Starting A Garden With Your Child: A Beginner's Guide
Easy To Grow Plants for Kids and Grownups
Gardening is a Great Way To Get Kids To Play Outside!
Slow and easy is important when starting a garden with kids. You want the experience to be a good one and successful, so do a bit of planning.
Either use a container or use a small area, so the kids won't be overwhelmed. Make sure the soil is relatively fertile (no pure clay or sand).
Chose plants that are easy to grow: Sunflowers, Zinnias, beans and cucumbers are easy, and if you plant the sunflowers with a pole bean or cucumber seed (or plant) on the south side of the sunflower - the sunny side - the vine will climb the sunflower and make a little 'house'.
If planting seeds outdoors, be sure the soil is warm and stays that way. We're in Michigan and I've learned not to plant seeds before Memorial Day. It took me a long time to realize that those early hot sunny days are a ruse, and cold cloudy ones will certainly come along and either freeze the seedlings or prevent them from even sprouting and they rot. Water the soil after planting and cover it with some straw or grass clippings (lightly, just a light coating) afterward. This will prevent the soil from drying out too fast (you must keep the soil moist, not wet). It will also prevent birds and squirrels from noticing them as easily and eating them and the covering will break down and improve your soil.
You can start seeds indoors four to six weeks before that date to get a head start. There are many small starter kits with peat pods and seeds, or you can use small paper cups filled with seed starting soil and buy the seeds separately. It's best not to use soil from your yard or garden as it often contains insects and soil-born bacteria that can kill your seedlings. A light sprinkling of cinnamon on your seed starts will help eliminate damping off, a fungal problem that often kills young seedlings.
Mini Garden Experiments:
One fun way to figure out what kind of soil you really have is to get a glass and fill it about it about two thirds with soil from the top six inches from your garden area. Fill the jar up with water, put a tight lid on the jar and shake well. Let the jar sit overnight and the various layers will settle and give you a good idea of how much humus, sand and clay you're dealing with.
Buy a PH tester or kit and check the soil as well, this is important for knowing the acidity or alkalinity of your garden soil and is fun for the kids to check. It's a fun and easy way to get kids interested in science too.
Painting a rock with the flower or vegetable is fun and helps mark the spot where you plant your sees.
Make a scare crow using your child's worn-out or too-small clothes is fun. Make the head by stuffing straw or leaves in an old pillow case and use washable markers to draw the face. Use a wire coat hanger - straighten the hook and secure the head to this part, then just place an old shirt over the hanger and stuff it with straw or leaves. Continue with pants or sweats and use an old broom handle or long stick to hold the scarecrow upright - or sit him/her on a chair or bench in the garden..
Be prepared for the kids to lose interest from time to time, but don't give up on them or the garden. Just tend it and ask them to help you or share discoveries with you. If you make it a heavy responsibility it won't be fun and fun is the point of growing a garden with your kids! (or Grandkids)
Check with your local Extension office as some Master Gardener classes also have them for kids as well. They give out Junior Master Gardener certificates.
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