Growing vegetables in schools is a good way to teach children about science and nutrition. Doing so also will help children learn patience and persistence, and gardening has a calming effect on people. Using the vegetables that the children grow is important. This can lower food costs for the school, and will allow the children to feel a sense of accomplishment. Children are likely to try foods that they help to grow.
Choose organic compost mixed with potting soil when planting vegetables at school. Teach children why organic compost is better for growing vegetables. Tell them about how a healthy soil mixed with compost helps to create healthier plants. Create a composting system with the students to help to sustain gardening efforts year after year.
Use heirloom seeds when planting the vegetables. Explain to the students that the heirloom seeds are the ones that their great-grandparents would have gardened with, older varieties that are more disease resistant than today's varieties. Tell them that these are open-pollinated seeds, and seeds can be saved from them to use in future years, staying true to the parent seed. Be sure to choose only organic varieties of these seeds.
Choose plants that will grow easily and that will provide a lot of nutrition. Try plants such as tomatoes, cucumber and zucchini. Peas and beans will offer much protein whether cooked or eaten fresh from the garden. Salad greens, such as leaf lettuce, spinach and cabbage, can be started directly in a garden bed at the school, or grown in planters in classrooms. Growing herbs like parsley and chives will add flavor to salads and soups, and the edible flowers of the nasturtium and marigold plants will also work nicely in salads or on cupcakes.
Demonstrate to the students how to start the seeds by placing compost into containers and then planting the seeds to the depth recommended on the packet. Have them follow along with their own materials, allowing them to use their hands for scooping the compost into the containers. Ask them to water their seeds as you water yours, explaining that the soil should be kept moist but not overly wet.
Place the pots in a sunny window, either on the sill or on a table in front of the window. Explain why sunlight is important for the growth of the seeds into vegetables. Explain that, when the seedlings are ready, they will be transplanted into the school garden to be used to prepare class snacks or in the cafeteria for lunches. Once the produce is in the garden, show them how to weed. When it is time to harvest, show the students the ripe fruit that will be picked.