It’s time to garden with the little ones, Henry Homeyer
To all your parents and grandparents, it’s time to garden with your beloved little ones. That’s right, start them young, have fun and they’ll garden forever. The key part is fun. Never have a child pull weeds. Digging in the dirt is fun. Playing with a garden hose or a watering can is fun. Picking flowers and eating hot cherry tomatoes in the sun is a lot of fun.
When my grandchildren were little, I created little gardens for them at home. I used boards to create separate small beds, one for each. What size? I made them their height by their wingspan – the reach of their arms – about 3 ½ square feet. I actually laid them out on the lawn with their arms outstretched to define the dimensions. It’s good for a laugh.
The planks were only 6 inches wide and were made of regular lumber – certainly not pressure-treated planks – which are now full of chemicals, although they are not as toxic as those produced when pressure-treated lumber is released for the first time. But remember, kids won’t be this size for a long time, so you don’t need the beds to last forever.
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The easiest way to build a sturdy bed is to cut 2 by 4 pieces as long as your boards are wide. Put one in each corner and use a cordless drill to screw the boards into the corners. The 2 inch long screws are thin and much easier to work with than nails if you are not used to building things. Two screws are needed at each end of the boards to make them sturdy. Work on a flat surface, such as your driveway or inside the garage, to make the job easier. Metal brackets are also available to help make the garden boxes sturdy.
Choose a spot for the garden in full sun. This means a minimum of six hours of sunshine, but preferably all day – from morning to late afternoon. Choose a site that is or almost flat. If you give beds to children in your yard, be prepared for it to be messy and messy sometimes – unless you intend to weed it yourself. Some children will want to weed, but most will not. You may want to place the small gardens somewhere on the back lawn.
If you choose to place the garden box on the lawn, you do not need to remove the sod. Just cut the grass as short as you can, then cover it with six pages of newspaper and fill it out. The newspaper will kill the lawn. In the first year, carrots may stop or bend when they hit the bottom of the bed. After that, the soil will loosen up under the action of microorganisms, and you can grow deeply rooted things without problems.
What should you use for the floor? I like to mix a lot of compost with regular garden soil, about a 50-50 mix. You can buy bags of compost and topsoil, or loot your compost pile and yard for soil – all you need is a few wheelbarrows of soil.
When the bed is first built, your kids may just want to play in the cool dirt. The soil smells good, is pleasant to the touch, and is great for making back roads for trucks or mounds for castles, just as it’s fun making sandcastles on the beach. Don’t be too goal-oriented, telling the kids to stop now and plant their carrot seeds. Let them see you planting things – seeds and plants – and they’ll want to do the same.
Ask your children what their favorite vegetables are. Have they ever seen a purple or red carrot? Would they like to try growing some? Where do the fries come from? In my experience, planting potatoes is great for all children – seed potatoes are a size that even the little ones can handle. Harvesting later is like going fishing and knowing that they are going to catch fish. Very exciting.
Maybe take them with you to a garden center. Look at the marigolds, which are already blooming. Encourage them to smell the flowers. If they find something they like, buy it. I like the idea of children growing flowers with their vegetables. My grandchildren too.
Remember that success is important. This means that you will need to be mindful of their gardens. Weeding and watering will be your responsibility unless they live nearby and wish to perform these tasks.
By the way, it is important to have a few children’s tools and especially watering cans. Our watering cans are too heavy for them, and a garden hose can easily blow up a tomato plant.
What if your grandchildren want to grow pumpkins or watermelons? These vines will quickly emerge from the mini-garden that you have lovingly prepared. Are you ready to let the vines run, making it impossible to mow the lawn there? Maybe you can convince them to grow something else and plant the pumpkins together in your vegetable garden.
My maternal grandmother passed away when I was 7, and my parents sent me to my grandfather that summer to keep him company. I took the train by myself from New Haven to Worcester, Massachusetts – with a train change in Springfield. It was a little scary the first time around, but I refused to let my mom give me a name tag! Grampy and I had a lot of fun, so I went there every summer until he died at the age of 21. I learned to garden by watching. He never gave lessons. This is probably a good recipe for success.
Henry Homeyer’s blog is published twice a week at gardening-guy.com. Write to them at PO Box 364, Cornish Flat, NH 03746. Please include a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope if you would like a response by mail. Or email email@example.com.