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gardening with kids

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5 Tips for Gardening with Kids

My Nan patiently showed me how to use the cultivator to create a long furrow in the ground where I would plant my seeds.  First sprinkle in the fertilizer, then the seeds. Careful! Spread them out so they have room to grow. Then cover and pat down the soil on top. Water, and you’re done.

Well, until it’s time to thin out the growing plants. And weed. And water again. And check for pests. And so on.

I started gardening with my grandmother when I was a toddler. She loved to involve me and my brother, though she was careful to give each of us our own area to plant. She was a bit of a perfectionist, and it wouldn’t do to have us mess up the half acre of crops we were actually planning to eat over the winter! We each had a space for vegetables, and another for flowers. We learned about transplanting, how to identify weeds, how much fertilizer to use, and more. It was a great lesson to learn where our food comes from. Actually, I think I was in school before I realised most people bought their potatoes at the store! Who knew!

These days I try to involve Boo in the garden as much as possible, and he does enjoy helping out and watching our plants grow. But it’s not always easy to drag him away from his Lego and his games. Here are a few tips and ideas that I’ve found work well to engage kids in the garden.

1. Let them choose the plants. Vegetable garden? Ask what your child would like to grow, with the knowledge they’ll be able to eat it later. Flowers? Do they have a favourite colour they’d like to enjoy in the garden? By letting them make these decisions, they’ll be more inclined to get involved in the planting and care of the plants. For instance, Boo really wanted to plant milkweed in our garden, to encourage monarch butterflies and aid in their conservation. So we did that this weekend, and he was 100% engaged in the process and super excited to see how they do.

2. Set them up for success. Some plants are easier to grow than others. Nan set us up with radishes and leaf lettuce because they were fairly foolproof, meaning we would have a high chance of actually getting an edible harvest. Success is encouraging and much more likely to lead to a continued love of gardening.  I planted asparagus this year, but I’d never suggest this for a child, as you have to wait at least two years before you can begin to harvest. A crop like peas or beans will show quick results that will be much more satisfying for a child.

3. Tap into their interests.  There are lots of different pieces to gardening – digging in the dirt, choosing plants, watering, weeding. Boo loves to draw and is proud of his writing as well. So, last year I got him to make the row markers for our veggie patch.

4. Put them in charge.  As my grandmother did for us, give them their own little plot of land or a special container for their chosen plants. Give them full responsibility. Let them do the work and feel the full pride of a job well done.

5. Let them get wet. If nothing else, what kid doesn’t love water play? Give your child special responsibility for watering the garden. Let them play with the hose while they’re at it. Be sure to give lots of praise.

Do you garden with your kids or grandkids? What are some of their favourite garden tasks? Do you have any tips to share to help keep them engaged?

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In the Garden – Starting Seeds

April is the time my heart really begins to sing for my garden. As the weather warms and the soil dries out after a long winter, it’s time to look after garden clean-up and to plan for the growing season. It’s also a great time to start seeds in Southern Ontario. The rule of thumb is to start seeds about 6 weeks prior to the last frost, which is approximately mid-May in these parts.  Of course, always refer to the information on the seed packets to be sure of how long your specific variety requires. I buy most of my plants as nursery stock, because we don’t have great light for starting seeds indoors. But Boo and I like to start a few things from seed as well. Kids love to watch things grow, and the magic of a little seed sprouting out into a plant is pretty cool.

This post isn’t so much a how-to on starting seeds, but some ideas on the types of containers you can consider. I’m a big fan of re-using and re-purposing, so I have a few suggestions for you!

When looking for containers to start my seeds, I prefer to use materials that can readily break down and add organic matter to the soil. You can purchase peat pots or peat pellets at the garden centre if you want to go that route. Or, you can use items you already have around the house. Like …

1. Egg shells. When you crack your eggs for breakfast or for whatever recipe, try to break the shell close to the pointed end. Rinse the larger part of the shell and set aside for later planting. Bonus – egg shells provide lots of calcium for the soil as they break down.

2. Egg cartons. The cardboard kind, not styrofoam. Remove the lid and add soil to the individual compartments. Once the seedlings are ready to transplant to the garden, cut or tear the sections apart.

3. Empty toilet paper rolls. Cut four slits approximately 1 inch, evenly spaced, on one end. Fold in the resulting four tabs to create a bottom.

Any of these options will hold your soil and seeds and can be planted directly into your garden when the time is right. You won’t disturb delicate roots, your seedlings will have an easy and smooth move, and the containers will slowly break down into the soil.

Of course you can also use things like empty yogurt or pudding containers. You will need to carefully remove seedlings from these containers to transplant, so it’s a little more touchy, but the containers work great. Just try not to disturb the roots too much. Either gently squeeze the sides, while holding the seedling close to the soil and pulling gently (upside down), or use scissors or garden shears to cut the container away.

Especially if you are using biodegradable materials, you will need a tray of some sort to keep the surface underneath the pots dry and clean. Purchased kits will come with a covered tray, but have a look around and see what you have already. And old cake pan, or even foil pie trays work great. How about clamshell containers from the bakery? Built in cover to keep in the humidity! If you have styrofoam egg cartons, use those to hold your eggshell plants. If don’t have anything to hand to keep your egg shell planters upright, check out your local dollar store. You should be able to find a variety of disposable foil trays and pans there for $1 – $2 each, or even less. Pack your shells or other containers in snuggly. I picked up a super, covered, foil casserole dish for $1.25 at my dollar store. Having a cover over your seeds aids in keeping the soil moist and the temperature warm enough for germination. You can remove the cover once the seedlings are an inch or so tall. If your tray/pan/etc. doesn’t have a clear lid, cover your seed containers with plastic wrap.

What do you think? Do you start seeds indoors? What kids of containers have you used?

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Get Ready for Spring with Canada Blooms

Hellebores, early spring flowers
image courtesy Canada Blooms

It’s March 1! We made it!! I am always very happy to see the backside of February, especially when March begins on the bright, sunshiny note it has today. (Although, I keep hearing “in like a lamb, out like a lion” in my head.)  My garden may be covered in a couple of feet of snow still, but I see pussy willows popping out on my tree, and I am filled with hope for spring. I don’t have a lot of room for starting seeds indoors, but I picked up a couple of things today. I hope to get Little Boo involved in starting my zucchini plants this weekend. I’m smiling at just the thought of getting my fingers in some dirt!

In the meantime, as we wait for the ground to thaw and our bulbs to poke through, I want to share with you these tips from Canada Blooms on prepping for your gardening season. These are some things you can do in anticipation of spring, to start your garden off on a strong footing.

1. Set up your composting area.

Compost is the black gold of the gardener’s world. Sure, you can purchase bags of it at the local nursery or co-op, but you can also create it yourself out of food and yard waste.

2. Start saving containers for those seedlings.

Start saving small containers (egg cartons are superb) for those seedlings you can grow yourself. In many areas of the country, you’ll want to get those seeds growing in February so they’ll be ready to plant in the ground by April or May.

3. Order your seeds.

This may be every gardener’s favorite part: browsing the seed catalogs and websites and picking out all the delicious, beautiful plants to grow this year. Order your seeds now so you’ll have them in time to start planting them indoors. 

4. Prep your soil as much as possible.

Depending on your location, the only soil prep you may be able to do at this point is just say a little prayer for it. But in many parts of the country, days of snow and ice will be interspersed with days of warmer weather and thawed ground. On those days, get out there and do as much work as possible to break up the soil.

5. Get your garden tools and potting area ready.

Claim a corner in the garage, workshop, or patio as your own. Pull out that old, dusty table from the attic or spare bedroom. Give it a bright, cheery coat of paint on a sunny day, set it up, and you’ve got a brand-new potting area ready.

You can get so much more information on flowers and gardening at Canada Blooms – Canada’s largest flower and garden celebration – taking place March 15th-24th, 2013, at the Direct Energy Centre, in Toronto. You can visit the website for the full run-down on what the show offers, but here are just a few highlights:

  • The Grey Power “Garden Solutions” Educational Series
  • The Master Gardeners Speakers Series
  • Wine Sensory Garden presented by Reif Estate Winery & Mori Gardens
  • Experience the Parklane and Tourism Ireland “Spring Gathering” etc.
  • Win a Trip to the Gardens of Spain with Air Canada, Tourist Office of Spain and Toronto Star
  • Scotts Canada “Ask the Experts and New Product” Stage
  • RE/MAX “Get Curbalicious” Feature

Most of all, I love to attend just to see the colours, smell the blooms, and get inspired for another successful year in my little patch of earth. I wonder what new plants I’ll discover this year??

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Starting Our Seeds

Little Boo and I spent some time in the back yard on Easter Sunday. It was a gorgeous day and a great chance to get outside and start some work cleaning up the garden.  We also started some seeds in peat pots. Kids love to see things grow. The magic of a plant growing from a tiny seed they planted and watered themselves is really wonderful. And it’s such an easy and cheap activity to do with them.
I like to use peat pots because you can plant them directly in the garden when the seedlings are ready to set out, and not disturb the young plants’ delicate roots. I got a big package of them at the dollar store for, you guessed it, a dollar. I also bought a bag of potting soil there for a dollar. You can even buy seed packets at many dollar stores.
I like to place my peat pots in a tray so that I don’t get excess water flowing all over my windowsill. This time I used an old stoneware cookie sheet that has a little crack in it.

Fill the pots with soil and scatter some seeds on top.

Tamp down with your finger. You want to make sure that the seeds have good contact with the soil and have a light covering of soil on top.
Water lightly and cover with plastic wrap. The plastic wrap helps to cut down on moisture loss due to evaporation and to hold in warmth. Place the pots in a warm spot and keep an eye on moisture level and keep looking for growth. Once the seedlings touch the wrap, you will need to remove the wrap and move the pots to a sunny window. Be sure to keep the soil moist.
When the weather is right and the plants established in their pots, move them to your garden or a larger container. Remember you can plant them peat pot and all. 
Have fun!

Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday – The Pumpkin

And here it is, our pumpkin in its final form. It did pull itself down to the ground and so did get a bit misshapen from its early perfect sphere, but the colour is great. It’s also the largest pumpkin we’ve managed so far, so we’re delighted. Little Boo hasn’t decided yet whether to carve this one or not. If we do, I’ll post that next week. Happy Hallowe’en!

 

Gardening

Earth Day in the Garden

My brother and I started gardening with our grandmother as toddlers, and I’ve been actively involving Little Boo in my gardening from the time he could toddle out into the yard himself. Kids love to watch things grow. And they love to feel helpful and involved. We find this to be a fabulous activity for us to enjoy together.
Today being Earth Day I wanted to do a small project with Little Boo to mark the occasion.  So last week we went to the dollar store and he helped me pick out peat pots, a bag of soil, and some seeds. I think this was a total of $3 plus tax. Cheap fun!

I put the peat pots into an old cake pan to keep them from leaking all over the house. Little Boo used my old trowel to fill the pots. (He has his own gardening tools, but I’ll be damned if I could find them in the shed today.)

He chose the pumpkin seeds to sow first. (Like his Spongebob gardening gloves? Zellers on clearance for $2. Love!)

 

Golden wax beans. He said they looked like they had chocolate on them. And, on the topic of Earth Day, do these seed packets really need to be so big??

Little Boo placed the seeds into the pots and I covered them with more soil and tamped them down. He watered them, and then I covered the pots with plastic wrap and placed them in indirect light near the front window. (The plastic wrap is to keep them moist and warm. Once the seedlings come up enough to touch it, it comes off.)

Now we wait and see if they germinate. I explained to Little Boo how the peat pots will break down in the garden, and how this is is helpful as we won’t have to disturb the plants’ roots when we put them out. I also explained (a couple of times) that we have to wait before they can go in the garden because it is still too early and cold. He is pretty eager to see the sprouting. Hence the beans. Beans and peas are always a good option for kids, because they germinate really quickly and they tend to be pretty hardy. Another good option is radishes – in my experience these veggies will grow on a rock. Ok, slight exaggeration, but they are incredibly easy to grow even in poor soil conditions. An easy way for a kid to find some success in gardening.

We’ll do some more seeds later and will be planting a variety of veggies from the garden centre once the weather warms and I get the beds in shape. For now Little Boo is keeping busy with creatively displaying his rock collection:

Pretty good hey? 🙂

Did you do anything to mark Earth Day today? I’d love to hear about it!!