Recommendations for a school garden

Hi all,

I’m an 8th grade science teacher at a middle school in Castro Valley (Zone 9b). In a couple weeks I will be moving classrooms - and my new classroom is in front of a dirt area. I’ve gotten buy-in from admin & facilities for the idea of creating a school garden in that dirt area, and I’m trying to deliver them a “dream plan.”

The problem is the garden is at a school. So for 2 1/2 months in the summer (i.e. the most productive months of the growing year) the only person around to tend to the garden is me (and a hose timer). I think between use of drip irrigation and/or wicking beds irrigation during the summer won’t be an issue. But I don’t want to be harvesting crops during the summer.

I’m looking for your suggestions of fruit trees/bushes and vegetables that are harvested in the fall/winter/spring. Additionally, any “no-maintenance” crops that could be useful for summer. Students always talk about pumpkins. Maybe plant pumpkins before school gets out and harvest when students return?

BTW - the other issue is pest control. We use IPM and getting approval to use any sort of pesticide (even organic) can be tricky. So while I love cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, etc, but I’ve found the pest pressure (aphids and cabbage worms) to be too much to handle just squishing bugs.

Initial Ideas:

  • Pomegranate
    • Hoku Botan
    • Eversweet
  • Persimmon
  • Feijoa
  • Citrus
    • Finger lime
    • Seedless Owari Satsuma Mandarin
  • Figs (don’t worry, I’ll eat any breba crop) ;-}
  • Apples
    • White Winter Pearmain?
  • Pears (aren’t pears for your heirs? I want something kids can try while I’m still alive)
    • Hood
  • Bananas?


  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Pac Choy
  • Horseradish
  • Beets
  • Peas
  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Onions
  • Egyptian Walking Onions
  • Garlic


  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Chives
  • Lemon Grass
  • Tea


  • Nasturtiums

Any suggestions of other potential crops?



Eversweet has non-staining juice.

Seedless Owari Satsuma Mandarin

White Winter Pearmain



How about summer garden camp for enthusiastic kids? I am not sure how it can be accomplished, but it is not bad idea to run by administration.

A summer garden opportunity for enthusiastic kids is a great idea once we’re established (I think)

When I was a kid I was always amazed that onions formed bulbs! Can you plant sweets in the late summer/early fall and harvest in the springs? How about garlic?

I don’t know your zone at all, but wouldn’t you be able to overwinter quite a few greens? Check Fedco for Asian greens. Here in Montana I like their You Mai Tsai (sword leaf lettuce), Lady Murasaki (spinachy), Early Mizuna (mustard greens, I think), and Shuko Pac Choy.

Are soft fruits out of the question? Things that come into bearing quickly (and can be harvested at the right time) would be neat.

Good luck- it’s a great (also ambitious) project!

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I completely forgot about garlic and onions.

What soft fruits are you thinking about?

Sounds like an awesome project - good for you for getting it going!

To be honest, I don’t know that much about gardening, and I know significantly less about gardening in zone 9. That being said, it sure is fun to think about this time of year up here in zone 5!

In that spirit, here are a few ideas, for whatever they may be worth.

  1. I know that Fedco has a seed collection that they put together for gardening with children. According to their catalog, it includes “Mammoth sunflower, Scarlet Runner bean, Calico popcorn, large pumpkin, purple or red carrots, gourd mix and nasturtiums.” I don’t know whether their selections would be suitable for growing where you are or in your specific situation, but something like that might be a helpful starting point for ideas. They also have other collections that might be worth checking out.
  1. For both practical and educational purposes, it seems like it would be great to include things that require relatively water and care during the summer months. Again, this is something that I’m very, very far from being an expert in, but my understanding is that there are a number of perennial herbs that do well in hot, dry, conditions and in relatively poor soil, and I’m guessing that some would likely stay green through the winter where you are. Including them in your garden would give your students an opportunity to learn about perennial vs. annual plants and also about different methods of propagation (taking cuttings vs. planting seeds). And some of the herbs I’m thinking of - like thyme - are popular with pollinators and other beneficial insects, so that could have both practical and educational value, too. Also, including some perennials could help to keep the garden looking good in the off-season, so to speak.

  2. On the hot, dry, low-maintenance front, I wonder if this might be a situation where @jujubemulberry might have something to suggest?


Soft fruits? I don’t know what works in your time frame in your area, But can you could grow strawberries or some kind of bramble?

Anything that the kids can just grab and gobble (now there’s a term I ought to copyright and keep from merchandisers!) for instant gratification (after just a few months of your diligence and hard work) would be great, I imagine.

of course! :blush:

would suggest persian and pakistan mulbs. As for jujus, it is a school so should take into consideration the liability involved with growing thorny plants. Sherwood and sihong are the least spiny among the superb jujube cultivars.

Pomegranates have pretty serious spines, would not be good with children running around.

I would suggest feijoas, they are completely care free for me for most of the year — no sprays, no nets, just collect the ripe fruit every other day during the harvest season and that’s it. They ripen from mid-October to late December for me (depending on the variety; each variety ripens over about two-three weeks period). The fruit is relatively easy to eat, no stains.

Loquats can work well if fireblight is not an issue in that area.

Mulberries are staining, can result in ruined clothes and unhappy parents.


moringa, egyptian spinach(aka jews mallow), tree collards, lemon grass would fit the bill for zero pesticide vegie-growing at 9b.

jujubes and mulberries need zero pesticides and little maintenance, and feijoas as mentioned by @Stan are zero pesticides and hardly any maintenance as well. Feijoa petals are also good-eating straight off the tree, which adds novelty to the fruit-growing experience, especially for kids nowadays who are absolutely clueless about fruits/vegies.

that can be a problem i agree. But those kids need their anthocyanins lol

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Perhaps “White Pakistan” mulberry? It also should be less attractive to birds.

that would be a great option. Even the red pakistan is relatively not as staining , as it is actually more meaty than juicy.

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wow great ideas everyone! feijoas grow great in this area and have beautiful flowers.

My only worry about strawberries is pilfering by wild beasts (i.e. the students). I fear the students doing the work might not ever get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

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How about dry beans? The range of seed coat colors/designs are a hit (connect with a local seed saver and get a variety), fun to grow, flexible as to harvest time, seed can be saved and planted next year, and maybe the school cooks could add some to a special soup. Your climate is very different than mine so I’m just guessing that the timing might work.

Many older varieties have good stories attached which can add an extra bit of interest. Especially if there’s a local connection. Winter squash comes in a lot of fun shapes, sizes, colors - and not much care as they grow, though they do take quite a bit of space. Can eat and save seed, too. Peppers?

Sounds like a great project. Lot of work and a lot of satisfaction. I bet you could get help from some local gardeners should you want. Sue

I’ve been watching school gardens in our district 17 years, very few of them are a long term success. They start out with great fanfare but then peter out after it becomes apparent how much work they are without pesticides and herbicides.

Your main adversary will be weeds and bugs, especially the Bermuda grass. There’s a reason they use it on your playfield, it’s because the roots go three to six feet deep. During construction projects we shut the irrigation off and drive trucks over it all summer until the grass is ground down to powder. But once the irrigation comes back on it is six inches tall again in a few weeks and we have trouble mowing it. It will do the same thing in your garden bed when you pull it out by hand and leave the roots. Without glyphosate it will be a losing battle, you can’t pull the stuff out fast enough and it will quickly choke your veggies.

We’ve planted both apple and citrus at schools, not many people know how to care for them and the fruit mostly falls on the ground unpicked and rots, rootstock suckers overtake the citrus trees, and sunburn kills the apple trunks. M&O won’t lift a finger to help prune them or take care of them, it will be all on you.

I’d stick to crops that come to bear quickly and heavily and can stand no care over the summer. Sweet potatoes come to mind as the foliage chokes out weeds and the tubers are safe from thieves. Pumpkins work because the fruits are hidden until harvest, you will have aphids and mildew galore however.

I assume that your school is out for June, July and August, and that you probably want some educational value here watching plants / fruit mature. Therefore things that ripen in say September, would provide little educational value. With that in mind and the fact that you are in 9b, I would lean towards things that require little care, and that tend to ripen November through May and things that have dynamic amounts of growth.

A few that come to mind are Bananas, once established in 9b they should require little care beyond watering and fertilizing, they grow at an incredible rate, so changes should be visible to the kids month to month, maybe even week to week with growth on the order of a foot of height per month.

Citrus is also good, with ripening dates ranging from October - May depending on the variety, pick something that is locally appropriate, though be aware of citrus greening disease as a potential long term issue in many citrus growing regions.

Another fast growing, hard to kill option that just need water and fertilizer would be thornless blackberries, though you would need to pick one of the earlier harvest varieties to get the harvest in before the end of the school year, perhaps a Floricane crop on a primocane fruiting blackberry like Prime Ark Traveler (the earliest fruiting variety that I grow, which starts to ripens around the first of May here on the 8b/9a line in Louisiana).

I would concentrate on vegetables that can be grown and picked early before the children can be out of school for the summer. Something that they can actually see growing and producing something they can grow and eat at home. Give them the idea of doing it at home perhaps in that summer to try or the next year while they are still at home and in later years when they can grow something at their own home. Children like seeing things grow. especially if they have never seen anything like that before.

I might be able to use glyphosate - the school currently uses it on campus. I assume that I could eventually get approval for horticultural oil and horticultural soap as they are pretty low risk.

The plan is to do all the growing in raised beds. There is absolutely nothing growing in the dirt area right now - it hasn’t been watered (except for rain) in years.