7 Thoughts on Funding Your Garden Project

Thanking donors is an important part of soliciting funds.
Thanking donors is an important part of soliciting funds.

At GardenABCs, we regularly get asked by folks where to find grants and funds to start and maintain gardens, so we thought we’d share some experiences and perhaps
dispel some misconceptions:

First, gardens needn’t be expensive. A group once contacted us looking for a grant for $10,000 to start a garden project. $10,000??? Our local elementary school garden — that involves 400 children — started with (and for years operated on) an annual budget of $250. Would we like $10,000 for an enclosed, fenced, structurally gorgeous garden? Of course! But, really, all you need is access to healthy soil (and sun and water). Don’t hold off on starting a garden just because you can’t create your dream garden today. Ask volunteers to bring their own tools to use, and design your garden in stages that you can build upon year after year as you find funding and (more important) build community.

Second, look locally. State and national grants and funding opportunities generate a lot of competition. In addition to applying to these funding sources, investigate local ones. This may include your county farm bureau, garden club, community and school foundations, individual benefactors, associations and business groups (Chambers, union locals, fraternal organizations), and social organizations.

Third, pursue in-kind donations. A local business may not be able to write you a check, but you probably can get some items donated for your garden project. Our elementary school garden regularly solicits donations for peat pots, potting soil, seeds and deli party trays (our make-shift greenhouses) from local hardware, big box and grocery stores. These items would cost us a considerable amount of money if we had to pay for them directly.

Fouth, ask, ask, ask. Raising money is a function of how many people you ask to donate, so ask and ask many. This is a great job for a volunteer who claims not to have ‘green thumb.’ Solicit monetary and in-kind donations from local businesses (they don’t have to be garden related!) by sending out letters and following up. Our elementary school garden received a number of Target gift cards from separate stores that we combined to purchase a bird-cam to create time-lapse videos! Different stores have different requirements and deadlines that must be followed to be considered for funding. This is a detail-oriented task, but one that can really pay off.

Fifth, show up. Is you school or community holding an open house, festival or gathering of some kind where you can promote your garden project? Get a table, decorate some foam boards, and start selling your garden to parents and community members. Why is a garden important? Why should they care? Include a ‘giving’ tree with individual leaves that list items on your wish list, whether that’s $5, $10, a hoe or hose. Let folks know when and where to turn in items (be prepared to collect small donations of cash), and get them on your list for follow up and future volunteer opportunities.

Sixth, get labor donated. Paying someone to assemble raised beds, fences or other structural items can be expensive. So, work with local boy and girl scout troups (especially Eagle Scouts), high school and college service organizations (even sports teams perform service hours), neighborhood associations and church groups to get things built. Likewise, cutlivate (no pun intended!) relationships with these groups so you can call on them for help in garden set-up in spring, take-down in fall and weeding events over summer.

Finally, thank your donors. Everyone likes to be recognized so don’t forget this most important step, even for the smallest item. Whether it’s a simple thank you letter, a personalized photo of students in the garden holding ‘Thank You [Donor]’ signs (which can be posted on a store’s brag wall) or a harvest garden party for all involved (donors, students, volunteers), celebrate what they helped you achieve while laying the groundwork for next year’s project.

7 Thoughts on Funding Your Garden Project

Gardening Makes Us Healthy ~ In More Ways Than One!


It kind of makes sense that working in the garden is good for our health.  Spending time outdoors, engaging in exercise, gaining the mind-clearing and creativity that comes from being focused on beauty… it just seems naturally beneficial.

In recent months, scientists have taken this thought farther, conducting a number of studies to quantify these benefits.  That’s great, because years ago it seems like no one took this seriously, even though there was plenty of anecdotal evidence that being outdoors and in gardens helped calm and inspire.

The folks at http://www.organiclesson.com crafted the handy infographic above, which highlights some recent garden research findings.

We’ve also highlighted some studies on our Facebook page  that connect outdoor activity with improved mental health and children’s attention and memory, making them better students.

And, we have some older research posted at http://www.GardenABCs.com on our How-To page – just scroll down to the “Research” heading.

If you’re trying to convince folks that a school or community garden is a good idea, these studies give you some real leverage.

Gardening Makes Us Healthy ~ In More Ways Than One!

In Defense of Trees: Be a Champion

Photo: Morton Arboreum, Lisle, Ill.
Photo: Morton Arboretum, Lisle, Ill.

Today while walking through my neighborhood I couldn’t help but notice that tree after tree is marked with orange ribbon.  This isn’t a celebration; each of these once-mighty trees is marked for destruction.

Unfortunately, they’re infested with the emerald ash borer, an invasive beetle native to Asia that found its way to Michigan on a wooden pallet in 2002.  Since then, the pest has decimated tens of millions of ash trees, and it’s reach is spreading.  I am witness:  A native of Michigan who now lives in Chicago, I’ve watch the progression of dying trees along I-94 get closer and closer to the Windy City.  Now, trees are dying in my neighborhood.

In fact, one of every five parkway trees in Chicago will likely be destroyed by the emerald ash borer beetle (Urban Trees and Forests of the Chicago Region, August 2013). Other tree species throughout the U.S. are at risk from fungal diseases and pathogens like Sudden Oak Death to the pine beetle to the Asian longhorned beetle, which is aggressively working its way through the hardwood forests of Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Even more distressing?  Only 3 in 10 Chicagoans can name an endangered or threatened tree, while nearly 6 of 10 can name an endangered animal, found a new study by the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill.  I’m betting this holds true across the country.

Now Is The Time To Act
Stronger, healthier trees are better armed to fight infection and pests.  According to the arboretum, everyone can do his or her part to help urban trees thrive:

  • Water trees along the street.  Trees like long, slow drinks so leave the hose, barely dribbling, at the base of the tree for an hour or more. Or use a soaker hose.
  • Protect tree bark. A tree’s outer and inner bark guard against damage by weather, insects, animals, and organisms that can cause disease. Bark is damaged easily when struck by lawnmowers and string trimmers, so don’t get close to trees while doing these chores. Don’t chain bikes to trees or drill into them to hang swings.
  • Watch out for roots. In confined areas, some trees’ roots are forced to the surface of the soil. Avoid mowing over those roots; damaging them can cut off the flow of water and nutrients.
  • Mulch the right way. Mulch keeps roots cool in summer and prevents moisture from evaporating before the tree can use it. Spread mulch 3 to 4 inches deep in a wide, flat layer around the base of the tree. Don’t pile it against the trunk volcano-style; this contributes to rot and harbors insects and disease.
  • Make the right choice. Different species of trees need different growing conditions. Before you plant a sapling, make sure the mature tree will fit your space and that it will have the sun, shade and soil it needs to thrive.
  • Talk to the experts. For more ways to help trees thrive and help in choosing the right tree for your space, talk the to experts like those at the Morton Arboretum.

Go back to GardenABCs

In Defense of Trees: Be a Champion

Our Favorite Pots for Starting Seeds Indoors

Planting seeds in the classroom using expandable peat disks.
Planting seeds in the classroom using expandable peat pellets.

It’s starting to feel like Spring and we just attended our first school garden meeting of the year… needless to say, we can’t wait to get our hands in the soil!

The ground is northern Illinois will remain too cold (and soggy) to plant outdoors for some time, so we’ll be starting seeds indoors, both in the classroom and at home.

When’s the best time to start seeds indoors?  That depends on a lot of factors, but our target date is the day we return from Spring Break:  Students will be back in class to monitor seeds daily and water them as needed.  The seedlings will have plenty of time to grow until we plant them outdoors in late May.

We have three favorite ‘pots’ in which to plant seeds… none require students to remove the seedlings from pots before transplanting.  (We usually get a lot of snapped stems when kids have to extricate seedlings from plastic pots.) In fact, all students have to do is pull the bottoms off the pots to free up the roots before they plant the seedlings — pot and all — directly in the ground:

Peat pots (about 3.5″ diameter) are great for starting seeds. Made of biodegradable peat moss and wood pulp, they are big enough to give plants some room to grow and don’t dry out as fast as smaller peat pots.

Peat pellets — those disks that expand before your eyes when you add water — are fun for kids and contain everything you need to grow seeds (no pot or seed-starting mix required).  But they can dry out quickly, so check them daily, especially if they’re placed in a warm, south-facing window.  Pellets come in various sizes; look for the larger ones. On transplanting day, you may need scissors to cut the netting that holds the soil of these pots together in order to free up the roots.

A newspaper pot roller is a simple, wooden device that makes it easy to create seed-starting pots from compostable newspaper. We’ve made these homemade pots at home for years and they work great.  Plus, it’s a fun lesson in reduce-reuse-recycle!

Always monitor plants to make sure you’re not over- or under-watering.  If the seedlings’ main source of light is the window, you’ll have to rotate pots so the plants don’t get so leggy. And, if a window is particularly warm, pull the seedlings away from the window on Friday afternoon.  Otherwise, they may bake to a crisp over the weekend and you’ll have some disappointed kids on Monday morning.

Our Favorite Pots for Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s Time for Gardeners to Step Up to Protect Pollinators

Monarch fanning its wings after hatching.  Photo: Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS
Monarch fanning its wings after hatching. Photo: Joanna Gilkeson / USFWS

With pollinator populations on the decline — most notably native and managed bees and the iconic monarch butterfly — it’s time for gardeners to take action.

Each one of us can take steps to help these beneficial and beautiful insects.

First, incorporate pollinator-friendly flowers into your garden plot. And, plant some native milkweed, the monarch caterpillar’s ONLY food source.

Second, use an integrated pest management approach to control insect pests in the garden. Use pesticides as a last resort, and not during the times of day when pollinators are most active (generally mid-morning).

Learn more ways to protect pollinators and help scientists monitor bee and butterfly populations. We’re also posting information on our Facebook page.

The plight of honey and native bees has been well documented in recent years. Awareness of the monarch butterfly decline is just gaining the public’s attention.

Monarch populations have declined 90 percent from the 20-year average since the mid-1990s, states the Xerces Society. “If monarchs were people, that would be like losing every living person in the United States except those in Florida and Ohio,” the society wrote on its website. Habitat loss, climate change, genetically engineered crops and the use of herbicides and insecticides, among other factors, threaten the butterflies’ survival, claim conservationalists.

In December, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced it will conduct a status review of the monarch butterfly under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The Service will evaluate the insect’s biology, range, population trends, habitat and climate requirements, genetics, behavior, conservation measures and other factors, and will announce its decision on whether the listing is warranted in December 2015.

In the meantime, teach your children and students about pollinators and do something to help reverse the trends.

Monarch caterpillar. Photo: Courtney Celley / USFWS
Monarch caterpillar. Photo: Courtney Celley / USFWS
Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA.
Photo by Lance Cheung, USDA.
It’s Time for Gardeners to Step Up to Protect Pollinators

Winter Dreams: Planning the Spring Garden


It’s easy to let the cold, gray days of January get you down, but take heart!  Spring will be here faster than you realize.  That said, it’s time to start thinking about what to plant this spring.

While some of us enjoy garden planning as a solitary endeavor, don’t keep this activity to yourself.  School and community projects require community and buy-in, and getting all parties excited about what to grow (and where) is essential if you want the garden to thrive.

Let the students pick something fun to grow; the teachers something that ties into lesson plans; a few items that the food pantry can really use… you get the idea.  I’ve learned from experience that kids like tending to “my tomato plant” or “my zucchini squash” and I think that really can be said for all of us.  Remember, happy growers are happy weeders.

Winter Dreams: Planning the Spring Garden