Life Lab

Life Lab cultivates children's love of learning, healthy food, and nature through garden-based education.

Planning Annual Vegetable Crops

What are Annual Plants?

Annuals plants go from a planted seed to producing a seed within a year. They complete their whole lifecycle in one year or season. Annual plants make up most of our vegetable crops, and many of them can be harvested within 2 to 3 months after sowing. (Bi-annual plants are simliar to annuals but they may live up to two years before producing seeds and coming to the end of their lives.)

Annuals are generally classified as a “warm season” crop or a “cool season” crop.

  • Cool season crops thrive in cool areas or during cooler months of the year.

    • Generally they are the root, stem, leaf, and flower bud crops.
    • In mild winter areas many of these crops can “overwinter” if planted in the fall or can be planted in early spring for a late spring harvest.
  • Warm season crops thrive in warm areas or during the hotter months of the year.

    • Generally they are the fruit and seed crops.
    • They are often planted in the spring – summer.

Gardeners use planting charts or the information found on seed packets, along with average frost dates, to determine when to plant an annual plant. Both planting charts and seed packets refer to weeks before or after frost dates as a guide of when to sow seeds or plant transplants outdoors.

Average "last frost” dates usually land in the late winter or spring. The “first frost” date lands in the fall or early winter. Planting charts and seed packets will usually instruct you to sow or transplant before an average first frost date and to sow or transplant before or after an average last frost date.

Contact your local Master Gardener (In CA visit www.mastergardeners.org, your nursery professional, or the following to find out your region's frost dates.

Planning Your Planting Times

Start by finding your average frost dates:

Learn how to read a seed packet:

Then use information on seed packets or a planing guide like these:

Other useful guides:

  • Life Lab's Planting for a School Year Harvest – a simple list of edible crops suitable for mild winter area planting.
  • Territorial Seed Winter Planting Date Chart – winter harvest means late summer planting, view their chart Note: in mild winter areas some crops can be planted a couple weeks later than noted in their chart, but don't wait too long, you want your little plants to be establish before day light decreases and temperatures drop.
  • Organic Gardening.com : Get gardening tips, sign up for monthly garden reports for your area, and simplified information on the care and harvest of garden plants.
  • National Gardening Association's Food Garden Guide : Detailed information on planting, care and harvesting of garden plants.
  • Burpee.com : Great information on gardening and seed catalog, sign up for regional garden reports, visit their "library" for plant care and harvest information. visit their "nutrition guide" for vegetable nutrient content and garden kitchen tips.

Planning Your School's Edible Harvest

One of the most challenging aspects planning a school garden harvest is that most crops are ready for harvest in the summer months when most schools are out of session. With a bit of planning you can create a crop harvest schedule that fits with your school year.

Here are the three main "windows" for planting and harvesting in a traditional school year calendar:

  • Late Spring Harvest – cool season crops planted in late winter-early spring can be harvested before school lets out.
  • Fall Harvest – warm season crops planted in late spring (right before school lets out) can be harvested when school starts back up assuming the garden is watered and weeded during the summer.
  • Fall/Winter Harvest – cool season crops planted in late summer-early fall can be harvested in the late fall-winter time.

Seed packets and crop information sites list the "days to harvest". The days to harvest are an approximation of how many days it will take for your plant to go from a newly sown seed to an edible treat. Refer to days to harvest to help plan your harvest dates.  It is simple as setting the day you'd like to harvest a crop, finding the days to harvest of the particular crop and then counting backwards to determine your sowing date. Of course there are many other variables like the weather, irrigation, fertilization, and pests that may accelerate or retard a plants growth but all of those variables are learning opportunities for the gardener(s).

Click for Edible Crop Planning Resources:

  • Annual Crop Planning for School Garden and Crop Planning Worksheet – a PDF summary of the information on this page.
  • Edible Theme Garden Calendar – an Excel document created for the Central Coast of California which can be modified for your growing conditions.
  • Edible Theme Garden Plans – edible theme seed packet collections and lesson ideas on how to teach crop planning to adults and older students.

Planning a Fall Harvest

One mistake many new school gardeners make is planting a garden that matures during summer while students are away. If you are serious about harvesting vegetables in the fall, pick long season vegetable varieties. Read the "days till harvest" listing on the back of seed packages and plan accordingly. If you want to eat fresh corn in September with your students, plant 90-100 day corn in late May instead of 70 day corn. Better yet plant crops that can dry in the garden like popcorn. Popcorn can dry in the field for weeks once mature whereas sweet corn needs to be harvested within a week or two window. Also remember that many vegetables need to be harvested to keep producing throughout the summer so make sure your summer garden guardians harvest regularly to encourage continual fruiting. It is also a good idea to plant later in the spring or in early summer so that the crops will mature later in the summer or early fall when students return to school

Try planting some of these crops in late May or June and come back to school with something to harvest.

 

Popcorn

Shelling Bean (dry beans)

Edible / Birdseed Sunflowers

Winter Squash or Pumpkins

Peppers

Eggplant

Melons

Potatoes

Tomatoes

Parsnip

Health Master Carrots

Amaranth

 

Try planting a Three Sisters Garden with popcorn, winter squash, and dry beans. Our friends at www.kidsgardening.com have a good article on the Three Sisters Garden.

 

Gateway School Garden in Santa Cruz has a great annual planting plan that includes grade specific edible theme beds with academic connections. See Gateway's Life Lab Year Round Plan

Wanna learn about planing perennials and fruit trees in school gardens?

Check out our tips for school garden summer care.

Article tags:

follow us on Facebook

Hope you can join in on the fun on Oct. 8th! A portion of proceeds from this event will go to Life Lab! ... See MoreSee Less

Hard Core Cider Tour - Santa Cruz

October 8, 2016, 1:00pm - October 8, 2016, 6:00pm

San Lorenzo Park in Santa Cruz

The Hard Core Cider Tour returns to Santa Cruz, CA for its 2nd year! Imbibe UNLIMITED 2 oz. samples from some of the World's Top Craft Hard Cider Makers, savor mouth watering food from Local Food Trucks (food sold separately), groove to Live Music, and let your inner kid out with our Jumbo Lawn Games! This year, we are raising funds for Life Lab. Our mission is to celebrate the revival of craft hard cider making. As one of America’s long lost alcoholic beverages, we strive to reintroduce the joy of imbibing hard cider to all! CIDERS: 101 Cider House, Schilling Cider, Aspall, Santa Cruz Cider Company, Finnriver, The San Francisco Mead Company, South City Ciderworks, Surf City Cider, Rambling Route Cider, Tieton Cider Works, Two Rivers Cider Company, William's Orchards, Everett Family Farm, Ratel Cider, Humboldt Cider Company, WILDCIDE Hard Cider, Far West Cider Co, Red Branch Cider Company, E.Z. Orchards Farm Market, Indigeny Reserve MUSIC LINEUP: Olde Blue FOOD TRUCKS: The Choke Coach and Ate3one SPONSORS: Good Times Santa Cruz, UpOut SF, Santa Cruz Waves TICKETS: * General Admission: ~$40 Online / $50 At The Door * General Admission - Group Rate (4+ Tickets): ~ $30 Online / $40 At The Door * Designated Driver: ~ $10 (Available for purchase At The Door Only) TICKET ADMISSION INCLUDES: * UNLIMITED 2 oz. Tastings * Signature Keepsake Mason Jar * Unlimited Selfies & Goodtimes … #hardcorecidertour This is strictly at 21 and Over event. * * * * * Remember to Please Imbibe Responsibly * * * * *

View on Facebook

We walked around and took photos of some of the other awesome sustainability orgs who were under the Sustainability Tent with us at OPERS Fest this year.

Learn more about Life Lab.
... See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

Another great workshop with San Mateo County Educators. Thanks Heal Project sharing the power of garden-based learning. ... See MoreSee Less

Great training this weekend at the San Mateo County School Farm hosted by Life Lab! Always inspiring to connect with folks dedicated to farm and garden based education

View on Facebook

Delicious! Taste testing at Common Threads Farm as part of a Growing Classroom Workshop in Bellingham, WA. Not many better places in the nation to be for apple tasting! Bringing (tasty) learning to life in the garden..... ... See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

This year's Slow Food Santa Cruz Edible Garden Tour highlights and benefits Watsonville School Gardens! 10 a.m on September 10th

The tour starts at H.A. Hyde Elementary the most impressive production school garden in the county!

Join the tour to explore programs that engage children and teachers in organic gardening, provide fresh nutritious snacks at recess, and share organic vegetable boxes with the families of participating students.

There will be an after-party and silent auction to raise funds for Slow Food Santa Cruz and the Watsonville school gardens starting at 2 p.m. at Elkhorn Slough Brewing!
... See MoreSee Less

View on Facebook

Watch us on Youtube

View Life Lab Channel

Rachel Pringle

Rachel PringleSenior Director of ProgramsEducation Outside

Life Lab has been the most innovative and relevant organization in this field. From providing the best curriculum to their cutting edge professional development, we have relied on Life Lab as our go to organization for support, ideas, and collaboration.

Erica Curry

Erica CurryTraining and Professional Development ManagerFoodCorps

Life Lab provides truly inspiring training. Their breadth of experience, joy for teaching, and commitment to sharing knowledge highlight the best practices in food and garden education.

Sheila Bricken

Sheila BrickenKindergarten TeacherSan Lorenzo Valley Elementary

Thank you for such a wonderful field trip experience! Your leaders did such a great job at keeping our kids engaged.

Tara Neier

Tara NeierCamp ParentSummer camp mom

Terry had another awesome two weeks at Life Lab. I think he learns more there than in any other part of his year. School is great, but he’s passionate (and often dogmatic) about what he learns there.