Setting up and running a school garden - Teaching ToolKit

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To analyse gardening needs:

  1. Tools and equipment
  2. Water management

For understanding whats going on:

  1. Preparing the site
  2. Protecting the garden

For planning and laying out the garden:

  1. Garden layout
  2. Garden beds




These lessons enable learners to take stock.

Learners may not do the heavier work of preparing the site (e.g. ploughing, laying pipes, fencing), but they should help if they can. Lesson 1 is a preliminary check on learners knowledge of garden tools and how to care for them. Lessons 2 to 5 help them to understand what is going on through observation, enquiry and activity, and to take part in decisions.

There is plenty more for learners to do before planting begins. Compost-making should be continuing. The clearing of the site is also a good time to start collecting mulching material - dry grass, weeds, straw, leaves which will be needed throughout the gardening season.


Learners quickly pick up the use of garden tools by imitation and demonstration. It is good to make sure that everyone uses the same names and that learners develop good routines for caring for and storing equipment.



- recognize common gardening tools and can show how to use them
- care for tools properly, take safety precautions, and can tell others what to do
- decide how to implement garden rules
- (for older learners) identify high-quality tools and know what they cost.


- garden tools and equipment, or the pictures in the Guides (A and B).


Learners find out what gardening tools/equipment they have at home, their names and how they are used. They should come to the lesson prepared to demonstrate how to use some of them.


1. Lead-in Learners say what tools and equipment they have found at home and agree on what they are called. If necessary use Guide A to identify the items.

2. Using tools Take the class outside or bring tools into the classroom. If there are no tools yet, learners find and name all tools in Guide A. For each one, discuss and demonstrate:

a) What is it for? Who can show us how to use it?

b) How should we leave it so it wont be dangerous?
(e.g. Leave hoes/rakes with "head in air".) Show us what could happen if you dont do this! (Stage some fake accidents.)

c) How do you stop it getting rusty? (Keep tools out of the rain in a shed or under house; trowels/forks in a bucket of sand; barrows/buckets upside down so they dont collect water.)

d) What do you do when you have finished using it? (Clean it, then put it back.)

e) Where does it go?
(Establish a clear "home" for every item.)

3. Code of conduct

a) Learners suggest some good gardening rules or a "code of conduct" for tools and equipment e.g. Clean it! Put it back! Stand rakes up! They decide if they can remember them or if they need to write them up.

b) Learners discuss and decide if they want a Tool Monitor for garden sessions, to check everything is in order. If they do, get nominations.

c) Absent learners also need to know the rules. Who will tell them? Ask for volunteers to brief absentees.

4. Buying equipment (for older learners) If equipment is to be purchased, older learners can help.

a) Learners make an inventory of items already in the school, and a list of the items needed. They file the inventory in the Garden File.

b) Teams each research one item needed, asking: What exactly do we want? Where can we get it? Is it good quality? What does it cost? What is the best buy? Do we get a handle with it? Advise learners to try tools for weight and to look for well-known brands, strong rust-free metal (no cracks, doesnt bend), easy-to-sharpen blades, re-usable trays, V-shaped joints where the handle joins the metal etc.

c) Learners look at two or three products and present their findings before recommending a purchase.


1. Code of conduct Learners write up the code of conduct and display it. Ask them to remind each other of the rules/code of conduct.

2. Routines Allow five minutes at the end of each garden lesson for clearing up tools and putting them back.


Technology Quality tools

Life skills Rules and responsibilities


Find and name all the tools and equipment.


Homemade wheelbarrow

Watering can from a plastic bottle

Simple instrument for marking channels for seeds

Shovel made from a plastic bottle

Baskets made from old tyres


This lesson is for areas where water is a problem. Children cannot themselves do much about the supply, but they should understand the need to conserve water and how it can be done, and if possible take some ideas home to their families. The whole lesson can be done in the school grounds. Watering plants is covered in Lesson F5 Watering (2)




- know various sources of gardening water
- appreciate the need to conserve water and have some ideas how to do it
- (older learners) can assess some irrigation systems for cheapness, labour-saving and effectiveness.


- Learners prepare by finding out where school garden water comes from and inspecting the equipment (e.g. taps, pumps, pipes, tanks, well, oil drum with rainwater).
- Before the class the school janitor gives a guided tour of the water system (if possible).
- Older learners can research local irrigation systems to see how many different ways there are of getting water to plants.


Write up the following questions and discuss them. Questions in brackets are for older learners.

1. Where does our school garden water come from? How does it get to the school? (What equipment is used?)

2. (Is the supply reliable? Does the equipment need maintaining? Who maintains it? What does maintenance cost?) If possible, invite the janitor/head teacher to be interviewed by the learners on these questions, and to say if there are any plans for developing the school water supply.

3. Could we get water from anywhere else? (Can we get more water if we need it?) Learners should be aware of the possibilities of rainwater harvesting, making ponds, and using "grey water" from washing and cooking. Older learners can find alternative sources of water in Guide B and discuss their feasibility in their own situation.

4. (How much water do we need for our garden every day? Will we have enough all the year?) A garden of 25m2 needs about 40 litres a day. Older learners can work out what their own garden needs. They may also need to decide if they plan to grow crops in part of the dry season.

5. How can we use less water? Some ideas are mulching, composting, drip irrigation see Guide B. Older learners can explain how these methods save water (e.g. by trapping water, preventing evaporation, keeping water in the soil).

6. How will we get the water to the plants? Younger learners can suggest the most obvious ways (hosepipe, watering can, bucket). Older learners can say what they have found out about local irrigation systems. Discuss which ways are cheapest, most labour-saving and most effective in conserving water (e.g. sprinkler systems are very wasteful).


1. Family angle Learners select and copy one of the questions to discuss with their families.

2. Waterworks If any works are done in the school (e.g. pipe-laying, sinking a well), learners question the workmen and record the works in writing or drawings.

3. Map Learners make a map showing the source of the water supply, or draw the irrigation system.

4. Guided tour The class takes a tour of the water system. Older learners then give the same tour to younger learners in pairs.


Environment Water supply

Technology Pumps

Science Evaporation


Do we have a lot of water? Then we should try some of these:



Dig holes and canals to drain water.

Add compost to drain clay soil.

Grow plants that love water.



Protect young plants from heavy rain.

Grow plants on trellises and use containers.

Dont mulch too much.


Do you have very little water? Then try some of these:

Use "grey water" from washing.

Harvest rainwater.

Grow crops near the water.

Prevent run-off: put beds across slopes and build up edges.

Water conservatively. DONT use a sprinkler.

Use a lot of compost and mulch.

Provide shade for young plants.

Remove competitive weeds, which steal water.

Grow dry-climate crops, e.g. eggplant, sweet-potato, mango, mung bean, groundnut, okra.



Learners may not be able to carry out major site preparation operations (e.g. uprooting trees, clearing rocks, laying pipes, ploughing), but they should understand what is being done and why, and be able to explain it to others. This lesson can be done on the site, before or during site preparation.



- have a clear picture of the garden site
- recognize what the garden site needs
(e.g. clearance, soil, water, protection)
- can interpret site preparation activities.


- camera and compass if possible


Before the lesson, learners observe the garden site closely, including

- the main features (buildings, rocks, bushes)
- the plants, contours (bushes, slopes, bumps)
- the facilities (e.g. tap, tank, shed).

Older learners measure the site exactly, work out the compass points and take photographs if possible.


1. Lead-in Walk round the garden site. Learners point out and describe what they have observed.

2. What needs doing? Discuss any of the questions below, recalling previous lessons on soil, water, compost and what plants like.

Is there any rubbish? What should we do with it?

If it is organic, put it on the compost heap. If not, think how it can be used. If it is useless, bury, or throw it away.

What do we do about bumps/ hollows/ slopes?

Turn a dip into a pond or ditch; level out bumps when ploughing; make a terrace; grow trees on slopes.

Do we need fences/hedges/walls?

Where? What for? How many metres?

See Lesson C4 Protecting the garden for ideas.

Are there any trees? What do we do with them?

Keep some for shade, fuel, stakes, improving the soil; use for studying, eating, hanging a swing, sheltering compost.

Are there any bushes? Can we use them?

If not, what do we do?

Cut them back or root them out; keep some for hedges, for flowers and as homes for good insects.

What about grass/weeds? They are competition but they hold the earth in place and provide a home for insects.

Cut long grass, pull weeds, dig them in, use for compost. Leave some patches of grass and weeds for good insects.

Is there a good water supply?

Recap conclusions of Lesson C2 Water management.

Are there rocks, stones or anthills?

What do we do with them?

Use stones for borders and paths; leave some large rocks to sit on or play on; anthills make good topsoil.


1. Records Older learners make a labelled drawing of the site, draw a scale plan, or describe it in writing (see Guide B). Learners choose the best and use them in presentations, appeals, posters, reports and the Garden File.

2. Tell the family Learners describe the site to their families and explain what needs doing, or give them a guided tour.

3. Helping and observing Learners help with site preparation, including recording the works in drawings, writing or photos.


Maths/Technical Drawing Drawing a scale plan



Draw, measure, take photos, make maps.


Take three samples of topsoil and subsoil.



Use grass and weeds for compost.


Dig once only, when soil is not too wet or dry.



Work compost into the top 25 cm.
Water well.
Add lime for acid soil.



Protecting the garden against animal predators is an exciting area of action, if it is presented as a battle of wits against cunning opponents. Learners can usually help with making fences and hedges and can protect plants in many small ways. Local knowledge and practice should be gathered and valued.



- recognize the main predators
- know some ways of protecting the garden against them.


Before the lesson, learners find out what local animals eat garden plants.


1. Lead-in Learners say what they have found out about animals (including birds) which eat garden plants. Write them all up. Introduce the word PREDATORS and write it at the top.

2. The Story
(For younger learners) Tell the story
The Three Little Predators. Change the details (e.g. crops, predators) to fit your own context. Change names to local names, but keep two boys and one girl. Start by drawing a picture of the house (with eating place, garden and grandmother). As the story goes on, draw the plants, predators etc. or ask learners to do this.
(For older learners) On the board, draw a few plants on the board and one local animal predator (or ask the class artist to do this). Explain what happens e.g. Chickens scratch up seeds and eat young plants. We can stop them by putting fences, sticks or thorns round the plants. Learners tell about other local predators, what they do and how they can be stopped. As they are mentioned, draw them around the plants, or ask learners to do this.

3. Discuss and decide how to protect the garden as a whole (e.g. with fences, walls, hedges). Use the Guide to help.


1. Story illustration Younger learners illustrate the story or present it as a play to families or other classes.

2. Observing and recording Learners help with any work done on hedges, fences etc. and document it

3. Pest patrol While the plants are growing, checking for predators should be part of the Pest Patrol (see Lesson F7 Keeping the garden healthy).

4. Protection Project Older learners research local methods of protecting crops by talking to farmers and smallholders, and produce a handmade booklet.

They can complete this table for each predator:

(e.g. animals, birds, people)


What does it eat?
(e.g. root crops, young plants, pods, fruit, seeds, grains)


What can it do?
(e.g. fly, burrow, dig, climb,jump, crawl, hop)


How can we stop it?
(e.g. wall/fence/hedge/nets/scarers)


What does it cost?
(e.g. in time, money, work)


N.B. Local research of this kind may produce findings of real value and should be taken seriously. Share useful findings with other schools and local gardening groups.


Drama Making a play

Technology Walls and fences

Literature Walls, fences and hedges in history, myth and the imagination


Peter, Ellen and John lived in a small house with Grandma. They wanted to grow some delicious food to eat. They prepared a rich comfortable garden bed, dark and crumbly and damp. Then they planted their crops.

Peter planted sweet corn. He made a long furrow in the soil. He put in a little compost and he dropped in ten corn seeds one by one and covered them with soil. As he was watering them, Master Goat ambled up. He was thin and brown and friendly. He sniffed the ground.

"Hullo Peter, what are you doing?" he said.

"Hullo, Master Goat. Im planting some sweet corn."

"Now why are you doing that, Peter?"

"Sweet corn gives us lots of energy to run and play. And its very good to eat."

"Oh, I do agree, Peter, I do agree. I like a little young sweet corn myself. When will it be ready?" And Master Goat ambled away.

Peter went to Grandma. "Grandma," he said, "I think Master Goat is going to eat our sweet corn. But its not his sweet corn, its ours. How can we stop him?"

"Come with me!" said Grandma. "To keep out Master Goat we need a very good fence. He can dig and he can run and jump and climb a little, but he cant fly. And he doesnt like thorns." So Peter and his grandma built a strong thorny fence all round the sweet corn, to keep it safe.

Ellen planted beans. She put up some long thin stakes, three sets of three, and tied them round with strong grass to make a teepee. At the foot of each stake she made a little hole, and put in a little compost. In each hole she put two browny-red beans and covered them with soil. Then she watered them. As she was doing this, Miss Hen strutted up. She was brown and feathery and fussy. She scratched the soil and pecked it with her red beak.

"Hullo Ellen, what are you doing?" she said.

"Hullo, Miss Hen. Im planting some beans."

"Now why are you doing that, Ellen?"

"Beans help us grow. And they are very good to eat."

"Oh, I do agree, Ellen, I do agree. And there are some good red beans in the ground there. I think I will come scratching here tomorrow." And Miss Hen strutted away.

Ellen went to Grandma. "Grandma," she said, "Miss Hen is going to scratch up all my beans tomorrow. They are not her beans, they are ours. How can we stop her?"

"Come with me!" said Grandma. "To keep out Miss Hen we need some sticks. She pecks and scratches everywhere but shes not very strong." And she showed Ellen how to make a little fence of bamboo sticks around each bean teepee, to keep the beans safe while they were growing.

John was growing tomatoes. He had planted the seeds in a tray. Now he had some tender little seedlings. He made little holes and put a plant in each one, with some of its own soil. He pressed the soil down, then he watered the soil very gently around the seedlings. It was nearly dark when he finished. Just then, Mr Slug came creeping along. He was black and slimy and slow. He was chewing on a leaf.

"Hullo John, what are you doing?" he said softly, in his tiny voice.

"Hullo, Mr Slug. Im planting some tomatoes."

"Now why are you doing that, John?"

"Tomatoes make us healthy. And they are very good to eat."

"Oh, I do agree, John, I do agree. And your tomatoes are so young and tender. Young tomatoes are just my thing. I will come back tonight."And Mr Slug crept slowly away.

John went to Grandma. "Grandma," he said, "Mr Slug is going to eat the tomatoes tonight! They are our tomatoes, not his. How can we stop him?"

Grandma was stirring a cooking pot for the evening meal. She bent down and scraped up some ash from around the fire. "Come with me!" she said. "Mr Slug works hard but hes very slow, and he doesnt like dry things." She and John made circles of ash round the tomato plants to keep them safe.

Mr Slug came back that night, but he got stuck on the ash and had to go away. Miss Hen came back the next day and pecked and scratched, but the sticks were in her way. Master Goat came back when the corn cobs were young and green, but he couldnt get through the thorn hedge. None of them managed to eat the crops.

When the corn and the beans and the tomatoes were ripe, Peter and Ellen and John cooked them all together with some oil and salt and spinach and had a great feast with Grandma.



A lot of work, but strong and permanent Need maintenance.
Brick, concrete, stone, rammed earth




Effective but often expensive
Brushwood, wattle, bamboo, wire and electric fences
Some keep out chickens, some keep out burrowers,
some keep out big animals.



Slow to grow but cheap. Prevent erosion.
Big dense hedges keep out big animals.
Food hedgerows give food and fodder as well.




Nets protect plants from birds and insects.
Scarecrows keep away birds and are fun to make.
Shiny things or plastic strips also scare birds away.



Mini-fences protect single plants.
Earth blocks stop diggers.
Coverings keep chickens away.



This lesson opens up the range of possibilities for the garden and involves learners in planning paths and garden beds.



- recognize the range of possible garden activities
- recognize essential elements of the garden layout (e.g. paths, beds, shed, compost, signs)
- contribute to garden layout planning.


For older learners:

- a site map
- tape measures, pegs and string OR sticks OR pebbles OR old tin cans


For older learners, prepare, or have learners prepare, a sketch map of the site (see e.g. Lesson C3 Guide B).


1. Lead-in Learners look at the pictures in Guide A and say what they see in each garden and what is happening. Discuss which things they would like to have in their garden (e.g. plots, paths, signposts, flowers, plant nursery). Older learners can make a list of desirable features. Explain that today we will look just at beds and paths.

2. Site inspection and discussion Go outside and inspect the site with beds and paths in mind. With older learners, refer to the site map. Discuss relevant questions e.g.

a) Beds

How many are needed? (e.g. one for each group/class?)

Is there a slope? (Beds should go across a steep slope, so they collect rain, and down a slight slope in order to drain off water).

How big should a bed be? (A bed should be wide enough to reach to the centre without standing on it. Learners work this out for themselves by squatting or kneeling on each side and seeing if they can touch hands easily across the bed.)

b) Paths

Where should they be? (Paths should be round beds and wherever there is a path already).

How wide? (Paths should be wide enough for a wheelbarrow or for carrying buckets - learners try this out for themselves.)

3. Organizing garden work (for older learners) Show learners how to mark out the site (e.g. pegs and string, pebbles, sticks, old tin cans upside down). Allocate tasks to groups, including final measurements, records and journal.


1. Choosing beds If groups are to have their own garden beds, they should choose them now, find names for them and plan a sign to stick in the bed.

2. Garden Plan Older learners finalize and copy garden plans to go into the Garden File or on display. They explain the garden plan to families at home.

3. Signs Learners make signs and labels for the garden (see Guide B below).


Maths/Technical Drawing Measuring, making scale drawings, calculating angles and right-angles, creating parallel lines for beds/paths


What have these gardens got? What are people doing there?

How are they different? Are there any things here that you would like in your school garden?



Some garden signs and labels which are cheap, weatherproof and durable.

Poker work burn writing into wood or horn with a blowtorch or hot poker.

Protect permanent wooden signs with preservative.


Tie sticks together to make letters.

Dip them in paraffin to keep off insects.


Use oil paint on flat stones, horn and bone, aluminium, plastic, wood, gourds and calabashes.


Cloth is good for banners.


String and rope also make letters.


Small stones with individual letters can be used again.




Learners may not make the beds themselves, but they can help. They should also know what kind of beds the school garden has and why, and how to treat them. This lesson concentrates on permanent raised beds. It should be carried out when the beds are about to be created. It is done in the garden, but on a very small scale.



- understand how garden beds provide what plants need
- can describe/explain the kind of beds adopted by the school and how they are made
- learn not to walk on raised beds, and why not.


- a small patch of ground for demonstration (about 50cm x 25cm)
- compost
- water
- string, pegs, spade or trowel, rake
- a few small live plants with roots, preferably in their own soil


Before the lesson, learners study a vegetable patch in their neighbourhood. Is it above the ground / below ground / at ground level? Are there paths around it?


1. Lead-in Learners report on garden beds they have seen, especially whether they are raised or flat, and whether they have paths around them.

2. Review previous learning Recall Lesson A2

What plants like: soft rich crumbly soil with (a) lots of organic matter/humus, (b) lots of life and activity, (c) room for air and water, (d) no competition. Recall lessons on soil and the idea of rich topsoil and less fertile subsoil.

3. Demonstration Explain that we are going to make a bed which will be a good healthy home for our plants. Give a demonstration following the outline on the next page.

4. Practice If there is time, learners repeat the demonstration in groups with other miniature plots. This will show if they have understood, and will help them to talk about it outside class.


1. Making beds Learners help to make full-size raised beds, explaining what is done and why. Younger ones can carry compost; older learners can help with digging and carrying soil.

2. Showing the family Learners repeat the demonstration at home for their families.

3. Cross-section Older learners draw a cross-section of the soil to show how raised beds are made, and describe the process in writing.



Learners should have ready the compost, water and the small plants. Explain that we are going to make a "baby bed", just for demonstration. Agree on the size. As you show how to make the bed, call on learners to help, observe and interpret.

With learners help, mark out the new "bed" (about 50 cm x 25 cm) and the paths around it with sticks and string.

Lift the topsoil off the "bed". Learners describe the topsoil (soft, crumbly, full of life) and the subsoil (hard and dense).

Dig over the "bed" about 40 cm deep. Explain that this lets in air and water. It should only be done once.

Learners add compost to the bed and water it, explaining why this is good.

Put back the topsoil. Discuss where we can get more topsoil e.g. from the paths.

Add the topsoil from the paths to the bed, so the bed is now raised.

Learners flatten the bed with a rake.

Ask: Do we need to dig the paths? (no, paths are for walking, not for growing)
Why is this bed good for plants? (rich, damp, full of life, room to grow)
Why is a raised bed good? (water drains out, easy to work with)

Prepare the ground for the small plants.

Learners plant the small plants and water them.

Discuss why one should not walk or lean on the bed (it makes the earth hard for the roots and for the animals in the soil; it squeezes the air out).

Arrange who will look after the plants and monitor their growth.



Mark out beds.

Dig over beds only.

Add compost/manure/organic material (30 cm). Water and put back soil.

Add topsoil from the paths.

Flatten the top of the bed.

Dont walk or kneel on it
and squash the soil.

"Minimum tillage"

Protect soil structure.
Add compost and mulch
but never dig again.

Plant densely.
Keeps down weeds.
Conserves moisture.

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