Get Expert Answers to Your Gardening Questions

We get asked a lot of questions here at Grow to Learn about a whole host of topics. We’ve compiled the most frequently asked questions into themes for ease-of-viewing. If you don’t see the answers you’re looking for, send us your questions. We’ll pass them along to our gardening experts and get you a prompt, direct reply. In addition, we’ll post your Q & A right here on growtolearn.org! Click on the questions below to discover the answers.

Q&A

Q: What type of soil should we get?

What type of soil you choose will depend on what type of garden you have at your school. Most schools are likely growing in some kind of container (pots, raised beds, etc.) on the ground. Much of the soil already on the ground in New York City contains unsafe levels of lead and other contaminants, which can make working in the soil or eating plants grown in the soil dangerous. Grow to Learn encourages schools to grow edible and ornamental crops in raised beds with new​soil in order to prevent inhaling or ingesting contaminated soil. There are several options for schools for soil: if your garden is registered with Grow to Learn, you can request soil for free through GreenThumb by attending Grow to Learn or GreenThumb workshops that explicitly say they will offer soil request forms in the event’s description. Please note that free soil deliveries from GreenThumb can take between 4­6 months to be delivered, and are delivered on a first­come, first­served basis. If you’re purchasing soil, there are many retailers that offer bagged soil. You’ll want to look for bags that explicitly say “topsoil” ­­ not “potting soil” or “potting mix.” You can purchase soil through big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes, just be aware that the quality of soil can vary drastically by company. Even recognizable names like Miracle Grow and Scotts don’t always provide the best quality soil for growing edible plants. Depending on where you purchase your soil, it isn’t a bad idea to amend your soil by adding compost, either by mixing the compost into your soil, or by “top dressing” (sprinkling the compost on top). Long Island Compost Corp. has great topsoil ($3/bag) and compost ($7/bag); you can purchase it at   Urban Garden Center in Harlem , which offers a discount to school gardeners, and delivers across the city for a fee.

If you have a rooftop garden, you’ll need a lightweight, rooftop soil mix (for more information about regulations and procedure for starting a rooftop garden at a DOE­owned building, see the DOE Office of Sustainability’s Green Roof Guide [hyperlink to pdf]). If you’re using sub­irrigated planters, you’ll need a lightweight soil mix (we recommend half potting soil and half compost); you can learn more about sub­irrigated planters here [hyperlink to SIP pdf]. Regardless of where you get your soil, take a look at its texture. Soil with large, undecomposed organic matter may need to be sifted, as plants will have a difficult time growing in soil mixed with mulch, wood, or undecomposed matter.

Q: I’ve never gardened before ­ what should we plant?

What to plant all depends on what type of garden you’d like to have, and who will be using it! A sensory garden for kindergarten students may be very different than a school garden that supports a food justice curriculum for high schoolers. That being said, there are many crops that make sense for a first­time gardener because they are easy to grow, quick to harvest, and fit nicely within the school year. See the list below:

  • Baby greens: Baby greens are a quick, delicious, and nutritious crop. With some varieties ready to harvest after just 28 days, you may be able to enjoy multiple harvests before the school year is over, before Winter sets in for a Fall planting. Check out Grow to Learn’s Field of Greens [hyperlink to pdf] guide for more information on varieties and planting technique.
  • Radish: Another quick­to­mature crop, radishes can be harvested about a month after planting, and are cold hardy so can be planted early in the Spring, or in late Summer/early Fall for a Fall harvest. The radish is also a great value, as all parts of the radish are edible ­ root, leaves, stem, and flowers. What’s more, radishes come in lots of fun varieties (Easter Egg, Watermelon, Nero) which can get students excited about planting and pulling them!
  • Garlic: A plant­it­and­forget­it favorite, garlic can go into the ground at the end of the Fall (in November or so). Leave the bulb alone over the Winter and Spring, and be ready to harvest garlic scapes (edible flower stalk and flower bud) as early as may. “Young” garlic (less pungent) can be harvested as early as June, or the mature garlic bulb can be harvested in July or August. For more information on planting and harvesting garlic, check out the New York Botanical Garden’s Garlic Primer. [hyperlink to pdf]
  • Pea shoots: A fun, fast harvest for indoors or out! Plant pea seeds and harvest the baby shoots to use in stir fry, a delicious salad, or even just to observe and track plant growth with your students. You can try other plants often grown for shoots, too, like sunflower, corn, and nasturtium.
  • “Quick Harvest” varieties: Some crops have varieties cultivated for quick harvests, between 50 and 60 days. Mexican sour gherkins, miniature cucumbers, sun gold tomatoes, raja eggplants, and many varieties of sunflowers all have quicker harvests which may fit into the school year before school closes for the summer.
  • Edible flowers: Growing edible flowers is a fun and unusual way to get students’ attention. Flowers like borage, nasturtium, and pansies are all good candidates. Another benefit: flowers in your garden will attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
  • Wildflowers: A bed of low­maintenance wildflowers is a wonderful addition to a vegetable garden or a vibrant learning garden all on its own! These flowers attract  bees, ladybugs, and other beneficial insects, providing food and shelter for the “good guys” in the garden! Including annual and perennial species native and/or naturalized to the northeast United States, wildflower mixes are adapted to the New York climate and require less maintenance than many edible crops. Wildflower plantings typically need no extra fertilizer and little or no supplemental watering after germination – making them a great choice for busy school gardeners and schools without summer programming. See Grow to Learn’s Insect Invitation Guide [hyperlink to pdf]

Q: How much sunlight does our garden need?

How much sunlight your garden needs depends on what you’re planning to grow. Leafy greens like lettuce and kale will do fine in a garden that receives 4­6 hours of sunlight per day. Warm season crops (like tomatoes, eggplants, pumpkins, etc.) need 6­8+ hours per day.

Before deciding what crops to grow, conduct a sun study of the site you’re considering ­­ or have your students do it! Check the site every hour throughout the day to find out how many hours of sun it receives. Suncalc is an online tool you may find useful in addition to

observation, as it can help show the sun’s path at different times of the year. Most seed packs include the hours of light/day the plant will need, so you will be able to judge a plant’s suitability for your garden space based on that information.

Q: What can I grow in the Spring before school gets out?

There are many crops that make sense for a quick Spring planting because they are easy to grow, quick to harvest, and fit nicely within the school year. See the list below:

  • Baby greens: Baby greens are a quick, delicious, and nutritious crop. With some varieties ready to harvest after just 28 days, you may be able to enjoy multiple harvests before the school year is over. Check out Grow to Learn’s Field of Greens [hyperlink to pdf] guide for more information on varieties and planting technique.
  • Radish: Another quick­to­mature crop, radishes can be harvested about a month after planting, and are cold hardy so can be planted early in the Spring. What’s more, radishes come in lots of fun varieties (Easter Egg, Watermelon, Nero) which can get students excited about planting and pulling them!
  • Pea shoots: A fun, fast harvest for indoors or out! Plant pea seeds and harvest the baby shoots to use in stir fry, a delicious salad, or even just to observe and track plant growth with your students.
  • Peas: Peas can be planted as soon as the soil is workable, and will produce continuous harvests until the weather gets warm.
  • “Quick Harvest” varieties: Some crops have varieties cultivated for quick harvests, between 50 and 60 days. Mexican sour gherkins, miniature cucumbers, sun gold tomatoes, raja eggplants, and many varieties of sunflowers all have quicker harvests which may fit into the school year before school closes for the summer.
  • Edible flowers: Growing edible flowers is a fun and unusual way to get students’ attention. Flowers like borage, nasturtium, and pansies are all good candidates. Another benefit: flowers in your garden will attract beneficial insects and pollinators.
  • Wildflowers: A bed of low­maintenance wildflowers is a wonderful addition to a vegetable garden or a vibrant learning garden all on its own! These flowers attract bees, ladybugs, and other beneficial insects, providing food and shelter for the “good guys” in the garden! Including annual and perennial species native and/or naturalized to the northeast United States, wildflower mixes are adapted to the New York climate and require less maintenance than many edible crops. Wildflower plantings typically need no extra fertilizer and little or no supplemental watering after germination – making them a great choice for busy school gardeners and schools without summer programming. See Grow to Learn’s Insect Invitation Guide [hyperlink to pdf]

Q: What can I grow in the Fall before it gets too cold?

There are many crops that make sense for a quick Fall planting because they are easy to grow, quick to harvest, and cold­hardy. See the list below:

  • Baby greens: Baby greens are a quick, delicious, and nutritious crop. With some varieties ready to harvest after just 28 days, you can plant and enjoy a harvest before Winter sets in. In fact, with even minimal season extension [hyperlink to pdf], you can harvest lettuce into the Winter months. Check out Grow to Learn’s Field of Greens [hyperlink to pdf] guide for more information on varieties and planting technique.
  • Radish: Another quick­to­mature crop, radishes can be harvested about a month after planting, and are cold hardy so can be planted early in the Fall. What’s more, radishes come in lots of fun varieties (Easter Egg, Watermelon, Nero) which can get students excited about planting and pulling them!
  • Pea shoots: A fun, fast harvest for indoors or out! Plant pea seeds and harvest the baby shoots to use in stir fry, a delicious salad, or even just to observe and track plant growth with your students.
  • Garlic: A plant­it­and­forget­it favorite, garlic can go into the ground at the end of the Fall (in November or so). Leave the bulb alone over the Winter and Spring, and be ready to harvest “young” garlic (less pungent) as early as June, and the mature garlic bulb in July or August. For more information on planting and harvesting garlic, check out the New York Botanical Garden’s Garlic Primer. [hyperlink to pdf]
  • Cover Crops: Cover crops are a group of low­maintenance plants that can be grown to improve soil quality, to take productive beds out of cultivation of a season (or a few months ­­ like over the summer), and to be used as a “green manure” (turning the mature plants into the soil so, as they decompose, they add nutrients back into the soil). Common cover crops include hairy vetch, winter rye, crimson clover, and buckwheat. To learn more about cover crops, read the New York Botanical Garden’s guide to cover crops here [link to pdf].

Q: What are summer maintenance options?

Maintaining your school’s garden during the summer months can be a tricky piece of the planning puzzle. Especially in your first few seasons, be realistic about your summer plans, the resources available in your school community, and the time commitment to maintain a garden throughout the summer. Read through the ideas below for summer maintenance options.

  • Just let it be : There’s nothing wrong with letting your garden be for the summer! If you’ll have limited access to the garden site and no volunteers to water over the summer, it might just make the most sense to close your garden up during the summer months. Just cover your garden beds with black plastic or some other covering to keep weeds from growing and producing seeds that will create problems for you in the future. Better yet, plant your beds with summer cover crops to attract beneficial insects, reduce weeds, and give your future crops a boost. See instructions and suggestions for planting cover crops here [hyperlink to pdf].
  • Partner with summer school, a camp, community based organization, or neighborhood group : See if there’s another group who will be in or near your school this summer with whom you could partner to arrange summer watering and maintenance. Summer school classes or a summer camp with a local YMCA might be eager to take on this small outdoor project!
  • Host summer internships : One easy way to make sure your garden is cared for during the summer months is to hire interns. This can take many different forms: some schools have partnered with a nonprofit or community based organization that places interns at summer sites. Some schools have applied for Grow to Learn funding specifically to pay students to serve as interns in the garden over the summer.
  • Have school staff take on summer maintenance : If the teachers, staff, or families at your school are very involved with the school garden, a great way to keep the garden maintained over the summer is to let them take charge of watering, weeding and harvesting during the summer months. Be sure to check with your school’s custodian(s) about access to the garden and water before setting up this summer care arrangement. You may want to set up and use a google calendar to keep track of garden volunteers, or keep a hard copy on paper.

Q: Where should I buy seeds and seedlings?

There are several options for schools to purchase seeds and seedlings. If your school is registered with Grow to Learn, you can receive seeds for free by attending GreenThumb and Grow to Learn’s Seed Giveaway, usually held in late February/early March. If your school is registered with Grow to Learn, you can also receive two flats of seedlings for free by attending GreenThumb and Grow to Learn’s Seedling Giveaway, usually held in May each year.

If you’re purchasing seeds and seedlings, there are many retailers from which to choose. You can purchase seeds at big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes, your local hardware store,and even some supermarkets. Local garden centers like Urban Garden Center, Seasons Nursery, and Brooklyn Plantology also sell seeds and, additionally, may offer a discount to school gardeners. Some additional recommended seed sources are Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Fedco Seeds, and Hudson Valley Seed Library.

As for seedlings, you can buy from big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes, your local hardware store, or your neighborhood Greenmarket . Local garden centers like Urban Garden Center, Seasons Nursery, and Brooklyn Plantology also sell seedlings and, additionally, may offer a discount to school gardeners. The annual GrowNYC Plant Sale takes place in the spring, where you can buy flats of seedlings (40 seedlings per flat) at wholesale prices (about $10 per flat). If you’d like to be added to the GrowNYC Plant Sale mailing list, email greening@grownyc.org.

Q: Can I still have a garden even if I have no outdoor space?

Can I still have a garden even if I have no outdoor space? Yes! Grow to Learn supports schools with gardens of all types. It is certainly possible to garden inside, but there are challenges, especially in a school building (vacations, heating, etc.) Think creatively about the space your school does have: schools have adopted and gardened in tree pits along the perimeter of their school, used hanging containers like Woolly Pockets, rice bags, and soda bottles, to garden on fences, or have partnered with a nearby community garden if there’s no outdoor space at the school itself.

If your school does decide to garden inside, there are a few parameters to keep in mind:

1. Light : when gardening indoors, light is by far the most important (and limited) resource. If you have a sunny window area, start there, keeping in mind that you may still need to supplement with artificial lights. If you don’t have a sunny window, you will definitely need to use artificial lights. Fluorescent, high pressure sodium, and metal halide light bulbs will all work. A great online guide to lights and other indoor gardening considerations can be found here.
2. Temperature: For indoor growing, temperatures around 70°F are best, although plants may be able to tolerate a range of temperatures cooler and warmer than that. Indoor gardening may be a challenge in NYC schools as the heat is often turned off over the weekends and vacations. Finding out if variations in heating at your school have an impact on your indoor garden will most likely be a process of trialanderror.
3. Humidity: Keeping a humid environment for plants grown indoors is important. You can achieve this environment by running a humidifier, or misting your plants with a spray bottle.

 

There are several different options for indoor gardening, although all of them will need to take into account the three areas listed above (temperature, humidity, and light). Indoor options include growing in soil, without soil (called hydroponics), and in a mist (called aeroponics). See the list below for some ideas:

● DIY Options: For schools on a budget, just starting out, or looking to involve students in designing and building an indoor garden, a doityourself (DIY) option for indoor gardening has a lot of benefits!

○ Soil based DIY: You can use containers of various sizes (storage containers,garden pots, recycled containers) under grow lights to grow plants indoors throughout the year.

○ Hydroponics DIY: Window Farms has a vibrant online community with plans and instructions to build a DIY hydroponics setup for relatively little money.You can check out their online community here . There are tons of other instructions online for DIY hydroponics systems, just google “DIY hydroponics” to start browsing!

● Kits/systems: For schools with a bit more of a budget, or less interested in experimenting and building their own system, it is possible to buy indoor gardening kits.

○ Tower Gardens: Many schools are starting to use an “aeroponic” growing system (plants’ roots are misted with a nutrientrich water solution) called Tower Gardens ; purchasing through the following link will send proceeds to Green Bronx Machine: http://lizetteritz.towergarden.com/ . Although there may be a learning curve in terms of maintaining the system, the compact, attractive tower is a great option for schools with no outdoor space.

○ Grow Lab: Gardening with Kids offers a tablebased system for indoor growing called Grow Lab, along with additional accessories. You can see their catalog online here.

Large scale installations : For schools looking for a large scale indoor garden, partnering with a nonprofit partner, like New York Sun Works, may make sense. SunWorks is a nonprofit organization that builds innovative science labs in urban schools. Through their Greenhouse Project Initiative they use hydroponic farming technology to educate students and teachers about the science of sustainability. To learn more about bringing a New York Sun Works Greenhouse to your school, have a look at their Frequently Asked Questions [hyperlink to pdf].

Q: What can we grow that doesn’t need much water?

If you’re concerned about being able to consistently water your garden, you might want to consider making sub-irrigated planters (SIPs) from the start. SIPs collect water in a reservoir beneath the soil in your bed, and roots are able to absorb water as it wicks up through the soil. Because water doesn’t evaporate off the surface of the soil, SIPs are up to 90% more water efficient, meaning that you’ll have to water less and, when you do water, it lasts for longer. To learn more about SIPs, and see plans to how to assemble SIPs of different dimensions, see Grow to Learn’s resources here [link to SIP pdf] and the blog InsideUrbanGreen . That being said, there are some crops that are less water-intensive than others:
● Wildflowers : A bed of low maintenance wildflowers is a wonderful addition to a vegetable garden or a vibrant learning garden all on its own! Wildflower plantings typically need no extra fertilizer and little or no supplemental watering after germination – making them a great choice for busy school gardeners and schools without summer programming. See Grow to Learn’s Insect Invitation Guide for more information [hyperlink to pdf]. Johnny’s Selected Seeds even has a Xeriscape Mix of drought-resistant wildflowers.

● Baby Greens : Baby greens are a quick, delicious, and nutritious crop. With some varieties ready to harvest after just 28 days, you may be able to enjoy multiple harvests. Make sure to water lightly using a watering can or yogurt cup with holes in the bottom just after planting. Continue to water seedlings frequently enough that the surface is moist until the seeds have sprouted. As the plants get bigger and their root systems grow, they’ll need less water.

● “Quick Harvest” varieties : Some crops have varieties cultivated for quick harvests,between 50 and 60 days. Mexican sour gherkins, miniature cucumbers, sun gold tomatoes, raja eggplants, and many varieties of sunflowers all have quicker harvests, making them less water-intensive than varieties of the same vegetable with a longer time to maturity.
● Cover Crops: Cover crops are a group of low-maintenance,low water-intensive plants that can be grown to improve soil quality, to take productive beds out of cultivation of a season (or a few months like over the summer), and to be used as a “green manure” (turning the mature plants into the soil so, as they decompose, they add nutrients back into the soil). Common cover crops include hairy vetch, winter rye, crimson clover, and buckwheat. To learn more about cover crops, read the New York Botanical Garden’s guide to cover crops here [link to pdf].

Q: When should we water our garden?

Knowing when to water, and how much, will be something you develop with practice during your first season(s) of gardening. There are some clues you can gather just by watching the plants in your garden. If you see wilting or flowers are not blooming, your plants are getting too little water. Yellowing leaves generally means too much water. Observing and feeling the soil in your garden will tell you a lot about watering needs, too. Soil that is just right will have a damp feeling like a wrung-out sponge. Soil that is wetter than this won’t need to be watered again just yet, and soil that is drier than that is ready to be watered again. Morning is the best time to water, as it gives the plant all day to use what you gave it, but evenings work also (as water won’t evaporate off the soil’s surface during the day).

If you’re concerned about being able to water your garden consistently , or to provide the correct amount of water, you might want to consider making subirrigated planters (SIPs) from the start. SIPs collect water in a reservoir beneath the soil in your bed, and roots are able to absorb water as it wicks up through the soil. Because water doesn’t evaporate off the surface of the soil, SIPs are up to 90% more water efficient, meaning that you’ll have to water less and, when you do water, it lasts for longer. To learn more about SIPs, and see plans to how to assemble SIPs of different dimensions, see Grow to Learn’s resources here [link to SIP pdf].

Q: What are some good reference books for beginning gardeners?

There are lots of great reference books for beginner gardeners:
● How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers by Arden BucklinSporer and Rachel Kathleen Pringle – Overview of tips, resources, materials, activities to plan, start and maintain a school garden.

● SchoolyardEnhanced Learning: Using the Outdoors as an Instructional Tool, K8 by Hubert W. Broda – Shows how the school grounds—regardless of whether your school is in an urban,suburban, or rural setting—can become an enriching extension of the classroom.

● Rodale’s Vegetable Garden Problem Solver by Fern Marshall Bradley
– With a wealth of information and tested advice, this problemsolving treasure gives gardeners everything they need to do battle with garden pests, diseases, and weeds—with safe, natural solutions.

● The Self Sufficient Gardener by John Seymour – This old favorite explains how to cultivate and preserve all types of fruit, herbs, and vegetables, in addition to instructions on keeping bees and raising chickens.

Q: When should we harvest our crops?

Most seed packets include the number of days to maturity for that particular crop. Although the days to maturity can vary depending on garden conditions, it will still give you a good ballpark for an approximate time crops will be ready to harvest. The most reliable way to decide when to harvest crops is to learn and recognize the characteristics of the mature fruit or vegetable. For example, tomatoes are ready to harvest when they come off the vine easily when twisted. An understanding of when they crops you’ve planted are ready to harvest is also something that you’ll learn through experience and trial and error. Use what you know particular crops look like in the supermarket as a guide, but understand that your crops may be smaller or a little more irregular at harvestime than the ones you see in the supermarket.

Q: How do we attract butterflies, pollinators, and other beneficial insects?

First of all, it is important to note that there are many wonderful resources for native and pollinator gardening in New York City, most notably The Butterfly Project. Considering contacting The Butterfly Project or one of the botanic gardens before you begin native and/or pollinator gardening for ideas, suggestions, plant recommendations and more. In short, the crops and plants you choose to include in your garden, as well as maintaining water sources and friendly habitat for insects, will determine which pollinators, beneficial insects, and butterflies your garden attracts. Planting specialty mixes like Bee Feed Mix , Beneficial Insect Attractant Mix , and Xeriscape Mix will help attract pollinators and other beneficial insects. Native plants that can attract butterflies include butterfly weed, milkweed, goldenrod, aster, and more. For more information on butterfly gardening, including habitat responsibilities for gardeners, check out The Butterfly Project website . The Butterfly Project and Grow to Learn often host seasonal native plant giveaways and workshops; check Grow to Learn’s event page for upcoming workshops.

Q: What can we plant that will be low maintenance?

There are a number of low maintenance planting options for school gardens. See the list below:
● Wildflowers : A bed of low maintenance wildflowers is a wonderful addition to a vegetable garden or a vibrant learning garden all on its own! Wildflower plantings typically need no extra fertilizer and little or no supplemental watering after germination – making them a great choice for busy school gardeners and schools without summer programming. See Grow to Learn’s Insect Invitation Guide for more information [hyperlink to pdf].
● Baby greens : Baby greens are a quick, delicious, and nutritious crop. With some varieties ready to harvest after just 28 days, you may be able to enjoy multiple harvests. Make sure to water lightly using a watering can or yogurt cup with holes in the bottom just after planting. Continue to water seedlings frequently enough that the surface is moist until the seeds have sprouted. As the plants get bigger and their root systems grow, they’ll need less water. Because you’re growing the greens as a whole “field” of baby lettuces, there’s no need to weed.

● Garlic : A plant-it-and-forget-it favorite, garlic can go into the ground at the end of the Fall (in November or so). Leave the bulb alone over the Winter and Spring, and be ready to harvest “young” garlic (less pungent) as early as June, and the mature garlic bulb in July or August. For more information on planting and harvesting garlic, check out the New York Botanical Garden’s Garlic Primer. [hyperlink to pdf]

● Pea shoots : A fun, fast harvest for indoors or out! Plant pea seeds and harvest the baby shoots to use in stir fry, a delicious salad, or even just to observe and track plant growth with your students. You can try other plants often grown for shoots, too, like sunflower and nasturtium.

Q: My custodian thinks the garden will attract rats. Is this true?

If your garden is going to be attractive for rats, it’s most likely because they already exist in your area. It is true that a garden provides many things rats look for: food (rats eat what humans eat, and more!), fertile soil for burrows, and water. But it is also true that you can take precautions to prevent rats in your garden and make it less attractive to them.
● Keep your garden tidy: Trash and overgrown plants are attractive to rats because they provide shelter and protection from predators. Keep your garden weeded, tidy, and not too overgrown.
● Limit or contain what you compost: A vegetable/fruit scraps only compost will provide rats with some food but, in general, rats need protein in their diet. Rats will be much more attracted to a compost containing proteins, fats, and oils than a plant-based one. If you are composting with materials other than plants, try and keep it in a container (preferably metal) with a tight-fitting lid.

 

● Think: location, location, location: Where you’re planning to put your garden matters a lot! If you position your garden very close to where the garbage is put out every night or where a dumpster already exists, you may be more likely to inherit an already-existing rat population in the area.

Being proactive as you plan and maintain your garden will prevent rat problems down the road. If you or your custodian is still concerned, keep your eyes peeled for trainings from the Department of Health NYC Rodent Academy .

Q: Who is eligible?

All PreK-12, public or charter schools in New York City with a DOE school number are eligible to register with Grow to Learn. Once registered, you’ll be further eligible to apply for a Grow to Learn Mini-Grant, to receive free materials and resources, and get training in all areas of garden creation and maintenance.

Q: Am I registered?

To register, your school must complete the registration form located here. You will be prompted to submit an email address. Grow to Learn strongly encourages schools to make an email account that is accessible by all current or future garden committee members, such as schoolgarden123@xyz.com. A link will be sent to that email address that will bring you to the registration form. Save this email! It is the best way to re-access your registration form in case changes need be made. Parts 1-7 are required for registration, the questions in Part 8 need only be completed if your school is applying for our Mini-Grant. Once the document is complete and submitted, you are required to submit a Principal’s Letter, written and signed on official school letterhead, and a map of your current or prospective garden with essential features detailed.
If you have completed these steps and are still unsure of your registration status, please check in with us! We will assure you of your completed registration or help walk you through the remaining steps.

Q: The teacher who registered has left, how do I access our registration/grant application?

The only way to access your registration form and Mini-Grant application is if you know and have access to the email account originally used to register your school. A link to your registration form can be re-sent to this email, however you must have access to this account. To receive a new link, simply enter that original email address used to register the school here.

Please note that at this time Grow to Learn is unable to change the email address affiliated with an account. So, if you do not know or have access to the original email account that created the original registration form for your school, you may need to create a new registration form. You may email us at growtolearn@grownyc.org and we will send you a PDF of your original registration form which you can use to create a new registration form.

If a new registration form is required, Grow to Learn strongly encourages schools to make an email account that is accessible by all current or future garden committee members, such as schoolgarden123@xyz.com.

Q: Who should make up the Garden Committee?

We require your committee to consist of at least 7 people, including the school’s Principal, Assistant Principal (if your school has one), Custodial Engineer, and two teachers. The two remaining members can be community members, parents, teachers, or even students! We emphasize a large garden committee because building and maintaining a garden is a large project and it will be most sustainable when held on the communal shoulders of a group.

Q: What needs to be included with the principal’s letter?

Your school’s principal’s letter must be typed on official school letterhead and signed by hand by your school’s Principal. The content is at the discretion of the garden committee, and need only indicate support for the project. This document can be scanned and emailed to us at growtolearn@grownyc.org or faxed to 212.788.7913. Use the principal’s letter template in Grow to Learn’s Complete Registration Toolkit for further assistance.

Q: What needs to be on the Map?

● The Garden Map should give us an idea of what your garden currently looks like or depict the plan your school is preparing to set in motion. The more detailed the map the better! Some important features to include are:

  • a water source – cardinal directions
  • labels on buildings, streets, or other infrastructure
  • measurements of distance
  • trees and shrubs
  • beds
  • your crop plan

● More info located in the Create A Garden Map section on our website.

Q: Can I register now and apply for the Mini-Grant later?

● The Garden Map should give us an idea of what your garden currently looks like or depict the plan your school is preparing to set in motion. The more detailed the map the better! Some important features to include are: – a water source – cardinal directions – labels on buildings, streets, or other infrastructure – measurements of distance – trees and shrubs – beds – your crop plan
● More info located in the Create A Garden Map section on our website.

Q: How do I access the Mini-Grant application?

The grant application consists of Part 8 of the registration form. If your school is already registered with Grow to Learn, you will need contact us at growtolearn@grownyc.org to reopen your registration document. Then you may access the document via the original email link you received when first registering. See below if you cannot find the original email. If your school has yet to register with us, you may register and apply simultaneously.

Q: When are grant applications due?

Mini-Grants are offered twice a year, once during the Fall growing season, and once in preparation for the Spring growing season. For the 2014-2015 school year, the grant deadlines are November 3rd and February 11th. All necessary documents must be submitted by midnight that night. These dates are subject to change, depending on the calendar year. Check our website for exact deadlines.

Q: I can’t find the email with a link to our registration form, can I still apply for the grant?

● The only way to access your registration form and Mini-Grant application is if you know and have access to the email account originally used to register your school. A link to your registration form can be re-sent to this email, however you must have access to this account. To receive a new link, simply enter that original email address used to register the school here.

● Please note that at this time Grow to Learn is unable to change the email address affiliated with an account. So, if you do not know or have access to the original email account that created the original registration form for your school, you may need to create a new registration form. You may email us at growtolearn@grownyc.org and we will send you a PDF of your original registration form which you can use to create a new registration form.

● If a new registration form is required, Grow to Learn strongly encourages schools to make an email account that is accessible by all current or future garden committee members, such as schoolgarden123@xyz.com.

Q: How often can I apply?

Your school may receive one grant per year. If you apply and do not receive a grant, you are welcome and encouraged to apply again in the following round that year!

Q: How many grants are available?

The number of grants available is dependent upon the year and our available funding.

Q: How much money can I get?

Our grants are between $500 and $2000.

Q: How long will it take to receive my grant?

You can expect to hear back from us about the result of your application about 6-8 weeks after the grant deadline. If you are awarded a grant, you can expect to have the check in your hand about a month following the decision announcement. This timing is important to take into account when planning the timeline for your project! Grants awarded in our early spring round may not have time to implement time-sensitive garden projects before the end of the school year.

Q: What can the Mini-Grant money be used for?

Answer here

Q: I’m a non-profit working with a school. Can I apply for a mini-grant?

While Grow to Learn encourages schools to partner with outside organizations on their garden projects, we also require that each application for a Mini-Grant display the applying school’s unique voice. In other words, the grant should be written by the school (teachers, staff, or parents of students attending the school). Partner organizations planning on contributing to the garden may lend a hand during the writing and planning process.

Q: How long do we have to spend the Mini-Grant money?

Although Grow to Learn will ask for reporting at specific points throughout that year to make sure the project is on track, there is no deadline by which funds must be spent.

Q: Can the money go to a non-profit to run the gardening program?

Grow to Learn will only write grant checks to the school or the school’s PTA. Grow to Learn grant funds may not be used to fund garden programming or the administrative and ongoing costs of a non-profit organization involved in the space.

Q: Can the grant pay for a garden teacher or manager?

Our grant cannot contribute to the salary of garden staff.

Q: Can Grow to Learn funds be used to pay for labor to build garden structures?

● Grow to Learn periodically offers workshops on basic garden construction skills, including beginner and advanced bed building, benches, and rainwater harvesting. We encourage schools to attend these workshops and use the skills they’ve learned on construction projects at their schools. It is likely that, within your school community, there exists the interest, skills, and basic power tools (drill) to build these structures. However, Grow to Learn will fund up to $250 for basic carpentry projects (beds, benches, storage chests). We suggest making these build days a public event at your school, where you can observe and learn from the paid carpenter!
● Some intensive projects, such as a shade structure, hydroponics system, rainwater harvesting system, or specialized beds, may provide more technical skill and expertise. If you believe your school will need more support (financial or staff) on an advanced project, please get in touch with the Grow to Learn staff at growtolearn@grownyc.org. Staff will be able to advise you whether or not your project is entitled to funding above the $250 limit, how to describe and allocate labor funds in your Mini-Grant application, and may even be able to make suggestions of partner organizations within New York City who can help with your project.

Q: Can I use the grant for Professional Development?

Grow to Learn does fund professional development opportunities for school gardeners. However, we hope that, when gardeners receive funding for training, they take what they’ve learned — and any materials gathered — and share that information with other gardeners at their school. If your school is applying for grant money to fund professional development, please include the course name and/or organization providing the professional development.

Q: Can I use the grant to pay volunteers or for per session pay?

Grow to Learn will not fund grants requesting funds to support volunteers or for teacher per session pay.

Q: What types of gardens are eligible for a Mini-Grant?

We accept grants and advocate for all types and styles of gardens! We greatly encourage schools to garden with edibles and/or create gardens that support schools’ educational and curricular goals. Grants that communicate these goals will be given precedence.

Q: Can I receive a grant for spaces not on school grounds?

If your school has an agreement to share space with a community garden or another outside organization, you may still apply for the grant. However, please note that all supplies purchased with grant money should directly benefit the school and its gardening efforts. If your school is using a space not on school grounds, please send a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to growtolearn@grownyc.org.

Q: Do we need to garden organically to receive the Mini-Grant?

While organic gardening in the small scale, educational environment is highly encouraged, it is not required.

Q: Can I use Mini-Grant money for food for events?

Grow to Learn grants cannot fund food for events.

Q: What are the reporting requirements once my school has received a Mini-Grant?

Grow to Learn requires an interim report at 6 months from when a school receives their grant and a final report at one year. These reports consist of a short paragraph explaining your progress and use of funds, a garden “success story” or favorite moment, and a picture of the project. These reports are mandatory and failure to complete them will disqualify schools from further grant rounds (until submitted).

Q: My school is in a priority region, will we need a site visit as part of grant reporting?

Grow to Learn does not require a site visit as part of grant reporting. However, as staffing allows, a member of our team will conduct a site visit at your garden at six months after the grant is received and again at one year.

Q: Can you come to my school and advise?

We have a small team here at Grow to Learn but we’re dedicated to helping every school in NYC build a garden and supporting the individual schools that need extra assistance. Schools in our priority regions (South Bronx, Central and East Harlem, and Central Brooklyn) will receive a six-month and one-year site visit after receiving a grant. In addition, non-registered schools in these regions considering a school project may be eligible to receive a visit, as staffing allows. Schools not located in these regions will receive site visits as staffing allows. Email growtolearn@grownyc.org to request a site visit and we will do our best to schedule an in-person consultation at your school’s site.

Q: Can you read over my application?

If you are unsure about the best way to compose your application, please join us at a Grant Writing and Garden Planning workshop in the months leading up to the due date (See our Events Calendar here). We have a small team here at Grow to Learn and are generally not able to read over individual applications.

Q: Who can be my contact person at Grow to Learn?

All the staff at Grow to Learn is happy to help garden projects all around the city in whatever way we can! Depending on your school’s location and individual needs, one or more of our team may end up providing more individualized support. Contact us at growtolearn@grownyc.org and we will find the team member best prepared to support your school. Staff members Arielle Hartman, Kira Cohenmilo, Rasheed Hislop (GreenThumb) and Marie Vulcain (GreenThumb) provide additional support to schools located in our priority regions (South Bronx, East and Central Harlem, and Central Brooklyn). You can reach them at schoolgardencoordinator@grownyc.org.

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