Site Selection

 

Connect Site Selection to Your Curriculum

  • Click here for a Map it Out activity to engage your students in selecting the site for your school garden.
  • Click here for a Soil and Slope activity to engage your students in exploring soil and slope for your school garden.

 

Community Visibility

Community support and involvement can greatly strengthen a school garden project. For schools embedded in neighborhoods this is particularly true. When choosing a site, high visibility is an asset. A school garden tucked behind mobile classrooms or in an interior area of the school is invisible to passing traffic and community members out walking in the neighborhood. The opportunity for spontaneous interactions is lost. When gardens are in highly visible locations there is a kind of excitement that builds as gardens begin to take shape and crops begin to grow. Neighbors passing by can stop and ask questions of students working in the garden. If produce from the garden will be sold during the summer this can be an opportunity to tell people first hand how and where they can buy garden bounty to help support the project.

When gardens are located along busy streets or in areas of high foot traffic, there is an added incentive to maintain a tidy and attractive garden. When planning garden layout, some attention should be given to showcase all your efforts. Tall crops like corn are best in the back of the garden so they don’t block the view, or the sun. Potatoes are beautiful when they are a young plant but once they start to die back (a natural process that happens early in the summer) they can start to look forlorn and can give you whole garden a worn look if they are your border crop. A low attractive border of lush sweet potatoes or low hardy marigolds can frame the garden. A beautiful garden sign is also a way to communicate your work to the community.

 

Longer rows planted perpendicular to the street or sidewalk allow for a quick glance into the garden as people walk or drive by. You want the community to see your work.

 

Student Visibility

When choosing a site it is also important to consider the flow of student foot traffic. Building a garden in a place where students will walk by it each day creates a natural opportunity to start students thinking about where their food comes from. If we want to change the way youth think about food we need to change the way they view food. If students see food growing on their school grounds, and see their peers working at weeding and harvesting, then see that food on their salad bar, invaluable connections to food are built.  

 

Water Access

Water sources, hydrants, hoses, and downspouts – Every garden needs water.  It is important to know where water sources are located when placing the garden. It is necessary to place your garden within reach of an established hose spigot. You will find it very difficult to water if the spigot is more than 100 feet from the garden. The closer the water source the better, as you will have to coil and uncoil hose every time that you water. If there is no water access you will have to contact the school district about installing a spigot near the garden space.

 

Orientation

This allows us to know the direction the sun is moving and prevailing winds.  We need to ask when is the sun the hottest? Is there a time of day that the garden will be shaded?

 

Natural Features

Trees, hills (slope), and other natural features must be considered when placing a garden.  Will any of these items harm or help the overall health of the garden? 

 

Slope

Slope affects drainage, stability, and erosion and is an important component in garden design. The incline of an area of land is its slope. The slope of a plot of land is generally expressed as a percentage.  Water from rain and watering events is not absorbed by soil on steep slopes because it rolls quickly downhill.  There is also a greater chance for erosion by this water moving quickly across the surface. 

 

 

Soil Composition

The health and composition of your garden soil is a significant factor in determining what plants you will be able to grow and whether those plants will thrive.  Healthy soil is a mixture of organic and inorganic matter, living things, space, and water.  Its nutrient-content and composition affect the health of garden plants. The inorganic components consist of weathered rock, water, air, and minerals.  The organic matter, which becomes humus, comes from decomposing plants, animals, and manure.  Air and water fill the spaces between the organic and inorganic particles.
 
Soil contains different sized pieces, or particles.  Scientists classify soils by the proportion of these particles.  Sand, silt, and clay make up three of the different particle sizes. Clay is the smallest particle.  Soils with high clay content are tightly packed with little or no spaces between the particles.  With few spaces to hold air or water or for roots to penetrate, soils high in clay content are not conducive to growing plants.  Soils that contain mostly sand, the largest particle size, are also not well-suited for growing.  Water drains easily through the large spaces of sandy soil, making it just as unsuitable for plant growth.  Silt particles are smaller than sand, but larger than clay and give soil a good texture.  Loam soils are a combination of sand, silt, and clay.  They are optimal for most plant growth because this mixture of soil contains some spaces between particles, allowing for proper water drainage, moisture retention, and air retention for plant roots and microorganisms living in the soil.  

 

Soil Testing & Soil Amendments

It is highly recommended that you get your soil tested before establishing your garden. At the very least, the soil should be tested for its N-P-K (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) content, as well as the pH level. K-State Extension will do this test for a nominal fee. Contact your local cooperative extension agency for detailed instructions on how to go about doing this. The results of the test will include recommendations for soil amendments and application rates.

Once you have determined what soil amendments are required you can go to your local hardware store or feed store to find many of the recommended amendments. A great source of organic soil amendments is the Fertrell Company. Search their website for a local dealer.

 

Percolation

When discussing soil, geology, and school gardens, percolation is defined as the movement of water through the pores in soil or permeable rock.  The percolation rate is how fast (or slow) water moves through the pores in soil or permeable rock and depends on the composition of that soil. 

Percolation rate of the soil is an important factor to consider in a school garden because most plants require “well-drained” soil.  This is soil in which water passes quickly after a rainfall or watering, but still holds nutrients.  If water moves too quickly through soil, the plants may not be able to absorb the water (and nutrients) they need.  If water moves to slowly through soil, soil remains soggy.  Soggy soil means soggy roots which can result in root rot and wilted plants. Soil is considered well-drained if it drains one to two inches every hour (this activity includes a percolation test to determine if the area is well-drained). 

The best well-drained garden soils, or loams, have a mix of large particles including organic matter and sand with smaller particles of clay and silt.  This combination allows water to pass through quickly but holds nutrients and moisture needed by plants.  Sandy soil is well-drained, but water moves through it too quickly and it doesn’t hold many nutrients.  It can drain one to two inches in as few as 10 minutes.  Clay soils hold nutrients but are most often poorly drained.  It can take much longer than an hour, even days, to drain an inch or two.  Whether it takes less than 10 minutes or more than an hour, soil drainage can be improved by adding organic matter.

 

Additional Considerations

These are other key factors in placing your garden, but also require you to know how your produce will be used.  If the produce is going to be taken into the school and used, is there a sidewalk and entrance that makes transport into the school easy?  Is the entrance to the school close to the room where the produce will be stored or used (classroom or lunchroom)?  If the produce will be loaded into a vehicle and taken to a local food pantry or co-op, is it easy (and close) to get to the parking lot?

 

Additional Information on Garden Planning and Soil Improvements can be downloaded below. These excerpts from the Kansas Gardening Guide are provided, with permission, from K-State Research & Extension.  Charles W. Marr, Ted Carey, Raymond Cloyd, and Megan Kennelly, Kansas Garden Guide, Kansas State University, March 2010. 

 

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Planning a Garden.pdf241.75 KB
Soil improvemets.pdf590.65 KB