Holiday Proof your School Garden
School holidays, in particular, the 6-8 week break over December/January can be particularly challenging. Without regular watering and management, the garden can quickly dry out or become an oasis for pests. It doesn’t need to be that way through, with a little planning you can have your garden and eat it too.
The trick to holiday proofing your garden successfully is (like most things) in the planning. Following are some options to consider:
Option #1 – Delay spring seed sowing
If you have timer-based drip irrigation installed, hold off planting Spring seeds until mid to late Spring. This delay will help ensure plants do not start producing until school gets back. All going well you should be able to start harvesting when school returns in February.
Note: if you are going to leave the garden unattended for a period of time, it would also be advisable to net the garden to exclude pests and deter local fauna.
Option #2 – Sow a green manure
Leaving your soil bare is a sure way to end up with eroded, nutrient depleted, weed-covered, water repellent soil. Protect your soil by sowing a hardy ‘green manure’ which can be dug back in when school returns. This helps to return nutrients and offers protection to the soil over summer. Cover crops and green manure packs can be purchased online or at most large garden centres.
Green manures are most often sown in Winter however in a school environment with a long summer break, Summer may be a better time. Choose a warm season green manure suitable for your climate.
Using a variety of green manures as each will return different nutrients e.g.
Legumes such as clover return Nitrogen to the soil. Bulky, leafy greens produce masses of vegetable mass that can be dug through the soil to return organic matter and nutrients.
Learn more about green manures.
Option #3 – Make a holiday garden roster
If your school allows it, set up a roster of parents and students to water, maintain and harvest the garden during holidays. Over summer, the garden will need to be watered and harvested daily. The lure of freshly picked vegetables should be enough incentive to get volunteers.
Option #4 – All seasons crops
Some plants crop all (or most of the) year. Examples include carrots, silverbeet, beetroot, lettuce, parsley and coriander. Because they can be sown all year, time planting to allow them plenty of time to reach maturity so you can harvest prior to longer school holidays.
Approximate times to harvest are usually displayed on seed packets. The times indicated are from date of germination/sprouting, so allow an extra 2 weeks (approx.) for germination. Alternatively, use an online planting calendar to determine harvest schedules.
Some other tips
Lack of water is the biggest problem for gardens in summer. If budget allows, set up a timer-based drip irrigation system to water the garden. This does not require specialist knowledge. Your GA or another handy staff member could do this with some guidance irrigation system supplier.
Ask the kids to grow seedlings at home during the holidays with the view to planting them out when school resumes. Tip: Most seedlings are ready to transplant into the garden 6-8 weeks after sowing seed.
If you don’t routinely cover crops with pest netting, consider this over school holidays. Left unchecked, a small pest problem can quickly turn into a plague which can be difficult if not impossible for your plants to recover from. Pest netting can reduce the chance of this happening. If you’ve ever had Queensland Fruit Fly (QFF) in your garden or you think it’s nearby, it’s vital to net susceptible crops from early Spring onward. If you don’t, QFF will breed in your garden over summer making a difficult problem worse the following year.
#Learn more about Queensland Fruit Fly.
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