Do you find that you want to garden with your children but you feel like there are too many factors? Start small, actually let's start really small, let's start with some soil and a seed.
Gardening with children can be as easy as one single seed in a cup on the windowsill in your kitchen. You can also plant in egg cartons, pots, small containers, buckets, and various raised beds. Grab some soil or mix up your own blend, find some unused vessels at your house or Goodwill, and buy, trade, or save some seeds to use for later. Let's look at a couple simple ways to introduce gardening and integrate time with your students or children.
Here children plant seeds indoors in a cardboard egg crate. When the sprouts and seedlings are ready to be moved outside they can be torn apart and planted in their egg spot. We planted more outside and transplanted some gifted plants into bigger pots outside. Last, a sunflower sprout has just burst through the soil/dirt and is getting some daytime sun outdoors but will be brought back inside at the end of the afternoon's warmth.
The indoor container garden
“If you want to plant a garden, start small. Try starting with a single seed and see what happens next.”
Everyone has an extra cup, mug, bowl, take out container, or egg crate at home. So let's start with a small container and a single seed. If you have a small plant pot that will be great too. You can find a small potting plant anywhere Target, your local nursery, the grocery store may even have some. Make sure it has a hole in the bottom and that you get a yogurt lid or a small plastic lid to place underneath the pot to catch any extra water.
To plant, we need a container, soil [in these cases we are using soil but it is not necessary for planting if you choose to grow hydroponically or aquaponically which will not be covered in this entry], water, light or heat, and seeds. I have been using a blend of coconut coir, organic potting mix, worm castings, and other organic matter. Many places have potting and container garden soil blends. You may also want to mix in a little bit of Perlite (or Horticultural grade Vermiculite) which is a mined volcanic glass/mineral that helps to minimize compaction and adds air flow and irrigation to potted plants. It also helps new seeds and sprouts to grow strong, deep root systems as it is lightweight and holds moisture effectively.
Choose a seed that has a short germination time. We like sunflowers, radishes for microgreens, lettuce, kale, or small flowers. You can put a few rocks in the cup if it is light to help keep it balanced. Don't add too many because you want the roots to be able to reach any left over water if they are still thirsty. Add your soil blend/Perlite to the "pot" and get your seed ready. Read over the instructions for the plant. Make an appropriate hole according to the measurements and instructions on the seed packet. Drop in your seed(s). Cover your seed with perlite/vermiculite because it is lightweight but still adds the needed heat, it is also easier for the seed to sprout through and offers an even coat as opposed to dirt that could have clumps or compaction. Sometimes we like to plant 2-4 seeds in a pot for children in case one of the seeds does not germinate. Water slowly checking to see if water is coming out of the bottom of the pot. Once you start to see some water drops—stop watering the plant. Place your plastic lid under the pot.
Choose a spot that is accessible for your children. A windowsill is a great location for the plant or a small table by a window. Talk about the importance of taking care of the seeds. Every day we water just a little bit, show the child how much water is needed and demonstrate watering your pot. We will water every day until we seed the green sprout pop out of the soil. Then we will water every 2-3 days.
It is nice to have small watering containers by the pot so the child can really feel like they are tending to this pot garden on their own. We also like to have small pocket calendars out so that the child can cross off every day that the plant was watered. It is a great way to introduce time, calendars, days, and then count and see how many days it took to germinate. You can use stickers to remind children to water, to allow soil to dry, to check for sprouts, and check to make sure the pot has enough light and heat.
If you want to plant some microgreens, you can use a take-away container or small Tupperware container with lid, pick an old one and punch a few holes in the container with a knife. To do this, put down a cutting board, flip the bottom of the container upside down and puncture holes down carefully. Now turn the container back over and place on top of the lid, pour in some Perlite and soil blend, water slowly and check the base of the container to see if water is starting to drip out. Once water starts to come out, stop watering. Now sprinkle some seeds over the top and place in a nice warm spot with sunlight. Anything can be grown as a microgreen in which you would eat the top or first leaves. You can grow pea shoots, radish, broccoli, cabbage, mustard, or other small leafy greens. Once the top two sets of leaves are showing you can trim, wash, and prepare with meals. Microgreens are packed with nutrients and vitamins and are a great way to eat vegetables without having to eat too much.
Read up on your seeds to see what the next steps entail: will you take your plant outside, will the plant be placed in a bigger garden, will the plant stay inside as a houseplant?
There are so many options. Children love to feel as if they have the opportunity to care for something smaller than them. Plants allow them to see growth and change. If you grow something that blooms or creates food it is really fun to eat from a plant that a child grew on one's own. You can prepare outside if you are worried about messes and then bring your small container inside.
Here we have various fruiting trees in pots, flowers in a cement container, herbs, fruits and veggies in various pots and vessels, potatoes and sweet potatoes in growing bags, and succulents. Each container is accessible to children for watering, planting, picking, smelling, and for viewing. Remember to consider drainage and unplugging pot's holes before putting in soil and seeds.
The Outdoor Container Garden
This concept is very similar to the Indoor container garden but here we can plant a little more variety and in a bigger space. Try to use a container you already have or let your child pick a pot or paint a plain terra cotta pot. It makes it fun if we can add some childhood flair to our garden.
Outdoor container gardens can come in many forms. You can get a pot with herbs, one herb, tea plants, pollinators, a vegetable, flowers, succulents, or you can create a little gnome or fairy garden or any other themed garden with small representations in wood, plastic, ceramic, etc. Children love when you encourage them to let their imaginations run wild and they are given the time, space, and means to create on their own or with help.
Let's start simple: Tea garden. There is nothing easier than growing mint. A small potted mint garden will offer hours of sensory benefits, picking, touching, smelling, and tasting. Mint grows quickly and since it is in a pot it will not spread across your entire garden area. Lemon balm, spearmint, apple mint, orange mint, Tulsi, mountain mint, or any mint variety will work. Just be careful if your children are under the age of 5 years old and you grow wintergreen or pungent peppermints. Wintergreen when ingested during a fever can lead to similar side effects comparative to taking Aspirin. So be cautious. If you don't like mint or you are partial to other flavors, try calendula, lavender, lemongrass, lemon verbena, or chamomile. Most of these flowers and grasses are gentle enough for teas for children. You can always grow them and just add a sprinkle to your child-friendly tea that you have prepared in your home.
Herb Garden: A nice and simple herb garden could include basil, oregano, chives, sage, thyme, and rosemary. These herbs all give off great smells, they have different textures, and the leaves are shaped in various ways. You can talk about shape, color, texture, size, smell, and shape.
Sensory Garden: Pot a plant for each of the main senses. Eyes: something beautiful to see. Ears: Something that makes sounds such as reeds or grasses and a windchime or child-made ornament. Nose: Strong smelling culinary herbs. Mouth: Things to taste that offer different sensation experiences so bitter, spicy, salty, sweet, tart, or umami. And last, but not least, Touch: Plant some Lamb's Ear, or a wonderfully soft plant, something smooth and shiny, something fluffy. A sensory garden with 5 small plants and signage can be so fun and the children can help to make the signs and decorate the pots, they can help to choose some items, and plant or transplant. Always explain the garden to the children, "This is for eyes only, this is for smelling, look this sign shows a picture of an ear and says Listen it must mean we use our sense of sound and hearing." Gardens are a great way to introduce emergent literacy skills as well as environmental literacy. We learn to read, identify symbols, identify plants, and tend to nature's growing garden.
The Pizza Garden: This pot could include tomatoes, basil and oregano, and possibly a pepper, depending on the size of the pot. This also works as a small raised bed garden or a collection of small pots. You would include any vegetation that is thrown together to make your favorite pizza. Then you collect your ingredients, grab your pizza crust and cheese and go to town. Chop your tomatoes, rinse your herbs, and place your peppers and onions, toss on some mushrooms from the Farmer's Market or some local sausage and you have yourself a feast. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you can obviously grown nearly all of your ingredients in your own pizza garden think eggplant, onions, garlic, tomato, peppers, chives, herbs galore! Maybe you already grown your own countertop mushrooms. The options are endless!
Here children collect sticks and leaves, shred up paper, collect dryer lint and organic paper packing material, cut up organic plant and animal-based textiles into strips, cover soil and compost on top, and finally plant seeds and transplants into our raised bed. They also built this raised bed together while following the directions. They chose which plants were planted and helped to measure and blend the coco coir, soil, Perlite, and compost from our Joracomposter.
Raised beds, garden plots, and open spaces
Oh the stories we could tell with this option. So many opportunities for growth, learning, fun, exploration, and investigation. We can integrate all of the learning objectives, all of the life lessons, all of the science and art, music, movement, nature studies, math, and history—don't forget food security and sustainability. Let's start small.
[Image to the left: Echinacea offers a great afternoon snack to a large bumble bee].
A crowd favorite: The Pollinator Garden: Nothing screams awe like a bunch of butterflies fluttering around your space. We often have Monarch, Swallowtail, Zebra Swallowtail, and other small blue and white butterflies, and colorful moths. So for a pollinator garden we love a mix of native perennials and some annuals. We love echinacea, red mountain honey suckle, lavender, cosmos, sweet williams, zinnia, snap dragons, lupines, and columbine. Don't forget about those beautiful dahlias. Choose seeds or sprouts that haven't been treated with chemicals because you don't want to harm the bees and the butterflies. Bees and butterflies also love milkweed varieties, borage, and lovage. If you have space you can put in some butterfly weed as opposed to butterfly bush which is actually not native and though it has big colorful flowers they do not offer the necessary nutrients for butterflies. You can make this fun by creating little seed bombs or seed pellets and create a space where your children help you clear or prepare the earth. Children can dig, plant, mulch, decorate, water, and make small plant signs that remind you what you planted. Don't forget to add some personal touches that make this space special handmade ceramic or clay sculptures, stepping stones, windchimes, pinwheels, let your imagination run wild.
[Image to the left: A basket of picked fruits and vegetables from our garden bed at Pappy T's house.] Garden beds: We have several vegetable, flower, and fruit plots. We only have a little bit of space here that has not been used for other edible plants or flowers. So we have been using a big space at our family's house. We are growing zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, wax and green beans, melons, watermelons, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, potatoes, onion, radishes, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, sunflowers, and marigolds. We also sprinkled various wildflowers in and around the garden plot. Any plot of land can be used if it is safe. If you are unsure about the type of soil you have on your property or if there are harmful minerals or elements in the soil such as lead or chemicals, you can reach out to your local Penn State Extension —if you live in PA—otherwise reach out to the local extension of your state college's environmental studies school. In Pennsylvania, Penn State Extension offers soil testing, consulting, and can assist with biological pests and invasives.
[Image on left: here some arugula, mustard greens, and radishes are growing in one of our elevated cedar raised bed.] Raised beds: Now here we have a lot of options. While many people choose wood because its great and natural and you can customize it to whatever size or shape that you'd like, I have been quite partial to galvanized metal tubs, metal troughs, and other child-proofed metal vessels for gardens. WHY? Well, to start, the lumber prices are astronomical right now. Secondly, I have seen awesome spray painted and customizable beds like Vego Garden metal beds. And, don't forget, I am a sucker for copper and bronze finished items. I love them. I am hoping to purchase a Vego Garden system soon for a community children's garden. I did hear of some metal trough or bath type garden systems available at Tractor Supply as well right now for around $100. So we have cost, longevity, height, ease of assembly, and the look. Just be sure that if this is the route for you, you finish all edges and joints so that there are no sharp edges for children. If I were to use a raised bed like this or a wooden raised bed on the ground, I would lay down cardboard, then hügel kulture first with logs, twigs, newspaper, mulch, compost, then soil to help with drainage, cut costs of soil blends, and fill up the garden bed with organic material that will decompose which releases nutrients and heat for the garden growing above ground. It also helps to clear that old pile of stumps and branches we all keep at some spot on our properties. For these types of gardens children can collect sticks, newspaper, cardboard, drag logs to the site of the raised bed, help place or put logs and materials in the raised bed in order of composition bigger hard woods at the bottom, soft wood, branches, twigs, dead leaves, newspaper, shredded natural textiles, mulch, compost, soil. Children love to drag and roll logs, lift heavy things, find sticks, organize by size and texture, identify items and make piles, shovel, rake, fill, transport, transform, and scoop. They can also help to choose what plants go into the bed, carefully dig holes and transplant sprouts, make signs for the garden, paint rocks or collect rocks and stones to add to the top of the garden for visual pleasure.
[Image to the left: Marigolds shimmer after a morning rain. These came from a blended batch but look similar to 'Scarlet Sophie' there were also Queen Sophia and Durango Flame in the bunch]: Lastly, for today, we have wild flower gardens. This may consist of a small plot of land where you allow your children to just scatter seeds. It could be a big mix and you wait to see what grows. It could be that they carefully plant rows of flowers. They can measure, dig holes, plant seeds, cover with dirt, water, make a fence, make signs, post pinwheels, anything having to do with a more wild approach to flowers and gardening. Experiment with height, color, texture, size, and types of flowers. Maybe you want all medicinal flowers and herbs so: elecampane, helichrysum, sunflower, echinacea, lavender, evening primrose, comfrey, arnica, calendula, violets, mullein, yarrow, marigolds, or clover. Maybe you want a mix of butterfly and bee mixes like: poppy, zinnia, cosmos, lupine, columbine, allium, borage and lovage, St. John's Wort, love-in-mist/Nigella, dandelion, black-eyed susan, clover, coreopsis, bachelor buttons, and sunflowers. These flowers all offer so much more than just visual appeal. You can enjoy their beauty, their medicinal qualities, and their positive impact on your local beneficial insect ecosystem.
No matter what you choose to do or how small of a garden you choose to plant, everything makes an impact on the lives of your students and children. Learning to grow a garden and tend to plants is very rewarding. Start off small and grow with your garden so you don't burn yourself out. One plant at a time and then slowly expand to a few pots of each plant. Remember if you are growing plants inside you will need ample heat, water, light, and you may need to pollinate your plants. Don't worry, nothing a little paintbrush or cotton swab can't do. Start with the basics, follow the instructions on your seed packet. You can always look up a helpful how-to video online or ask a friend.
Plant. Grow. Love. Nurture. Eat. Smile. Repeat.
Thank you for tuning in. Everything here is my own opinion and ideas gathered from many years of gardening and growing plants. Always refer to seed packets for further instruction and pay attention to food/plant allergies when growing certain food families and flowers. Be mindful, keep a journal, find a gardener friend to help encourage you and your children. See you next week, until then, go grow something. #Visforvictorygarden #Gardeningwithchildren #letThembeLittle #AuthenticChildhood #Veggies #Growinggardeners #QualityTime #TheFindingPlaceLV #1000hoursOUtside #OutdoorsAll4 #Gardens #GrowSomething #VitaminN #PlantingSeeds #SustainableLV #LoveLocal #LehighValleyGrows #Joracomposter #ReSetOUtdoors #microgreens #EatARainbow #EatyourColors #PollinatorGarden #HerbGarden #RodaleInstitute #TheSeedFarm #SpringPlantSale2021