Sharing the Summer Harvest with Open Garden Days

Everyone loves summer vacation! By the time May rolls around, teachers and parents alike find themselves counting down the days until the end of the school year. A few months later, they are equally eager for the next school year to begin. To some, however, there’s no such thing as a completely carefree summer because school gardens are often in full swing during the warmer months. There are several good options for keeping the garden growing. Whatever maintenance plan a school site has, sharing the summer harvest with families is a must.

Some schools create a calendar and invite families to sign up on a rotating basis. On their assigned day, each family takes over watering and harvest duty. This method works well for contracted teachers who don’t get paid to care for the garden in the summer months. It also provides a relatively simple way to promote parental involvement. However, not all sites are accessible during the summer months due to district or school safety (e.g., locked gates).

Another option for summer care is to minimize the need for summer maintenance altogether. Some educators choose to adopt a planting schedule that reduces the warm-season harvest. Anyone who has grown zucchini knows what it’s like to have an abundance of squash in late July or early August. To reduce food waste and the harvest load, some savvy planters sow slow-ripening watermelons or late-developing winter squash. They fill some extra space with ornamental annual flowers or summer cover crops and may leave other beds or rows fallow.

My preferred method for summer school garden management is to share the summer harvest during open garden days. Sites that are fortunate enough to be able to compensate a caretaker over the summer find it easy to recruit a summer crew. Many families prefer to have guidance in the garden; they’re willing to do the work, but they want to learn how to do it effectively. That’s why one to two mornings each month (about four times total), the garden I manage is open for a few hours at a time. Some parents drop off kids for a few hours, while other families work as a unit to help pull weeds, plant seeds, water trees, and harvest produce.

Harvesting potatoes is like finding buried treasure. 

Last week, each helper took home a pint of blackberries, a pound of purple potatoes, several varieties of peppers, and a few tomatoes. They also got some exercise, sunshine, and socialization. Because open garden days at my site overlap with the hours that the library is open, families are very motivated to bring the kids out for something active and educational to do. In turn, we get to share the harvest with them.

Every site has different summer needs that prompt garden educators to plan accordingly. Not ever educator will have the same approach every year. Some years the school garden slows down in the summer, other times it ramps up. Either way, sharing the harvest is an important goal. For more ideas about maintaining a school garden in the summer, see this cooperative extension resource.


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