Growing vegetables in school gardens

Information sheet

Do your pupils know where their food originally comes from? A vegetable garden is an excellent teaching resource and will provide great enjoyment and satisfaction to all involved.

  • School term: All year round
  • Level of experience: No experience needed
  • Subject(s):

Why grow vegetables?

  • Food growing can teach children about soil, nutrition, science and life cycles of the vegetables and the creatures attracted to the garden.
  • A vegetable plot can raise children’s awareness of the seasonal nature and the variety of food.
  • A food growing project should be part of a school’s development plan with staff, pupils, parents and even local residents being involved.

Starting a vegetable garden

  • An area for growing vegetables may be created in a garden of any size, from a large sunny plot, to a few containers on a patio.
  • Vegetables can be grown in a separate plot or integrated into flowerbeds.
  • The ideal situation provides warmth, sunlight, shelter and fertile, well-drained soil with an adequate water supply.
  • The site should be open, but not exposed, nor overshadowed.
  • A vegetable garden will do best on soils of around pH 6.5. Simple pH measurement kits are available from garden centres to test the pH of your soil. 

Organising the plot: allotment or bed systems?

  • The traditional allotment style of vegetable growing means suitably spaced rows across a single plot which is not broken up by paths. However the bed system may be more suitable for schools.
  • The bed system offers a number of narrow plots divided by paths, and these plots can be subdivided if necessary. This system means that all work can be done from the path, which eliminates the need to tread on the soil.
  • The plot is easier to weed and compost can be concentrated on the growing area.
  • The bed system is particularly suitable for working with special educational needs students.

Vegetables to grow

  • It is best to choose vegetables that are easy to grow, successful and quick to crop.
  • Ideally they should be ones that children like to eat.
  • Chosen crops should fit with school term times, either to be harvested by mid July or survive the holiday period until September.
  • Choose varieties of vegetables which have been given the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). This means that they are suitable for garden cultivation.
  • Start small and grow just two or three crops at first, perhaps potatoes and legumes (peas and beans etc).

Crop family list

Roots crops Brassicas Onions and Legumes Potato Family
Carrot Cabbage Onion Potato
Beetroot Cauliflower Shallot Tomato
Parsnip Brussels sprout Leek Aubergine
Celery Broccoli Garlic  
  Calabrese Spring onion  
  Mustard Broad bean  
  Turnip Early pea  
  Swede Mangetout  
  Radish French bean  
  Chinese Leaf Runner bean  

Crop rotation

In order to balance the nutrients in the soil and reduce the incidence of pests and disease, crop rotation should be used. Green manures can be included in your crop planning as they can increase soil nutrition, keep weeds down and reduce erosion. Crops such as lettuce, sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins can fit in with any rotation system, wherever you have space for them.

An example of a 4 year crop rotation:

Plot  1st year 2nd year 3rd year 4th year
A Roots Potatoes Onions and Legumes Brassicas
B Brassicas Roots Potatoes Onions and Legumes
C Onions and Legumes Brassicas Roots Potatoes
D Potatoes Onions and Legumes Brassicas Roots

Different ways of growing vegetables: growing on concrete

If your school is short of soil space or if the soil might be contaminated, use containers. Ask parents or local businesses to collect materials for you. Clean them thoroughly before use and make sure they have drainage holes in the bottom.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Chimney pots
  • Bricks for making raised beds
  • Wooden pallets
  • Old sinks and baths
  • Fruit and vegetable crates
  • Large cooking oil tins
  • Dustbins

If you use car tyres, then these need to be lined. Substances contained in the tyres can be toxic to plants.

Pest control

  • Most pests in a school garden can be controlled to some extent by their natural predators, so sprays are seldom needed.
  • A sensible way of protecting plants from soil dwelling pests is to cover the plants in horticultural fleece.
  • Barriers made of small squares of carpet underlay placed around brassica stems will prevent cabbage root flies from laying eggs there.
  • You can use organic sprays to control pests on vegetable leaves.

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