain barrels, which will stay on in
high winds, but keep bugs and debris out of your water.
For larger gardens, you can set up an
inexpensive bucket-drip irrigation system, a hose that you can tuck out of
sight when you're not there, or put the kids into a "bucket brigade" for
watering plants just around their bases.
If you water the whole garden area,
you'll get too many weeds. So it's probably best not to set up an elaborate
sprinkling system. Try to water each plant right around the roots.
If you are borrowing water, be sure to
make arrangements to reimburse the owner of the water meter from which you'll
be using water!
Remember the power of mulch to conserve
water and keep weeds away, and practice good techniques, such as watering in
the early morning to avoid evaporation.
Ask around the neighborhood to find an
experienced gardener who would be willing to come and help on a regular basis.
Kids need mentors, and sometimes, youth group leaders need mentors, too!
If you have a gardening mentor -
someone to bounce ideas off, and tell you what TO do and what NOT to do, then
you can lead a kids' garden without being an experienced gardener yourself.
This is an absolutely beautiful
opportunity to get an elderly person who's a veteran gardener involved with
your kids' group. It's a great way to enjoy the intergenerational friendship
and transfer of wisdom that is so important for both age groups.
Before you start garden planning,
decide how much time you are going to put into the garden. Don't over-plant!
A workable plan is to devote a LOT of time during the busy week or so at planting time
in the spring, and then two hours a week - preferably on two or three different
days - during the growing season, to pull weeds, deal with pests and so forth.
Then plan on devoting a little more
time at harvest time to learn about cooking, canning, drying and storing your
But make sure the time commitment is
clear up front before you start recruiting kid gardeners.
One idea is a full weekend right after
Mother's Day for planting, and then set up the kids to take turns with
garden-care chores on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the full group gathering on Saturday
mornings for 60 or 90 minutes.
the kids select the plants.
It's probably a good idea to choose
low-maintenance plants that are relatively pest-resistant and not as
labor-intensive. But there's a tradeoff: some of the plants that kids love most
to grow are more labor-intensive, especially if you want to grow organically.
For example, if you grow pumpkins, you
need to be in that garden several times a week, hand-smashing the squash bugs
that can decimate your crop. If that's worth it to you, then go ahead and plan
a pumpkin patch!
But if gardening is intimidating, plan
"no-brainer" crops that, with a little extra effort in the beginning, pretty
much grow themselves, like most varieties of tomatoes, and many prairie flowers
Avoid selecting "boutique" vegetables
that kids don't like to eat or aren't unfamiliar with - unless your purpose is
to get them hooked on those fun, gourmet vegetables!
And be aware that many of their
favorite food crops, including celery, can be difficult for the home gardener
to grow successfully. A little garden wisdom is advised: it could be that a
drastic "failure" could be a great lesson, too.
Unfortunately, vandalism does occur if
a community garden is located away from where vandals might be caught. So
expect it, especially if you have attractive features in your garden, including
nice tomato cages and cucumber trellises, cute scarecrows, garden ornaments and
But you may be able to prevent
problems like this if you make friends with your garden's neighbors, give them
veggies and flowers from time to time, and ask them to keep an eye out and call
you if anyone does anything.
It's also wise to try to figure out in
advance who might be inclined to come in and smash your pumpkins or steal your
picnic table, etc., and win them over by inviting them to join the group, or
putting them in charge of garden security BEFORE anything happens.
Garden extras that you could seek to
have donated, or earn money toward as a group, include having a picnic table
for outdoor learning or refreshments, a drinking fountain, a bike rack, a
sandbox for brothers and sisters, a sign with the name of your club, a phone
number to contact in case of a problem, and some basic garden rules and
announcements, a 3' x 3' x 3' compost pile, and a trash bin or someplace to
keep your garden area neat.
It might be wise to cement down and
chain in place some items if you can, but be philosophical: theft and vandalism
might still occur, but please don't let the threat of those problems deter you
from making your garden really wonderful.
It's always a good idea to contact
your local Scout group and see if any prospective Eagle Scouts or others might
be available to help you with your "permaculture," or garden building, needs. A
lockable garden storage shed, for example, would be a huge benefit.
16. In case of injury.
Because "things happen," you might
want to think about having the parents of the youth in your group to sign a permission
slip with a "hold harmless" waiver.
That way, if any of the children or
teens gets hurt while gardening, it will not be your responsibility to pay
But make it clear on the form that you
will be teaching garden safety before the kids even get started, and then again
every session! And then do so. "Grow" a little common sense in your youth
gardeners, and parents and kids alike will appreciate it.
17. Liability insurance for the property owner.
Check with the property owner -
whether you're operating the kids' garden on your property, or the neighborhood
association's, or the school's - to make sure that you and the gardeners would
be covered in the event of a catastrophe.
For example, you could run over a child in
your driveway or get into a car crash during a mini-field trip. You have to
answer the "what if?" questions BEFORE anything bad happens, and then, most
likely, nothing WILL. But it's better to be safe than sorry.
If the property owner thinks it's a
good idea, you might want to purchase liability insurance for the property
owner in the event of a catastrophe. It shouldn't be too expensive as a rider
on the existing insurance policy.
Last, but not least, your garden
start-up efforts should include a Garden Notebook. Buy a 3" 3-ring binder. It
parents' names, address, phone number and email address of each student, and a
checkbox for whether they've paid dues, if you're charging dues
plastic pocket for receipts
of activities and lessons, using www.KidsGardenClub.org
and other sources
of possible field trips
and phone numbers of mentors, potential guest speakers, supporters, donors,
of soil tests, with dates and how you amended the soil
plastic pocket to keep seed packets
plan on grid paper
calendar if you're starting seeds indoors
sheets to give to each student at the end of the growing season
paper for all the notes you're going to take of what you want to do differently