Maintaining & Monitoring
Ongoing maintenance and monitoring is important for a plentiful, long-lasting garden. Regular maintenance can also aid in preventing pests. Maintenance during the growing season typically includes watering, weeding and fertilizing. Keeping logs of what is grown, volunteer participation and completed tasks will help with monitoring the regular activities in the garden. Long-term maintenance will include having a plan in place during vacation breaks. There are four main sections in this chapter:
1. General Garden Maintenance
2. Monitoring the Garden
3. Volunteer Logs
4. Vacation Maintenance
The following sections are listed in order of importance, from most frequently to less frequently.
Depending on the weather and type of garden, watering will most likely be a daily activity once the plants are planted into the garden. During hot weather, plants may need to be watered more than once a day. Plants generally require about an inch of water every week and seedlings need more than plants. To reduce evaporation, water the soil directly, not the leaves.
Plants are often watered until the soil looks moist on the surface, but that might not be enough. After watering, test the moisture of the soil by poking a finger about an inch into the soil. If the soil around the roots of the plant is still dry, make sure to water more. There are a number of tools available for watering the garden. Watering cans and garden hoses are the least expensive options, but they are more labor intensive and require close monitoring. Other options include drip irrigation and sprinkler systems. These options ease the chore of watering, but are more expensive.
To maintain a healthier garden and lower water bill, consider the tips below to make every drop count:
- Build good soil with soil amendments like compost
- Group plants together according to their watering needs
- Select the appropriate watering system for the garden and budget
THINNING PLANTS (early stages)
In order for plants to grow, they need a spacious environment. If plants are too crowded, their growth may be stunted. The process of thinning consists of the removal of plants in their early stages of growth. Thinning helps to reduce the competition among plants for the water and nutrients that are found in the soil. This is especially true for vine crops (e.g., cucumbers, melons and crookneck squash) because they can shade themselves and block sun exposure.
If transplanting seedlings, follow the directions for adequate spacing to prevent the need to thin plants later. If planting from seed, thin the plants to remove any extras when they are small and beginning to grow. Refer to the seed packet for more specific information.
Pruning regularly helps support your crops because it takes away the excess growth. Follow the directions for each plant on how to properly prune branches and suckers.
Some plants, especially crawling plants, require additional physical support for proper growth. Use stakes or trellises to help support plants during growth. These can be made out of string and sticks to save money on purchasing garden supplies.
It is not just the look of weeds that is a problem; they can actually harm the health of your plants. Weeds compete for the same resources, sunlight, water and nutrients from the soil that plants need for growth and production. If a weed is visible, pull it! To avoid a more difficult task in the future, remove weeds regularly while they are small to prevent them from developing deep roots. This is a great task that children can be a part of.
To minimize weeds growing in the garden, place cardboard or old newspaper around or between plants to provide a barrier for weeds. Be sure to place mulch, grass clippings, or other organic materials on top of the cardboard or newspaper.
Putting mulch on top of the soil will help keep the moisture in and weeds out. Add untreated and chemical-free materials such as grass clippings, leaves or straw to the garden. This introduces more organic matter to the soil, helps maintain the moisture content of the soil and keeps the plants more hydrated between waterings.
Insects and bugs are a natural part of a garden. Most perform jobs like pollinating plants, recycling nutrients and eating other pests. On a regular basis, examine plants to make sure they are pest free. Use the following tips to help control unwanted pests in the garden:
- Plant the garden with enough room for airflow around plants to avoid fungal diseases
- Place a fence or other protective barrier (weed cloth or row covers) around the plants during the beginning stages of the garden to keep pests away
- Remove pests and any dead or diseased plants
- Grow plants suited for the location of the garden
- Grow plants that will attract beneficial insects and worms, including:
- Sweet alyssum
- Pussy willows
- Mountain mints
- Ornamental grasses
- Golden marguerite
- To identify specific pests, refer to the Additional Resources
If pests are still a part of the garden after using these preventive steps, chemical-free household remedies like Weatherly’s Bad Bug Soap Recipe may be an option for eliminating pest problems.
Observing the garden ecosystem is important to the learning process for children. You can incorporate lessons about insects and the environment.
Before adding fertilizer to encourage growth, a soil test should be completed. Use the results from this soil test and the directions on the label of the fertilizer to apply it properly in your garden. If you have a compost system, add it to the garden at the start of the season and work it into the soil.
It is important to keep a log of when produce is planted, how often it is watered and harvest dates. This will be helpful when planting in future seasons by being able to look back and see what worked or what did not work. A log is useful if there are many people involved in caring for the garden. It will take the guess work out of whether or not it needs to be fertilized again, for example. The garden log does not need to be complex. Keep it simple!
Garden Planting Log
Garden Harvest Log
ADDITIONAL IDEAS FOR MONITORING THE GARDEN
- Scrapbooking and journaling
- Taking pictures that can be shared in newsletters or social media
- Asking children, parents and staff for feedback about the garden
- Monitoring children’s performance and involvement (tests, projects, assignments, essays)
- Creating and maintaining a garden blog
- Distributing surveys to those involved in the development and maintenance of the garden
- Tracking donations and financial support
- Documenting awards and recognition
- Administering awards or other forms of recognition related to garden involvement
No matter which option you choose, regular monitoring of the progress ensures the long-term sustainability and success of the garden. Remember, maintenance and monitoring is a job for everyone, not just the garden committee!
An interest form is a tool for recruiting volunteers for the garden. This form can be shared via the preschool or school website, social media, newsletter and/or flyers. Garden committee members can share the interest forms with other organizations they are a part of. This form is also an easy way to keep track of the contact information for your garden volunteers.
Once you have recruited volunteers, keep a log of when volunteers are working in the garden. Leave the log with plenty of copies in a visible spot and always remind volunteers to sign in and out. This aids in monitoring work in the garden, and if you have questions about a specific task, you will know who to contact. Volunteers will also feel accountable when they fill out these logs.Garden Volunteer Interest Form
Garden Volunteer Sign-In
During vacations, breaks, changes in the season and summer closings, a lot of time can be spent away from the garden. These breaks, especially during the fall or winter, are a great time to plant a cover crop to replenish the soil. Some common crops include crimson clover, oats and cereal rye.
For short breaks, talk to the maintenance staff, children and parents to develop a short-term plan for taking care of the garden. This could be done by one person or split among a small group. It would mostly include small tasks like watering, pruning and possibly harvesting.
During a long break, i.e. summer vacation, having a plan and volunteer schedule will help keep the garden growing. Close to the end of the year, spend some time to create and share a summer plan and let all of the volunteers know where all of the tools are stored. An incentive for those who volunteer in the garden would be allowing them to keep all of the produce or sell it at a farmers market. Be flexible and listen to your volunteers since they are the ones tending to the garden!
Suggestions for planning for a summer break:
1. Integrate the garden into a summer program on-site
- Work with teachers and/or administrators to ensure classroom instruction will frequently take place at the garden site
- Allow the teachers to keep produce or donate the produce to families or a local food bank
2. Have an “adopt a bed” program
- Assign one garden bed to a different teacher, staff or parent/guardian
- If you have a large garden, assign a crop, row or section rather than the whole garden
3. Coordinate a schedule for weekly or monthly volunteers
- Create a planning log similar to the short-term log to recruit volunteers
- Make sure all participants know how to get a hold of other volunteers
- This is ideal for big projects, such as landscaping or replanting, and it is a great way to ensure everyone stays involved and the garden is not forgotten
Properly maintaining and monitoring the garden will help you sustain the garden over the years. Here are some tips:
- MAKE THE GARDEN A TEAM EFFORT! Do not let the garden be dependent on one person
- Host events or plan lessons near the garden site to keep up the space
- Highlight the garden on the website or newsletter
- Send out a letter of request for volunteers or donations to parents at the beginning of the year
- Connect with master gardeners and other community members to ensure regular involvement with the garden
Having a system in place to keep track of volunteers will ensure the garden is being taken care of. Below is an example of a table to keep track of weekly volunteers. Be sure to include volunteers’ contact information to help with communication. This mock table has morning, afternoon and evening availability as examples for times to volunteer, but it is up to the volunteer coordinator as to whether or not someone needs to be scheduled for each time slot. In the example below, the volunteer coordinator opted not to schedule volunteers during the afternoon.